MSN Programs in Illinois: Online and On-Campus Nursing Degrees

Launch or advance your nursing career with a quality, accredited Master of Science in Nursing degree from a great on-campus or online MSN program in Illinois. With so many options available, our guide can give you a head start on finding the right program for you.

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Michael Hoffman

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A former practicing attorney, Michael Hoffman has years of experience as a freelance journalist specializing in the research and writing of higher education content – from online learning to financial aid, and everything in between. Michael is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael practiced for several years as a civil litigator in Los Angeles and worked in Santa Monica, California as a development executive for a major film producer.

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The need for more quality, trained healthcare professionals is affecting Illinois. When nurses are in short supply, patient-to-nurse ratios are higher, patient care suffers, errors are more likely, and nurses are more prone to burnout. To get ahead of the shortage, earnings and job growth potential for nurses in Illinois are at the highest levels they’ve been in a very long time. And that’s why now may be the best time to launch or advance your career in nursing. But first, you’re going to need a degree.

This guide shows you how both current and prospective nursing professionals can benefit from earning a nursing master’s degree from one of the many high-quality, fully accredited MSN programs in Illinois. Keep reading for advice on finding the right program for you, and it highlights some of the best Illinois BSN to MSN programs available.

Best Accredited MSN Programs in Illinois

To start your program search, we’ve surveyed MSN programs in Illinois and identified three of the best. Our selections are based on the criteria students tell us are most important to them: affordability, academic quality, program options and study convenience, and access to academic and career support services. Here are the in-person and online RN to MSN programs in Illinois that stand out in 2023.

McKendree University

Academic options and study flexibility are key features of the Master of Science in Nursing program at McKendree University. The curriculum combines higher-level practice with coursework in three areas of emphasis: nursing education, nursing management/administration, or population health. The program culminates with completing a practicum/scholarly project that includes 150 hours of experiential learning in your chosen area of emphasis. All coursework is delivered 100% online in an asynchronous format, allowing students to access and complete their studies at any time. Both full-time (five semesters) and part-time (10 semesters) formats are available.

Another standout feature of McKendree’s online MSN program is its price. The current tuition rate is $495 per credit, making it one of the most affordable nursing master’s programs in Illinois. In addition, a full range of scholarships, tuition discounts, employer tuition reimbursements, and other financial aid opportunities are available.

As a traditional BSN to MSN program in Illinois, admission requires a previously earned BSN from a regionally accredited institution and a current, unencumbered RN license.

Northern Illinois University

The Master of Science in Nursing program at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb is another great MSN program in Illinois featuring online coursework and full-time and part-time study options. Students choose between two specializations. One option is the 50-credit family nurse practitioner (FNP) specialization, which prepares you for FNP national certification and advanced nursing roles. The curriculum combines 100% online coursework, three in-person internships (adult, women’s health, and pediatrics) at program-approved clinical sites, and a capstone project. The second option, the 41-credit nurse education specialization, prepares you to serve as an educator in a healthcare facility and associate and bachelor’s degree nursing programs. The nurse education curriculum also features online coursework and three internships (clinical, direct care, and classroom settings).

Admission into this traditional BSN to MSN program in Illinois requires a current RN licensure, a previously earned BSN degree, and nursing practice experience (minimum of 2,000 hours in a specialty area for nursing education students). The current per-credit tuition rates for Northern Illinois’s MSN program are $503.60 for graduate students and $743.60 for FNP students. Students start in the fall or spring.

Elmhurst University

Elmhurst University is a private, United Church of Christ-affiliated institution located about 20 miles east of Chicago. Elmhurst’s Master of Science in Nursing offers traditional MSN and RN-to-MSN courses and three specialization options: clinical nurse leader, nurse administrator, and nurse educator. Elmhurst’s MSN program is campus-based, meaning that students attend classes on campus except for some online components in the nurse administrator specialization. In addition, all MSN students complete face-to-face practicums in their specializations. The program is designed to be met with two years of full-time study (RN-to-BSN students must complete additional prerequisite courses), although part-time study can be accommodated. The current tuition rate for MSN students is $780 per semester hour. The program begins in the fall.

Elmhurst also offers an MSN/MBA dual degree in which graduates of the MSN program may continue their studies to earn their Master of Business Administration by completing a one-year, part-time curriculum consisting of six business courses.

Key Benefits of Earning an MSN Degree in Illinois

You’ll enjoy a number of benefits by completing an MSN program at an Illinois college or university. For example, current RNs and those with no nursing experience can give themselves a leg up on graduates with only a nursing diploma, associate degree, or BSN by gaining the leadership and specialization skills only available with an MSN degree. On the other hand, students with a BSN will find earning their MSN practically mandatory for any substantial career advancement. Here’s a look at three of the biggest advantages of choosing an MSN program in Illinois:

Better Pay

Not surprisingly, registered nurses with an MSN enjoy higher salaries than their counterparts with only a nursing diploma, associate degree in nursing, or BSN. According to, the average annual base salary for MSN holders in the United States is $96,000, compared to $89,000 for those with only a BSN. The salary gap gets bigger when you look at specific job titles. For example, the current annual median salary for registered nurses in the U.S. is $69,000. In contrast, salaries for common MSN-related occupations are substantially higher—$79,000 for nurse educators, $90,000 for nursing managers, and $101,000 for nurse practitioners.

More and Better Opportunities

There’s a trend in the nursing profession of considering the BSN degree the bare minimum for nurses looking toward a long-term career in the profession. That means earning an MSN—with the high level of nursing knowledge and skills it provides—is quickly becoming mandatory for all RNs interested in career advancement into specialized practice and leadership positions.

Career Fulfillment

Job satisfaction is an essential but often overlooked element when considering a college degree (or career, for that matter). Earning your MSN from a program in Illinois can provide you with a higher level of career fulfillment and job satisfaction in several ways. For example, the advanced skills you’ll gain—especially in a specialized area of nursing practice—offer MSN grads the chance to take on more challenging and engaging professional practice. You’ll also enjoy a greater sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, as well as the heightened respect of your colleagues.

Program Checklist: Qualities to Look for in an MSN Program in Illinois

You’ll want your Illinois MSN program to have several other important characteristics, along with the format and specialization choices you’re after. Here’s our list of the three most important ones:

State Approved and Nationally Accredited

Along with regional accreditation of the colleges and universities offering nursing programs, it’s crucial that you confirm the programmatic accreditation of any and all Illinois MSN programs you’re considering. Two agencies accredit MSN programs in the U.S.: the Accreditation Commission for Accreditation in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). You can check the current programmatic accreditation status of Illinois MSN programs by visiting the ACEN and CCNE websites.
In addition, the state of Illinois approves prelicensure nursing programs, including those for direct-entry MSN programs. Check the current list of state-approved master’s entry-level degree programsat the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center’s website.

Affiliations with Respected Healthcare Organizations and Facilities

Whether you choose an in-person or online MSN program in Illinois, you’ll likely be required to complete a substantial number of face-to-face clinical, classroom observation, or experiential learning hours at a local program-affiliated healthcare or health education facility. Therefore, finding an MSN program that partners with quality, highly respected healthcare facilities in locations convenient to you is a major plus, especially considering these facilities often hire the students they’ve worked with.

Quality Faculty and Student Support Services

A good question to answer when looking into MSN programs in Illinois is, “Who will be teaching me?” The best MSN faculties have doctorates and substantial academic and clinical experience, particularly in the specialized field of nursing you choose. Ask about how much access you’ll have to your professors. Put programs that feature a variety of academic and career support services at the top of your list, as those services can make the difference in a quality MSN program in Illinois.

Types of MSN Programs in Illinois

Traditional MSN

Traditional or standard MSN programs in Illinois are those that require both a previously earned bachelor’s of nursing degree and a current RN license, along with practice experience. Coursework (often available online) is combined with clinical rotation or other in-person experiential practice hours. You’re likely to be able to choose a concentration or specialization track. Traditional MSN programs typically require 15 to 36 months to complete, depending on if you choose full-time or part-time study.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Lewis University

Saint Anthony College of Nursing

Direct Entry MSN

Direct entry MSN programs are designed to provide students with no previous nursing academic and practice experience a time-saving path to becoming RNs and taking on advanced practice and leadership positions. Admission requires a previously earned bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major. The curriculum comprises nursing coursework, labs (often presented in a hybrid/blended format), and substantial clinical rotation hours (required for RN licensure). Typically, these programs take about two years of full-time study.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

North Park University

Methodist College

Accelerated MSN

A minimum of two years of full-time study is typically required to earn an MSN degree. There are a few exceptions, however. Accelerated MSN programs are those in which students complete their degree requirements in less time—sometimes in a year or less—by taking an additional course or two at a time. As you might expect, accelerated MSN programs are primarily designed for students with the time and willingness to focus their energies on intensive full-time academic study.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Chamberlain University

Olivet Nazarene University


RN to MSN programs are for current registered nurses with a nursing associate degree or diploma but without a BSN. Most RN to MSN programs feature an accelerated path leading to earning both BSN and MSN degrees, although a small number of programs forgo the awarding of a BSN. Students typically complete all required core BSN coursework and clinical hours before continuing to graduate-level nursing courses. Some programs may require both RN licensure and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree for admission. In most cases, RN to MSN students have the same specialization options as traditional MSN students.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Bradley University

DePaul University

Dual Master’s

Dual master’s MSN programs offer nursing professionals the opportunity to obtain the advanced academics and training provided in a nursing master’s program with the skills gained in another master’s field without the time, cost, and coursework of two separate master’s programs. A small number of colleges in Illinois offer MSN/MBA programs that prepare graduates to excel in leadership positions, particularly in nursing administration and healthcare management.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Benedictine University

Saint Xavier University

Online MSN Programs in Illinois

Online MSN programs in Illinois are extremely popular, with most nursing schools offering at least some of their content in a distance education format. In fact, many Illinois schools now feature nursing master’s programs with coursework completed 100% online. So what is the reason for so many online MSN programs? First, convenience. Most MSN students are working adults who continue to be employed either full-time or part-time during their studies, making the convenience and flexibility of online study a major plus. Remember, though, nursing is a hands-on profession, and even online programs will likely have some in-person requirements.

FAQs About MSN Programs in Illinois

What Can You Do with an MSN in Illinois?

MSN degrees are about moving you up the nursing career ladder into advanced practice, education, and leadership positions. Some of the most popular job titles for graduates of Illinois MSN programs include:

  • Nursing Administration and Leadership: chief nursing officer, clinical nurse manager, director of nursing, nurse administrator, nurse executive, nursing supervisor
  • Nursing Education: clinical director of education, nurse educator, nurse instructor
  • Nursing Forensics: correctional nurse specialist, forensic clinical nurse specialist, forensic nurse investigator, forensic psychiatric nurse, legal nurse consultant, nurse coroner forensic investigator
  • Nursing Informatics: clinical informatics analyst, clinical informatics nurse, health IT security and privacy specialist, nursing informatics specialist
  • Nursing Practice: adult gerontology nurse practitioner (acute and primary), clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, pediatric nurse practitioner, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, public health nurse

Graduates of MSN programs in Illinois also may continue their studies to earn their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or PhD in nursing degree.

How Long Does It Take To Earn an MSN in Illinois?

Program lengths for MSN programs in Illinois vary substantially based primarily on program type, specialization, and whether the student chooses full-time or part-time study. Here are some general time estimates for different types of MSN programs in Illinois:

  • Traditional MSN: Two to four years
  • Accelerated MSN: One year to 18 months
  • RN to MSN: Two to four years
  • Direct Entry: Three to five years

It’s important to understand that the above figures are broad estimates and that each MSN program has its own schedule. Be sure you have a clear idea of the specific schedule requirements and time limits set by the program you’re considering before you enroll.

How Much Does an MSN Program in Illinois Cost?

The costs of MSN programs in Illinois vary substantially depending on several factors, the most common of which are:

  • Public vs. Private: Private colleges tend to charge higher (sometimes significantly higher) tuition rates than public colleges. There are exceptions, however, and sometimes financial aid packages make up the difference.
  • Illinois vs. Out-of-State Residency: Illinois public nursing schools often charge higher (again, sometimes substantially higher) tuition rates to non-Illinois residents. There’s a trend, though, to charge the same tuition rate to all students regardless of residency, especially in online programs.
  • Total Credit Hours: Certain program types, like direct entry MSN programs in Illinois, require completion of a greater number of credit hours than, for example, traditional MSN programs and, therefore, are more expensive.

To give you an idea of the wide range of tuition rates, below are the current rates for three MSN programs in Illinois that feature either fully online or hybrid formats. Keep in mind that these rates don’t include additional program fees and other costs (books, uniforms, supplies, etc.) that will be part of your program’s total price tag.

What Are the Admissions Requirements for MSN Nursing Programs in Illinois?

The admissions requirements for MSN programs in Illinois vary primarily by program type. Here’s a look at the major requirements for admission into the most common MSN types:

  • Traditional MSN and Accelerated MSN: RN licensure, BSN, and nursing practice experience (amount varies by program)
  • RN to MSN: RN licensure, nursing associate degree or diploma, and nursing practice experience (amount varies by program). Some programs also require a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.
  • Direct Entry MSN: Non-nursing bachelor’s degree

Common application materials include a current résumé, letters of recommendation, personal statement/statement of purpose, criminal background check, drug screening, immunization status, and health history. Remember, however, that every MSN program in Illinois has its own specific admission requirements, so be sure you clearly understand the exact requirements for each program you’re considering before starting the application process.

Where Can I Find Financial Aid to Help Pay For My MSN Program in Illinois?

Qualifying students in properly accredited MSN programs in Illinois (including all of the programs mentioned in this guide) are eligible for a wide variety of financial aid opportunities, including scholarships and grants, assistantships and fellowships, employer tuition reimbursement programs, veterans’ benefits, and student loans. A great place to start your MSN funding search is at the financial aid offices at the nursing schools you’re considering. Two other great starting points are:

To learn more about ways to finance your MSN program, be sure to visit EduMed’s own financial aid and nursing scholarship guides.

Inside Look at Online MSN Programs in Illinois

Distance learning promises—and, for the most part, delivers—a tremendous amount of study convenience and flexibility to students in online MSN programs in Illinois. It’s important to understand that what constitutes an “online MSN program” varies from program to program.

First, online MSN programs in Illinois are described as either fully or partially online. Fully online (or 100% online) programs are those with coursework accessed and completed entirely online. Some components, most often class sessions, may be asynchronous (accessed at any time) or synchronous (requiring students to log on and attend sessions via live stream at specifically scheduled dates and times). Be careful, however. Programs touted as fully online often include hands-on labs or other elements that must be attended in person, typically on the school’s campus.

Partially online (often called hybrid or blended) programs include both online course elements (assignments, readings, tests, etc.) and all or some class sessions on campus. Class sessions for on-campus and synchronous online programs may be scheduled during weekdays, evenings, or weekends. Evening and weekend classes are common for part-time programs designed to accommodate working students with full-time jobs.

Finally, whether on-campus or online, all MSN programs in Illinois include practicums or capstone projects with substantial in-person clinical practice, classroom observations (for nurse educator students), or other face-to-face experiential learning requirements.

Standout Online MSN Programs in Illinois

Illinois State University

Illinois State University (ISU), a public university in the central Illinois community of Normal, offers one of the most affordable online MSN programs. The only problem may be finding it. To do so, you’ll have to look at ISU’s BSN to DNP program, where the MSN program is embedded as a step along the way. To earn their nursing master’s, students apply to the BSN to DNP program and, once enrolled, may elect to complete only the MSN course requirements and end their studies at that point.

MSN-seeking students choose between two specialized course sequences: FNP or nursing leadership & management. The 15-month, part-time nursing leadership & management track features fully online coursework combined with a 180-clock-hour in-person Leadership Synthesis Experience. The hybrid-formatted FNP track combines online and on-campus classes with 240 clock hours of in-person clinicals. Both five-semester full-time and eight-semester part-time options are available.

The current per-credit tuition rate for the program is $414.69 for residents of Illinois and contiguous states (Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin), making it one of the most affordable Illinois-based MSN programs available. Residents from other states pay $861.35 per credit.

University of St. Francis

The Franciscan-affiliated University of St. Francis offers its Master of Science in Nursing degree with four specialization tracks and both traditional and RN-BS-MSN options, all available in online formats. Specialization choices are FNP, nursing administration, nursing education, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. The FNP and nursing education tracks feature coursework delivered entirely online, while the nursing administration and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner tracks include some course elements that require attendance on St. Francis’s Joliet campus. RN-BS-MSN options are available for all four specializations. Admission into this traditional MSN program in Illinois requires both a previously earned BSN degree and RN licensure. Students applying to the RN-BS-MSN program must possess both RN licensure and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.

The current MSN tuition rate is $775. MSN students at St. Francis have access to a wide range of graduate financial assistance opportunities, including graduate scholarships, tuition discounts for corporate and educational partner employees, and federal and other external financial aid resources.

Do Employers in Illinois Accept Graduates from Online MSN Programs?

It’s difficult to believe that any reputable employer of nursing professionals would have reservations about hiring someone because their MSN degree was earned online. Almost all employers understand that fully accredited online MSN programs are commonplace and provide students with the same high-quality academics and clinical skills as their traditional on-campus counterparts. In short, for the vast majority of employers, the fact that you earn your MSN online is a nonissue.

Job Outlook & Salary Details for MSN Nurses in Illinois

As we mentioned in the introduction, now may be as good a time as ever to obtain your MSN degree because of the major shortage of nursing professionals impacting Illinois and the nation. The questions and answers below will give you a more detailed idea of what you might expect in terms of earnings and employment opportunities once you have your MSN.

Are MSN Nurses in High Demand in Illinois?

When it comes to employment in Illinois for MSN degree holders, the term “high demand” is an understatement. To illustrate the point, consider these statistics for nurse practitioners, one of the most popular jobs for MSN grads: According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for nurse practitioners in the U.S. between 2021 and 2031 is a whopping 45.7%. That makes it the single fastest-growing occupation in the nation. In comparison, the projected job growth for all occupations combined during the same period is 5.3%. And similar data for nurse practitioners shows Illinois falling closely in line with the nation as a whole, with a projected job growth of 43.6% (2020-2030).

How Much Do MSN Nurses Make in Illinois?

As mentioned, MSN degree holders are in high demand in various occupations in Illinois and throughout the U.S. To give you an idea of what you might expect to earn, here are the most current (May 2021) mean salary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for three MSN nursing occupations in Illinois:

  • Nurse anesthetist: $250,280
  • Nurse midwife: $115,690
  • Nurse practitioner: $120,470

Bear in mind that occupations like the ones above may require additional education, training, certification and/or licensure beyond the MSN degree.

What you actually earn in your Illinois job as an MSN degree holder will, of course, depend on a number of factors, such as your specific employer, geographic location, and years of experience in the occupation.