10 Best Online RN to MSN Programs | 2024

Discover the best RN to MSN programs available in 2024. Learn more about their prerequisites, requirements, costs, and salary expectations after graduation. Programs

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In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, the demand for advanced nursing roles has surged, emphasizing the need for higher education and specialization within the nursing profession.

For registered nurses (RNs) aiming to elevate their careers, the RN to MSN program emerges as a beacon of opportunity. This accelerated pathway not only fast-tracks their journey to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree but also equips them with the expertise to navigate complex healthcare systems, influence health policy, and champion patient care at an advanced level.

Whether you're an RN without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or simply seeking to expedite your transition to an advanced nursing role, this guide sheds light on the top RN to MSN programs of 2024. Dive in to explore the curriculum, clinical training, concentrations, and the many opportunities that await upon graduation.

What Is an RN to MSN Program?

An RN to MSN program is an accelerated educational pathway designed for RNs who wish to pursue an MSN degree. This program allows RNs, especially those without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), to earn their master's degree in a shorter time frame than traditional routes. By bridging the gap between RN and MSN, these programs provide a seamless transition for nurses to advance their education and clinical practice, positioning them for leadership roles, specialized clinical practice, and even roles in research and education.

Coursework

Although it will vary per RN to MSN program, the key components of the degree curriculum include:

  • Advanced Nursing Theories: Delving deeper into the theoretical frameworks that guide nursing practice and decision-making.
  • Research Methodologies: Equip students with the tools to conduct, interpret, and apply nursing research, fostering evidence-based practice.
  • Healthcare Policies: Understanding the policies that govern healthcare delivery, ensuring patient safety, and advocating for quality care.
  • Leadership Principles: Preparing nurses for leadership roles by focusing on management, communication, and organizational skills.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: A deeper exploration of disease processes, enabling nurses to understand and manage complex health conditions.
  • Pharmacology: Comprehensive study of drug classifications, mechanisms, and therapeutic implications.
  • Health Assessment: Advanced techniques and tools for holistic patient assessments, including history taking and physical examination.

Clinical Training

Clinical training is pivotal in bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Key facets of this hands-on training include:

  • Diverse Healthcare Settings: Exposure to various healthcare environments, from hospitals to community clinics, ensuring a well-rounded experience.
  • Supervised Practice: All clinical hours are overseen by seasoned nursing professionals, ensuring guidance and mentorship.
  • Skill Development: Emphasis on refining clinical skills, from patient care to advanced procedures, tailored to the chosen concentration.
  • Critical Thinking: Encouraging students to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills in real-world clinical scenarios.
  • Patient Interaction: Enhancing communication and interpersonal skills through direct patient care, fostering trust and rapport.
  • Ethical Practice: Reinforcing the importance of ethical considerations and patient rights in all clinical interactions.
  • Feedback and Reflection: Regular feedback sessions and opportunities for reflection, allowing students to continuously improve and grow.

Concentrations

One of the significant benefits of pursuing an MSN is the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of nursing. These specializations, often referred to as concentrations, determine the role the nurse will play in advanced clinical practice.

The primary types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) concentrations include:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): NPs are trained to assess patients, diagnose conditions, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications. They often serve as primary care providers and can specialize further in areas like family care, pediatrics, geriatrics, or women's health.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): CNSs are experts in a specific area of nursing, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or oncology. They focus on improving patient care within that specialty and often play roles in research, education, and consultation.
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM): CNMs provide care to women, especially during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. They also offer gynecological care and family planning services.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): While CRNAs are considered APRNs, the minimum education required for this role is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

The primary types of Non-APRN Roles for MSN Graduates:

  • Nurse Educator: MSN programs offer concentrations for aspiring Nurse Educators who play a crucial role in training the next generation of nurses. They contribute to academic institutions, healthcare organizations, and community settings by imparting knowledge and skills.
  • Nurse Administrator: Aspiring Nurse Administrators within MSN programs focus on honing leadership and management skills. They are equipped to oversee healthcare departments, manage resources, and shape organizational policies to ensure efficient healthcare delivery.
  • Clinical Research Nurse: Some MSN programs cater to those interested in Clinical Research Nursing, emphasizing the integration of research into clinical practice. These nurses contribute to advancing healthcare through participation in research studies and trials.

In exploring these diverse concentrations, MSN programs not only prepare nurses for APRN roles but also pave the way for a broader array of impactful and specialized non-APRN positions in the dynamic field of nursing.

Best Online RN to MSN Programs

The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most, with the addition of graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, price, mode, duration, and admission rates of hundreds of the most prominent nursing schools in the United States.

1. University of Texas at Arlington

The RN to MSN program at UTA is tailored for licensed RNs aiming to earn a BSN and subsequently continue their education to an MSN. The MSN specializations available are Administration, Education, or Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). The program offers a combination of the latest nursing theory with practical experience. Graduates are equipped for national FNP certification or are prepared for careers as nurse educators or administrators.

The program can be completed in as little as 36 months, depending on the chosen RN to MSN track and the requirements for the BSN. Students initiate the program at the undergraduate level in the RN-BSN program and must fulfill all undergraduate prerequisites before transitioning to the MSN program. Before completing the BSN requirement, two graduate-level courses are mandatory. These courses will be among the last three needed for the undergraduate requirements and will count towards both BSN electives and MSN core requirements. After obtaining their BSN, students must proceed to the MSN program within one semester (excluding Summer) to ensure a smooth transition.

  • Total Tuition: Varies
  • Program Duration: As few as 36 months
  • Credit Hours: 68-71

2. Franklin University

Franklin University's RN to MSN program emphasizes the standards expected from nurses, encompassing professionalism, research, theory, leadership roles in quality improvement, information management, healthcare policy, regulation, and healthcare principles.

Program Highlights:

  • Duration: The program can be completed in as little as 12 weeks for less than $1,200.
  • Accreditation: The master's degree program in nursing at Franklin University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
  • Flexible Learning: The program is 100% online, catering to the needs of busy adults. Franklin's seamless transfer process and dedicated team of academic advisors ensure a smooth transition for students.

Tuition Costs:

  • Standard tuition per credit hour: $670
  • MSN-FNP, MSN-PMHNP, MSN-AGPCNP, Post-Graduate Certificates: $670
  • MSN-Generalist, MSN-Nurse Administrator, and MSN-Nurse Educator: $598
  • RN-MSN Pathway (NURS 500): $298
  • Current service members: $536
  • Graduate Prerequisite Courses (500 level): $398
  • Graduate Prerequisite Courses (500 level) - International Students: $526

3. University of Arizona

The University of Arizona offers an Online RN to MSN program that focuses on Clinical Systems Leadership. This program is crafted to enhance the patient care and leadership skills of its students, aiming to expand their expertise in emerging interventions, technologies, and the intricacies of care systems across various health environments.

  • BSN Track Program Length: 13 months (30 credit hours)
  • ADN Track Program Length: 24 months (41 credit hours)
  • Delivery: Fully online with a direct clinical practicum of 90 hours.

Graduates of the program are equipped to take on roles such as Clinical Care Coordinator, Clinical Systems Manager, Infection Control Manager, Nurse Administrator, Nurse Educator, Nurse Manager, Nursing Informatics, Patient Navigator, and Quality and Safety Coordinator.

Applications are open year-round with program starts in Spring, Summer, and Fall.

4. Western Governors University

WGU's online RN-to-MSN program is tailored for RNs aiming to elevate their education and career by obtaining an MSN degree. This innovative pathway allows nurses with an associate degree or diploma to bypass the traditional BSN step, streamlining their journey to an MSN.

Key Features:

  • Duration: On average, students complete the program within 18-24 months.
  • Curriculum: The program encompasses a comprehensive curriculum, covering areas such as leadership in nursing, community health, and nursing research. This ensures graduates are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills required for advanced nursing roles.
  • Hands-on Learning: WGU emphasizes practical experience, offering students valuable clinical experiences to complement their theoretical learning.
  • Accreditation: The program proudly holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), attesting to its quality and rigor.

Admission Criteria:

  • Licensure: A current, unencumbered RN license is a prerequisite.
  • Educational Background: Prospective students should hold either an associate degree or a diploma in nursing from a recognized institution.

5. Herzing University

Herzing University offers an Accelerated RN to MSN program, providing a streamlined path for registered nurses to advance their education and career. The program is designed to cater to both RNs looking for a direct transition to an MSN and those who wish to pursue an ADN to BSN to MSN track. With a focus on specialized training, students can choose their area of concentration and complete the program in as little as two years.

Enrollment Prerequisites:

  • State Authorization: Applicants must reside in a state where Herzing University is authorized to offer the RN to MSN program.
  • Licensure: A current, active, and unrestricted license as an RN in the state they practice is mandatory.
  • Educational Background: Prospective students should possess an associate degree (ADN/ASN/AASN) in nursing from a nationally or regionally accredited college or university.
  • Interview: An interview is conducted to ascertain the goals of the applicant and determine the suitability of the RN to MSN program for them.

6. Baker University

Baker University offers an ADN to MSN program tailored for individuals who already possess an ADN and are looking to further their education with an MSN. The program is structured to eliminate redundancy, allowing students to progress at their own pace and graduate more swiftly. This approach not only saves time but also reduces costs. The program is taught by the same dedicated faculty who lead the MSN program, ensuring a consistent and high-quality education.

Students can explore areas of nursing education and administration before deciding on their specialization. The two main focus areas are:

  • MSN in Nursing Education: This track equips students with the skills needed to train the next generation of expert clinicians and nursing faculty.
  • MSN in Nursing Administration: This track is designed for those aiming to lead nursing teams and establish practice standards.

Key Features:

  • Accelerated Program: After completing seven bachelor's-level bridge courses, students can commence the MSN program. There's potential to transfer credit for or test out of three of these courses.
  • Accreditation: The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the CCNE.
  • Flexibility: Designed with working professionals in mind, the program allows students to study while maintaining their job. It's adaptable to fit busy schedules.
  • Career Opportunities: Graduates can pursue roles such as Clinical Educator, Director of Nursing, Health Care Administrator, Nurse Administrator, and more.

7. University of Mary

In the ADN to MSN Nursing Leadership & Management program at the University of Mary, students will acquire the skills necessary to emerge as nursing leaders with a profound understanding of healthcare business concepts and practical leadership strategies. Upon graduation, students will be equipped to:

  • Design processes to achieve quality, cost-effective, and ethical health outcomes.
  • Assess quality and safety measures within their healthcare environment.
  • Integrate principles of servant leadership into policy modifications.
  • Collaborate with peers to enhance the quality of professional nursing practice and healthcare policy.
  • Apply evidence-based practice for performance improvement.
  • Implement effective principles of change while delivering client-centered care.

The program's curriculum is designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of nursing leadership and management, ensuring they are well-prepared to take on advanced roles in the healthcare sector.

8. University of Mississippi

The University of Mississippi School of Nursing offers an RN-MSN program designed to provide students with the necessary resources to concentrate on their careers while pursuing their master's degrees.

Program Highlights:

  • Flexible Plans of Study: The RN-MSN program offers a variety of predominantly online options, catering to the diverse needs and aspirations of students.
  • Multiple Tracks: Students can choose from five different tracks, including four nurse practitioner tracks, a nurse educator track, and an administrator track. This variety ensures that students can select a path that aligns with their career goals.
  • Balanced Approach: The program is structured to offer the flexibility required for students to manage their coursework alongside family and work responsibilities.
  • Unique Learning Environment: The University of Mississippi Medical Center, home to the School of Nursing, is the state's only academic health sciences center. This provides students with a unique learning environment, granting them access to four major hospitals: Children's of Mississippi, University Hospital, Wallace Conerly Critical Care Hospital, and Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants. This access ensures that students receive the best nursing education in the state, complemented by unparalleled resources.

9. Wilkes University

Wilkes University offers a 100% online RN to MSN program (excluding clinicals and residencies) that emphasizes advanced clinical skills, professionalism, and evidence-based practice to enhance patient outcomes. Three concentrations are available to align with students' career goals: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, and Psychiatric/Mental Health. It's important to note that the program does not grant a pass-through bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) as part of the RN to MSN curriculum.

Admission Requirements:

  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN with a 3.0 GPA) from an institution with programmatic and regional accreditation.
  • Current unencumbered RN license.
  • Current resume or CV.
  • One year of RN clinical experience is required by the start of NP clinical courses (typically in Year 2)

Wilkes University provides proactive support and assistance through its Clinical Placement Team. The team collaborates with students to secure quality placement sites and preceptors. Additionally, students have access to a dedicated student success counselor from enrollment to graduation.

10. Aspen University

Aspen University's RN to MSN program is delivered entirely online, offering flexibility for working professionals. The online format allows students to complete their coursework at their own pace, making it easier to balance work, family, and education.

Program Highlights:

  • Comprehensive Curriculum: The program covers a wide range of topics, including advanced nursing theory, research, leadership, and specialized clinical knowledge. This ensures that graduates are well-equipped to handle complex healthcare challenges.
  • Affordability: Aspen University is known for its commitment to providing quality education at an affordable cost. They often offer monthly payment plans and other financial options to assist students.

Prerequisites & Requirements

Although the prerequisites and requirements for RN to MSN programs will vary per institution, the following are common.

RN to MSN Prerequisites

Before enrolling in an RN to MSN program, prospective students typically need to fulfill the following prerequisites and admission requirements:

  • Active RN License: A current and unencumbered RN license, valid in the state where the student plans to undertake clinical hours.
  • Nursing Diploma or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Completion of a diploma or ADN program from an accredited institution.
  • Minimum GPA: Many programs require a minimum GPA (often 2.5 to 3.0) from previous nursing education.
  • Clinical Experience: Some programs may require a certain number of clinical working hours or years of experience as an RN.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Typically, 1-3 letters from professional or academic sources attesting to the candidate's suitability for advanced study.
  • Personal Statement or Essay: A written statement detailing the applicant's career goals, reasons for pursuing an MSN, and any relevant experiences.
  • Transcripts: Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended.

Requirements for RN to MSN Programs

Once admitted, students must meet the following requirements to successfully complete the program:

  • Core Coursework Completion: Successful completion of all required coursework, which covers advanced nursing topics and the chosen specialization.
  • Clinical Hours: Fulfillment of a specified number of supervised clinical hours, which provides hands-on experience in real-world settings.
  • Capstone or Thesis Project: Depending on the program, students might need to complete a research project, thesis, or capstone project showcasing their mastery of a particular topic.
  • Examinations: Some programs may have comprehensive exams that test students on the entirety of the program's curriculum.
  • Continuous Evaluation: Regular assessments, including exams, assignments, and practical evaluations, to ensure the student's progress and understanding.
  • Specialization Requirements: Depending on the chosen concentration, there might be additional requirements specific to that specialty.
  • Graduation Application: Submission of a formal application to graduate once all program requirements are met.

MSN Program Costs

Costs and salary expectations of RN to MSN programs will differ based on numerous factors including institution, location, mode of delivery, level of education, private vs public, and more. Although varying, the following are important to consider.

General Costs of RN to MSN Programs

  • Tuition: This is the primary cost associated with any educational program. Tuition can vary based on factors such as the institution's prestige, whether it's a public or private institution, and whether the student is in-state or out-of-state.
  • Fees: Beyond tuition, universities often charge various fees. These can include registration fees, lab fees, technology fees, and more. Some programs might also have specific fees associated with the nursing program or the graduate school.
  • Books and Supplies: Students will need to purchase textbooks, which can be costly. Additionally, they might need to buy other supplies, such as medical equipment or uniforms for clinical rotations.
  • Clinical Costs: Some programs might require students to bear certain costs associated with clinical rotations, such as transportation, health screenings, or insurance.
  • Living Expenses: If the program requires on-campus attendance or if the student relocates for the program, there will be costs associated with housing, food, and other daily living expenses.
  • Technology Costs: For programs that offer online courses or components, students might need to invest in a reliable computer, specific software, or a stable internet connection.
  • Licensing and Examination Fees: After completing the program, students might need to take certification exams depending on their specialization. These exams come with registration fees.
  • Graduation Fees: Some institutions charge a fee when students apply to graduate.

RN to MSN Salary Expectations

Salary expectations will vary based on the numerous factors above, along with different expectations based on the career path taken after graduation.

Salary Expectations for APRN MSN Graduates

Nurse Practitioner

  • Mean Hourly: 53.77
  • Mean Annual: $111,840.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $39.14
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $81,410.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $73.16
  • Top Annual Pay: $152,160.00

Clinical Nurse Specialist

  • Mean Hourly: $45.00
  • Mean Annual: $94,545.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $34.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $71,000.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $66.00
  • Top Annual Pay: $137,000.00

Nurse Midwife

  • Mean Hourly: $58.87
  • Mean Annual: $122,450.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $37.27
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $77,510.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $82.32
  • Top Annual Pay: $171,230.00

Salary Expectations for Non-clinical MSN Graduates

Clinical Nurse Leader

  • Mean Hourly: $43.00
  • Mean Annual: $89,949.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $34.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $71,000.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $64.00
  • Top Annual Pay: $133,500.00

Nurse Administrator

  • Mean Hourly: $41.00
  • Mean Annual: $84,334.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $33.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $68,000.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $53.00
  • Top Annual Pay: $110,000.00

Nurse Educator

  • Mean Hourly: $46.00
  • Mean Annual: $94,727.00
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $38.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $78,500.00
  • Top Hourly Pay: $61.00
  • Top Annual Pay: $126,500.00

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), APRN jobs are projected to grow much faster than the average of any other occupation, at 38% from 2022 to 2032.

Are MSN Programs Worth It?

When contemplating the value of enrolling in an MSN program, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this educational pursuit is crucial.

Pros of MSN Programs

  1. Career Advancement: The acquisition of an MSN opens doors to advanced practice roles, encompassing positions like Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Educator, or Nurse Administrator, broadening the scope of career possibilities.
  2. Enhanced Earning Potential: Nurses with an MSN degree have advanced skills and qualifications, resulting in higher earning potential compared to those with a BSN or ADN.
  3. Specialization: MSN programs offer avenues for specialization in diverse areas such as pediatrics, gerontology, family practice, or acute care, allowing individuals to tailor their career paths to specific interests.
  4. Leadership Roles: Equipping nurses for leadership and management positions, the degree empowers them to influence healthcare practices and policies.
  5. Intellectual Fulfillment: The pursuit of an MSN can be intellectually enriching, fostering personal and professional growth and the satisfaction of attaining a high level of academic and clinical expertise.

Cons of MSN Programs

  1. Financial Considerations: Participating in MSN programs involves significant expenses, covering tuition, books, fees, and potential income loss if work hours are reduced for studies.
  2. Time Commitment: Balancing a demanding academic program with work and personal life can pose challenges, especially for full-time working nurses.
  3. Stress and Exhaustion: The combination of rigorous graduate-level coursework, clinical hours, and work responsibilities may lead to amplified stress and burnout.
  4. Competitive Job Market: In specific regions, a surplus of advanced practice nurses may saturate the job market, intensifying competition for positions in certain specializations.
  5. Return on Investment (ROI): The financial and time investment in an MSN program may necessitate several years for recovery, and the ROI can vary based on geographical location and nursing specialty.

MSN Program Accreditation

Ultimately, assessing the worth of an MSN program revolves around aligning it with your unique personal and career objectives.

Accreditation is a pivotal aspect when choosing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, and its importance stems from various compelling reasons:

  • Adherence to Educational Standards: Accreditation ensures a commitment to rigorous education standards. Regular evaluations guarantee that accredited MSN programs consistently uphold excellence in curriculum, faculty qualifications, student resources, and clinical training.
  • Meeting Clinical Hour Requirements: Accreditation guarantees that MSN programs meet the minimum clinical hour requirements, ensuring a comprehensive and robust clinical education. This aspect is particularly crucial for individuals aspiring to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).
  • Certification and Licensure Eligibility: Graduating from an accredited program is often a prerequisite for eligibility for various advanced nursing certifications and state licensures, which are essential for APRNs.
  • Expanded Career Opportunities: Employers typically prefer graduates from accredited MSN programs, valuing the assurance of high-quality education and alignment with nationally recognized standards. 
  • Credit Transferability: Credits earned in an accredited MSN program are more likely to be accepted by other accredited nursing institutions. This facilitates seamless educational progression, whether pursuing a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
  • Professional Credibility Enhancement: Completing an accredited MSN program indicates advanced nursing practice education and training meeting national standards, enhancing professional credibility with employers, colleagues, and patients.
  • Access to Federal Financial Aid: Accreditation is necessary for federal financial aid, including grants and loans, especially important for MSN students seeking assistance.

It is essential that students verify their chosen MSN programs are accredited by reputable bodies like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can online students pursue the RN to MSN bridge program?

  • Many accredited programs offer online courses tailored for those who prefer online learning. These courses provide the same level of professional nursing education as on-campus courses, allowing students to balance their nursing career and higher education.

How do the costs of in-state versus out-of-state RN to MSN programs compare?

  • Typically, in-state tuition for graduate programs is more affordable than out-of-state tuition. However, many online courses might have standardized tuition regardless of residency. It's essential to check with the specific institution and consider factors like on-campus or in-person requirements, which might affect costs.

What role does the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) play in RN to MSN programs?

  • The CCNE is a key accrediting body for nursing education. An accredited program by the CCNE ensures that the program meets the highest standards of quality and prepares students for leadership roles in healthcare systems. Prospective students should prioritize enrolling in a CCNE-accredited program to ensure they receive a top-tier graduate-level education.

How do RN to MSN programs prepare students for roles in health policy and population health?

  • RN to MSN programs often include coursework focused on healthcare policies, public health, and population health. These courses equip MSN nurse graduates with the knowledge to advocate for quality care, understand health disparities, and play pivotal roles in shaping health policy at various levels.

Are part-time options available for those looking to pursue an RN to MSN program while working?

  • Many institutions offer part-time degree programs tailored for those who are already in the professional nursing field. This flexibility allows students to progress at their own pace, balancing credit hours with their existing responsibilities in healthcare settings.
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