11 Most Affordable Master of Science (MSN) Programs in 2024

Is advancing your nursing degree your goal? Uncover the most affordable MSN programs in 2024, including requirements and salary expectations for your career.
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The rapidly evolving healthcare landscape and growing demand for highly skilled nursing professionals have sparked considerable interest in advanced nursing degrees.

Among these, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) stands out for its potential to open up an array of exciting career prospects beyond traditional nursing roles.

For those interested in pursuing an MSN with a budget, we've compiled the 11 most affordable MSN programs available in 2024, along with information on their prerequisites and requirements, salary expectations after graduating, and more.

 

What Is an MSN?

An MSN is an advanced degree that allows nurses to further their education and pursue many career opportunities. Upon completion of this advanced degree, you may find yourself as a nurse administrator leading staff, directing patient care, and overseeing staff, and participate in the development of healthcare policies. 

While most MSN programs require students to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), not all do. There are various pathways to pursuing an MSN, including hybrid, online, in-person, and programs that allow students to obtain MSN credits while completing BSN coursework. 


Related: 11 Fastest MSN Programs in 2023


MSN programs may have different focuses depending on the student's career path. There are programs for students who desire a career as a nurse practitioner (NP) in health policy, nursing education, women's health, and more. Students can further dial in their careers and focus on a specific area, such as adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric mental health, and general advanced practice nursing (APRN). It is important to research career paths and pick a program that aligns with your future career aspirations. 

Prerequisites and Requirements

The admission requirements and prerequisites will vary depending on your chosen program, but some general conditions are standard.

  • A prior undergraduate degree/bachelor's degree 
    • While most MSN programs will require a prior nursing degree, not all do. Depending on the type of undergraduate degree, you may be eligible for different program types.
  • Prerequisite courses for an MSN degree will vary depending on the program, but typical courses include the following:
    • Anatomy and physiology 
    • Human growth and development
    • Nutrition
    • Microbiology 
    • Statistics
    • Pharmacology 
  • Entrance exams
  • Academic transcripts
    • Applicants should be prepared to present transcripts for all colleges that they have previously attended. 
  • Healthcare work experience or clinical experience 
    • Some programs will require that applicants have previous healthcare experience to be eligible for their program.

As the prerequisites and requirements may vary between programs and schools, it's essential that students check with each to ensure they meet admission requirements.

MSN Program Pathways 

The pathway to obtaining an MSN degree may differ depending on an individual's prior level of education before applying to a program. While many believe that a BSN or nursing experience is necessary, some universities provide pathways for individuals with an associate's degree in nursing or a non-nursing bachelor's degree.

Entry-Level Master's Degree: Specifically designed for non-nurses holding a bachelor's or graduate degree outside the nursing field. This MSN program entails completing baccalaureate-level coursework, with students obtaining RN licensure during the initial year of study. The typical duration for completion is 2-3 years.

ADN-RN to Master's Degree: Tailored for nurses with an associate's degree, this MSN program addresses missing baccalaureate-level content. Admission requirements vary based on the institution, prior coursework, and nursing experience. The expected duration for completion is 2-3 years.

BSN-RN to Master's Degree: Among the various pathways, the BSN to MSN is the more traditional route for nurses aspiring to pursue an MSN and advance their careers. This master's program allows graduate nurses to specialize in a particular area. Requirements for the program will depend on the chosen institution and specialty concentration, with a typical duration of 18-24 months.

Dual Master's Degree: Nurses also have the option to opt for dual MSN programs that offer an in-depth focus in a related field of study. Nationwide, there are over 120 dual master's degrees available, combining nursing with business, public health, health administration, and other areas.

Career Pathways for MSN Graduates

Clinical APRN MSN Roles:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse Midwifery

Non-Clinical MSN Roles:

  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Nurse Administrators
  • Nurse Educators
  • Nurse Informaticist

11 Most Affordable MSN Programs in 2024

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. Appalachian State University 

Appalachian State University is located in Boone, NC, and offers a 39-credit hour, part-time MSN program. The 39 hours consist of advanced master's nursing courses, nursing education concentration courses, cutting-edge clinical and nursing education practicum hours, and a thesis or research project. Admission rates for this online program are 80% with 15:1 student-to-faculty ratios. 

  • Cost: $319/credit hour
  • Duration: 2 years
  • Graduation rate: 73%

2. Liberty University

Located in Lynchburg, VA, Liberty University offers a 100% online MSN degree with eight-week courses. Liberty University also offers a dual MSN/MBA degree and MSN/MSHA degree for students wanting to combine business or health administration with their nursing education. Admission rates are 50%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 21:1. 

  • Cost: $330/credit hour
  • Duration: 1.5 years
  • Graduation rate: 54%

3. The University of Alabama 

Located in Tuscaloosa, AL, The University of Alabama offers three start times for their MSN program: Spring, Summer, and fall. Students can choose a nurse practitioner or nurse administration focus in the MSN program. It also offers an online MSN with dual specialization: Psychiatric Mental Health and Family Nurse Practitioner. Admission rates are 80%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 17:1.

  • Cost: $440/credit hour
  • Duration: 2 years
  • Graduation rate: 72%

4. Baker University 

Located in Baldwin City, KS, Baker University offers an online MSN degree with classes starting in January, June, and August. Baker University's MSN degree offers students two paths: the MSN in Nursing Education or MSN in Nursing Administration. It has a flexible online program, allowing you to switch between a full-time or part-time education, or pause for up to 12 months.  Admission rates are 93%, and student-to-faculty ratios are low at 8:1.

  • Cost: $480/credit hour
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Graduation rate: 62%

5. Purdue University

Located in Westville, IN, Purdue University NW offers a fully online MSN program that allows students to complete their practicum hours where they work. Purdue NW provides scholarships for MSN students who completed their RN-BSN at PNW or are employed by one of their partner healthcare facilities. The university also offers dual degree programs MSN and MBA, MSN and Master of Health Care Administration (MHCA), and MSN and Master of Public Health (MPH). Admission rates are 63%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 20:1.

  • Cost: $420/credit hour; $3,200 per term
  • Duration: 2 years or less
  • Graduation rate: 83%

6. Galen College of Nursing

Located in Louisville, KY, Galen College of Nursing offers a fully online MSN program with courses consisting of eight-week modules. There are two pathways for MSN students: Nursing and Healthcare Leadership and Nurse Educator. Admission rates are 100%, and student-to-faculty ratios are low at 14:1.

  • Cost: $525/credit hour
  • Duration: 2 years or less
  • Graduation rate: 53%

7. University of Phoenix

Located in Phoenix, AZ, the University of Phoenix offers up to six start times throughout the year for its fully online MSN program. There are three concentrations: informatics, nurse administration, and nurse education. Most of the online classes span only 6 to 8 weeks long. Admission rates are 100%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 77:1.    

  • Cost: $698/credit hour
  • Duration: 21 or 31 months 
  • Graduation rate: 27%

8. American Sentinel University 

American Sentinel University is located in Waterbury, CT, and offers monthly start dates for its flexible, online MSN program. After completing the program coursework, students can choose one of eight specializations to focus on classes that align with their career interests. The SIMPath (Non-NP Specializations Only) offers 100% online classes with 16-week semesters and monthly start dates. The self-paced format allows you to complete as many classes as you can. Admission rates are high at 100%, and student-to-faculty ratios are low at 7:1. 

  • Cost: $560/credit hour
  • Duration: 24 months or less
  • Graduation rate: 69% 

9. Ohio University

Located in Athens, OH, Ohio University offers Online coursework and on-campus intensives MSN program designed explicitly for actively practicing registered nurses. MSN students can choose from four tracks: adult-gerontology, acute care, nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Admission rates are 87%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 17:1. 

  • Cost: $527 - $578 per credit hour
  • Duration: Five semesters
  • Graduation rate: 65%

10. Southern New Hampshire University 

In Manchester, NH, Southern New Hampshire University offers an online MSN program for students with active, unencumbered registered nurse licenses. Students that do not yet have a BSN can take advantage of the online RN to MSN program that allows RNs to achieve their MSN faster and for less money. You can choose from 5 program tracks aligned with the latest AACN Essentials. Admission rates are 94%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 26:1.

  • Cost: $637/credit hour
  • Duration: less than 2 years
  • Graduation rate: 40%

11. Frontier Nursing University 

Located in Versailles, KY, Frontier Nursing University offers 100% online coursework for MSN students, allowing them to easily continue onto FNU's Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) curriculum. Students can choose from various pathways: nurse midwife and women's health nurse practitioner. Admission rates are 73%, and student-to-faculty ratios are 20:1. 

  • Cost: $712/credit hour
  • Duration: 2 to 3 years part-time
  • Graduation rate: 72% 

Salary Expectations of an MSN in 2024

Obtaining an MSN can lead to many career opportunities. Some master's degree programs tailor their curricula to specific career fields, such as family NP, nursing leadership, nursing informatics, or nursing education. Depending on your career field, there will be varying salary expectations. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an NP can earn an average annual salary of $124,680, and an hourly rate of $59.94, with the highest-paying states being:

  • California: $158,130
  • New Jersey: $143,250
  • Massachusetts: $138,700
  • Oregon: $136,250
  • Nevada: $136,230

The industry with the highest levels of employment is the office of physicians (122,830), followed by general medical and surgical hospitals (58,080), outpatient care centers (23,760), offices of other health practitioners (10,950), and home health care services (7,460).

There are many different fields that one can explore with an MSN. Exploring all options and avenues before committing to this higher education degree is important to ensure you will find a career that fits your interests and needs. 

Non-Clinical MSN Pay by Role

Clinical Nurse Leader

  • Mean Hourly: $43
  • Mean Annual: $89,949
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $34.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $71,000

Nurse Administrator

  • Mean Hourly: $41
  • Mean Annual: $84,334
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $33.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $68,000

Nurse Educator

  • Mean Hourly: $41
  • Mean Annual: $85,955
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $33.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $68,000

APRN MSN Pay by Role

Nurse Practitioner

  • Mean Hourly: $69
  • Mean Annual: $142,481
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $61.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $126,600

Clinical Nurse Specialist

  • Mean Hourly: $45
  • Mean Annual: $94,545
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $34.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $71,000

Nurse Midwife

  • Mean Hourly: $55
  • Mean Annual: $113,401
  • Lowest 25% Hourly: $47.00
  • Lowest 25% Annual: $98,500

Are MSN Programs Worth It?

To decide whether pursuing an MSN program is worthwhile, it is essential to consider both its benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of MSN Programs

  1. Career Advancement: Obtaining an MSN can unlock pathways to advanced practice roles, including but not limited to Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Educator, or Nurse Administrator, providing expanded career opportunities.
  2. Increased Earning Potential: Typically, nurses holding an MSN degree experience enhanced earning potential in comparison to those with a BSN or ADN, owing to their advanced skills and qualifications.
  3. Specialization Options: MSN programs present opportunities for specialization in various areas such as pediatrics, gerontology, family practice, or acute care, enabling individuals to pursue focused career paths aligned with their interests.
  4. Leadership Opportunities: The degree equips nurses for leadership and management positions, empowering them to shape healthcare practices and policies.
  5. Intellectual Fulfillment: The pursuit of an MSN can be intellectually rewarding, 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: Engaging in MSN programs can incur significant expenses, encompassing tuition, books, fees, and the potential loss of income if work hours are reduced for study.
  2. Time Commitment: Striking a balance between a rigorous academic program and one's work and personal life can pose challenges, particularly for full-time working nurses.
  3. Stress and Exhaustion: The intensity of graduate-level coursework, coupled with clinical hours and work responsibilities, may contribute to heightened stress and burnout.
  4. Competitive Job Market: In certain regions, the presence of numerous advanced practice nurses may saturate the job market, intensifying competition for positions in specific specializations.
  5. Return on Investment (ROI): The financial and time investment in an MSN program may require several years for recovery, and the ROI can vary based on geographical location and nursing specialty.

Ultimately, determining the value of an MSN program will hinge on aligning it with your individual personal and career objectives.

MSN Accreditation 

Choosing an accredited Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program holds substantial importance for several compelling reasons:

  • Educational Standards: Accreditation ensures adherence to rigorous education standards. Regular evaluations guarantee that accredited programs consistently uphold excellence in curriculum, faculty qualifications, student resources, and clinical training.
  • Fulfillment of Clinical Hour Requirements: Accreditation ensures that MSN programs meet the minimum clinical hour requirements, ensuring a comprehensive and robust clinical education, specifically pertinent for those becoming APRNs. 
  • Certification and Licensure Eligibility: Graduation from an accredited program is often a prerequisite for eligibility for various advanced nursing certifications and state licensures crucial for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).
  • Enhanced Career Opportunities: Employers tend to prefer graduates from accredited MSN programs, valuing the assurance of high-quality education and alignment with nationally recognized standards. Accreditation opens doors to a broader range of career prospects.
  • Credit Transferability: Credits earned in an accredited MSN program are more likely to be accepted by other accredited nursing institutions, facilitating seamless educational progression, whether pursuing a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
  • Professional Credibility: Completing an accredited MSN program enhances professional credibility, signaling to employers, colleagues, and patients that one has undergone education and training meeting national standards for advanced nursing practice.
  • Federal Financial Aid: Accreditation often serves as a prerequisite for eligibility for federal financial aid, including grants and loans. This is particularly crucial for students seeking financial assistance to support their MSN education.

Given these considerations, prospective students should verify that their chosen MSN programs hold accreditation from reputable bodies such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME) for nurse-midwifery programs.  

FAQ and Additional Readings

Q: Is there a certification exam similar to the NCLEX-RN that nurses must take after completing an MSN degree?

A: If your goal is to pursue an MSN degree for an APRN role (NP, CNS, Midwife), you would need to take a certification exam for licensure eligibility. For example, if you're aiming to become a nurse midwife through an MSN program, you would take the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) exam. However, it's crucial to note that this requirement may not apply to MSN degrees focused on leadership roles within the nursing field. 

Q: Are you required to have an RN license to apply for an MSN program?

A: While most programs require a BSN before applying for the MSN program, not all do. Some programs allow non-nursing degree holders to earn an MSN. 


Related: 10 Best MSN Programs in 2023


Q: Is it possible to work while completing an MSN degree?

A: Numerous MSN programs accommodate nurses who wish to work concurrently while pursuing their master's degree. However, it's essential to note that certain specialty programs or universities might necessitate nursing students to commit to full-time coursework. The feasibility of working while studying can vary, and it's advisable to assess this based on the requirements of your chosen program and specialty concentrations.

Q: What distinguishes an MSN from a DNP if the job prospects are comparable after graduation?

A: Although both MSN and DNP degrees can result in similar employment opportunities, there are nuances between the two. The primary distinction lies in the level of education, with a doctorate-level nursing degree representing the highest attainable degree for nurses. As per the CCNE, a doctorate-level preparation is becoming essential for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), with the goal of making the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) the entry-level degree for APRNs by 2025.

For individuals with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), an MSN program typically spans two years, whereas DNP programs usually extend over three to four years. While both degrees may open doors to comparable job opportunities, variations in job responsibilities, salary, and career progression could exist. It is crucial for individuals to thoroughly research and comprehend the specific requirements and advantages of each program before making a decision.

Editorial Team / Admin
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