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Best RN to MSN Programs in Illinois for 2024: Online & Campus

Illinois registered nurses wanting to expand their leadership skills and career opportunities should consider an online MSN bridge program. See which RN to MSN programs in Illinois are the best fit for you.

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WRITTEN BY: James Mielke
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 12/11/2023

Editorial Values and Practices

Illinois is home to several RN to MSN bridge programs that can dramatically expand your career options and earning potential as a working RN in the state. These programs allow you to hone specialized skills that can advance clinical practice and prepare you for leadership roles in nursing.

The professional outlook for master’s degree-holding nurse practitioners is almost astonishing. From 2020 to 2030, Illinois nurse practitioner jobs are projected to grow by as much as 44%. Conversely, employment for registered nurses is projected to increase by 6%.

Explore admission requirements, what you can expect after you enroll, and the job outlook and earning potential for Illinois master’s degree nursing grads. Keep reading to learn more about this nursing track, what you’ll learn, and how it can benefit your healthcare career.

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About the ranking

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Base Methodology for EduMed’s Best Online College Rankings for the ’23-’24 school year.

One: Create list of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on data pulled from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which was self-reported by the schools themselves.

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least 1 online component in a program within the ranking-subject area.

Two: Assign Weighting

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of metrics, which were all self-reported by the schools themselves to the U.S. Department of Education and IPEDS.

The metrics are listed below in order of most- to least-heavily weighted.

Online Programs – Number of online programs in the relevant subject area.

Online Student % – Number of total students who are enrolled in at least 1 distance-learning course in the relevant subject area.

Tuition – The average in-state tuition for undergraduate students studying full-time, as self-reported by the school.

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

Career Placement Services – Existence of this service on campus or online.

Student/Faculty Ratio

About Our DataEduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2023

# School Name Type Tuition Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Chamberlain University-IllinoisAddison, IL Private for-profit $$ 3

Chamberlain University hosts an RN to MSN degree for licensed nurses who don't have a BSN. In the program, students take bridge courses to cover materials from a traditional BSN. After, they take master's coursework and can specialize in clinical nurse leadership, family nurse practice, adult/gerontology, and psychiatric-mental health. The clinical nurse leadership track is available on an accelerated timeline. Since most students work full-time as nurses while getting their degree, part of the program is available online.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing, RN-BSN to MSN

  • Credits: About 122
  • Length: About 4 years
  • Cost: $677-699/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19/1
Online
Student %
100%

School Spotlights: Popular RN to MSN Programs in Illinois

Illinois boasts a solid list of universities offering RN to MSN programs, giving you lots to consider when choosing a school. To help make the decision process go smoothly, we’ve spotlighted some popular schools in the area that will give you a good idea of what to look for during your own program search.

Loyola University Chicago

Established in 1870, Loyola University Chicago (LUC) is home to an online RN to MSN program that offers a flexible delivery for working RNs. In addition to providing students with various core competencies, LUC’s RN to MSN program offers a concentration in healthcare administration. Graduates from this online degree completion program earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.

During this online program, degree-seekers develop the knowledge, competencies, and professional values vital to an evolving healthcare landscape. Undergraduate classes include nursing ethics, community health, and leadership for professional nursing practice. Upon completion of undergraduate requirements, students tackle 30 credits of graduate coursework. Master’s classes include social justice and ethics in healthcare, healthcare policy, and fiscal management in healthcare organizations.

Prospective students must hold an active RN license and an ADN diploma. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and submit an online application with official transcripts and proof of state licensure.

Olivet Nazarene University

Based in Bourbonnais, Illinois, the private Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) offers an online RN to MSN program that’s crafted for working RNs who hold an associate degree in nursing. Depending on your specialization, you can complete this online program in 36-48 months. ONU’s specialization areas include transformational leadership, nursing education, and family nurse practitioner.

Online learners dedicate about 30 hours to their BSN degree, followed by 34 hours of graduate coursework. Alongside online coursework, students complete 45 practicum hours for their BSN and up to 750 clinical hours for their master’s degree. While courses can vary depending on specialization, core nursing classes include topics such as nursing informatics, moral/ethical decision-making, and theoretical and professional foundations for nursing.

Prospective students can apply online and must hold an active RN license and an ADN or AAS degree in nursing. Applicants should have a minimum 2.75 GPA and must include official transcripts and a copy of their RN license.

DePaul University

Chicago’s DePaul University is a private Catholic institution offering an online RN to MSN program. With the exception of in-person clinical requirements, DePaul students complete coursework entirely online. Online learners can meet RN to MSN requirements in four years or fewer and choose between specialization areas, including nursing administration, adult gerontology, nursing education, and family nursing.

Online learners complete 54-70 credits before graduation and complete a blend of undergraduate and graduate courses. Classes vary between specializations, but standard courses include ethical and political engagement in nursing, health assessment for advanced practice, and informatics and technology applications.

Prospective RN to MSN students should hold an associate degree or diploma from an accredited nursing program and must have an active RN license. Applicants should have a minimum 2.75 GPA for college-level coursework, including proof of state licensure and standard admission materials.

FAQs: RN to MSN Programs in Illinois

What Can You Do with an MSN in Illinois?

Earning an MSN degree in Illinois can enable you to work in several high-paying, in-demand roles across the state. Whether in a small town such as Bloomington or the thriving metropolis of Chicago, nursing professionals with MSN qualifications can work as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists, to name a few. If you’re looking for a more specialized role, you may consider nursing administration, advanced clinical nursing, forensic nursing, and nursing informatics positions. Many programs also offer specializations. At DePaul University in Chicago, you can choose from an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nursing administration, or nursing education. After earning an MSN, you can also pursue a DNP.

Will I Earn My Bachelor’s Degree During My RN to MSN Program?

Colleges in Illinois offer different pathways for RNs based on your previous education. While some programs only accept candidates who already hold a BSN, as is the case at Loyola University Chicago, others allow nurses with ADNs to apply and enable students to earn BSN credentials as part of the curriculum. DePaul University offers an RN to MSN bridge program for ADN holders that includes an additional six credits that count towards both BSN and MSN degree requirements. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing subject, you’ll need to complete three bridge courses.

What Will I Learn in an RN to MSN Program in Illinois?

ADN and BSN curricula provide the foundational knowledge you need to take up registered nursing roles, but MSN programs provide the advanced skills and knowledge required to grow your career. Building upon existing nursing knowledge, these programs develop leadership skills while also exposing you to more administrative and business functions.

At Elmhurst College, you can expect to take courses in nursing and clinical leadership theory while exploring the organization, policy, and finance of healthcare systems. You’ll also tackle classes focusing on clinical leadership role development and technology in healthcare education and practice.

How Long is an RN to MSN Program in Illinois?

How long you spend working towards your RN to MSN degree will depend on several factors and will vary between programs. If you already hold a BSN, you can bypass bridge courses required for students with only an ADN. Most BSN-to-MSN programs require two years of study, though accelerated and part-time options are also available.

At Chamberlain University, enrolling in the accelerated RN to MSN requires the completion of 45 credits over three full-time semesters. Elmhurst University’s on-campus program requires two years of full-time study, though you also can tailor the program based on scheduling needs.

How Much Do RN to MSN Programs in Illinois Cost?

In most cases, enrolling at a public university and receiving in-state tuition typically offers the most cost-effective option, especially compared to private university rates. Completing your RN to MSN online helps you avoid campus-based fees such as parking, facility, and meal passes. Still, distance learning may include technology fees that you should carefully review before selecting any program.

Can I Get Financial Aid in Illinois to Help Pay For My RN to MSN Program?

Plenty of scholarships and other forms of financial aid exist to help you manage the costs of RN to MSN programs in Illinois. Many schools provide degree-specific scholarships, which are far less competitive than general awards. The University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Nursing offers more than $630,000 in scholarships each year.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Public Health provides several nursing-specific scholarships, including the Nursing Education Scholarship Program supporting graduate learners. You can also apply for several scholarships offered by the Illinois Nurses Foundation. Pay close attention to deadlines, as you may be disqualified for late application entries.

What Requirements Do I Need To Apply For Admission to RN to MSN Programs in Illinois?

As with other components of RN to MSN programs, individual admission requirements will vary from school to school. Still, many include similar provisions. Some standard components include:

  • Completed application and application fee
  • Official transcripts from all institutions previously attended
  • Minimum GPA, typically ranging between 2.5 and 3.5
  • Current RN license issued in Illinois
  • Documentation of existing clinical experience
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Prerequisite courses

Depending on the level of competitiveness, some colleges may require an interview. If you apply to Elmhurst University, for example, plan to interview the graduate program director.

What Should I Look For in a Quality RN to MSN Program in Illinois?

The most important component of any RN to MSN program revolves around approval and accreditation. In addition to looking exclusively at programs approved by the Illinois Board of Nursing, you should only consider options accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Other essential components include high graduation rates, career placement resources, and networking opportunities. For departments with ADN or BSN degrees, high NCLEX-RN pass rates also can indicate quality educational outcomes.

Inside Look at RN to MSN Online Programs in Illinois

The best online RN to MSN programs offer a flexible and affordable academic option for working RNs. Many standout programs lean on asynchronous coursework, allowing you to complete classes at your own pace rather than attending live virtual classes. While these programs offer extensive online course content, in-person clinical work is inevitably required.

When reviewing potential online programs, you should carefully review any online requirements. Many programs require brief but intensive in-person visits, in-person orientations, or lab-based classes requiring in-person participation.

Depending on your higher education experience, the number of credits required for graduation can vary. Throughout your RN to MSN program, you’ll encounter a mix of core classes, specialization courses, and graduate-level requirements. Some core requirements include classes such as healthcare policy and economics, comprehensive health assessment, and interprofessional communication and leadership in healthcare.

Alongside core classes, students can choose concentrations in public health, clinical nursing leadership, nursing administration, and nursing informatics. Before graduation, nursing students typically complete a hands-on experience in a clinical setting in a convenient healthcare setting. To learn more, check out EduMed’s comprehensive guide for RN to MSN programs.

Can You Earn a Completely Online MSN Degree in Nursing?

You can meet degree requirements entirely online if you have already completed your BSN before enrolling in one of these programs. If you currently hold only an ADN, you can typically take coursework online but will need to complete clinical requirements in person. Still, not all BSN to MSN programs are fully online, so it’s essential that you carefully review learning requirements before enrolling.

Do Employers in Illinois Accept Graduates from Online RN to MSN Programs?

As long as the program you completed holds approval from the Illinois Board of Nursing and accreditation via ACEN or CCNE, Illinois employers will extend job offers to qualified graduates regardless of whether you studied online or in person. In fact, your diploma will not indicate whether you completed your coursework as an online learner.

How Do I Go from Being an RN to an MSN Nurse in Illinois?

For RNs wanting to enhance their career options and earning potential dramatically, RN to MSN programs in Illinois offer a direct academic pathway that only takes about three years to complete. Because this path is designed for working RNs, applicants must first complete an ADN program, pass the NCLEX-RN examination, and often have a couple of years of professional experience in a clinical setting. Additionally, accelerated pathways are available for individuals holding a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN).

During your RN to MSN program, you’ll complete core courses while tackling a specialization area, including nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nursing administration, and nursing education. Your accelerated program will arm you with the advanced knowledge and clinical skills needed to secure certification in your concentration area. While there are different routes to your advanced nursing role, the following steps are a typical pathway to a nurse practitioner (NP) career in Illinois.

  1. Complete an ADN program
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and meet all clinical requirements for licensure
  3. Enroll in an online or on-campus RN to MSN program
  4. Pass the National Nurse Practitioner Certification Board Exam and meet all clinical requirements for NP licensure

RN to MSN Career Outlook for Illinois

Completing an RN to MSN program expands career options and earning potential, preparing graduates with advanced clinical skills that enhance professional practice and leadership skills. In the following section, we explore how much nurses can make in Illinois and examine the job market for RNs and nurse practitioners. Keep reading to see what completing an RN to MSN program in Illinois can do for you.

How Much More Can I Make Going from an RN to MSN in Illinois?

Reviewing salary data for both Illinois and nationwide is instructive when weighing whether you want to pursue an advanced degree in nursing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses make a median annual salary of $77,600. Alternately, nurse practitioners with specialized training and licensure earn a median salary of more than $120,000 annually.

The wage discrepancy between RNs and NPs also is seen at the state level. Illinois-based RNs make about $65,000 annually, while NPs and nurses holding MSN degrees earn an average salary exceeding $90,000 annually. Salary data also varies based on location; Chicago-based RNs and NPs tend to make more than those in the more rural areas of Illinois.

What is the Job Outlook for MSN Nurses in Illinois?

On the national front, the job market for RNs is growing at 6% over the decade between 2021-2031, which is about average when compared to all jobs. Conversely, graduates of an RN to MSN program are poised to enter a rapidly growing workforce. Over that same decade, jobs for nurse practitioners are projected to grow by a staggering 40%, which is an addition of more than 118,000 jobs. In Illinois, the job growth exceeds national data, with an estimated growth of nearly 44%.