In Focus: Top Online MSN Programs in 2020

Review top schools, look inside the online programs, and read how an online MSN can help you move your nursing career forward.

Last Updated: 08/03/2020
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MEET THE EXPERT

Stephanie Johannsen
Stephanie Johannsen

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Stephanie Johannsenis a Registered Nurse (RN) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA). Her unique background includes extensive clinical and administrative roles in hospitals, insurance companies, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), drug companies, start-up joint ventures, ambulatory centers, hospice, long term care, home health, travel nursing and overseas education. She also worked as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) assisting with class action lawsuits, medical malpractice cases and catastrophic injury cases. Stephanie has had an exciting career fully exploring nearly every aspect of health care and thrives on sharing those experiences with others who wish to enter the field.

Online MSN programs give you the opportunity to earn an advanced nursing degree with maximum flexibility. Much of the coursework can be completed via online learning while clinicals and lab work take place on campus (or at an agreed-upon third-party site). But when it comes to choosing the right program, how do you know? You can start by reviewing each school’s and program’s main elements. Are they affordable? Do they offer student services and career placement? Do they have the accreditation you need to get hired?

Leveraging data from the U.S. Department of Education, EduMed.org has researched and analyzed more than 7,700 accredited colleges and universities nationwide. The result? A detailed list of the top schools with MSN programs available online. See which schools have the best combinations of quality, flexibility, and affordability in 2020.

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About the ranking

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Methodology for EduMed’s 2020 Rankings

To be considered for this ranking, each school must have the following:

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Program(s) offered at least partially online.

School Metrics Explained

EduMed.org data scientists analyzed government higher education data and created a proprietary algorithm to rank each U.S. postsecondary institution and its online programs using 5 primary factors:

  • Cost: Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Online Program Availability: Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to Department of Education.
  • Academic Counseling: Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement: Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid: Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Most recent data pull: February 2020

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Indiana University-Purdue University-IndianapolisIndianapolis, IN Public $$ 3

IUPUI offers its Master of Science in Nursing with six distance-accessible tr acks: Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist; Nursing Education; Nurse Leadership in Health Systems; Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist; Pediatric Nurse Practitioner; and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. All six tracks require completion of 42 credit hours, and each can be completed in as little as two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study. All tracks feature online didactic coursework. However, some programs require some on-campus participation as well as completion of 525 in-person clinical/practicum hours at a facility within the state of Indiana (with the exception of the Nurse Education track which requires 225 clinical/practicum hours that can be completed at an approved site within the student’s local area).

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
2 Southwestern Oklahoma State UniversityWeatherford, OK Public $$ 2

The online BSN to MSN program from Southwestern Oklahoma State University is a 33-credit hour program open to BSN or nursing diploma holders (or those in the last semester of their BSN program) who are residents of a SARA-approved state. Degree plans are available in Administration and Education. All coursework is delivered 100% online and students are not required to come to campus at any time. An in-person practicum assignment is required, however. Courses are offered in eight-week sessions with five total sessions each calendar year. Both full-time and part-time curriculum formats are available. Full-time students can earn their degree in as little as one year and eight weeks, but students have up to three years and eight weeks to complete their programs.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
66%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
3 Seton Hall UniversitySouth Orange, NJ Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 3

There are two distance education MSN concentration options available through Seton Hall University Online. The 30-credit hour MSN Health Systems Administration with Case Management prepares graduates to take on management positions in nursing and patient services settings. The 48-credit hour MSN in Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner prepares graduates to provide compassionate, evidence-based care to adolescent through elderly patient communities. The MSN-AGDNP program is offered with both Primary Care and Acute Care tracks. Students in both concentrations complete all didactic coursework online. However, Adult Gerontology NP students are required to attend three on-campus immersion experiences during the course of their studies, and students in both concentrations must complete in-person clinical requirements (160 hours for AGNP students, 175 for Health Systems Administration students).

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
4 Grantham UniversityLenexa, KS Private, For-Profit $ 2

Grantham University nursing students have four MSN specialization options to choose from that feature online courses of study. The Case Management specialization teaches students to improve patient outcomes through healthcare systems evaluations and patient referrals. The Nursing Education specialization is for students interested in teaching roles in both academic and healthcare environments. Student opting for the Nursing Informatics specialization will learn to effectively manage electronic database systems and technologies to improve patient care. And Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership specialization students gain the knowledge and skills needed to become leaders in administration and management in a variety of nursing and health services settings. All four tracks require completion of 36 credit hours of didactic and clinical coursework. Students can earn their degrees in 24 months or less.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
17%
AccreditationDistance Education Accrediting Commission
5 University of North AlabamaFlorence, AL Public $$ 1

Three specialization tracks are offered to MSN students by the University of North Alabama: the 32-credit hour Nursing Leadership in Organizational Environments and Nursing in Teaching-Learning Environments tracks, and the 41-credit hour Family Nurse Practitioner track. Coursework for all three tracks is completed entirely online, with no campus visits required of the Teaching and Leadership track students. FNP track students, however, are required to attend two separate intensive experiences on UNA’s Florence campus. Additionally, all online MSN students are required to complete in-person clinical hour components. Unconditional admission requirements include a previously-earned BSN degree and unencumbered RN license. Students not meeting all full admission requirements may be admitted on a case-by-case basis. Both full-time and part-time study options are available.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
71%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
6 University of MobileMobile, AL Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1

Three MSN tracks featuring online courses of study are available from the University of Mobile: Executive Leadership (42 credit hours), Family Nurse Practitioner (46 credit hours), and Nursing Education (39 credit hours). Didactic coursework is completed entirely online. However, all MSN students must complete in-person clinical hour requirements (480 hours for Executive Leadership and Nursing Education students, 560 hours for FNP students) at an approved healthcare services site. FNP track students are additionally required to attend one on-campus intensive each semester. All three tracks require applicants to hold both a previously-earned BSN degree from a regionally-accredited institution and a current unencumbered RN license. A minimum of one year of clinical experience is preferred but not required for FNP track applicants.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
94%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
7 Troy UniversityTroy, AL Public $$ 1

Troy University’s online MSN program is available in three concentration tracks: Nursing Healthcare Informatics (for students interested in healthcare-related computer database systems and technologies); Nursing Leadership (preparing graduates for administrative and management positions in nursing and other patient services environments); and Family Nurse Practitioner (for students seeking the knowledge and skills necessary to diagnose, treat, and manage the healthcare needs of patients throughout the life span and across the range of treatment settings). All three programs feature online coursework and in-person clinical requirements, and are based out of the school’s Phenix City, Montgomery, and Troy campuses. Admission requirements include, among others, an unencumbered and current RN license and a BSN degree earned from a regionally-accredited school and nationally-accredited bachelor’s program. Applicants with a BSN degree from an unaccredited program will be considered for admission on a case-by-case basis.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
8 Stevenson UniversityStevenson, MD Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1

Stevenson University offers its CCNE-accredited online Master of Science in Nursing program with three concentrations: Nursing Education (preparing graduates for educator roles in clinical and academic settings), Nursing Leadership/Management (for nursing professionals seeking administrative and management positions in healthcare services organizations), and Population-Based Care Coordination (preparing graduates to evaluate quality and safety outcomes in community health systems). Stevenson’s MSN program is a BSN to MSN program, meaning that applicants must possess a nursing bachelor’s degree earned from a regionally-accredited college or university for admission. Applicants must also hold a current RN license which they must maintain throughout their courses of study. Applicants are not required to submit GRE scores, however, and there are no program application fees. Stevenson also features discounted tuition rates for students coming from community colleges, hospitals, and other organizations with a partnership agreement with Stevenson.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
9 Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY Public $$$ 6

The online MSN program from Stony Brook University is distinguished by its wide range of study options, offering eight degree specializations: Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner; Family Nurse Practitioner; Neonatal Nurse Practitioner; Nurse Midwifery; Nursing Education; Nursing Leadership; Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner; and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. All specialization curriculums feature online didactic coursework combined with on-site clinical and other components. Specific credit hour, on-campus, and in-person clinical hour requirements vary by specialization. Admission is open to students with a current unencumbered RN license and previously-earned bachelor’s degree. Applicants with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree may be offered conditional acceptance, but must submit a Clinical Practice Portfolio evidencing baccalaureate-level nursing competencies to gain full program admittance.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
10 Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MN Private, For-Profit $$$ 3

Students of Capella University’s online MSN degree program choose from among four specializations: Care Coordination, Nursing Education, Nursing Informatics, and Nursing Leadership & Administration. All four specializations are available in both BSN-to-MSN and RN-to-MSN courses of study. Coursework for all specializations is delivered entirely online. Total credit and in-person clinical hour requirements vary by specialization. Capella’s MSN program is available in two unique learning and cost formats: The FlexPath format features self-paced learning with no classroom discussions and a flat per-session tuition fee, while the more traditionally-structured GuidedPath format features a set course schedule with weekly assignments, an active peer student community with class discussions, and tuition costs that vary by term or course load.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
50%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
11 University of Oklahoma-Health Sciences CenterOklahoma City, OK Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
12 Concordia University-WisconsinMequon, WI Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
98%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
13 Xavier UniversityCincinnati, OH Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
14 George Washington UniversityWashington, DC Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
75%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
15 University of Cincinnati-Main CampusCincinnati, OH Public $$$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
16 University of Alabama at BirminghamBirmingham, AL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
74%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
17 Jacksonville UniversityJacksonville, FL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
94%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
18 Purdue University GlobalDavenport, IA Private, For-Profit $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
19 The University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL Public $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
20 Maryville University of Saint LouisSaint Louis, MO Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
21 University of South AlabamaMobile, AL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
22 Jacksonville State UniversityJacksonville, AL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
66%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
23 University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
24 University of Detroit MercyDetroit, MI Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
25 South University-Savannah OnlineSavannah, GA Private, For-Profit $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
30%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
26 Indiana State UniversityTerre Haute, IN Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
64%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
27 The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
28 California State University-ChicoChico, CA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
40%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
29 Wilmington UniversityNew Castle, DE Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
16%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
30 Thomas Edison State UniversityTrenton, NJ Public $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
31 McKendree UniversityLebanon, IL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
97%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
32 Herzing UniversityBirmingham, AL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
33 University of St FrancisJoliet, IL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
98%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
34 University of Louisiana at LafayetteLafayette, LA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
35 Nova Southeastern UniversityFort Lauderdale, FL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
36 Clarkson CollegeOmaha, NE Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
37 Georgia Southwestern State UniversityAmericus, GA Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
32%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
38 Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca Raton, FL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
39 Eastern Kentucky UniversityRichmond, KY Public $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
60%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
40 Georgia College & State UniversityMilledgeville, GA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
10%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
41 Frontier Nursing UniversityHyden, KY Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
42 Albany State UniversityAlbany, GA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
7%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
43 Northern Kentucky UniversityHighland Heights, KY Public $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
44 Florida Agricultural and Mechanical UniversityTallahassee, FL Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
45 Morningside CollegeSioux City, IA Private, Not-for-Profit $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
46 Fitchburg State UniversityFitchburg, MA Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
47 East Tennessee State UniversityJohnson City, TN Public $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
37%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
48 San Jose State UniversitySan Jose, CA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
35%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
49 California State University-Dominguez HillsCarson, CA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
69%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
50 Grand Canyon UniversityPhoenix, AZ Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 4 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
97%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
51 Loyola University New OrleansNew Orleans, LA Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
98%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
52 Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaff, AZ Public $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
53 University of Nevada-Las VegasLas Vegas, NV Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
32%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
54 University of Hawaii at ManoaHonolulu, HI Public $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
63%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
55 Texas Tech University Health Sciences CenterLubbock, TX Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

Inside Look: Online MSN Profiles

With so many schools and programs offering the online MSN, it can be tough to choose. You can review the best institutions and compare and contrast their stats, but to truly find the right program, you need to dig deeper. Which programs have the most online courses? How many credits until you graduate? Do they offer specializations? We’ve researched three leading online MSN programs to give you an inside look on what you can expect.

University of Central Florida

University-of-Central-Florida

Located in Orlando, Florida, the University of Central Florida (UCF) boasts one of the largest student populations of any school in the nation. UCF offers a robust online program and with a variety of undergraduate and graduate program options, including an online a master’s of science in nursing degree.

Specifically, UCF offers its MSN program in three online formats across three specializations. Students can choose to pursue their degree in cohort, full-time, or part-time formats. This maximizes flexibility and allows students to tailor learning to fit their personal needs. Depending on the format, students will take between four and seven semesters to complete their degree.

The three specializations offered are: Nurse Educator, Leadership and Management, and Nursing and Healthcare Simulation. The latter is particularly unique in that it’s the shortest UCF online MSN program at 31 credit hours. It’s designed to train nurses in healthcare simulation for education, quality improvement, and training purposes. The Nurse Educator and Leadership and Management specializations are longer, at 35 and 36 credit hours, respectively. Each specialization consists of the same four core MSN courses, along with seven or eight track-specific courses.

Jacksonville University

Jacksonville-University

Jacksonville University is a small private university with a student body of about 4,200 undergraduate and graduate students. Students interested in earning a master’s of science in nursing degree can enroll in one of the Keigwin School of Nursing’s several Online Master of Science in Nursing programs.

This university offers two online MSN programs. The first is the RN to MSN, which allows currently practicing registered nurses to earn both their BSN and MSN degrees at the same time. This can be done by completing between 141 and 144 credit hours.

Next there’s the traditional MSN online program, intended for students who already have a BSN degree. In addition to earning their MSN, these students can choose from three majors: Clinical Nurse Educator, Leadership in Healthcare Systems, and Informatics Specialization. For maximum flexibility, students complete their projects and practicums close to home or work. They can even take off 8 to 16 weeks at a time if they need a break or have to focus on personal or professional obligations.

Both online MSN programs at Jacksonville University are offered with 8-week course sessions. Students can choose between full-time or part-time pacing.

Queens University of Charlotte

Queens-University-of-Charlotte

Queens University of Charlotte is a small, private liberal arts university situated in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina. Besides providing a world class education, Queens University of Charlotte prides itself on the idea of serving one’s community. With more than 90 percent of its student body participating in service, Queens University of Charlotte has a robust nursing school, which includes an online Master of Science in Nursing program.

In recognition of the shortage of nurses in the United States, Queens University of Charlotte’s online MSN program is designed for maximum accommodation of talented students. For example, there is no GRE requirement or application fee. Students can complete their clinicals at a healthcare facility close to them; they are responsible for choosing a suitable location and qualified preceptor. Additionally, all classroom curriculum components can be completed online and asynchronously. This means that outside of completing assignments and exams at certain intervals, students can progress through each class on their own schedule.

Most classes are eight weeks in length, although a few can last as long as 16 weeks. Students can complete their MSN degree in as little as two years of full-time study in one of three MSN specializations: Clinical Nurse Leader, Nurse Administrator, or Nurse Educator.

Types of Online MSN Programs

There are lots of options for those who want to earn their master’s degree in nursing. Each program is specifically designed for a differing experience, and suits a different set of educational backgrounds of applicants. Some MSN programs are intended for registered nurses without a bachelor’s degree, while others require a bachelor of science in nursing for admission. Here’s more on the most popular types of MSN degree tracks:

Direct Entry MSN Programs

These are relatively new to academia and were created to help alleviate the shortage of health professionals within the United States. Direct entry MSN programs are designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree, but in an area of study other than nursing. Programs differ in format, but usually begin with taking pre-licensure nursing courses during the first year and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Once that is completed, students move onto the MSN related coursework. Students can choose from traditional campus-based programs or flexible online direct entry MSN programs.

The benefits

  • Time savings: Depending on the school, many direct entry programs take about three years. This is a far less time than going back to school to earn a BSN or associate degree in nursing, then obtaining an MSN (4-6 years).
  • Financial savings: Not having to earn a second undergraduate degree, whether it’s at the bachelor’s or associate level, can save tens of thousands of dollars on schooling.

The drawbacks

  • Background research required: Prospective direct entry students need to do careful background research to choose the right concentration for their MSN degree, yet do so without any prior knowledge.
  • Academic intensity: Because direct entry programs are open to students from any academic background, those with degrees that have less of a mathematical or scientific basis may have to spend extra time on those skills, and on an accelerated basis.

Best for… Direct entry programs are perfect for students who want an MSN degree, but do not want to earn a second bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing first.

Accelerated MSN Programs

Accelerated MSN programs include a curriculum set up so that that students can complete their MSN degree as quickly as possible, each unique. Some schools allow students to use their prior education or experience to help them move more quickly through a particular course. Other programs allow students to take as many courses as they want within a certain time period. Finally, some programs are extra flexible in allowing students to structure their degree requirements in the most efficient and practical way possible.

The advantages

  • Academic efficiency: Many accelerated programs allow students to take courses all year. Instead of taking off during the winter and summer breaks, you can continue with course work.
  • Potential to save money: Accelerated MSN programs reduce the amount of time a student spends in school working toward the degree. Depending on the school tuition rates, students can potentially reduce the overall cost of earning an MSN degree by reducing the time in school by an entire term.

The disadvantages

  • Higher initial cost: Accelerated programs can save time on an MSN degree in several ways, but typically allow more courses within a shorter period of time. As most schools charge per class or credit, this can result in a higher tuition cost in the short term.
  • Requires a full-time commitment: To allow students to finish their degree as quickly as possible, program administrators have set up accelerated programs such that there is little time for students to do anything else other than attend class online, study and complete clinicals.

Best for… Accelerated programs are ideal for students who want to earn their MSN as quickly as possible, and have the time and money to devote 100% of their attention to their goal.

RN to MSN Programs

Many registered nurses earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree. But many others become licensed RNs with just an associate degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program. However, a master’s degree traditionally requires incoming students to have a bachelor’s degree. To accommodate this need, many nursing schools have created special programs for non-BSN prepared RNs who want to get an MSN by building on their real-world clinical experience. Many RN to MSN programs are available online, as well.

The benefits

  • Still earn a BSN: RN to MSN programs vary, but many of them will include earning a BSN in addition to the MSN degree.
  • Large professional growth potential: For RNs who want to transition to management, education, or a specialized area of practice, a RN to MSN program is probably the most cost-effective way of getting there.

The drawbacks

  • Length of program: Because students are typically earning both a BSN and MSN degree, many RN to MSN programs last three or more years. For some nurses, it might not be worth the added time and expenses.
  • Challenging coursework: Many RN to MSN programs require students to take bachelor’s and master’s level courses at the same time. This can present an extra set of learning challenges for some.

Best for… Practicing nurses who want to advance their nursing career but don’t already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

BSN to MSN Programs

Getting an MSN degree after first earning a BSN is a traditional academic degree path. Therefore, the BSN to MSN route is the most common type of online MSN program available. Most BSN to MSN programs consist of about 35 credit hours and last about two years, if the course-load is full-time. Given how well-established these MSN programs are, students usually have the greatest opportunity to pursue a particular specialization or concentration this way.

Pros

  • Plenty of program options: Because the BSN to MSN is so common, almost every nursing school with a graduate program has this degree path, meaning there are many programs to choose from.
  • Speed of completion: Of all of the major types of MSN programs, the BSN to MSN path is the fastest. This is due to students not only having the requisite nursing background, but having already completed all foundational and general education undergraduate coursework as well.

Cons

  • Clinicals still required: Even though incoming students have already completed the clinicals necessary for earning a BSN and have real world clinical experience, BSN to MSN programs still have clinical requirements.
  • Lower return on investment: Because incoming nursing students already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, the return on investment for an MSN degree isn’t always as good when compared to other MSN programs that accept students with little to no background.

Best for… Nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing who would like to move on to the next level of their nursing career, whether in management, leadership, education or a nursing specialization.

Dual Master’s: MSN/MBA

The MSN degree is typically intended for those who want to take on lower to middle level management or leadership positions within a department or healthcare organization. For those who want to enter the corporate or executive leadership roles at the highest level, some schools have created dual degree programs. These combine the master of science in nursing degree with the master of business administration.

Why it’s a good idea

  • Create change at the highest level: With the addition of the MBA degree, nurses earn the ability to take on roles that create policy changes at the top of organizations.
  • Networking opportunities: With the combination of the MBA and MSN degrees, students will have opportunities to create connections with individuals work in both the healthcare and executive realm of an organization.

The disadvantages

  • Time commitment: Depending on the program, obtaining two degrees at once can add an extra year or more to the time it takes to graduate.
  • Admissions requirements: While it’s not impossible to gain acceptance into a joint MBA/MSN degree program, the admissions requirements are more involved and rigorous.

Best for… Anyone with a nursing background who wants to reach the highest levels of leadership within a healthcare organization.

Exploring the Online MSN Curriculum

The majority of curriculums in online MSN programs consist of three parts. The first part includes the core MSN courses that all students take, regardless of concentration. The second portion are courses specific to the student’s concentration of choice, such as nurse educator or informatics. The third part is clinicals or practicums that students must complete at an approved healthcare site.

This curriculum structure changes slightly for students without a BSN degree or nursing background. In those cases, there is an additional portion of the curriculum to cover the missing coursework, such as foundational and prerequisite nursing courses. The following sample timeline is for MSN students who already have their BSN degree and choose to take a leadership and management area of specialization.

Term Courses # Credits
Semester 1 Nursing Informatics, Advanced Practice Nursing Theories, and Dynamics within a Healthcare Organization. 9
Semester 2 Nursing elective, Research Methods, and Nurse Management. 9
Semester 3 Healthcare Resource and Financial Management, Legal and Ethical Behaviors for Advanced Practice Nurses. 6
Semester 4 Leadership and Management for Nurses and Leadership and Management Clinical. 6
Semester 5 Evidence Based Practice and Leadership and Management Internship. 6

How Do Master’s in Nursing Programs Work Online?

In most cases, all the coursework in an online MSN program will be delivered through distance learning technology. Depending on the program, the bulk of the course material is delivered and managed by learning management software. This can include handouts, tests, assignments, and lectures. The software is also used to coordinate interactions between students and educators. Some programs supplement the collaborative learning with tools like Skype or Facetime.

The exact online education process depends on the preferences of school administrators, professors, and the educational format. For example, with asynchronous learning, interactions among students and between students and the professor are not as likely to be in real time. Instead, there will probably be message boards where students can access as it’s convenient to them. If a program contains synchronous learning, it is conducted primarily in real time.

Clinicals & Labs for the Online MSN

Even though many programs tout 100% online curriculums, that doesn’t mean MSN students have no in-person education elements. In nursing school, the most significant hands-on education requirements are clinicals or practicums.

Online MSN programs also have these requirements, but because the majority of students do not live or work close to the school, they have special procedures in place for reviewing and approving clinical sites chosen by the students. These locations can be either the same place where the student currently works as an RN or a potential future employer. It’s quite common for those who make a great impression during their clinicals to have their job applications receive special consideration during the post-graduate job search.

Students should be selective in choosing a preceptor, or healthcare professional, who helps find teaching opportunities for students during the clinical. In addition to clinicals, some programs may also have on-campus intensives, immersions, or labs that students must complete.

Specializing as a Master’s in Nursing Student

One of the key benefits of studying for a master’s level nursing degree is the ability to specialize. Most schools with MSN programs have several concentrations to choose from. By opting for an appropriate concentration, nurses can receive a tailored education designed to most effectively prepare them for career advancement.

Care-coordination

Care coordination: A lesser known MSN specialization, care coordination refers to the process of providing the most effective nursing care possible by taking into account factors which affect a patient’s health. Students learn how to manage the various medical providers and professional organizations that can affect treatment plans.

Forensic-nursing

Forensic nursing: The forensic nursing concentration teaches how law enforcement and the justice system interact with medical professionals. Students will learn about topics from gathering evidence and treating victims of sex crimes to the fundamentals of providing expert medical testimony in court, as well as crime prevention.

Nursing-education

Nursing education: Also known as a Nurse Educator, this is one of the more commonly found MSN majors, partially because of a pressing need for more teachers to help train nurses and meet the rising demand for healthcare. Students will learn the skills necessary to teach in both an academic and clinical setting. Review top online MSN programs in nursing education.

Nursing-informatics

Nursing informatics: Nursing informatics is a type of information engineering subfield within healthcare. It involves using information systems to improve health outcomes in patients. In this concentration, students learn how to use computer hardware and software to tackle some of the most challenging problems in patient care management. Learn more about online nursing informatics MSN programs.

Nursing-leadership-and-administration

Nursing leadership and administration: Nursing leadership and management is a commonly available MSN major. It combines the clinical experience and management training necessary to properly lead and manage a group or department in a healthcare organization. Read about the online MSN in nursing administration.

Public-health

Public health: This specialization deals with providing care to patients within a community setting. Students learn how to apply epidemiological theories to keep a community healthy, as well as maximize their roles as health evaluators and policy creators.

Online MSN Program Admissions

Graduate-level nursing programs can be competitive. Applicants are often concerned with more than just a high GPA, and those with a non-nursing background applying to direct entry MSN programs may have to compete harder. Below we identify the parts of an application candidates should be especially focused on, and ways in which to stand out.

Entrance Exam Scores

Many MSN programs require applicants to take an entrance exam, such as the GRE, and submit their scores. These exams provide an objective measure of a student’s potential success in graduate school.

How to stand out

A strong GRE or other entrance exam score can help convince an admissions committee that a student can handle the rigors of graduate school, especially if you do not have a nursing background.

Personal statement

Outside of the interview, the personal statement provides the only opportunity for applicants to present a side of themselves they can’t otherwise show.

How to stand out

Applicants should carefully consider what to write and spend plenty of time revising the essay. Admissions officials will notice if an essay contains mistakes.

Prerequisites

Non-nursing applicants should pay close attention to prerequisites. Without having any academic or clinical nursing experience, admissions officers want some way to ensure incoming students have the fundamentals necessary.

How to stand out

You may have already taken these courses, and if you’re your grades are already established. But most non-nursing students will need to take most or all of these courses. This is actually a great opportunity for you to show what you’re capable of and what kind of academic performance the program can expect from you once you’re admitted.

Cost and the MSN Online

The cost of an online MSN degree is comparable to many other graduate level degrees, including traditional on-campus MSN programs. In some cases they are about the same price. The exact cost for each student depends on many factors, one of the largest being whether the you have in-state status for tuition purposes. In some schools where online students all pay the same rate, this doesn’t matter. At other schools, in-state residency may significantly lower tuition. The following are examples of what you can expect to pay for an MSN degree.

1 1. University of Central Florida, Nursing, MSN $5,073.46/year (in-state) and $10,769.71/year (out-of-state) or $327.32/credit (in-state) and $694.82/credit (out-of-state).
2 2. University of Cincinnati, Master of Science in Nursing $15,594.00/year (in-state) and $15,894.00/year (out-of-state) or $724.00/credit (in-state) and $739.00/credit (out-of-state).
3 3. Duke University, Master of Science in Nursing $21,228.00/year and $1,769.00/credit.
4 4. University of Alabama in Huntsville, Master of Science in Nursing $12,360.00/year and $412.00/credit.
5 5. University of Arizona, Online RN to MSN $17,200.00/year and $800.00/credit.

For information on how to pay for an online MSN program, check out the following pages: