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For practicing RNs aiming to advance their education and career opportunities, these online RN-to-MSN programs offer a fast track to higher roles and salaries. These programs prepare graduates for advanced positions, such as nurse administrators, with a median salary of $110,680, and nurse practitioners, who earn a median salary of $129,480. Additionally, RNs with an MSN can remain in their current roles while qualifying for higher pay, with the top 10% of RNs earning over $132,680 annually.

These accelerated programs take two to three years to complete, providing a quick path to improved professional opportunities.

How to Choose a Short Online RN-to-MSN Degree Program

Choose your area of study

Pursuing your RN-to-MSN is a great way to level up your career, and you can further tailor your education to align with your professional goals by selecting an area of study or specialization. As an added bonus, specializing can make you more competitive for certain roles.

For example, students focused on improving healthcare systems and patient outcomes may prefer to specialize in clinical nurse leadership, while those passionate about teaching and mentoring future nurses may opt to concentrate in nurse education.

Research schools and programs

With your specialization in mind, you can begin researching schools and programs for your degree. To guide your research, consider asking the following questions:

  • What is the program’s accreditation status?
  • Are there any prerequisites or entrance exams required?
  • What is the program’s completion rate and job placement rate?
  • Are clinical placements provided, and where are they located?
  • What support services are available for online students?

You can find most of this information on program websites or by attending a virtual open house. Still, many students benefit from reaching out to an admissions counselor as they can provide personalized guidance for your unique situation.

Prepare for tests and applications

In most instances, your application and test scores will be your only opportunity to impress admissions committees, so it’s essential to be thoroughly organized. Start by gathering the necessary documents, which typically include:

  • An active RN license
  • Official transcripts from previous institutions
  • A resume or CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement or essay
  • Proof of clinical experience

For programs requiring GRE scores, consider enrolling in a test prep program to improve your performance.

Select your program

The arrival of acceptance letters is always an exciting time, but it can quickly become overwhelming if you receive multiple. Start narrowing down your options by revisiting your initial research criteria and prioritizing what matters most to you, such as program flexibility, the faculty you’ll learn from, and student support services.

This is also an excellent time to reassess the overall cost of attendance and compare this with any financial aid offers received. Evaluating this component ensures that your chosen program aligns with your career goals and is financially feasible.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Financial aid resources are available to help minimize any debt you may accrue while earning this degree. Start by researching scholarships and grants, as these don’t require repayment. Employer tuition reimbursement programs are an excellent option — be sure to ask your employer if they offer this benefit. Federal loans can help bridge any remaining financial gaps, offering lower interest rates and flexible repayment plans compared to private loans.

Best 50 Accredited Accelerated Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Shortest Online RN-to-MSN Degree Programs_2024 badge
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University of Maryland School of Nursing
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University of San Francisco
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UMMC School of Nursing
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Nebraska Methodist College
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Southern New Hampshire University
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Herzing University
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Wilkes University
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East Tennessee State University
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Franklin University
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DePaul University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best online accelerated RN-to-MSN degree programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

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 accelerated RN-to-MSN degree 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 a Short Online RN-to-MSN Program?

An accelerated online RN-to-MSN program offers registered nurses the opportunity to advance their careers by obtaining a Master of Science in nursing degree at a quicker pace. Students in these programs learn advanced clinical skills, healthcare management strategies, and specialized knowledge in multiple areas — including family practice, gerontology, or psychiatric nursing.

The most innovative curriculums include advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, health assessment, healthcare policy, and evidence-based practice courses. Some programs may consist of leadership and management training courses and ethical considerations in healthcare.

Completion timelines for these programs generally range from two to three years, depending on your pace and the program structure. While most coursework is available online, virtually all programs require in-person components, including clinical rotations and possibly lab sessions for specific courses.

Potential courses you’ll take in a short online RN-to-MSN program

  • Pharmacology for Advanced Practice: Typically a cornerstone in most curriculums, students in this course learn about the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of various drug classes. They’ll study medication management, drug interactions, side effects, and prescribing principles. The course prepares students to make informed decisions regarding medication therapy in different patient populations, improving their ability to provide safe and effective care.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: Another foundational course, this class delves into the complexities of disease processes and how they affect the human body. Students will explore the physiological mechanisms underlying diseases, understanding the alterations in normal functions that lead to clinical manifestations.
  • Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning: This course focuses on advanced techniques in physical and health assessments across the lifespan. Students will learn to take patient histories, perform physical exams, and utilize diagnostic tools.

What Can I Do With an RN-to-MSN Degree?

The career outlook for graduates with this degree is highly positive. Impressive growth projections illustrate a substantial increase in demand for advanced practice nurses and those in leadership roles.

Career outlook

  • Nurse Practitioner — NPs provide primary and specialty care, often working independently or collaborating with physicians. They diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and manage patient care across different settings, such as family practice, pediatrics, or geriatrics.
    • Median annual salary: $129,480
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 38%
    • New jobs projected: 29,200
  • Nurse Administrator — Graduates in this role manage nursing teams and oversee healthcare operations within hospitals, clinics, or long-term care facilities. They may be responsible for a range of duties, including staffing, policy development, and ensuring compliance with healthcare regulations.
    • Median annual salary: $110,680
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 28%
    • New jobs projected: 54,700
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist — CNSs focus on improving patient outcomes and nursing practices within specific clinical areas, such as cardiology, oncology, or mental health. They provide direct patient care and serve as educators and consultants to nursing staff.
    • Median annual salary: $86,070
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 6%
    • New jobs projected:  193,100

Short Online RN-to-MSN Degree Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do accelerated degree programs work?

Accelerated RN-to-MSN degree programs allow practicing RNs to earn their Master’s in Nursing more quickly by combining online coursework with in-person clinical components. These programs are designed to be intensive, covering advanced nursing topics and leadership skills in a condensed timeframe.

To learn more about the benefits and challenges of these programs and decide if this fast-paced option fits your career goals, visit our page on the pros and cons of these programs.

How long does it take to complete a short online RN-to-MSN degree program?

Earning your online RN-to-MSN degree in an accelerated program takes two to three years, compared to the usual three to five years for traditional programs. Assessing the total number of required credits is essential, as this can vary by program and impact the overall duration.

How much does a short online RN-to-MSN degree cost?

The average cost for graduate degrees was $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year, though specific tuition prices vary by program. You’ll also want to budget for extra costs like technology fees, course materials, and textbooks, which are often not included in the tuition price and can add up over time.

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