2022 Best Online Master's in Nursing (MSN) Programs (2024)

MSN Program Overview

An MSN is a post-graduate degree program that helps students with a strong professional or academic background in nursing to broaden their knowledge of the field and advance their careers. RNs usually undertake this level of education with some years of work experience already under their belt. In general, individuals with field experience and a bachelor’s degree, already have the prerequisite knowledge to pursue further education.

Overall, an MSN degree program focuses on developing leadership and research skills to prepare students for advanced positions in the workplace and higher levels of responsibility. Master’s programs offer courses in advanced biochemistry, advanced pharmacology, and medical equipment operation, to name a few. Coursework also expands its scope to cover management tactics, healthcare policy, and nursing specializations.

Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing allows you to gain knowledge and experience in a more specific area of nursing, opening up opportunities to explore more job options and achieve higher pay.

Some nursing specializations include critical care, medical-surgical nursing, public health, gerontology, and mental health. Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing allows you to gain knowledge and experience in a more specific area of nursing, opening up opportunities to explore more job options and achieve higher pay. If you’re interested in moving into a new area of nursing, consider a master’s degree program.

What Are the Requirements for Online MSN Programs?

Although it depends on the type of nursing program, most online MSN programs have the same requirements: a college degree in the nursing field, an RN license, and work experience. Some programs, however, also require an interview, letters of recommendation, and a statistics course. Check the admission requirements of the programs you’re interested in to find their specific criteria.

How Long Does It Take To Complete an Online MSN?

Many programs have full- and part-time options. Since most online MSN programs take one to two years to complete with a full-time schedule, if you’re interested in working toward your degree part time, it may take upwards of three years. These programs may also require a thesis or capstone project, which can add a semester or two to your program.

Although some universities offer entirely online programs, they may still include an in-person practicum or lab. Some universities also require clinic hours, which entails working in-person as a nurse. Check with the programs you are interested in to see how many in-person hours they require. If you obtain your MSN while working, your work hours may count toward your practicum hours.

Three Main Types of Master's Degrees

There are three primary types of master's degrees in nursing for aspiring students to consider: (1) RN to MSN programs, (2) Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to MSN programs, and (3) direct entry MSN programs.


Online RN to MSN programs are the most common degrees because they are designed for individuals who are already RNs but would like to further their knowledge in the field. Applicants need to hold a valid RN license and have — at least — an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma. In many cases, RN to MSN programs also confer a BSN upon students once they complete the undergraduate portion of the coursework. These programs allow students to accelerate the process of earning their BSN and MSN degrees, as compared to enrolling in separate BSN and MSN programs. Online RN to MSN programs may take approximately two years of study.


Online BSN to MSN programs are geared toward students who already have an accredited bachelor's degree in nursing. Applicants must have a valid RN license in addition to their BSN, and they often need to have experience working as a nurse to be eligible. Aspiring nursing master's students with a BSN will want to look for this type of online MSN program.


Online direct entry MSN programs are designed for students who already have an accredited bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing. These degree programs enable students to fast-track their nursing careers by allowing them to skip the process of earning a BSN before enrolling in a graduate nursing program. Direct entry programs are not intended for students with an RN license or a BSN.

Is Getting an MSN Worth It?

In the past few years, the field of health care has been pushed to the limit. As a result, nurses are in high demand, especially RNs, travel nurses, and those with MSNs who have specialized knowledge and can support doctors and health care facilities with their expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the role of specialized nurses — such as nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists, and midwives — is projected to grow by 45% through 2030.

This is over five times the US national job growth average across occupations. And the BLS' grouping of these roles presents an annual median salary of $123,780. Specifically, nurse practitioners are projected to increase by 52.2% over the next decade.

In addition to a promising job outlook, nursing can be a satisfying and fulfilling career. Nursing allows individuals to work closely with patients and guide them through their recovery. If you’re someone who enjoys helping people and supporting them during trying times, consider pursuing an MSN online and furthering your education.

There are a few possible cons to consider as well, however. Nurses work in a high-risk environment, spending a lot of their time around people with illnesses. The same compassion that provides satisfaction and fulfillment may lead to emotional exhaustion. It can be difficult to provide for others in distress so often. Nurses and health care workers are also at higher risk for injuries. Registered nurses take a median of 12 days off each year due to injury.

In general, the health care field is rapidly growing, and it’s projected to continue expanding. While there is the risk of injury, there are also reasons to enter the field of nursing. Your choice largely depends on your personal circ*mstances, and it's important to weigh the long-term impact of such a large financial investment, which is why we base our rankings list of online nursing schools on salary score.

What Can You Do With an MSN?

Once you’ve earned your nursing masters, several career paths become available. An RN with a master’s in nursing is referred to as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). They are eligible for many positions such as a nursing consultant, research nurse, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse administrator.

If you’re interested in community education, consider public health nursing. These nurses advocate for community-led health education programs. They visit medical centers and work within the community to provide health care. Another job option for MSN graduates may involve research and clinical trials. For example, clinical research nurses aid doctors during studies and trials by finding participants, analyzing data, and synthesizing results into formal reports.

Nurses with an MSN may also pursue administrative and management roles. Nursing directors, for example, run the nursing departments at hospitals, medical centers, and other health care facilities. They lead teams of nurses and coordinate between departments to provide the best care possible for their patients. If you’re interested in a specific area of medicine, it’s also possible to specialize in a field like oncology, pediatrics, or orthopedics.

Do you already know your career goals? Check out our articles about how to become a neonatal nurse, pediatric nurse, or nurse anesthetist.

What Is the Best Online MSN Program?

To find the best online MSN degree, it's important to first consider the cost of the program and potential financial aid options in order to alleviate the burden of student loan debt. The cost of an MSN program includes tuition, any necessary supplies, and time investment — including practicum and/or clinic hours. The university may provide financial aid directly, but there are also independent scholarships and grants for those pursuing advanced nursing degrees.

In order to find the right school for you, consider several other components besides cost:

How Much Does an Online MSN Cost?

According to our internal data, the most affordable MSN programs range from approximately $295 to $350 per credit hour. Depending on the program, some online colleges base tuition on a monthly rate, such as charging $250 per month. Even at these cheaper-than-average tuition rates, it's still helpful to thoroughly research available financial aid options.

Financial Aid for Online MSN Programs

Several organizations provide financial aid for online MSN programs. For example, the Oncology Nursing Foundation offers awards, grants, and scholarships each year for MSN students, specifically. Additionally, the Health Resources and Services Administration offers a monthly stipend for tuition, fees, and learning supplies. There are also organizations, like Johnson & Johnson, that assist students in finding financial aid programs that provide tuition reimbursem*nt and other forms of financial assistance.

Read our financial aid guide to learn how online students can apply and obtain financial assistance.

2022 Best Online Master's in Nursing (MSN) Programs (2024)


What is the fastest BSN to MSN program? ›

10 Fastest RN to MSN Online Programs
  • Quinnipiac University.
  • Union University.
  • University of Maryland-Baltimore.
  • University of San Francisco.
  • Western University of Health Sciences.
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
  • Wilkes University.
  • Western Governors University.
5 Jun 2022

How long is the MSN program at WGU? ›

The BSN to MSN degree program takes approximately two years to finish.

Is WGU MSN program accredited? ›

WGU bachelor's and master's online nursing degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or CCNE. This organization is nationally recognized as an accreditation agency.

What is the #1 nursing school in the US? ›

What is the #1 nursing school in the US? Duke University is currently rated as the #1 nursing school in the U.S.

What is the hardest course in nursing school? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What is the easiest MSN to get? ›

15 Easiest MSN Online Programs to Get Into – 2022
  • RN-to-MSN Nursing Leadership and Administration (CCNE-accredited) Capella University. ...
  • Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner Bradley University. ...
  • Master of Science in Nursing Purdue University Global.

How fast can you get an MSN? ›

The time investment will vary depending on the nurse's educational path, but MSN programs typically take between 18 months and three years to complete. How long a master's in nursing program takes is predicated on the student's current degree, the type of program they select and the program delivery format.

Can you do RN-to-MSN without a BSN? ›

There are registered nurse (RN) to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs as well as direct-entry MSN programs that don't require a BSN. If you have a desire to work in health care within a meaningful role, you might be interested in a career as a nurse practitioner.

Is MSN the same as NP? ›

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

One of the most common graduate degrees pursued by aspiring nurse practitioners is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which is really going to be the lowest level of education you can complete and work as an NP.

Is WGU accredited? ›

Western Governors University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), an institutional accreditation body of colleges and universities in a seven-state region that includes WGU's headquarters of Utah.

Is WGU FNP program accredited? ›

Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), WGU Indiana's online MSN FNP program consists of 16 courses and 48 competency units (CUs), the equivalent to the traditional credit hour.

Is getting your MSN worth it? ›

The average BSN nurse makes approximately $73,000 vs. an MSN-prepared nurse who makes $90,000 or more, depending on specialty. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that NP's, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists make $117,670 per year. Higher pay is one of the biggest reasons why an MSN degree is worth it!

Is FNP or DNP better? ›

Primary Differences between FNP and DNP

The biggest differences between the FNP and DNP degrees are education, training, and experience. In a clinical setting, FNPs are known to take a while DNPs utilize technology, healthcare, and business acumen for nursing best practices.

Is an MSN MBA worth it? ›

Nurses who earn an MSN or MBA will be strongly considered for business and leadership roles in healthcare facilities. Combining your experience in nursing with a master's degree puts you in an excellent position for a fresh new role in healthcare.

Is MSN same as nurse practitioner? ›

One of the most common graduate degrees pursued by aspiring nurse practitioners is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which is really going to be the lowest level of education you can complete and work as an NP.

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