What Can I Expect from an Online MSN Program?

With an online master’s degree in nursing, students can expect the same type of professional education and attention to detail that they would receive in on-campus classes. Working nurses can take advantage of flexible attendance options, completing MSNs in off hours part-time or in accelerated programs that let them quickly enhance their careers. It’s important to consider all the options and different program offerings to find an online degree program that’s right for you.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN Degree

Curriculum for an Online Master of Science In Nursing

When selecting a program for your master’s degree in nursing, remember that each school offers something unique. Nursing students should always consider their personal career goals and how those objectives align with curriculum. You’ll also want to consider how curriculum is delivered; some MSN programs deliver everything online, while others require on-campus intensives or clinical hours (which you may be able to complete locally or even at your place of employment).

Coursework depends on your specialty as well as the type of MSN program it is. RN or ASN to MSN programs may naturally require some additional core curriculum that BSN to MSN programs do not. Examples of courses you might encounter in any of these programs include:

  • Health care policy, where you’ll examine both federal and regulatory policy as well as what it takes to manage SOPs in a facility

  • Advanced pharmacology, where you’ll build on your existing education about medications

  • Health care ethics, which addresses common ethical issues in health care environments, often from higher leadership levels for nurses

  • Clinical practicums, where you apply new knowledge in a practical environment

  • Clinical practice or theory classes depending upon the specialty

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master of Science In Nursing?

Typically, online MSN degrees are meant to be completed in two years, or around nine semesters, by professional students who are taking a “full-time” course load. In such cases, full-time attendance may be around two courses at a time.

Nurses who are able to successfully complete an accelerated MSN program may be able to earn their degree in one to 1.5 years, or three to five semesters. Part-time students may only take one class at a time and take up to five years to complete their program.

Whether the degree program is offered as a cohort or individually paced also determines how long it may take you to earn an online MSN. With a cohort program, all students enter and matriculate through together. New classes usually only start once or twice a year, which means you may need to wait for the next open cohort. Individually paced programs usually have more start times (at least once a semester) and let you take as many classes as you want to complete the degree at your own pace.

Certifications and Licenses a Master of Science In Nursing Prepares For

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Nursing Degrees

A major consideration in your choice of nursing schools should always be whether the program is accredited. First, accreditation demonstrates that the program consistently provides high-quality education in appropriate formats. Second, in some cases, you can’t seek further education or credentialing if your degree comes from an unaccredited program.

Generally, you’ll want to look for online nursing programs that have at least one major accreditation. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing provides accreditation for schools that offer all types of nursing degrees. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education only works with programs that include master’s and baccalaureate level degrees.

If you’re considering a specialty program, consider looking for accreditation by specialist agencies such as The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation.

Employment Outlook for MSN Graduates

Job Placement: MSN Vs. BSN

In general, nurses of all levels have a very healthy job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that job growth in the nursing sector is much higher than the national average for other types of positions. But consider the difference in job growth between BSN RN jobs, which is 15 percent, and jobs that require advanced degrees, which is 31 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, advanced degrees help you earn placement in almost any nursing job you apply to, which means your online MSN degree opens doors throughout your career.

Expected Salary

In addition to growing job opportunities, an online MSN degree can boost your salary. You can see from the numbers below that an advanced nursing credential can increase your salary by 50 to 100 percent on average.

[chart type=”bar” title=”Average Salaries for MSN Degree Holders” hformat=”currency” colors=”‘#323f4a'”][[‘Job Title’, ‘Salary’],[‘Nursing Manager’, 89869],[‘Nurse Practitioner’, 93470],[‘Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)’, 94268],[‘Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)’, 99245],[‘Family Nurse Practitioner (NP)’, 91200],[‘Adult Nurse Practitioner (NP)’, 96558]][/chart]

Source: PayScale

Regardless of your specialty, the advanced credentials you can earn after getting your MSN boost your potential pay by tens of thousands of dollars on the higher end of the range. Nurse practitioners are some of the highest paid nurses in the medical field, and that higher salary may also come with increased autonomy and the ability to choose your own hours, work location or the type of patient population you work with.

You don’t have to get your NP credentials to see higher pay with an MSN degree. Where you work also plays a role in your salary. In fact, according to PayScale.com, nurses who hold an MSN degree and work in hospitals with 100 or more beds tend to make more money.

[chart type=”bar” title=”More Beds, More Pay” subtitle=”Salary vs. Number of Beds” hformat=”currency” colors=”‘#323f4a'”][[‘Number of Beds’, ‘Average MSN Salary’],[‘>50′, 89862],[’50-99’, 94757],[‘100-299’, 97592],[‘300-499’, 97358],[‘500+’, 98106]][/chart]

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

Based on their specialization, nurses with an online master’s degree can pursue many career opportunities. An MSN may allow you to work with the patient populations you most want to serve, command better salary rates, move up in your organization or branch out to more autonomous practice.

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections in the health care field and networking with other nurses can be an important part of success for RNs at every level. Organizations offer a way to learn more about what’s going on in the industry, obtain CEU credits and find out about job opportunities. Here are just some of the top organizations in the nation for MSN degree holders.

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. This is a full-service organization for nurse practitioners that includes access to a continuing education center, grants and scholarships for education and professional publications.

American Academy of Nurses. An organization to advance health care policy and support nursing professionals, it offers niche publications, community and networking opportunities, access to nursing resources and other perks for members.

American College of Nurse-Midwives. A professional organization that supports nurse midwives, the ACNM provides education and networking opportunities, resources and advocacy services.

You can find a complete list of hundreds of nursing organizations for almost every specialty at Nurse.org.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Nursing

While online programs are typically more affordable than their on-campus brethren, many nursing students still need assistance in covering the cost of school. The first step in seeking financial aid is typically completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn about many grants, loans and other financial aid options that are available from the federal government. Private grants and scholarships are also available to nurses. Check out some of the resources below to find out more.