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Students who complete an online master’s in nursing degree program will further their knowledge of nursing and healthcare. Such a degree will also prepare them for a senior-level position within the medical field. For example, graduates who find work as an advanced practice registered nurse earn an average salary of $125,900 per year.

An online master’s in nursing degree requires students to complete between 36 to 50 credit hours of coursework. Full-time students can typically finish this course load within two to three years, and there are accelerated programs that can help students complete everything in one to two years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate school tuition is $20,513.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Program

Choose your area of study

This degree is typically available as a Master of Science (MS). The online master’s in nursing degree is already highly specialized, and students can customize their education further by choosing a specific area of study. While the exact areas of study available may vary by institution, common concentration options include nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nurse executive, and certified nurse midwife.

Each of these concentrations prepares students for a very different post-graduate nursing career. Because of that, students should carefully consider what kind of career they want to focus on after graduation and choose an area of study that will best prepare them for such a career.

Research schools and programs

You should only consider institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. These organizations evaluate schools to ensure they provide students with a high-quality education. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Ideally, your master’s in nursing program will also be accredited by a respected industry group like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This programmatic accrediting organization has particularly high standards for nursing education.

To learn more about any schools that you’re interested in, you can visit the school’s website, contact an admissions counselor, follow the school on social media, or attend an in-person or virtual open house.

Prepare for tests and applications

Application requirements vary by school and program. Most online master’s in nursing programs will require students to submit GRE test scores as part of their application, though some programs may accept MAT scores in their place. The application or the school website may indicate the minimum score for students. Students who have not taken these tests may need up to three months to study and two to three weeks to receive test results.

The online application will also specify if students need to include other materials, such as undergraduate transcripts, a cover letter, a personal statement, or letters of recommendation. Before submitting an application, always contact an admissions counselor to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding requirements and deadlines.

Select your program

With the list of online master’s in nursing programs narrowed down, students must now determine which programs they will apply to.

To do so, closely examine the cost of each school. Students can save a significant amount by choosing a more affordable program and avoiding unnecessary student debt. Also, students may want to contact the university and inquire about job placement rates, as this allows them to apply to places that are likeliest to further their careers.

Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again. Do you plan to attend school full-time or part-time? Do you want your program to be as online as possible, or are you fine with a hybrid program that has a fair amount of in-person requirements? Some programs offer asynchronous courses, which can be completed at your own pace, while others only offer synchronous courses, which involve remotely attending lectures and completing assignments at the same time as other students — which of these two online learning formats do you prefer? Your school should accommodate your scheduling needs and learning preferences.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Everyone attending an online master’s in nursing program should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. By doing so, students will automatically qualify for federal student loans. Additionally, while these are harder for graduate students to obtain, completing the FAFSA might be a requirement to qualify for any grants or scholarships that may be available.

Contact the school’s financial aid office to determine what aid is available to remote grad students. They can answer student questions and inform students of additional aid available through the school or the state. Those who already work in the field should see if their employer offers tuition assistance benefits as well.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Best Master's in Nursing Programs

Ohio State University

University of Central Florida

Duke School of Nursing

University of South Carolina

University of Alabama

George Washington University

University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing

Stony Brook School of Nursing

Saint Xavier University

The Catholic University of America

Rush University

Boise State University

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

University of Colorado

University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing

ECU College of Nursing

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Thomas Jefferson University

University of Connecticut

Ball State University

Marquette University

University of New Mexico

Georgia College & State University

Virginia Commonwealth University

The University of Texas at Tyler

Oregon Health and Science University

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Johns Hopkins School of Nursing

Florida Atlantic University

UNC Greensboro

University of Utah

Georgetown University

Seton Hall University

Duquesne University

University of Mississippi Medical Center

Texas A&M School of Nursing

Eastern Kentucky University

University of Southern Indiana

Pace University

Texas State University

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

University of Cincinnati College of Nursing

University of Detroit Mercy

University of Southern California

University of Memphis

University of San Francisco

University of South Florida

Western Governors University

Discover More Options

How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online master’s in nursing programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, regionally accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. The programs on our list are also accredited by professional organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for online students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online master’s in nursing programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Program?

Students who enroll in an online master’s in nursing degree program can expect coursework that builds on their knowledge of the health field while providing extensive leadership training. Courses will have a high focus on “soft skills” like communication and teamwork that are necessary to effectively interface with patients and the rest of the medical staff.

Students will also learn how to quickly assess medical and managerial emergencies and make quick, informed decisions amid various high-pressure scenarios. All of this requires confident critical thinking skills the program will help nurture these skills among students.

Typically, students taking an online master’s in nursing program can complete their coursework in two years if they attend full-time. If the program has a higher credit requirement, or if the student attends only part-time, then the coursework may take three years or more to complete.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in nursing (MSN) degree program

  • Introduction to Advanced Registered Nursing. This course introduces and reinforces concepts such as nursing theory and the ethical considerations that must always apply to treating patients. It emphasizes leadership and its impact.
  • Advanced Health Assessment for Nurse Educators. This class builds on a student’s health assessment knowledge by teaching them how to evaluate a very diverse population using many types of assessments. Students learn how to communicate with patients and colleagues alike.
  • Organizational Leadership and Informatics. This class focuses on leadership theory and implementation, along with policy and organizational science. Students learn how to balance patients’ needs against their institution’s resources, which helps them provide cost-effective care to patients and dynamic solutions based on robust leadership theories.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology and Pharmacology for Nurse Educators. This highly specialized course focuses on three principles: pharmacology, pathophysiology, and physiology. Students learn how to diagnose specific symptoms and how to offer effective prescriptions and treatments using evidence-based research collected from various doctors, nurses, and researchers.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Degree?

Career outlook

The healthcare sector has been experiencing rapid growth for the last several years, and this isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Open positions for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners — all positions that require a master’s in nursing degree — are expected to increase significantly over the next decade.

An online master’s in nursing degree program prepares graduates to provide more in-depth patient care and serve as primary care providers in certain environments. Students can choose from a variety of specialties, including women’s health, pediatrics, and research. This degree also provides the necessary background for a career as a nursing instructor. Below are just a few of the career paths open to graduates with a master’s degree in nursing:

  • Advanced practice registered nurse — In addition to standard nursing duties, APRNs also handle more complex tasks such as prescribing medication and ordering tests. There are three APRN roles available: nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife.
    • Median annual salary: $125,900
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 38%
    • New job openings projected: 29,200 annually
  • Health services manager — Manage a healthcare practice or department and supervise medical staff.
    • Median annual salary: $104,830
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 28%
    • New job openings projected: 54,700 annually
  • Medical scientist — Help research diseases and develop new drugs and medical devices.
    • Median annual salary: $99,930
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 10%
    • New job openings projected: 7,500 annually

Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in nursing (MSN) degree program?

To apply to an online master’s in nursing program, students must navigate to the university website and submit the application there. At this point, students should closely review the application requirements, including whether test scores are required and whether they must submit a cover letter or letters of recommendation.

How much does an online master’s in nursing (MSN) degree program cost?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate school tuition is $20,513.

The exact cost a student will pay varies by the program they select. Public institutions are cheaper than private ones, for example, and programs with a higher credit requirement will be more expensive than ones with a lower credit requirement. Cost is one of the reasons why researching prospective schools is so important — in some cases, an afternoon of research could help students save thousands of dollars on their overall tuition.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in nursing (MSN) degree?

Most online master’s in nursing programs are designed to be completed within two years by full-time students, though some require enough extra credits that it would take the same student three years to complete.

Additionally, part-time students will need three years or longer to complete all required coursework. While students may feel the temptation to graduate as quickly as possible, it’s important not to take on too many courses too fast, which can compromise a student’s grades and sabotage their future career.

Is an online master’s in nursing (MSN) degree worth it?

An online master’s in nursing degree allows nurses to pursue higher positions — and the higher salaries that go with them. An online MSN program also makes it easier for nurses to advance their education while working full-time.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in clinical training, which provides hands-on experience in their chosen specialty. It also gives students the chance to network with other nursing professionals and get mentorship from professors.

Graduating from an online master’s in nursing degree program shows potential employers that you have the clinical skills necessary for the job as well as time management and self-motivation skills. If you’re interested in going into telemedicine, experience in remote environments can set you apart from other candidates.

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