Top RN to MSN Online Programs in 2021

For registered nurses (RNs) looking to move into leadership or advanced practice nursing, a master’s degree may be the way to go. Explore the best RN to MSN programs, and see if an online or blended program might work 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.

last updated

Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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The best online RN to MSN degree program for you will be whichever one best suits your life. Consider your family obligations, work schedule, career goals, and study preferences. There are a number of additional factors that any program you consider should satisfy: affordability, curriculum comprehensiveness, proper accreditation, and more. We’ve surveyed the wide range of online RN to MSN programs out there to bring you our list of the best of 2021. We have provided detailed profiles of each school’s program to give you a solid grasp of what they offer and help you decide which one you want to look into further.

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About the ranking

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Methodology for EduMed’s 2021 Best Online Programs

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Affordability

  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

# 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 Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1

The RN to BSN to MSN program at Liberty University is for registered nurses who want to improve their career prospects. This accelerated program is entirely online with eight-week courses offered one at a time for a total of 153 credit hours. The result is a program completed on a flexible schedule within five years that allows working professionals to build their skills as they earn their education. RN licensure means students earn an automatic 39 credits with more potentially awarded for prior coursework. Once a student reaches the master’s section of the program, they choose from five concentrations: community health, health policy, nurse education, nursing administration, or nursing informatics.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Credits: 153
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $330.00/credit
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
89%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
2 Lamar UniversityBeaumont, TX Public $$ 1

Lamar University, a member of the Texas State University System, is home to the Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing program. This fully online degree requires 38 credit hours, which dedicated students can achieve in as little as 36 months. By earning the BSN and MSN simultaneously, students shave nine credit hours off the cost and time of earning the degrees separately. When students reach the MSN portion of the program, they can pursue the administration or education tracks. Multiple start dates make this program even more flexible. Applicants need an associate degree or diploma in nursing with a minimum of 3.0 GPA, an unencumbered nursing license, and an application with a $25 fee.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Credits: 58 credits
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $25,931.00/program
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); ACEN (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
20%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
3 The University of Texas at ArlingtonArlington, TX Public $$ 1

The College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington is home to an Accelerated Online BSN to MSN program. Students can complete the program in as little as 36 months, depending upon their choice of concentration: Administration, Education, or Family Nurse Practitioner. Once students complete the BSN portion of the program, they move to the MSN program within one semester, excluding summer. All courses are online and mostly asynchronous. Students are encouraged to attend a synchronous orientation to get familiar with the program, their professors, and peers. Academic advisors and online tutoring are available for students who hit rough patches on their road to graduation.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Credits: 68 to 71 credits
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $10,828.00/year (in-state); $20,620.00/year (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
4 The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL Public $$ 1

The University of West Florida offers many online programs in healthcare, including the RN to MSN Online. This accelerated graduate program has eight-week courses offered throughout the year, allowing students to complete both degrees within 3-4 years. This is possible through flexible scheduling and by allowing students to apply 12 of their BSN credit hours to their MSN pursuits. Upon entering the MSN program, students choose between the Nursing Education and Nurse Executive tracks. Students can shave even more credits off the requirements by transferring up to 92 credits of previous coursework. This program offers rolling admission and six start dates throughout the year.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Credits: 59 credits
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $20,503.16/program
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
5 University of ArizonaTucson, AZ Public $$$ 1

The University of Arizona College of Nursing offers the Master of Science in Nursing with the Clinical Systems Leadership concentration available at the MSN level (the two other concentrations are currently suspended). To enter the online MSN program, students need an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Though the application process is the same, those who hold an associate degree must complete three additional courses before moving into the BSN/MSN track. Students must hold a valid RN license, have passed a three-credit college statistics course in the last five years, and have at least one year of full-time work as an RN before applying.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Credits: 41 credits
  • Length: 24 months
  • Cost: $21,239.00/program
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
6 Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MN Private, For-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
50%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
7 Gonzaga UniversitySpokane, WA Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
8 Jacksonville UniversityJacksonville, FL Private, Not-for-Profit $$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
94%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
9 Southern New Hampshire UniversityManchester, NH Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
39%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
10 Quinnipiac UniversityHamden, CT Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
95%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
11 George Washington UniversityWashington, DC Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
75%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
12 Sacred Heart UniversityFairfield, CT Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
96%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
13 Drexel UniversityPhiladelphia, PA Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
98%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
14 Western Governors UniversitySalt Lake City, UT Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationDistance Education Accrediting Commission
15 Spring Arbor UniversitySpring Arbor, MI Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission

Online RN to MSN Program Details

As with most professionals, moving up the career ladder for a registered nurse almost always means heading back to school to get an advanced degree. Often, that’s a Master of Science in Nursing. An MSN degree is the gateway to positions in management, education, and advanced practice, and can also mean a substantial boost in salary. According to job market compensation website PayScale, for example, the current average annual salary for RN’s in the United States is $63,000, while the average annual salary of individuals who hold a MSN degree currently stands at $92,000.

But what about the RN who doesn’t hold the bachelor’s degree that’s often a prerequisite to admission into an MSN program? Fortunately, today there are now many high-quality, fully-accredited online RN to MSN programs that offer qualified candidates nurses a way to skip the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and go directly to earning their MSN. These online “bridge” programs are designed with the working RN in mind, offering practical curriculums, flexible study schedules, and faster completion times than traditional MSN programs.

There are a lot of questions that need answering before settling on the right online RN to MSN program. Consider asking the following questions. After reading through them, you can find answers below. We’ll break down the many components that make up an online RN to MSN program.

  • What subjects are covered in the curriculum, and what specializations are offered?
  • Are all of my courses available online, and how does online study work?
  • Is there a required in-person clinical experience, and can I complete it in my hometown?
  • Are there separate bridge and degree programs, or are the bridge elements incorporated into the actual MSN degree program?
  • How long will it take to earn my degree?
  • How much is this all going to cost me?

The RN to MSN Curriculum

In academics, RN to MSN students encounter a curriculum that includes core nursing topics in both theory and practice, as well the subjects of clinical systems and organizations, lab sciences, leadership, and more. Some schools separate bridge and MSN degree coursework into separate programs, while others combine all it into a single curriculum. Also, completion of some programs will result in the award of both BSN and MSN degrees, while others award an MSN only.

Here’s a sample of the types of courses a RN to MSN curriculum is likely to include:

General Education

Most bridge programs include foundational coursework similar to what is typically found in a BSN or other bachelor’s degree program. Part of that coursework is non-nursing general education courses in liberal arts subjects like English, math, and the natural and social sciences. Here are a few examples:

  • English Composition:
    Introduction to college-level writing (grammar, structure, proper style, etc.) and basic research skills.
  • Introduction to Sociology:
    Coverage of foundational topics such as social behavioral norms and their deviations, and social structures such as families, workplaces, schools, and political institutions.
  • U.S. Government:
    Survey of the U.S. Constitution, the structure and function of government branches, policy making, and citizen participation in the political process.

Health Sciences

Coursework in the health sciences covers a broad range of topics, such as anatomy, physiology, psychology, public health, pharmacology, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and many others. Most RN to MSN curriculums include a number of health science courses in areas that directly complement nursing practice.

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology:
    Introduction to the fundamental structures and functions of the human body, including the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and endocrine systems.
  • Microbiology:
    Overview of microbiology concepts, methods, and applications from the clinical perspective, including a discussion of microorganisms and the roles they play in the causes and treatments of diseases.
  • Pharmacology:
    Discussion of the therapeutic and adverse affects of drugs (anesthetics, muscle relaxants, pain medications, psychoactive medications, etc.) on the various systems of the body.

Nursing Theory

Nursing theory concerns the creation and structuring of nursing ideas. Studying these foundational theories helps nurses develop the knowledge and skills required to provide the best care possible for their patients. Included are “grand theories” relating to broad nursing concepts, mid-range (or narrower scope) theories, and nursing practice theories, which apply to specific nursing practice situations.

  • Nutritional Science for Health Professionals:
    Study of the scientific foundation and fundamentals of human nutrition and their relationship to food choices, food safety, health behaviors, public health, and the prevention of chronic disease.
  • Health Assessment:
    A look at the knowledge and skills associated with health promotion, prevention of disease, and the early detection of illness through the comprehensive physical assessment of the patient.
  • Community Health and Population-Focused Nursing:
    Survey of the theories and models of health promotion as they relate to cultures, communities, and other populations.

Professional Nursing & Leadership

One of the major purposes of any MSN degree program is to train students to become effective leaders in their jobs and within their professional communities. Good nursing leaders inspire their peers to work as a team to meet the goal of quality and progressive patient care.

  • Healthcare Business Dynamics:
    The application of business principles and concepts as they relate to patient-centered care across a range of health care settings, including finance, budgeting, organizational structuring, marketing, and cost-benefit analysis.
  • Policy, Politics, and Global Health Trends:
    Overview of the economic, political, and social factors influencing policies that affect acute care settings on the community, national, and global levels.
  • Quality and Safety Management:
    Examination of management strategies and the improvement of processes associated with patient safety and quality outcomes, including program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Nursing Education

Nursing education courses explore the teaching and learning approaches necessary to design, develop, and assess nursing education programs. An MSN degree is typically a prerequisite for anyone interested in pursuing a career as a nurse educator or any other advanced professional position in nursing.

  • The Role of the Nurse Educator:
    Examination of the teaching, scholarship, and service, as well as the responsibilities of the nurse educator, in the academic and health care environments.
  • Assessment and Evaluation in Nursing Education:
    Investigation of strategies used to assess and evaluate student learning in the classroom, clinical settings, laboratories, online, and other applicable education domains.
  • Emerging Trends and Challenges in Nursing Education:
    Survey and analysis of emerging nursing education trends, technologies, and challenges in the 21st century, and the role of the nurse educator as scholar and policy advocate.

How Does Earning an RN to MSN Work Online?

Here’s a look at the specifics on studying healthcare online:

Coursework
There are two basic course delivery methods: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous classes allow students to access and complete their coursework at any time and at their own pace. Synchronous classes are typically livestreamed and require attendance at a specified time. Most RN to MSN programs offer their online courses asynchronously for the convenience of nurses who work evening and overnight shifts.

There are also two basic course formats: fully-online and hybrid. Fully-online courses are just that, where study is completed 100% online. Hybrid courses are those that include an in-person component, normally on the school’s physical campus. Most RN to MSN programs offer all of their classes fully-online, although some include a small number classes that will require some in-person participation.

Learning Platforms
Most online programs utilize an online learning platform, through which programs deliver course content, tests (reading materials, videos, tutorials, etc.), and facilitate communication between students, instructors, and fellow classmates. Communication methods include email, instant messaging, community chat rooms, webinars, and live cohort sessions. Popular platforms include Blackboard and Brightspace.

The RN to MSN Timeline

MSN program lengths and course sequences vary depending on many factors, including whether study is full- or part-time, concentration or specialization, and specific course availability. Some programs may additionally award credits for a student’s previous RN work experience. The fact that a program is online can also affect its length. For example, some online programs allow students to complete coursework at an accelerated pace if they choose, compared to traditional class pacing. Students pursuing an online degree without a clinical hours requirement will also be able to complete their programs in less time than a traditional program with a clinical hours requirement.

For an idea of program length, here is a sample timeline for a part-time online RN to MSN (FNP concentration) program:

Term Courses (Credits) Total Credits
Year 1
Summer
Advanced Pathophysiology (4), Contemporary Issues in Professional Nursing (4) 8
Year 1
Fall
Health Assessment (4), Statistics (4) 8
Year 1
Spring
Community Nursing Care (4), Research Methods (3) 7
Year 2
Summer
Management and Leadership (4), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Health Care System (3) 7
Year 2
Fall
Advance Pharmacology I (3), Health Assessment across the Lifespan (2), Clinical Decision Making I (1), Scholarly Inquiry I (2) 8
Year 2
Spring
Primary Care Nursing I: Childbearing Family (4), Clinical Decision Making II (2), Family Theory: Health and Illness (3), Social Inquiry II (2) 11
Year 3
Summer
Advanced Pharmacology II (2), Primary Care Nursing II (4), Clinical Decision Making III (2), Health Promotion: Global Perspectives (2) 10
Year 3
Fall
Primary Care Nursing IV (4), Clinical Decision Making IV (2), Informatics (3) 9

Please note that lots of online programs feature multiple starting points throughout the year, so course sequences may be interchangeable in relation to season.

RN to MSN Program Admission

Earning an MSN degree through an online RN to MSN program means you must gain acceptance to a program. This can be a concern for those with no prior nursing or other healthcare experience. Though lack of experience can limit program options, it does not eliminate them entirely. While admission requirements vary from school to school, there are a number of general criteria you will be expected to meet regardless of where you apply:

Foundational Credential

By definition, an RN to MSN program does not require applicants to possess a BSN to be admitted. Applicants must, however, hold a properly-accredited foundational post-secondary degree or nursing diploma, earned with a stated minimum GPA. Commonly accepted credentials include an ADN, nursing diploma, or non-nursing bachelor’s degree (most often in another health care or closely-related field). That said, most do not accept a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.

A small number of programs will accept applicants who are currently working on their foundational credentials on the condition that the degree or diploma program is successfully completed prior to commencing coursework in the RN to MSN program.

How to stand out:
Earning your foundational degree or diploma at the top of your class or with honors will likely place you at the top of an admissions committee list.

RN License

Almost all programs require applicants to possess a current and unencumbered RN license, although a few may admit students on the condition that they obtain their license prior to starting their degree studies. Most programs require that the RN license be issued by a U.S. entity. However, some may accept one issued in Canada or another country.

How to stand out:
If your current RN license will soon be up for renewal, be sure to renew it as soon as possible to avoid any chance of it lapsing during the admissions process.

Nursing Experience

The majority of RN to MSN programs require some amount of prior RN work experience, typically between two and five years. A few programs do admit students with no RN experience, but students should expect to obtain a given amount of experience prior to graduation.

How to stand out:
If you are planning on obtaining your MSN in a specific area of specialization, be sure that your RN experience is in the practice of that specialization.

English Proficiency

Proof of English proficiency is additionally required by most programs for international applicants from countries where English is not the official language.

How to stand out:
Applicants who require proof of English proficiency will likely be required to submit passing scores from a designated EP testing service. Be sure to meet your RN to MSN program’s specific test requirements (both types of tests and minimum acceptable test scores) prior to submitting your application.

Other possible admission requirements

Some of the most common additional requirements include a criminal background check, CPR certification, and completion of certain general education and/or health care related college-level coursework.

How Much Does an RN to MSN Program Cost?

Cost is an important factor when considering pursuing any college degree, including an MSN earned through an online RN to MSN program. And, as with any other degree, tuition and fee costs for different programs vary significantly depending on a range of factors: program length, geographic location, school reputation, and whether the school is public or private. Additionally, online programs may be differently than their traditional counterparts.

Below are the current tuition rates for several online RN to MSN programs (as of May 2019):

1 1. Drexel University, RN to MSN Bridge/MSN $968 per credit
2 2. Fort Hays State University, RN to BSN/MSN $218.67 per credit
3 3. Gonzaga University, RN to MSN $955 per credit
4 4. Nebraska Methodist College, RN to MSN Bridge/MSN $308 per credit (bridge courses),
$565 per credit (MSN courses)
5 5. Seton Hall University, RN to MSN Bridge/MSN $1,220 per credit (undergraduate-level courses),
$1,229 per credit (graduate-level courses)

For information on how to get help pay for your online RN to MSN program, check out the following pages: