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:
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.
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.
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.