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Online RN to Master’s Programs
What matters in the programs?
best rn to msn online programs
Spotlight schools
top rn to msn online programs
Top specializations
rn to msn online nursing programs
Career outlook
best online rn to msn programs
Read more about MSN degrees

Discover the Top RN to MSN Programs Online

RN to MSN online programs

A registered nurse (RN) is a highly trained and skilled professional who works within a variety of healthcare settings. There are many RNs who wish to take the next step in their profession, whether it’s going into management or moving up into advanced practice nursing. Yet these career moves usually require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

To meet the high demand for this important degree option, many schools have RN to MSN online programs. They’re designed to accommodate students who are RNs, but who only have an associate degree. Below is a comprehensive overview of these types of online MSN nursing programs and what students can expect from them.

What Matters in Online RN to Master’s Programs

The typical MSN student will be a practicing RN who wants to open up professional prospects, whether that means obtaining greater pay, taking on management responsibilities or having more opportunities to treat certain types of patients. But there are many ways to get to that career change, and it all starts with the MSN program.

When choosing the best RN to MSN program, it’s important to remember that what one student sees as the ‘perfect’ program might not even be on the radar for another. However, most nursing master’s students will focus on three primary characteristics when choosing their program: the cost to completion, how long it takes to earn the degree and the overall quality of the program.

Cheapest RN to MSN Online Programs

Who doesn’t want to save money? Most prospective MSN students will look for the most affordable RN to MSN online programs – and for some, it will be the single most important factor when choosing a school. This is perfectly understandable, but before jumping at the cheapest option out there, it’s important to consider a few factors that affect a school’s tuition rate.

First, there’s more to the cost of attendance than tuition. There are additional fees to consider, as well as a student’s residency status; both of which may make the cost of the degree more or less expensive. Then there are opportunities for tuition assistance, such as loans, grants, scholarships and employer tuition reimbursement programs, all of which can bring that tuition number down significantly.

Secondly, it’s important to confirm what a master’s in nursing student is giving up by choosing a school with a lower tuition. In many cases, they’re giving up nothing – it’s a solid program that just happens to be more affordable.  In other cases, a higher tuition may equate to more student services, thus making it easier to obtain academic assistance from the professor or technical assistance from the school.

Shortest RN to MSN Online Programs

Remember the old saying: Time is money?  The sooner a nurse is out of their MSN program and practicing at a higher level, the faster they will be making higher pay. But choosing the shortest RN to MSN online program isn’t always straightforward. The time it takes for a student to complete an RN to MSN program will depend on their prior academic standing, but can range from anywhere from two to four years.

For example, if they already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, they may be able to proceed more quickly than if they have an associate degree. One thing to keep in mind about moving as quickly as possible through an MSN program is that there will be tradeoffs. A master’s student in an accelerated program will have less free time and may need to rely on others to help out with family obligations. And taking a heavy course load could make trying to work full-time difficult or impossible. This in turn, can lead to lower income while in school – something that can make tuition even tougher to meet.

Best RN to MSN Online Programs

Every student would like to attend the best online RN to MSN program possible, but as previously discussed, things get tricky when taking cost and length of program into consideration. So how does a nursing master’s student choose the one that’s “best”?

There are some less obvious or tangible factors, such as a program’s reputation and school recognition. For some, this will be important, especially if they wish to have a future career in research or academia. For others, they couldn’t care less, as long as the program is accredited – accreditation is important because a program that’s not accredited means the degree will mean little and it will be far more difficult to obtain financial aid.

Other aspects to look at include certification exam passage rates, graduation rates and types of online learning available. Some online programs have a synchronous online delivery system which allows grad students to attend class from anywhere, but at a set time. This limits the level of flexibility a nursing master’s student has in the program. Contrast this with asynchronous learning, which allows students to attend class anytime they feel like it. However, this means it will be more difficult to interact with classmates.

Ultimately, what constitutes the “best” RN to MSN online program will come down to what is important to the master’s student.

Online RN to MSN Programs: No Clinicals?

For most online MSN degree programs, clinicals will be required. One caveat has to do with RN to MSN programs that grant a BSN degree in addition to an MSN. In these types of programs, the clinicals are only required as a part of the MSN portion of the curriculum.

When clinicals are required, many programs will allow master’s in nursing students to complete them at medical facilities close to home or work. This can be done by making arrangements with program administrators ahead of time. In some cases, the student can meet clinical requirements at the same medical facility where they work.


Spotlights Schools: Best Online RN to MSN Programs

Though what constitutes “best” is really up to the individual, these programs shine brightly among the hundreds of options out there. Read on to discover why they’re so great.

George Washington University

Chamberlain University

Drexel University


Top RN to MSN Online Programs for Specialization

For most nurses, the whole point of getting an MSN degree is to increase their skillset and knowledge. Therefore, most online MSN programs offer an array of concentrations or specializations for nursing master’s students to choose from. Most of them train students for either advanced practice nursing roles within a clinical setting or leadership positions in administration. Here are some of the most popular:

Nurse Midwifery Family Nurse Practitioner Nurse Education Nurse Leadership
This specialization prepares students to serve as nurse midwives, which is a type of advanced practice registered nurse that works exclusively with female patients. Specifically, they provide female reproductive and prenatal care, including delivering babies and providing wellness education. Upon completion, graduates will be ready to sit for the American Midwifery Certification Board national exam. The demand for primary care is steadily. In fact, many patients have begun seeing nurse practitioners and similar medical professionals for their first level primary care needs. Family nurse practitioners focus on treating patients, sometimes specializing in certain populations (such as children or adults). They receive the training necessary to prepare them on technical, emotional and social levels.Nurses who have an interest in teaching will want to consider this specialization. As practicing nurses, enrolled grad students already know the bulk of information that future nurses will need to succeed. However, the nurse education concentration teaches these nurses the skills to convey that knowledge to future nurses in an effective manner. Graduates will be prepared to teach students at all levels. Under this specialization, master’s students will hone the management skills necessary to serve as a nurse executive within a healthcare organization. The curriculum will include topics such as finance, policy and informatics; this gives nurses the foundational knowledge to make informed decisions while working as a healthcare administrator.

Career Outlook for RN to MSN Graduates

When a nurse decides to enroll in an online MSN program, they probably want to develop a more advanced skillset to help additional patients, to move into a leadership role or to teach. Therefore, most graduates of an MSN program will move on to academia, administration or advanced practice nursing. Compared to the typical registered nurse, many of these positions pay higher wages and provide the flexibility of more reasonable working hours.

According to the Bureau Labor Statistics, the national average median wage for registered nurses was $70,000. However, compare this to typical MSN prepared professionals:

  • Nurse Practitioners: $103,880
  • Postsecondary Nursing Instructors and Teachers: $71,260
  • Nurse Midwives: $100,590
  • Medical and Health Service Managers: $98,350

The lowest median salary goes to postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers, but it’s important to remember the other benefits that come with the higher degree. Keep in mind is that in a university setting, they don’t have to work year-round, given how most schools are out of session during the winter and summer breaks. Additionally, the schedule is far more flexible and accommodating because instructors, for the most part, don’t have to be on call, work holidays or take over additional shifts for coworkers.

But it’s not just higher pay or a less stressful workday that drives nurses to earn an MSN degree. In many states, advanced practice nurses can work without the supervision of a physician and may have greater ability to treat patients. For example, they will have the authority to diagnose patients and prescribe medications; registered nurses usually do not have these responsibilities.

Ready to Learn More about Becoming an MSN-Level Nurse?

When looking through the wide variety of options available, finding the right program might feel somewhat like looking for a needle in a haystack. That’s one of the reasons that doing intensive research into the options is so important. Check out the following pages for additional details on master’s in nursing online programs:

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