Online RN to MSN Programs

Practicing registered nurses (RNs) can choose from a variety of academic pathways to advance their careers in the field. Enrollment in an RN-to-BSN program leads to an undergraduate nursing degree, whereas online RN-to-MSN programs award both a BSN and an MSN, often through an accelerated format that allows graduates to apply skills immediately within their healthcare organization and community. RNs can complete accelerated coursework through an efficient RN-to-MSN online program, leading to greater opportunities for specialized study and higher-paying jobs.

Earning an RN-to-MSN online helps address the growing demand for nurses with advanced education in the national healthcare industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $113,930 in 2018. Additionally, students with RN experience may pursue careers as physician assistants (PAs) after earning their MSN; PAs earned a median salary of $108,610 in 2018, according to the BLS.

What is an Online RN-to-MSN Program?

While the core curriculum is similar, online RN-to-MSN programs can offer distinct advantages over on-campus programs. Online RN-to-MSN programs include both BSN and master's-level coursework, helping students save time and money by earning a combined degree. Many schools offer affordable tuition rates for online courses as well as payment plans and accelerated schedules. Online programs are well-suited for busy and/or remotely located students looking to save time and money by avoiding a commute to and from campus. However, while the majority of coursework can be completed online, distance students are still required to make arrangements to perform clinical hours in person at a facility near their residence.

Below, we have compiled a list of accredited online RN-to-MSN programs, organized by region and tuition, to aid in your MSN selection process.

Top Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Rank School Featured Image Cost Location Quick Facts Description

Accelerated RN-to-MSN Programs

More healthcare companies are requiring nurses to hold BSNs rather than only associate degrees, and schools with accelerated degree options offer the shortest RN-to-MSN online programs. The following section addresses some commonly asked questions concerning these types of degree paths.

Accelerated RN-to-MSN Program Frequently Asked Questions

What are accelerated nursing programs? What does "accelerated" mean in this context?

Experienced nurses can move from an associate to a master's in a relatively short period of time by enrolling in an accelerated RN-to-MSN program online. These intensive programs allow learners to earn their master's degrees significantly faster than they would by earning BSNs first and then going on to graduate school. Students typically take full-time courses through shorter terms. Some programs offer multiple MSN concentrations, including nurse practitioner specializations, nurse education, executive nursing, public health nursing, and nursing informatics.

How do these programs work?

The exact structure of these programs varies between schools, although most include some kind of bridge program along with typical MSN courses. Bridge programs ensure candidates gain the nursing knowledge they would learn in BSN programs. Some plans allow learners to earn BSNs along the way, while others skip this diploma. Degree candidates take courses almost year round. Many accelerated RN-to-MSN programs use online courses, but students still need to complete clinicals in person.

Who could benefit from an accelerated program?

Accelerated RN-to-MSN programs help practicing RNs advance in their careers. Whether professionals want to become nurse managers, practitioners, or educators, these programs help them get there relatively quickly. RNs pursuing employment with hospitals may find that employers only consider candidates with a BSN or higher; therefore, finishing an RN-to-MSN program can open up more work opportunities. Some programs require learners to hold associate degrees, while others accept nurses who earned their RN licenses through hospital-based certificate programs.

What should someone look for in an accelerated program? What questions should they ask?

As with all nursing programs, students should ensure that the accelerated RN-to-MSN program they choose has both institutional and programmatic accreditation. Prospective learners should also inquire about each school's admission requirements, class structures, and anticipated timelines. Because MSN candidates spend many hours at their clinical sites, prospective students should ask where those requirements take place. This question is especially crucial for online programs at schools that are far from a student's home.

Do nurses learn enough in an accelerated program to be as effective as a student who attends a regular, non-accelerated program?

As long as accelerated RN-to-MSN programs hold appropriate accreditation, they train nurses just as well as traditional programs. Learners must take the same courses as their peers in conventional plans and complete just as many clinical hours. Furthermore, accelerated programs often use cohort structures to facilitate healthy learning environments. Students learn from one another and create professional networks that can boost their careers.

Comparing Accelerated and Regular RN-to-MSN Programs

Accelerated Regular
Cost Candidates in accelerated programs start earning higher salaries earlier than their colleagues in traditional programs. They may also save money by not taking the general education courses needed for bachelor's programs and paying fewer fees. These students incur the costs of both RN-to-BSN and BSN-to-MSN programs. They may also pay more in annual fees. However, students can usually continue to work full time in these programs and save money by taking on less debt.
Time to Get Degree It typically takes accelerated students about two years of full-time study to earn their MSNs. Students take about two years to complete their bachelor's degrees and another 18-24 months to earn their master's degrees.
Type of Student Learners who thrive in fast-paced environments and have flexible jobs fare best in accelerated programs. Some programs recommend that students avoid full-time employment while completing these programs. Traditionally paced RN-to-MSN programs give students more flexibility over their schedules. Learners who have to work full time and/or have significant duties at home may benefit from a slower timeline.
Availability of Programs Although accelerated RN-to-MSN programs are more rare than their traditional counterparts, this format is gaining popularity. The need for these programs is growing as the nursing shortage continues, and more hospitals are only hiring nurses who hold bachelor's or master's degrees. Many nursing schools across the country offer RN-to-BSN programs as well as BSN-to-MSN options. Some schools also offer RN-to-MSN tracks without an accelerated format.
Time Commitment Required During Program Due to the nature of accelerated programs, students should expect to enroll in classes full time. They may also need to complete clinical rotations several times per week. Students can enroll part time in traditional programs, allowing for more scheduling flexibility. Professors also have more time to cover each subject in a traditional program format.
Benefits of Each Program Accelerated students sometimes pay less for their programs and earn their degrees quickly. Traditional learners have the option to work full time as they study and benefit from additional time to understand the material.

What Jobs Can You Get With an Online MSN Degree?

Registered nurses who earn a degree through an RN-to-MSN online program can expand their job options and pursue a variety of career opportunities. Graduates of online MSN programs can specialize in patient care, management, anesthesiology, and many other fields. Job settings include hospitals, physicians' offices, clinics, and home care.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners manage patient care and provide a variety of medical services, often performing similar tasks as a traditional family physician, including diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing medication, and writing referrals. An RN-to-MSN online degree prepares graduates to run medical practices and improve patient health outcomes. NPs can specialize in several areas, such as pediatrics or women's health.

Learn More About Nurse Practitioner Careers

Nursing Manager

Nursing managers oversee teams of nurses and are responsible for the recruitment and retention of nursing staff members. Nursing managers may provide patient care services, but management is their primary responsibility. The position typically requires an MSN degree, and practitioners can also earn a nursing manager certification.

Learn More About Registered Nurse Careers

Nursing Director

Nursing directors provide management services for healthcare organizations, such as overseeing nursing teams, organizing continuing education courses, and directing a facility's nursing staff members. In order to become a nursing director, candidates must hold an MSN degree, and some positions require a nursing director certification.

Learn More About Careers in Nursing Specialties

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

A certified nurse midwife cares for women with low-risk pregnancies throughout pregnancy and delivery, including prenatal visits, labor, and postnatal care. CNMs may serve as a woman's primary healthcare provider and can work as part of an OB-GYN group or independently. RN-to-MSN programs prepare nurses to apply for certification and practice as a midwife.

Learn More About Certified Nurse Midwife Careers

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

CRNAs provide pain management services to patients undergoing surgery. They work with surgeons and aestheticians to give anesthesia care, which requires a background in acute care. Nurse anesthetists must have work experience and an MSN degree in order to pass the national certification exam.

Learn More About Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Careers

Salary Expectations for MSN Holders

Becoming a nurse practitioner is one of the most common career paths for graduates from RN-to-MSN online programs. Nurse practitioners provide family health services, and in many states they can operate independently of physicians to diagnose and treat medical conditions. This career represents a desirable option for many nurses in RN-to-MSN programs.

MSN students can also specialize in fields such as dermatology, orthopedics, geriatrics, and emergency care. Nurse practitioners must have extensive skills to work in each of these fields, and online RN-to-MSN programs can help prepare nurses to work in many specialities.

Average Annual MSN Salaries
Specialization Average Yearly Salary
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner $88,000
Family Nurse Practitioner $92,000
Nurse Practitioner $93,000
Dermatology Nurse Practitioner $95,000
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $102,000
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist $146,000

Source: PayScale, July 2019

Online RN-to-MSN Program Requirements

Nursing is a high-pressure field that requires skilled practitioners with a specific educational background. Online MSN program requirements ensure that prospective students have the necessary background to succeed in an RN-to-MSN online setting. Virtually all programs require candidates to hold a current registered nursing license, and many also require students to have a bachelor's degree in nursing. RN-to-MSN online degrees may also require applicants to meet GPA minimums and provide GRE or MAT test scores. Other programs require a set amount of clinical experience before enrolling.

Exact requirements differ between different RN-to-MSN online programs, so students should research the expectations for each of their prospective schools.

RN-to-MSN Prerequisites

  1. Bachelor of Science in Nursing
    Most MSN programs require students to hold a bachelor of science in nursing. However, some schools may allow RNs who hold an associate degree in the field to apply, while others may also admit students with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field.
  2. Registered Nurse License
    In order to enroll in RN-to-MSN online programs, prospective students must hold a current, unencumbered RN license. Online MSN programs require applicants to hold RN licensure for the state in which they plan to practice.
  3. Minimum GPA
    RN-to-MSN programs often set a minimum GPA for prospective students. Many programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher, though some schools may award provisional admission to applicants with a GPA below the minimum requirement.
  4. GRE Scores
    Some online MSN programs require GRE or MAT scores. However, these programs do not typically require applicants to meet minimum scores; rather, they consider the score as part of a candidate's overall application package. Schools that do require test scores often waive score requirements for students who meet minimum GPA requirements.
  5. Clinical Experience
    Because RN-to-MSN online degrees demand extensive practical knowledge, many programs that offer MSN degrees require students to hold a certain amount of prior clinical experience.

Are Clinicals Required in an Online MSN Program?

Online coursework is only one part of earning a master of science in nursing. In addition to class requirements, MSN programs expect graduates to complete clinicals, though the exact requirements vary by program. In general, clinical hour minimums range from 500-700 hours and may be completed as part of a class or as a standalone practicum. This hands-on experience acts as a central part of a nurse's training.

Most states also require a set number of clinical hours to earn specialty licenses. Many online MSN programs allow students to arrange supervised clinical hours in their hometown, and working nurses can often complete these hours at their current workplace. It is important for applicants to contact prospective schools when researching MSN programs to discuss clinical requirements and the feasibility of conducting clinicals in their hometown.

How Long Does it Take to Complete an RN-to-MSN Program?

On average, it takes two years to complete an RN-to-MSN program. Because registered nurses already have a strong background in nursing, bridge programs are often faster than typical MSN programs. For example, students entering an MSN program with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field may need to take an additional year of nursing prerequisite courses.

Students should closely examine each program's curriculum to determine the length of time it will take to earn their degree. Some programs offer self-paced classes, which allow students to graduate quickly. Cohort programs, on the other hand, emphasize collaborative education and are less flexible. Students should also consider whether they can manage a full-time course load while working or if a part-time course load better fits their circumstances.

How to Choose an Online RN-to-MSN Program

When evaluating RN-to-MSN programs, students should consider various factors, including cost, location, and prerequisites. The total cost of an MSN degree depends on two main factors: the per-credit tuition cost and the number of credits in the degree. Rather than simply looking at the base tuition per credit, it is important for students to research the total cost, including any additional fees.

MSN students should also ask about various support resources, especially for clinical placements. It is helpful for applicants to learn how an online program manages long-distance placements for nurses enrolled out of state. Learners should follow up with graduate directors to learn more about clinical requirements; working nurses can usually complete clinical requirements at their current place of employment.

Applicants should also carefully consider a program's prerequisite requirements, including whether incoming students need to hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. Rather than completing time-consuming prerequisite classes, it may be wise for applicants to find programs where they already meet admission requirements.

Finding Accredited Online Nursing Programs

Accredited programs adhere to educational and professional standards, and many licensing exams and certifications require candidates to hold a degree from an accredited nursing program. Students in accredited programs may also qualify for more financial aid options.

There are two main accrediting agencies for nursing programs: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Both national organizations offer accreditation for master's-level nursing programs and uphold nationally recognized standards for nursing education. While both the ACEN and CCNE meet national standards, the ACEN provides stricter guidelines, whereas CCNE emphasizes self-regulation.

The accreditation process is voluntary, but it serves as an important marker of educational excellence.

Explore More About RN-to-MSN Programs, Financial Aid, Careers, and More