Online RN to MSN Programs

Practicing registered nurses (RNs) have their choice of academic pathways to advance their career in the field. While RN to BSN programs are perhaps more widely known among nursing students and traditional college offerings, RN to MSN online programs may be ideal for upwardly mobile nursing professionals. Enrollment in an RN to BSN program leads to an undergraduate nursing degree, while an online RN to MSN program produces both a BSN and an MSN, often through an accelerated online format that allows graduates to apply skills immediately within their healthcare organization or in their community. RNs without a BSN who are planning to ultimately pursue a master’s degree down the line will find greater opportunities for specialized study, higher-paying job opportunities, and accelerated coursework through an efficient online RN to MSN.

Earning an RN to MSN online not only helps students qualify for specialized roles and earn a higher salary, but also satisfies the growing demand for nurses with advanced education in the national healthcare industry, where recent changes have increased the need for skilled nursing specialists. The BLS estimates that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, in the category of advance practice RNs requiring a master’s degree, earn an annual average salary of $104,740. Additionally, students with RN experience may pursue a career as a physician’s assistant after earning their MSN, typically earning $98,180 per year.

What is an Online RN to MSN Program?

While core curriculum is the same, online RN to MSN programs can offer a distinct advantage over on-campus programs. Because the online RN to MSN encompasses both BSN and master’s-level coursework, students save time and money by earning the combined degree. Many schools offer affordable, set-rate tuition prices for online courses, as well as payment plans and accelerated schedules. Online programs are ideal for busy and/or remotely located students looking to save time and money by avoiding a commute to and from campus for each class. Bear in mind, however, that 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. Make sure to check research financial aid options and other nursing resources while planning your degree.

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.

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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 from online MSN programs can specialize in patient care, management, anesthesiology, and many other fields. Job settings include hospitals, physician’s 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.
  • Nursing Manager: Nursing managers oversee teams of nurses, and they are also 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 earn a nursing manager certification.
  • Nursing Director: Nursing directors provide management services for health care organizations, including overseeing nursing teams, organizing continuing education courses, and directing the 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.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): A certified nurse midwife cares for women with low-risk pregnancies through pregnancy and delivery, including prenatal visits, labor, and postnatal care. CNMs may also serve as a women’s primary health care provider. They may 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.
  • 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.

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, diagnosing and treating medical conditions, making it a desirable option for 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 prepare nurses to work in any speciality.

Average Annual MSN Salaries
Specialization Salary
Nurse Practitioner $91,673
Dermatology Nurse Practitioner $93,316
Family Nurse Practitioner $89,367
Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner $102,054
ER Nurse Practitioner $89,627
Geriatric Nurse Practitioner $91,730

Source: PayScale

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. Nearly all programs require candidates to hold a current registered nursing license, and many also require 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.

Requirements differ between RN-to-MSN online programs, so it is wise for students to research the requirements for each prospective school.

RN-to-MSN Prerequisites

  • A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN): Most MSN programs online require 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.
  • A registered nurse (RN) 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.
  • 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 allow provisional admissions for applicants with a GPA below the minimum requirement.
  • GRE scores: Some online MSN programs require GRE or MAT scores. MSN programs online typically do not require applicants to meet minimum scores, but rather consider the score part of the candidate’s academic evaluation. Schools that do require test scores often waive the score requirements for students who meet the minimum GPA requirement.
  • Clinical experience: Because RN-to-MSN online degrees demand extensive practical knowledge, many programs that offer MSN degrees require prior clinical experience.

Are There Clinicals 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 to 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.

Clinical hours serve as an important part of the degree, and most states require a set number of clinical hours to earn speciality licenses. Many online MSN programs allow students to arrange supervised clinical hours in their hometown, and working nurses can often complete the hours at their current workplace. It’s important for applicants to contact prospective schools when researching MSN programs to discuss the clinical requirements and the feasibility of conducting clinicals in the student’s 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 a typical MSN program. For example, students entering an MSN program with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field may require an additional year of nursing prerequisite courses.

Students must closely examine each program’s curriculum to determine the length of time it takes to earn the 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 must also consider whether they can manage a full-time course load while working, or if a part-time program better suits their circumstances.

How Do I Choose an Online RN-to-MSN Program?

When evaluating RN-to-MSN programs, students must consider several factors, including cost, location, and prerequisites. The total cost of an MSN degree depends on two factors: the per credit tuition cost and the number of credits in the degree. Rather than simply looking at the tuition fee per credit, it’s important for students to research the total cost, including any additional fees. When it comes to location, it would be wise for MSN students to ask about access to support resources, especially for clinical placements. It is helpful for applicants to learn how the 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, as currently working nurses can usually complete clinical requirements at their current place of employment.

Applicants must carefully consider a program’s prerequisite requirements, including whether incoming students must hold a current RN license or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Rather than completing time-consuming prerequisite classes, it would be wise for applicants to find programs where they already meet the requirements.

Finding Accredited Online Nursing Programs

Accredited programs adhere to educational and professional standards, and many licensing exams and certifications require that candidates hold a degree from an accredited nursing program. Students in accredited programs 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, while CCNE emphasizes self-regulation.

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

Common Courses in a Masters of Science in Nursing Program

RN-to-MSN online degrees offer several standard courses. These classes may include coursework on evidence-based practice, health policy, ethics in healthcare, and management skills. These programs may also allow students to choose from multiple elective courses in different health care fields. MSN programs all have slightly different curricula, so students must check with their individual schools’ catalog for course requirements.

  • Health care policy: Students learn about major issues in health policy, including financing and insurance, health care politics, evaluating effectiveness and quality, and public health. This class is relevant for any career in nursing.
  • Ethics in healthcare: Ethics courses introduce learners to important issues in medical ethics, including controversial topics, real life situations, analyzing ethical issues, and solving ethical problems. Ethics classes are particularly valuable for patient-facing nursing.
  • Health systems: Health systems classes introduce students to the broader system of health care, including the role of physicians, hospitals, and insurers; the government; and policy issues. Understanding health systems allows nurses to position their role in the broader social realm of health care services.
  • Communication and relationship management: Nurses play a central role in patient care, and communication and relationship management classes focus on developing relationships with patients and colleagues in order to provide quality care. This class can also prepare nurses to take on management positions.
  • Practice for quality and safety: Nurses must evaluate the effectiveness of treatment, and this course provides students with the theoretical and practical skills needed to assess research as part of an evidence-based practice protocol.
  • Theoretical foundations for healthcare improvement: Students learn the theoretical tools to improve health care services, including organizational and change theory, leadership practices, and quality improvement models. This class prepares nurses to provide quality, patient-centered care.