Top MSN Programs in North Carolina 2023

Whether you’re looking for an on-campus, online, or hybrid MSN program in North Carolina, here are the best ones to apply to in 2023.

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Angela Myers

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Angela Myers is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about health, finance, and education. When she's not writing, you can find her reviewing books on her Instagram and TikTok. Angela received her degree in Professional Writing and Rhetoric from Elon University. Currently, she's traveling the world as a digital nomad.

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North Carolina is No. 2 on the list of states with the largest projected shortage of registered nurses. So, if you’re an RN in North Carolina, you’ll most likely have your pick of jobs. But what if you could walk into a job interview confident that you can get the job and be poised for a higher salary because of your education level? By getting your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), you’ll have the necessary education to get that higher salary and to advance into nurse manager and nurse practitioner roles.

In this guide, we’ll cover the different types of MSN programs, the best ones in North Carolina, and how to determine which is the right fit for you.

Best Accredited MSN Programs in North Carolina

Looking for the best MSN program in North Carolina can be tricky. The state offers some of the best universities in the country. It is home to the Research Triangle, known for having three top-tier research universities—North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill—just minutes apart. We’ve analyzed the top accredited MSN programs in the state. See which programs stand out in terms of affordability, academic excellence, and student support resources in 2023.

Duke University


If you want to attend a nationally recognized program, consider the Master of Science in Nursing from Duke University. Duke offers both clinical and non-clinical degrees for nurses looking to advance their careers. Students choose from more than eight majors: adult-gerontology nurse practitioner-acute care, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner-primary care, family nurse practitioner, health informatics, neonatal nurse practitioner, nursing and healthcare leadership, nursing education, pediatric nurse practitioner-acute care, pediatric nurse practitioner-primary care, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner. For all majors, classes are offered online, though a two- to five-day on-campus session with faculty and experts is required each semester. In the final semester, students complete an in-person clinical residency under the mentorship of an expert in their field. Typically, this MSN program in North Carolina takes about three years to complete, though the length can vary depending on whether a student takes courses part-time or full-time.

UNC Chapel Hill

UNC offers a high-quality, hybrid MSN program at its Chapel Hill campus. Students in this program choose between four concentrations: adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, or psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. In all concentrations, students have the ability to take a mix of online and face-to-face classes, with the opportunity to do research in UNC Chapel Hill’s medical facilities. Along with courses in their concentration, all students take clinical and professional core courses as well as research courses, which include authoring a master’s paper. Because both the core courses and concentration classwork is advanced, applicants should already have their BSNs, be registered nurses, and have some work experience. Most students complete the program in two to four years, depending on whether they take full or part-time courses.

East Carolina University

East Carolina University offers a hybrid Master of Science in Nursing. The curriculum is a blend of theoretical courses and hands-on experiences so students develop expertise while also understanding how to apply that knowledge in a work environment. When applying to the program, students choose between seven concentrations: health systems leadership, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing-midwifery, neonatal nurse practitioner, clinical nursing specialist: neonatal, and clinical nursing specialist: gerontology. Each concentration is highly specialized, preparing students for a specific track in the nursing field. No matter which concentration a student chooses, they should be able to complete this MSN program in North Carolina in two years as a full-time student or four years as a part-time student. While most students already have their BSN, there is a licensure option for those with a bachelor’s in a related field, though this option will take more time and may include a different curriculum.

Key Benefits of Earning an MSN Degree in North Carolina

North Carolina is in desperate need of nurses. Not only that, but North Carolina needs nurse practitioners and nurse leaders, as more than 30% of nurses planning to retire in the next five years. The best MSN programs in North Carolina prepare you to take on new career challenges. With an MSN, you’re better able to take on those leadership positions or work in highly specialized fields, such as adult gerontology (which is in the top three most in-demand nursing fields in North Carolina).

Ready to Take on Leadership Roles

Because so many nurses in North Carolina are nearing retirement age, the UNC school system predicts there will be many nurse leadership roles opening up in the next five years. Usually, candidates for these roles have advanced education, such as an MSN. So, by getting your MSN, you’re setting yourself up for advantageous roles in the future and the ability to accelerate your nursing career.

High Demand for Specialists and Expert Nurses

Getting your MSN makes you an expert in a certain field of nursing. Since North Carolina is critically short on hospital and adult-geriatric nurses, earning an MSN with a specialty in these areas makes you a hot commodity in the job market. In turn, this specialized knowledge provides more job security, a higher salary potential, and opportunities to advance into leadership roles.

State Investments in Your Education

Since North Carolina is facing one of the worst nursing shortages in the country, the state government and different in-state universities are heavily investing in education facilities, nursing students, and nursing professionals. At the university level, the UNC school system is updating its facilities and offering more online courses. From a monetary perspective, state organizations like the North Carolina Nurses Association offer more scholarships than ever. Once students graduate, this high-quality education can translate into a higher earning potential.

In North Carolina, What Should You Look for in a Quality MSN Program?

When looking for MSN programs in North Carolina, make sure high-quality, accredited options are on your list. While the exact definition of a high-quality program differs from person to person, here are three surefire signs that you’re looking at a top-notch MSN program:

State Approved and Nationally Accredited

In order to get advanced licenses and renew your current nursing license, you must attend a program with nursing accreditation. In North Carolina, you should make sure a program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the North Carolina State Board of Nursing. Depending on the specialization, you might also want to look for accreditation from other national organizations, such as the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program. Check out all MSN programs approved by the North Carolina State Board of Nursing.


Depending on your career goals, you’ll want to make sure your MSN program in North Carolina has a degree or major in the field you want to specialize in. For example, if you currently work in a psychiatric ward and want to continue in that setting, look for a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program. The exact specializations or courses offered will differ, so make sure the universities you apply to have high-quality programs in your desired area.

Flexible Learning Format

Since many students complete their MSN while working full-time, finding a high-quality program with flexible learning options is important. This could include the ability to complete your degree on a part-time basis while working full-time, the ability to enroll in hybrid or fully online courses, or resources for students who work full-time.

Types of MSN Programs in North Carolina

Traditional MSN

A traditional MSN program is ideal for students who already have their bachelor’s degree in nursing, have some nursing experience, and want to advance their careers. Usually, these programs are offered in person or in a hybrid format.

Examples of North Carolina Nursing Schools with This Program

Duke University

UNC Chapel Hill

Direct Entry MSN

Students who have a bachelor’s degree in another area and are looking to enter the nursing field should consider direct entry MSN programs. It’s important to note that these programs are more difficult to find and often take longer to complete.

Example of North Carolina Nursing School with This Program

East Carolina University

Accelerated MSN

If you want to complete your MSN in as little time as possible (and potentially save money doing so), consider accelerated MSN programs. These programs set up the curriculum so students can complete their degrees quickly.

Examples of North Carolina Nursing Schools with This Program

University of North Carolina Wilmington

University of North Carolina Charlotte


Let’s say you have your RN, but you don’t have your BSN. While some schools require you to have your BSN to start an MSN program, others don’t. RN to MSN programs allow direct entry for registered nurses with work experience.

Example of North Carolina Nursing School with This Program

University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Dual Master’s

If you want to deepen your nursing expertise while also expanding your knowledge in a complementary field, consider a dual master’s program. Often, the dual degree is with an MBA in health management, such as the dual degrees offered by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) and Gardner-Webb University. Upon completion, students can advance into nursing leadership roles or other healthcare administrative positions.

Examples of North Carolina Nursing Schools with This Program


Gardner-Webb University

Online MSN Programs in North Carolina

Online and hybrid MSN programs are ideal for those who work full-time while getting their MSN. Taking classes from the comfort of your own home saves both time and money. These flexible programs can sometimes also be taken at your own pace, but accredited online programs offer the same high-quality education as in-person programs. In North Carolina, hybrid programs are more common than fully online ones.

FAQs: MSN Programs in North Carolina

What Can You Do with an MSN in North Carolina?

An MSN program in North Carolina opens a wide variety of career opportunities. MSN graduates are prepared to be nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, or nurse anesthetists. An MSN also prepares students for advanced careers in nursing administration and nurse education. It also allows you to work in a nursing clinical specialization, forensic nursing, or nursing informatics. The exact career options depend on a program’s specializations. For example, graduates of Duke University can become adult-gerontology practitioners in either acute or primary care, while those from UNC Chapel Hill can only become adult-gerontology practitioners in primary care. Depending on your career goals, an MSN can also lead to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

In North Carolina, How Long Does It Take to Complete an MSN Program?

The time it takes to earn your MSN can vary, depending on the program’s curriculum and if you take courses part-time or full-time. Most students complete their degree in two to four years, such as through the program at Duke University. However, with an accelerated program, students can complete an MSN faster. At the University of North Carolina’s Wilmington campus, students can complete their MSN in less than a year.

How Affordable Are MSN Programs in North Carolina?

The cost of an MSN varies, depending on the type of school, the type of MSN program (direct entry vs. standard MSN vs. accelerated), where you live, how long it takes you to complete your degree, and if you are attending an online or in-person program. In general, online programs tend to be more affordable. Check out how much you can expect to pay at three high-quality, accredited online programs in North Carolina:

What are the Admissions Requirements for MSN Nursing Programs in North Carolina?

The admission requirements vary from program to program. In general, most universities expect students to have at least a BSN and be licensed nurses in the state of North Carolina. Some schools, like UNCG, also require letters of recommendation and a résumé. Other programs, like the one from Appalachian State, require students to have at least one year of nursing work experience before they apply to the program. Make sure to read over each program’s requirements carefully before applying to make sure you’re eligible.

Can I Get Financial Aid in North Carolina to Help Pay for My MSN program?

Many financial aid options are available to help students pay for an MSN program in North Carolina. The state of North Carolina offers merit-based loans, as well as student loan forgiveness options for nurses. Independent organizations based in North Carolina, such as the North Carolina Nurses Association, also offer scholarships, loans, and grants to MSN students. Apart from North Carolina–specific financial aid, nationwide scholarships are also available. Check our nursing scholarship guide to learn more. For other financial aid options, check out EduMed’s financial aid guide.

Inside Look at Online MSN Degrees in North Carolina

Hybrid and online programs are common in North Carolina, though each program is set up differently. Some programs, like the one at UNCG, offer fully asynchronous online classes that you take at your own pace. However, asynchronous classes are the exception, not the rule. Most online programs have set class times and require in-class participation.

While there are some high-quality online MSN programs in North Carolina, many programs are offered on a hybrid basis. Some hybrid programs are almost fully online, with only a couple of visits to campus. Duke University falls into that camp, as students can complete all coursework online, except a two-to-five-day in-person seminar each semester. Other hybrid programs, like the one at UNC Chapel Hill, are an equal blend of in-person and online classes.

Standout Online MSN Programs in North Carolina

Appalachian State University

Those who already have their BSN and are looking for a rigorous, online MSN program should consider Appalachian State University. This program is designed for licensed nurses who want to expand their expertise and hone their skills in a specific area of nursing. The curriculum is designed so students take 24 hours of advanced nursing courses and 12 hours in a concentration of their choice. Many students concentrate on nursing education, as that’s what Appalachian State offers the most courses in. Students must also complete a research thesis and advanced clinical practicums. Since many students work full-time while enrolled in the program, all courses are offered online. Class lectures are live and include hands-on participation. By the end of the program, students will be ready to advance their careers or continue to get their DNP.


If you want an online MSN with maximum flexibility, consider the program from UNCG. The program has been set up so all coursework can be taken online in an asynchronous format, meaning you can take classes whenever work for your schedule instead of logging in at set class times. UNCG students can take courses on a part-time basis while working a full-time job; if students currently work in nursing, their full-time job satisfies the 210 clinical hours requirement. The program’s courses are also more holistic, giving students an understanding of the nursing field as a whole instead of specialized knowledge in one field of nursing. Since the coursework is more advanced, successful applicants should already have their BSN and be licensed nurses in the state of North Carolina.

Do Employers in North Carolina Accept Graduates from Online MSN Programs?

As long as students attend an accredited online program, employers will view an online MSN program in North Carolina as the equivalent of an in-person program. No matter if you’re attending a hybrid, in-person, or fully online program, make sure the program is accredited by the North Carolina State Board of Nursing and CCNE.

Job Outlook & Salary Details for MSN Nurses in North Carolina

Getting your MSN is great, but how does it impact your salary and employability? Check out how much MSN nurses make and how in demand they are in North Carolina.

Are MSN Nurses in High Demand in North Carolina?

While nurses from all educational backgrounds are in demand in North Carolina and the United States, MSN-educated nurses are in even greater demand. In the next 10 years, the number of nurse practitioners needed in North Carolina will increase by over 55%. This far exceeds the national expected growth rate of 40% in the next 10 years, making North Carolina a great state for MSN graduates. In fast-growing metro areas like Charlotte and Raleigh, demand could be even higher. For years to come, those with an MSN in North Carolina can expect to be in demand and to enter job interviews with a lot of negotiating power.

How Much More Does an MSN Nurse Make in North Carolina?

Between the low cost of living and high nurse salaries, North Carolina is a great spot for nurses—especially if they have their MSN. In fact, North Carolina is in the top 16 states with the highest nursing salaries. With just an RN or BSN, nurses can expect to make $56,274 to $84,412 in North Carolina, depending on their experience and education level. With an MSN, nurses in North Carolina make way above the state’s average salary range. Nurse practitioners make $104,000 a year on average in North Carolina, though this can vary based on a nurse’s area of expertise and the number of years in their field.