11 Fastest Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs in 2024

Are you looking to fast-track your nursing education? We've compiled the fastest MSN programs in 2024, together with prerequisites, requirements, and salary. Programs

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As healthcare continues to evolve, the demand for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) has never been greater.

APRNs have the opportunity to provide high-quality healthcare services to patients, ranging from the delivery of primary care to specialized areas of practice. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is often the gateway to these advanced roles, offering RNs the chance to enhance their professional trajectories and impact patient care significantly.

With many programs to choose from, we've compiled the fastest MSN programs for those who want to accelerate their education and provided information about the prerequisites and requirements, salary expectations, and more.

What Is an MSN Degree?

An MSN is an advanced practice nursing degree, building upon the foundations developed in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. It prepares RNs to become evidence-based practice leaders in healthcare and enables them to specialize in clinical or non-clinical settings.

Nursing students can complete much of the MSN coursework online with in-person clinical hours, and the patient care-focused advanced degrees typically require skills labs.

After completing an MSN, RNs can pursue nursing roles such as:

MSN Clinical Roles 

MSN Non-Clinical Roles 

By obtaining an MSN, nursing professionals can advance their careers, enabling them to positively impact healthcare outcomes for patients and communities through higher education.

Non-nursing students or those who have a different degree can still take up MSN, provided that they take up an entry-level nursing program, an accelerated BSN program, or a direct-entry MSN program. 

It's vital to research specific program and admission requirements since eligibility and requirements vary from one institution to another.

MSN Coursework

  • Advanced Nursing Theory: Courses covering theoretical frameworks in nursing, healthcare policy, and ethics.
  • Health Assessment: Advanced skills in physical and psychosocial assessment across different age groups.
  • Pathophysiology: In-depth study of disease processes and their impact on the human body.
  • Pharmacology: Advanced pharmacology, including drug therapy and medication management.
  • Research Methods: Training in research methodologies, data analysis, and evidence-based practice.
  • Specialty Courses: Depending on the specialization, courses may include family nursing, pediatric care, gerontology, women's health, psychiatric care, etc.
  • Leadership and Management: Courses focusing on healthcare systems leadership, quality improvement, and patient safety.

MSN Clinical Training

  • Primary Care Settings: Clinical hours in family practice, internal medicine, or pediatric clinics, focusing on primary care skills.
  • Hospital and Acute Care: Training in hospital settings, including emergency rooms, intensive care units, and specialty departments.
  • Specialized Clinics: Clinical rotations in areas like women's health, mental health, or geriatric care, depending on the specialization.
  • Community Health Settings: Experience in community health centers, schools, or public health departments.
  • Simulation Labs: Use of high-fidelity mannequins and simulation technology to practice clinical skills in a controlled environment.
  • Capstone Project/Clinical Practicum: A comprehensive clinical project or practicum that synthesizes learning and applies it in a real-world setting.

MSN Pathways 

The journey to achieving a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can differ widely, depending on one's academic background prior to enrollment. Contrary to the common assumption that a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or extensive nursing experience is mandatory, several institutions provide entry points for those with an associates degree in nursing or a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field.

Entry-Level MSN for Non-Nurses

This route is crafted for individuals holding a bachelor's or higher degree in a discipline other than nursing. It includes foundational nursing coursework necessary for obtaining Registered Nurse licensure typically within the program's first year. Completion generally takes between 2 to 4 years.

MSN for ADN-RNs

Tailored for nurses who initially completed an associate's degree, this pathway supplements the educational framework with baccalaureate-level nursing content. Entry criteria can differ significantly based on the institution and the applicant's prior educational and professional experiences. This pathway also typically spans 2 to 3 years.

MSN for BSN-RNs

The most conventional route, the BSN to MSN pathway, is preferred by nurses seeking to advance their careers through specialized graduate education. The specifics of the program, including duration, which generally ranges from 18 to 24 months, depend on the chosen specialty and educational institution.

Dual MSN Degrees

Nurses may opt for dual degree MSN programs that integrate nursing studies with another complementary discipline, such as business, public health, or health administration. There are over 120 such programs available across the United States, allowing for a broader scope of expertise and career flexibility.

Prerequisites and Requirements

There are a few different ways to apply for an MSN degree program, and. no matter your pathway, anyone with a previous degree in nursing -- ADN or BSN --  the program must be accredited to progress to an MSN degree program.  

Admission requirements often include the following: 

  • GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Application fee
  • Transcripts from an accredited BSN or ADN program
  • An active RN license 
  • Standardized tests, such as the GRE for some
  • Interview
  • Work Experience
  • Background Check and Immunizations

Prerequisites will vary depending on the program. As with the BSN degree program, students complete core classes before more advanced nursing courses such as advanced physiology, advanced pharmacology, leadership, and health policy. These advanced courses will depend on which MSN specialty path the student chooses. 

11 Fastest MSN Degree Programs in 2024

Nursing students can typically complete the MSN degree program in under two years. Those without a BSN degree can achieve an MSN degree, but it will take longer.

The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most while selecting schools 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 North Carolina at Wilmington 

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington offers a fully online Nurse Educator MSN degree program. This program will equip the APRN to be a leader in the academic arena. It is a popular program with six convenient start dates per year. 

  • Length: 12 months
  • Admissions Rate: 68%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $276.62 per credit hour (in-residents)

2. Weber State University

At Weber State University, students can advance their nursing careers with two MSN degree track options. MSN specialty options include the Nurse Educator and Nursing Leadership tracks. If you already have an MSN degree, you can choose from post-master certificates with Nurse Educator Certificate or Nurse Executive Certificate online programs. 

  • Length: 12 months
  • Admissions Rate: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 42%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 21:1
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Cost: $5,471 (full-time tuition for 2 semesters)

3. Baker University

Baker University offers Nursing Education and Nursing Administration as its two MSN degree programs. This program offers transferable credits, three start times per year, and the option of accelerated courses. Baker University also ranks as one of the top military-friendly universities. 

  • Length: 24 months depending on transfer credits
  • Admissions Rate: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 64%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $480 per credit hour

4. Northern Kentucky University

Northern Kentucky University's MSN degree program offers six career tracks, including clinical and non-clinical options. This online program is designed for full-time or part-time coursework. It also provides four post-master degree certificates for Nurse Practitioner specialties. 

  • Length: 12-24 months
  • Admissions Rate: 80%
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 19:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $664 per credit hour

5. Capella University

Capella University offers nine different MSN degree tracks and flexibility in how students complete courses—the FlexPath or the GuidedPath, which are flexible or more structured approaches to learning. The student chooses these learning options based on their individual learning needs.  

  • Length: 14 months
  • Admissions Rate: Open

6. Emory University

Emory University offers four clinical Nurse Practitioner MSN degree track options. This program starts every Summer semester. It is an online program but does require in-person intensives. The Acute Care specialty programs require a minimum of one to two years of prior RN experience. 

  • Length: 15 months
  • Admissions Rate: 13%
  • Graduation Rate: 90%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $24,986/semester ($2,082/hour)

7. Herzing University

Eight MSN degree tracks are available at Herzing University, including clinical and non-clinical options. Herzing University also offers Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs to continue to advance your nursing practice after completing the MSN degree. They offer online and direct-entry programs, including a flexible schedule for busy students.

  • Length: 16-32 months
  • Admissions Rate: 94.5%
  • Graduation Rate: 50%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 10:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $675 program fee for each semester

8. Western Governors University

Western Governors University has five nursing-focused MSN degree tracks. This includes a BSN to MSN program, RN to MSN, Nurse Practitioner Programs, Healthcare Master Degree, and Post-Master's Nursing Program Online. Their fully online program offers the convenience of completing courses any time of the day or night. An active RN license is mandatory for all of these programs. WGU also provides a program mentor with experience in the student's specific degree track. 

  • Length: 2 years
  • Admissions Rate: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 89-97%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 42:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost per 6 months term: RN to MSN ($4,685), BSN to MSN ($4,795), Family Nurse Practitioner ($6,525), PMHNP ($6,625), Master of Healthcare Administration ($4,755)

9. Drexel University

Drexel University offers many clinical and non-clinical MSN degree track options. Though entirely online, their MSN program provides interactive courses. If students complete the MSN degree in three years, the university guarantees that the tuition will not increase during that time. The university is acknowledged as a leading online Master's in Nursing Program in U.S. News & World Report's rankings.

  • Length: 2 years
  • Admissions Rate: 83%
  • Graduation Rate: 69%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: depends on the type of MSN program; MSN program starts at $1,101

10. Kent State University

Offering both clinical and non-clinical MSN degree track options, Kent State University has many specialties to choose from. Several of the specialty options are 100% online. Thesis completion is optional. Full-time and part-time opportunities are also available.  Total credits required is between 35 to 42.

  • Length: 2 years
  • Admissions Rate: 87.3%
  • Graduation Rate: 63.84%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 20:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $20,000 to $24,000 approximate 

11. Simmons University

Simmons University offers two clinical-based MSN degree tracks: Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Although this program is online, it requires in-person immersion in Boston, Massachusetts. Nursing students can complete the clinical experience where they live. Students have the flexibility to start their program at various times throughout the academic year, with options available in January, May, and September.

  • Length: 30 to 36 months
  • Admissions Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 81%
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 7:1
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Cost: $1,235 per credit hour

Costs of MSN Programs

The cost of pursuing an MSN degree varies widely based on several factors, including the type of institution, the specific program offered, whether the program is online or on-campus, and more:

  • Type of Institution: Public universities often offer lower tuition rates for in-state residents compared to out-of-state residents, while private universities typically have a single rate that is usually higher.
  • Program Length: The duration of MSN programs can range from 12 months to over 30 months. Longer programs may result in higher overall costs, although shorter, intensive programs might have higher per-semester fees.
  • Online vs. On-Campus: Online programs can sometimes be more cost-effective due to the lack of commuting and housing expenses. However, this is not always the case, and some online programs have similar tuition rates to their on-campus counterparts.
  • Specialization: Certain specializations within the MSN program, such as Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Anesthetist tracks, may have different tuition rates due to the varying nature of the coursework and clinical training involved.
  • Additional Fees: Beyond tuition, additional costs can include books, supplies, lab fees, technology fees, and other miscellaneous expenses. Some programs also have specific fees for clinical placements or simulation lab access.

Based on the fastest MSN programs above, the cost per credit hour for MSN programs can range from around $275 to over $1,000, with total program costs varying significantly. For example, programs like the University of North Carolina at Wilmington offer rates as low as $276.62 per credit hour for in-state residents, while others like Emory University can reach up to $2,082 per credit hour.

Prospective students should also consider the availability of financial aid, scholarships, and grants, which can significantly offset the cost of an MSN program. Many universities offer financial assistance specifically for nursing students, and there are numerous external scholarships available for those pursuing advanced nursing degrees. 

To reduce overall costs with MSN programs, consider checking out the Most Affordable MSN Programs of 2024.

Salary Expectations in 2024

Whether clinical or non-clinical, an MSN degree offers greater earning potential than an ADN or BSN degree, of which all salaries will vary based on geography and other contributing factors.    

Below are the average MSN-prepared nurse salaries:

Though the clinical specialties have higher average salaries, non-clinical MSN specialties also have the opportunity to earn a higher salary.

Nursing Administrators can achieve careers as Chief Nursing Officers or top healthcare administrators. Nurses with MSN degrees can also pursue careers as Chief Informatics Officers.  

Among graduates with an MSN degree, the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) commands the highest salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage is $98.93. The top five industries with the highest level of employment for this job are:

  • Office of the Physicians: 122,830
  • General Medical & Surgical Hospitals: 58,080
  • Outpatient Care Centers: 23,760
  • Office of Other Health Practitioners: 10,950
  • Home Health Care Services: 7,460

Meanwhile, the top three paying industries are:

  • Outpatient Care Centers: $246,980
  • Specialtys: $230,220
  • Ambulatroy Health Care: $219,790

Are the Fastest MSN Programs Worth It?

Accelerated MSN programs cater to driven individuals eager to expedite their educational and professional journeys. These programs, while intensive, offer a unique blend of challenges and rewards. Below is an analysis of the pros and cons to help you decide if an accelerated path is right for you.

Pros of the Fastest MSN Programs 

  1. Efficiency in Education: These programs are tailored for students ready to swiftly complete their studies and enter the workforce, thereby shortening the transition period into professional roles.
  2. Cost Reduction: By finishing sooner, you can significantly lower the total expense of tuition and other associated costs, making these programs an economically sensible choice.
  3. Immersive Learning Environment: Accelerated programs provide a deep dive into coursework with minimal breaks, fostering a comprehensive and focused learning experience.
  4. Swift Career Progression: Particularly beneficial for current nursing professionals, these programs facilitate rapid career advancement, potentially leading to earlier promotions and increased salaries.
  5. Streamlined Curriculum: The curriculum is designed to eliminate non-essential courses, concentrating solely on the crucial skills and knowledge needed in advanced nursing roles.

Cons of the Fastest MSN Programs 

  1. Intensive Workload: The quick pace of these programs can be demanding and stressful, requiring strong dedication and potentially impacting work-life balance.
  2. Condensed Clinical Exposure: Although these programs fulfill the required clinical hours, the accelerated schedule may limit the time available to fully integrate and practice new skills.
  3. Learning Style Compatibility: The rapid pace may not accommodate all learning preferences, which could affect the depth of understanding and practical application of knowledge in real-world settings.
  4. Reduced Networking Opportunities: The shortened duration might constrain the time available for building connections with peers and instructors, which are crucial for long-term career development.
  5. Increased Risk of Burnout: The relentless demands of these programs might lead to burnout, jeopardizing both academic success and personal health.

Whether an accelerated or fast MSN program is the right choice depends largely on your personal circumstances and professional aspirations. For those who thrive in fast-paced, intensive environments and are looking to quickly elevate their careers, these programs can be an excellent fit. Conversely, if you prefer a more gradual educational experience, consider exploring our guide to the Best MSN Programs.

MSN Program Accreditation

Selecting an accredited Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is crucial for aspiring Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and those seeking to advance their nursing careers. Accreditation serves as a seal of quality, indicating that a program meets national educational standards through rigorous evaluations of its curriculum, faculty, student resources, and clinical training. It guarantees that the program fulfills minimum clinical hour requirements, which is vital for APRN preparation.

Moreover, accreditation is often required for advanced nursing certifications and state licensure. Graduates from accredited programs are favored by employers, enjoy wider career opportunities, and can transfer credits more easily to further their education, such as pursuing a PhD or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Professional credibility is enhanced, and eligibility for federal financial aid is made possible only through accredited institutions. Therefore, prospective MSN students should verify to ensure their MSN program is accredited by recognized bodies like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

APRN Scope of Practice and State Regulations 

For those aiming to secure an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) degree, which includes specializations such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists, it's critical to factor in the intended geographical location of your practice. The scope of practice for APRNs varies significantly across states, influencing the degree of autonomy and responsibilities you may have. Not all nursing schools prepare students to meet the specific regulatory requirements of every state, making it vital to align your educational choices with the regulations of the state where you plan to work.

The regulatory landscape for APRNs can be categorized broadly into three types of practice authority: full, reduced, and restricted.

  • Full practice states: APRNs have the authority to assess, diagnose, interpret diagnostic tests, and initiate treatment plans including prescribing medications autonomously.
  • Reduced practice states: Require APRNs to have a regulated collaborative agreement with a healthcare provider for at least one element of practice, limiting some aspect of APRN practice.
  • Restricted practice states: Require APRNs to be under the supervision or delegation of a healthcare provider, significantly limiting the APRN's practice.

Understanding these regulations is crucial for APRNs to ensure that their professional practices are in accordance with state laws and that they are skillfully applying their training within the legal parameters of their state. When choosing an APRN MSN program, it is vital to verify that the selected school thoroughly prepares individuals for the specific regulatory demands of the state in which you plan to practice.

FAQ and Additional Readings

Q: Do I need to be certified as an NP after getting an MSN degree?

A: If you are going to school to become a nurse practitioner, then yes you will need to take an NP certification in the specialty you went to school for. You must pass a national certification before you can practice as an NP, and your specific certification exam will depend on your specialty.

If you obtained your MSN a different APRN role like CNS, CRNA, or nurse midwife you will be required to take a different APRN certification exam focused on your specialty. The same is true for nurse educators who may be required to take the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam. Those obtaining their MSN in a leadership or administrative role may also need to take certification exams depending on where they plan to work. 

Q: Do I have to do direct patient care with an MSN degree?

A: No. There are many non-clinical MSN options in healthcare settings, such as nursing management, healthcare administration, and executive leadership. APRNs make great leaders in these areas. 


Related: Nurse Practitioner: What Is an NP and How to Become One


Q: What financial assistance is available to help pay for my MSN degree? 

A: The tuition rates of MSN programs can vary significantly. Many MSN programs offer part-time coursework to allow you to continue working during the program. Other options are military discounts on tuition for military members, scholarships, tuition assistance, or student loans. Be sure to discuss your needs with the financial aid counselor at your chosen university. 

AD DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links. These links are designed for allnurses to generate revenue at no cost to you. The websites you visit are operated by third parties and have no influence in our recommendations, which are grounded in research.

Editorial Team / Admin

Sarah Beattie has 21 years experience as a DNP, APRN and specializes in Critical Care, Endocrinology.

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