Nursing is one of the most challenging and rewarding careers, and it is unique in its variety. There are many sides to nursing, from direct care to management to advanced practice to research, and nurses are key to keeping the healthcare system moving. But while nurses can begin working as an RN with just an associate’s degree, the BSN and MSN degrees can help nurses earn a promotion, as more advanced roles call for more education and training. As educational requirements for hiring increase, so too does the demand for Master of Science in Nursing programs that meet the needs of working nurses.
Online MSN programs have become a standard of nursing education, providing busy working professionals in the field a way to increase their credentials, learn specialized skills, and earn higher pay without leaving their careers. Whether nurses want to progress to advanced practice positions like Nurse-Midwifery or Nurse Anesthetist, or to take on managerial and administrative roles, there’s an online MSN program available. Best Master’s Programs editors have ranked the very best across the US.
How We Ranked the Best Online MSN Programs
With an enormous field of online nursing degrees today, Best Master’s Programs editors began by researching accredited, reputable institutions that have proven their dedication to student success. From our initial list, we ranked programs by four equally-weighted factors:
- Alumni Salary
- Niche student reviews
- U.S. News & World Report nursing school rankings
We obtained data from IPEDS, College Scorecard, Niche, and U.S. News. With these four factors, students can see their bases have been covered – expert opinion and student satisfaction, affordability and return on investment.
1. University of Texas Medical Branch
When you’re looking for the best online MSN programs, you will want to consider the University of Texas Medical Branch. The University of Texas offers seven concentrations in nursing that help professionals identify the best options for their goals. You can choose from a family nurse practitioner degree to a nurse educator degree, with a variety of specialized nurse practitioner programs for more specialized training.
The University of Texas Medical Branch stands out by offering nurse leadership tracks and nurse practitioner tracks as part of their MSN programs. The master’s degree in nursing allows you to focus on specialized treatment for your patients. It also gives you the chance to take on leadership roles in a medical facility by offering the training you need to work in more advanced positions.
Highlight: UTMB nurses have a first-time pass rate for the NCLEX of more than 97%.
2. University of Nebraska Medical Center
The University of Nebraska Medical Center offers one of the top RN to MSN online programs to help with your long-term career goals. The online degree programs allow you to focus on seven concentrations and gain the training you need to take on more advanced roles in your career. Since the school offers flexible options for your education, you can feel confident that you are able to work around your current schedule as a registered nurse while obtaining your master’s degree.
The University of Nebraska stands out by offering a flexible strategy for students to obtain a master’s degree. The school offers online training and allows nurses to gain clinical experience at local medical facilities. That flexibility gives you an advantage when focusing on your degree by addressing the underlying challenges that arise when working on a higher level of education.
Highlight: A key reason the University of Nebraska Medical Center stands out is its online degree programs and the flexibility that allows students to work on the degree at their own pace.
3. Ohio State University
When you are looking for online MSN programs that fit your schedule, Ohio State University offers options for your goals. The degree programs allow students to focus on four concentrations in specialized nurse practitioner and leadership roles: family nurse practitioner, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, a clinical nurse leader, and a neonatal nurse practitioner. You can focus on a specialized area of medical practice based on your interests and goals.
A key reason Ohio State University differs from other programs is the flexibility of its programs. The school offers four concentrations online, and you can take some classes for nurse practitioner degrees on-campus. That flexibility allows you to set up a schedule that works with your current career and your personal obligations.
Highlights: OSU’s cohort format helps online students develop a sense of community that leads to success through the program.
4. Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University offers one of the best online MSN programs for health systems management students. The online degree program focuses on teaching students the leadership skills they need to handle the challenges of working in a fast-paced environment. It teaches efficiency and healthcare quality skills that you can apply to your career and long-term goals.
Johns Hopkins University is a well-known university for its medical programs. When you are looking for an online degree with a focus on leadership roles in your career, you may want to consider the health systems management degree from the university for an opportunity to improve your long-term plans and make changes to your career.
Highlight: The Johns Hopkins University reputation and connections means MSN graduates are automatically seen as leaders in the field.
Concentrations: Health Systems Management
5. University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
When you are looking for the top RN to MSN online programs, you want to consider the degrees at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The school offers a master’s degree with three concentrations: leadership, informatics, and family nurse practitioner. The concentrations allow you to focus on specific areas of nursing and gain the training you need to advance in your career.
The University of Colorado stands apart from other programs by focusing on training from educators who have real-world experience. It also offers the flexibility of an online program that allows you to continue working as a registered nurse while you complete your master’s degree and gain the training you need to work on your long-term plans for your career.
Highlight: The University of Colorado differs from other programs by focusing on high-quality education from experienced professionals who have worked in your field of interests and bring their mentorship into the classroom.
Concentrations: FNP, Informatics, Leadership
6. University of Pittsburgh
When you plan to work on a degree to advance in your career as a nurse, you may want to consider the online MSN programs available at the University of Pittsburgh. The online degree programs offer three concentrations: nursing informatics, nursing administration, and clinical nurse leader. The training allows you to focus on a specific area of nursing and advance in your career by working around your goals as a nurse.
A key reason to consider the University of Pittsburgh is the flexible schedules and the concentrations available for your degree. The school offers students the opportunity to focus on their career by learning to take on a leadership role or developing specific skills that will give them an edge in their long-term plans. Whether you want to focus on the technology used in the medical field or you want to work on administrative skills, you can gain the training you need at the university.
Highlight: Students in the University of Pittsburgh MSN program can contribute to Pitt Nursing magazine, which highlights the accomplishments of the faculty and students.
7. University of Massachusetts Amherst
The University of Massachusetts in Amherst offers an online MSN degree program with three concentrations to help with your goals. The concentrations allow you to focus on specific areas of nursing and education that may help with your long-term goals. The concentrations focus on nursing education, clinical nurse leadership, and nursing science.
A key reason the University of Massachusetts stands apart from other programs is the focus on specialized skills that allow you to take a leadership role. The school offers options that focus on leadership, education, or developing skills for more advanced studies. By focusing on an area that helps with your long-term goals to work as a leader or an educator, you are able to advance in a nursing career.
Highlight: The University of Massachusetts in Amherst differs from other programs by offering online degrees that help nurses focus on their long-term goals in leadership roles or to advance into a doctorate-level program.
8. University of Arizona
If you are looking for an RN to MSN program, then the University of Arizona offers an option for your goals. The online RN to MSN program is the number one online nursing program in the state and it focuses on working around the complex schedule of a registered nurse. It recognizes that you may have limitations on the time you can work on your degree and allows you to accomplish your goals when it fits your schedule.
The University of Arizona allows you to go through an accelerated online program if you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and decide to pursue your master’s degree through the RN to MSN program. Even if you have an associate’s degree and work as a registered nurse, you can go through the RN to MSN program and finish your master’s degree within two years. That fast-pace allows you to advance in your career at a fast pace.
Highlight: The University of Arizona offers an RN to MSN program that allows you to complete your degree in as little as 15 months.
Concentrations: RN to MSN
9. University of Texas at Arlington
If you’re looking for a flexible and convenient master’s degree program in nursing, then the University of Texas at Arlington offers a solution for your goals. The school offers online degree options for nurses who want to complete their master’s degree. Since it has nine concentrations that range from nursing administration to pediatric acute care, you can find a degree that works with your goals. It offers different concentrations to help you specialize for your career as a nurse.
The University of Texas at Arlington offers nine degree options for nurses who want to advance in their career. The degrees allow you to gain specialized training and are fully online for your convenience. It gives you the flexible training you need to work on your goals for your career. Since the school has several options, you can find a degree that fits your plans.
Highlight: The University of Texas at Arlington has the largest non-profit nursing school in the nation, with more than 17,000 students in a format that has become a national model of nursing education.
10. University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati offers excellent degree programs for nurses who want to obtain their master’s degree online. The online degree programs give you the flexibility to work around your schedule and obligations. Since a registered nurse may have hours that change from week to week, the flexible schedule of an online program allows you to focus on your career and still obtain a higher level of education. The school offers six concentrations for your degree to help with your goals.
A key reason the University of Cincinnati differs from other programs is the specialized concentrations available to students. The school offers degrees in nurse midwifery and women’s health, as well as the traditional family nurse practitioner degree options. You can focus on the areas of study that appeal to your interests and complete your degree to start working in a specialized field of nursing.
Highlight: The University of Cincinnati takes online education very seriously – more than 60% of nursing students are learning online.
11. Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University offers an online master of nursing, or MSN, degree program that helps with your goals for your career. The degree program offers flexible hours with full-time and part-time studies that work around your schedule as a nurse. You have options to study fully online or to take on-campus classes for your degree. That flexibility allows you to work at your own pace.
A key reason Florida Atlantic University stands out from other programs is the focus on traditional nursing practice. The school offers one online degree program. The master of science in nursing combines leadership with technical and clinical skills you need as a nurse. That well-rounded approach to nursing helps you stay on track for your career and gives you more flexibility as a nurse when you are looking into leadership opportunities.
Highlight: Florida Atlantic University’s nursing program is recognized by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation, Inc. (AHNCC) for its emphasis on holistic healing.
12. Clarkson College
When you are looking for the best online MSN programs, you will want to consider Clarkson College. The online degree programs at the college take a patient-focused approach to training and ensure that students are prepared to handle the needs of their patients. The school offers four concentrations for MSN students: healthcare administration, nursing education, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, and family nurse practitioner. The specialized education in gerontology prepares nurses to handle the needs of adults, while family nurse practitioners may offer care to patients in all age groups.
Clarkson Colleges differs from other schools by offering a patient-focused education. It specifically focuses on the way your services impact patients and the strategies you may need to handle your patient’s health. Even when you study healthcare administration, you will focus on the aspects of administrative services that impact your patients’ and their health.
Highlight: Clarkson College’s Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP) provides students with funding that will be forgiven after four years of employment as a nurse.
Concentrations: 4 concentrations
13. University of Hawaii at Manoa
The University of Hawaii at Manoa offers an online master’s in nursing degree program that allows you to focus on accomplishing your career goals as a nurse. The school offers two RN to MSN programs: the program for nurses with a bachelor’s degree and the program for nurses with an associate’s degree. It also allows students who have a degree in other fields to enter the program with the goal of changing their career path to nursing after graduation.
A key way the University of Hawaii at Manoa differs from other programs is that you do not need experience as a nurse to start the degree. You can have a degree in other fields or related fields before you start training. The amount of time required for the degree depends on your level of education, but you can expect the degree to take longer if you have an associate’s degree or have moved into nursing from a different field of study.
Highlight: The University of Hawaii at Manoa allows you to change your career path to nursing by allowing students with a degree in fields outside of nursing to start working on a master’s in nursing.
14. University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program that can be completed entirely online. The online MSN programs offered by the University of Arkansas have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). U of A Online’s program is focused on a Nurse Educator concentration and requires the completion of 39 credit units and a master’s thesis or scholarly independent study. Program applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school when applying.
The University of Arkansas was established in 1871 under the Morrill Land Grant Act. UARK is also a space grant school and the flagship campus of member schools in the University of Arkansas system. The University of Arkansas’ 200+-acre campus is located in the college town of Fayetteville. UARK’s student enrollment exceeds 27,000.
Highlight: The University of Arkansas has been named one of the best online educators by U.S. News & World Report, both for bachelor’s and graduate programs.
15. Florida State University
Florida State University’s College of Nursing offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with an emphasis on Nurse Leadership. US News and World Report recognizes FSU’s as one of the best online MSN programs in the country. FSU’s online MSN program explores the complexities of appropriate nursing leadership through the completion of 32 credit hours, plus a clinical internship of at least 315 hours.
Florida State University was established in 1851 and is a space grant and sea grant institution of higher learning. The school is organized into 16 colleges/schools that offer more than 350 study programs. FSU is considered one of the only three universities that have received state designation as preeminent.
Highlight: Research in FSU’s College of Nursing focuses on meeting health disparities and providing equality of access across classes and communities.
Concentrations: MSN Nurse Leader
16. Bradley University
Bradley University offers a Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree program that is available completely online. Bradley offers several online MSN programs that are designed to educate FNP degree candidates who hold different degree levels when beginning the program. These varying nursing degrees include an ADN, a BSN, and an MSN. Bradley’s flexible and convenient online platform is a great way to continue to work while studying for the degree. The program’s required clinical practicum can be completed locally.
Bradley University was established in 1897 as the Bradley Polytechnic Institute. The school’s 80+-acre urban campus is home to more than 4,000 students pursuing varying levels of degrees from Bradley University’s five schools/colleges. These include the College of Business, Liberal Arts & Sciences, Communications, Entrepreneurship, and Engineering/Technology.
Highlight: Bradley University has received accreditation from more than 20 professional accrediting organizations and regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner
17. Saint Francis Medical Center
Saint Francis Medical Center’s College of Nursing offers seven online Masters of Science in Nursing degree programs. Specialties include a Family Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator, Management and Leadership, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, and Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. Additionally, MSN degree candidates can choose an accelerated from MSN to RN for those students who do not hold a bachelor of nursing degree. Master’s Programs Guide recognizes Saint Francis Medical Center’s programs among the best online MSN Programs in the country.
Saint Francis Medical Center was founded in 1876 and is currently the largest hospital in the greater Peoria area. Saint Francis Medical Center is a teaching hospital for the School of Medicine at the University of Illinois. Saint Francis Medical Center has been the recipient of a nursing care award in emergency room services.
Highlight: Saint Francis Medical Center is the largest Level 1 trauma center between St. Louis and Chicago.
18. University of St. Francis
The University of St. Francis Leach College of Nursing offers a Master Of Nursing (MSN) degree program that is 100% available online. USF’s online MSN programs can be completed with the following concentrations — Nurse Administrator, Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Educator, and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Additionally, the University of St. Francis offers one of the country’s top RN to MSN online programs. MSN core coursework includes Advanced Practical Nursing, Research, Biostatistics, and Evidence-Based Health Care, among others.
The University of St. Francis was established in 1920 and is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and guided by Franciscan traditions. The school’s 20+-acre suburban campus is about a half-hour from Chicago and home to more than 3,300 students. Up to 100% of incoming freshman receive some type of financial aid.
Highlight: Money Magazine recognizes the University of St. Francis as the top private institution of higher education in Illinois.
19. Regis University
Regis University’s Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professionals/Loretto Heights School of Nursing offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) that can be completed entirely online. Regis’ online MSN programs allow students to opt for a concentration that prepares students for a career as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, a Family Nurse Practitioner, a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Leadership and a Completion Degree for Nurse Practitioners. US News and World Report recognizes Regis University among the top tier regional universities in the country. Regis University maintains an impressive student/faculty ratio of 14 to 1.
Regis University was established in 1877 in New Mexico and is affiliated with Roman Catholic (Jesuit) Church. Regis University consists of five colleges/schools. Regis University operates the innovative community-based Institute on the Common Good. The institute seeks to provide an accessible and safe space for community discussions and dialogue.
Highlight: Regis University puts its dedication to ethics and service to work in the Global Health Pathways initiative.
20. Cleveland State University
Cleveland State University offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program that is available 100% online, or as a hybrid format. CSU’s distance learning MSN programs include the following concentrations – Forensic Nursing, Nursing for Specialized Populations, Clinical Nursing Leadership, and Nursing Education. US News and World Report recognizes Cleveland State University among the top online MSN degree programs in the country. Many of CSU’s best online MSN programs offer optional paths to related nursing certificates.
Cleveland State University was established in 1964 as the Cleveland YMCA School of Technology. Cleveland State University is a member school of the University System of Ohio that offers more than 210 programs of study. The school’s 75+-acre urban campus is home to more than 17,100 students.
Highlight: The Cleveland YMCA School of Technology was the first available public education institute located within Cleveland’s city limits.
21. Lewis University
Lewis University’s College of Nursing offers a distance-learning Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) that can be completed entirely online. These online MSN programs include specialty paths of School Nursing, Nursing Education, Healthcare Systems Leadership, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Gerontology Primary /Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. The credit hour requirements for each MSN degree program’s specialty differ but generally fall within 34 and 49 credit units. Lewis University also offers one of the top RN to MSN online programs.
Lewis University was established in 1932 and is affiliated with the Roman Catholic (Lasallians) Church. Early on, Lewis University focused its instruction on aviation technology. The school’s suburban campus is home to more than 6,500 undergraduate and graduate students The campus includes the school’s airport.
Highlight: Lewis University is dedicated to diversity and access.
22. Xavier University
Xavier University offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) that can be completed entirely online. Xavier University’s online MSN programs have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The MSN degree program requires 2 – 3 years to complete; with the length of the program contingent upon previous work and college coursework that can be applied to Xavier’s MSN distance-learning program
Xavier University was established in 1831 as a private Roman Catholic (Jesuit) Church. The school operates primarily as an undergraduate institution of higher education. Xavier University’s 175+-acre campus is home to several castle-style architecture buildings and more than 6,000 students.
Highlight: Xavier University holds the distinction as the 6th oldest Catholic school in the country.
23. University of Toledo
The University of Toledo offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program that emphasizes the development of future Nurse Educators. The University of Toledo’s online MSN programs have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Degree graduates complete coursework in the areas of curriculum development, learning processes, teaching methods, and practical assessment principles. Applicants for UT’s distance-learning MSN program must already possess a baccalaureate degree in nursing from an accredited college.
The University of Toledo was established in 1872. UT has several sub-campuses that include the Health Science campus, the Scott Park campus, downtown Toledo, and a research facility in Maumee Bay State Park. The school’s campuses are home to 23,000 students studying for degree among the 250+ programs offered by UT. UT operates with fifteen colleges/schools plus the University’s online division.
Highlight: In terms of enrollment, the University of Toledo is the 6th largest institution of higher learning in the state of Ohio.
Concentrations: Nurse Educator
24. Maryville University of St. Louis
The Maryville University of St. Louis offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program that can be completed entirely online. Maryville University’s MSN degree program requires absolutely no visits to Maryville’ campus in Missouri. In fact, degree candidates for the MSN online program can complete their clinical requirements in a local healthcare facility near the student. Program education tracks include Pediatric Primary Care, Psychiatric Mental Health, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Gerontology Primary & Acute Care. The Maryville University of St. Louis’ MSN programs have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
The Maryville University of St. Louis was established in 1872 by the Society of the Sacred Heart as an all-female school dedicated to educating underprivileged women. Maryville University’s suburban campus is home to nearly 6,500 students and the school’s mascot, Louie-the St. Bernard.
Highlight: Maryville University requires no GMAT or GRE for admissions, and students are never waitlisted.
25. Ball State University
Ball State University offers several Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program that is available entirely online. These concentration paths include that of a Nurse Educator, a Family Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Administrator. In addition, Ball State University offers top RN to MSN programs with clinical practicums available near where a degree candidate lives. Ball State’s online MSN programs are conveniently accessible when students have time to study. It is noted that Ball State University offers on-campus and hybrid MSN coursework for those interested.
The original founders of the Ball Corporation established Ball State University in 1918. Ball State University’s 1,100+-acre campus is home to more than 22,100 students studying for degrees offered by the University’s eight colleges/schools. US News and World Report recognizes Ball State University as an up and coming institution of higher education.
Highlight: Ball State is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation with the Community Engagement Classification for its dedication to service.
What Do I Need to Start My MSN?
Many working nurses are looking for online BSN to MSN programs. Quite a few reputable programs accept online students. Even nurses that don’t have a BSN but are registered nurses can choose from many RN to MSN programs. Students that are interested in advancing from a BSN to Masters in Nursing can now complete their degrees by taking enrolling in RN to MSN online programs and getting their practical experience at their jobs.
While online BSN to MSN programs are perhaps the most popular and best-known sort of Internet-based nursing education, there are several more types. For example, a prospective student looking for the easiest online nurse practitioner program can find many options. Just a few years ago, a search for “easiest online nursing practitioner program” would have returned few respectable programs. These days, there are many RN to MSN online bridge programs as well as numerous BSN to Masters in Nursing programs.
There is a clear path for any prospective nursing student to advance all the way from an ADN degree to an MSN degree. A student who already holds an ADN can attend an online BSN program. Alternatively, a prospective nursing student that holds a Bachelor’s degree in another field can find many second degree nursing programs without prerequisites. After completing their bachelor’s degrees and becoming RNs, ambitious nurses can enroll in RN to MSN online bridge programs that are designed for working professionals. Many nurses that switch career paths and take second degree nursing programs without prerequisites end up in these online MSN programs after successfully completing an online nursing degree the first time.
What Will I Learn in an Online MSN Program?
Those who are looking into MSN degree options should look into the various Masters in Nursing requirements that each school has. Each MSN program requirements are different, depending on the school and on the types of MSN degrees that they offer. However, there are general guidelines for Masters in Nursing requirements that every accredited school has to follow. Every school’s MSN program requirements include main courses and clinical experience, also known as clinicals.
No matter which of the many MSN degree options students choose, they can expect a list of required courses including Health Policy, Community Health, Advanced Pathophysiology and more. As previously mentioned, different types of MSN degrees will require different main classes. However, all programs will require in-person clinical experience.
Can I Get an Online MSN Fast and Cheap?
Many students who are already in the midst of their professional careers and want to get an MSN are interested in finding the shortest MSN program. Another common interest for students in this demographic is saving money, as many of them have kids, mortgages, etc. There are quite a few accelerated BSN to MSN programs. This is the shortest MSN program option, but accelerated BSN to MSN programs are only available to students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Accelerated programs are also among the cheapest online MSN programs because of their short length. This is especially true of 1 year online MSN programs.
Those who are switching careers may want to look into BSN to MSN online fast track programs. While these are not the cheapest online MSN programs, a BSN to MSN fast track is a good option for people moving from another line of work into nursing. A fast track plan may include attending one of the many 1 year online MSN programs after completing an online BSN. The full degree plan may take as little as 3 years.
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