Why This Matters

  • RN-BSN ENROLLMENT IS UP BY OVER 10%

    Meaning that despite high demand, the job market for nurses with bachelor’s degrees is getting tighter. Earning a MSN can help differentiate you from the crowd and hone in your career.

  • WE NEED 64,000 NEW NURSE SPECIALISTS

    The nursing job market is growing twice as fast as the U.S. average — 15% versus 7%. Nurse specialties that require a MSN are growing even faster — with an 31% increase in demand by 2024.

  • YOU’RE LEAVING $40,000 ON THE TABLE

    Nurse specialists like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners earn on average $110,930 each year – a significant jump from nurses with bachelor degrees ($70,000 per year).

Our Research

Master degrees in nursing (MSN) can set you up to succeed in a variety of roles including clinical nurse practitioner, nurse administrator, and nurse educator. The right online MSN for you will depend on which career path you choose, but we’ll help you narrow down your search with our top 30 Master Degrees in Nursing online.

To find the best, we only looked at nonprofit universities accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) to make sure every program met national standards on preparing nurses for the field. Then we compared each university based on its program strength, degree options available, and relative cost.

This gave us our Intelligent Score, based on a scale from 0 to 100. (For full details, see Our Ranking Methodology.) Each program listed is 100% online, without any on-campus residency or visit requirements. Additionally, some schools offer a direct RN to MSN degree program, so if you don’t have a bachelor’s in nursing, you can jump straight into your chosen specialty.

  • 80 hours to write this article
  • 176 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 358 education programs we compared

The Top 30 Online Master Degree in Nursing

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Our Ranking Methodology

To find the best online master degrees in nursing, we evaluated the degree offerings of forty-nine nonprofit universities and colleges based on three factors:

Program Strength

Every university on our list is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). CCNE-accreditation means that each nursing program has been certified to adequately prepare nurses for their future careers, and is a must-have for your diploma to be recognized by employers.

In addition to CCNE-accreditation, we looked at how well leading college evaluators like U.S. News ranked each program. After comparing the results from these in-depth rankings, we created an algorithm to analyze their multiple rankings into one score. Universities with the most highly-regarded programs (like Johns Hopkins University) scored better here, while lesser known programs received a lower score.

Specialization Flexibility

Next, we scored each university based on how many specializations they offered online. Though specializations varied widely, overall the more well-rounded the university, the higher their score. We also awarded universities with both RN- and BSN-entry programs an extra point. These universities offer more flexibility to accommodate students of different backgrounds.

Return on Investment

Finally, we compared the cost per credit hour of all programs to assess which programs would pose a larger financial burden than others. While the number of credit hours required to complete a MSN varies by specialization, comparing cost per credit helps approximate whether a university is pricier or more economical. Schools with lower tuition costs earned the highest score in this category.

This Gave Us Our Intelligent Score

These three scores were then used to calculate our Intelligent Score, ranking schools from 0 to 100. Our top schools, like Western Governors University and Fort Hays State University, scored well in each category.

That said, it was difficult for many of our schools to achieve a high score, largely because universities with better reputations — those that ranked highly in other evaluators, and are known for the rigorousness of their nursing program — come with a higher price tag. Even though Johns Hopkins, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Colorado — Denver had high reputations, their relatively high tuition costs kept them from rising to the top of our list.

This Degree Isn’t For Everyone

There are a few caveats to be aware of with online MSN degrees. If you live close enough to a university campus to attend on-campus sessions, more clinical-focused MSN degrees than those on our list will be open to you. At Intelligent.com, we emphasize the ability to pursue your passion from anywhere. So while the degrees listed for each university are (at time of writing) 100% online, this meant we excluded a fair number of clinical-focused programs that required on-campus work.

Similarly, if you want to become a nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife, you’ll probably need to commit to some on-campus work. For more details, see our Best Online Nursing Degrees.

What’s Next?

As with every online degree, as you figure out which of our top 30 best online MSN programs could be right for you, you’ll want to keep an eye on state authorizations. If your state of residence is different from the state where your future university is located, you’ll need to check whether your home state has authorized your school’s state to teach classes online.

Most universities include a “state authorization” page to help you out. If it’s unclear or missing, contact the nursing department or your local board of nursing for clarification before you apply.

You’ll also want to double check whether the program you’re interested in is a RN- or BSN-entry program. While some MSN degrees allow registered nurses to apply without having earned a BSN first, many require that intermediary step.