The 2021 Guide to Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Programs

If you are a registered nurse (RN) or have recently graduated from a BSN program looking to move your career forward, a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) could be a good option for you. Candidates with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) may have an advantage when it comes to seeking advanced positions in nursing, and some nursing positions, such as APRNs, are only available to these candidates. Many MSN programs are designed to allow students to continue working as they study, so you do not have to worry about taking time off to pursue this degree. Continue reading on to learn how you could earn an MSN online.


Jumpstart Your Career in Nursing, Explore Online FNP Programs:

Become an NP, Explore Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

  • Complete in 23-27 months
  • Offered on a part-time basis

Discover Nursing@Georgetown

Prepare to Become a Nurse Practitioner with USC's Online MSN Program

  • Can be completed in as few as 21 months
  • Part-time and full-time study options

Discover Nursing@USC

Prepare for Certification as an MSN, Explore Simmons University

  • Complete your MSN in as few as 20 months
  • Part-time and full-time plans of study 
Discover Nursing@Simmons

St. John Fisher College: Master of Science in Nursing

  • The Wegmans School of Nursing is ranked among the top 100 nursing schools nationally, and is No. 7 in New York state1
  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options

1U.S. News & World Report, 2021 Best Nursing Schools: Master’s Ranked in 2020

Discover Fisher Nursing Online

While it is possible to practice nursing without an advanced degree, completing an MSN program online opens up an array of additional pathways for career specializations as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Can You Get an MSN Online?

Schools offering online nursing education programs strive to create distance-learning opportunities that rival their traditional on-campus experiences. These online accredited colleges for nursing provide a variety of digital content and technological support to ensure that coursework is as immersive and engaging as possible.

Students can expect online MSN  programs to include:

  • Cloud-based platforms for accessing and submitting course materials
  • A combination of live and recorded lecture content
  • Interactive and multimedia learning modules
  • Opportunities for digital communication and collaboration with students and faculty
  • Assistance to resolve any technical issues

These hybrid nursing programs make it possible for students to complete the coursework components of an MSN program online since they are self-paced. Students can study in the places and at the times most convenient for them—a huge benefit for practicing nurses whose shifts may not align with typical on-campus course schedules.

Be advised, many MSN degree programs require a certain number of clinical/practicum hours focused on a nurse’s specialization or specializations so that, upon completion, students have the experience to obtain licensure in their chosen fields. These hands-on experiences cannot be replaced by online distance learning. That said, being able to complete the coursework components of a master’s in nursing program online is an undeniable convenience.

Are There Accelerated MSN Programs Online?

An accelerated master’s in nursing program is designed for students who have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to pursue a career in nursing. These BSN to MSN programs can be online and are also for students who are not registered nurses. Accelerated MSN programs, their time commitment, and curriculum will depend on the chosen specialization. 

Clinical rotations are required for these accelerated master’s in nursing programs. Students should prepare for the length of these programs. Also, students may need to take bachelor’s level courses before being admitted to an accelerated MSN program online. Once a student has taken these courses, they may officially begin the BSN to MSN online program. 

MSN Online Program Curriculum

An online nursing master’s degree program is a blend of core nursing courses as well as coursework and practicum experiences tailored to a student’s chosen APRN or NP specialty.

Courses vary by institution, but core coursework for most MSN programs online includes classes like:

  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Health Assessment
  • Health Care Management
  • Health Care Policy
  • Informatics
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Research in Nursing Best Practices

A student’s specialty track and state licensing requirements will determine the remainder of the master’s in nursing degree course load. As mentioned, most specializations will include clinical hours that provide students with hands-on experiences in their chosen fields while also counting toward degree credit hour requirements.

Full-time students with an existing BSN degree can often complete their MSN in two years. Part-time students can expect the MSN degree program to take two to three times longer depending upon their course loads and the required number of clinical hours.

It is worth noting that it is becoming common for schools to offer combination BSN/MSN programs that admit students seeking to complete both degrees in sequence. However, while there may be some courses that can be completed online,many of these accelerated programs are not yet offered both online and on-campus. 

Online Master’s in Nursing Admissions Requirements

A master’s in nursing online program requires students to meet certain criteria before admission. While everyone’s journey into nursing school is different, here are common steps to help guide you: 

  • Candidates can choose a nursing specialty, which includes a certified nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and certified nurse-midwife.
  • Candidates can attend information sessions to compare programs and choose the best MSN school online program for them. 
  • Candidates should make sure they’ve completed the prerequisite coursework. These prerequisites include: for entry-level master’s: a bachelor’s or other graduate degree in a field other than nursing; for registered nurse (RN) to master’s: associate degree in nursing or a related field and RN license; and for a bachelor’s to master’s: bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field.
  • Candidates must also pass entrance exams. 
  • Candidates can expect to provide a letter of recommendation, transcripts, personal essay, letters of intent, and an interview with their application.

Accredited Online MSN Programs, No GRE Required

Some accredited online MSN programs require a GRE before admission, while others do not. If a nurse is applying for an online MSN program that does not require the GRE, he/she can focus on work instead of studying for an exam. 

Online Master of Nursing Specializations

A key part of selecting an online nursing master’s degree program is deciding upon a specialization. This focus area will likely determine a large percentage of the credit hours earned toward the MSN degree as well as what state requirements must be met so the degree can be put to use in the field.

Some online MSN programs require applicants to choose their concentration upon enrollment; others allow some flexibility before a commitment to a particular track must be made. Either way, it helps to have an idea of the concentration you are pursuing when selecting and evaluating a prospective school. There is no guarantee that simply because a school offers an online master’s in nursing, it has the exact concentration or specialization you seek. Similarly, there is no guarantee the experiences in each specialization are of equal quality. Here are some typical areas of specialization:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
  • Adult Care (ANP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Leadership and Management
  • Neonatal Care (NNP)
  • Nursing Education
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Pain Management Nurse
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMNHP)
  • Public Health
  • Research Nurse

Why Get an Accredited Online Master of Nursing Degree?

Completing an online MSN degree from an accredited online nursing program provides nurses with numerous benefits including:

MSN Careers and Salary Outlook

A career in nursing offers many paths with numerous specializations and concentrations. Those with a master’s in nursing degree are in high demand. With the aging population, increased public reliance on outpatient and urgent care, and shortage of nurses in many areas, nurses of all kinds should continue to enjoy job security.

Licensed Nurse Jobs (LN)

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are entry-level health care professionals that hold a minimum of a postsecondary non-degree certificate. They perform basic medical services under the supervision and direction of more experienced nurses and doctors.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $47,480

Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 11% from 2018-2028, faster than the projected growth of all jobs.

Registered Nurse Jobs (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) typically have more responsibilities and qualifications than LPNs/LVNs. It is possible to have an RN career by either completing a non-degree nursing program, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program, or a BSN program.

Nurses who obtain a master’s degree in nursing or higher are classified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are a distinct class of RNs who possess both an MSN degree and at least a year or more of RN experience. A CNS-certified RN can expect to earn on the higher end of the RN pay scale.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $73,300

Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 12% over 2018-2028, more than double the projected growth of all jobs over the same span.

Nurse Practitioner Jobs (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NPs) provide primary and specialty health care to patients. Their expertise and licenses allow them to diagnose, treat, counsel, and (in some states) prescribe medication. Unlike LNs and most RNs, those with an NP career have the authority to carry out many health care services without the approval of a physician.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $115,800

Note: this figure varies depending upon specialization and industry.

Projected job outlook: Employment for NPs is projected to grow an impressive 26% from 2018-2028.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Jobs (APRN)

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) consist of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. APRN careers require the highest education of all nursing occupations. They also have the highest pay in the nursing sector. APRNs must have a license and a certification before beginning their career.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $115,800

Note: this figure varies depending upon specialization and industry.

Projected job outlook: Employment for NPs is projected to grow 26% from 2018-2028. 

Online Master of Science in Nursing Program FAQ

Here are some answers to questions frequently asked by students who are interested in an online Master of Science in Nursing program:

How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Nursing Online?

It depends on the school but, generally, it takes two years or longer to complete a program. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing lists programs by state so students can learn more about program length.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse if You Already Have a Bachelor's?

Students who have a bachelor’s degree and want to become a nurse need to prepare for one to three years of curriculum/field experience before beginning their career. A BSN-to-master’s in nursing online and its duration will depend on the chosen specialization. Becoming a nurse-midwife can take one to two years; becoming a nurse practitioner could take one to three years along with one to two years of field experience. Before committing to a BSN-to-MSN online program, students should research the best fit for them. 

How Much Does an Online Master’s in Nursing Education Cost?

The average cost per credit for an online master’s in nursing is around $950, although it can be as low as $300. Some institutions are even higher per credit. Overall, MSN tuition can be $18,000 to $57,000. Students should spend time researching the best fit for their financial needs. Private school MSN tuition tends to be on the higher end for those who are considering going private versus public.

Where Can You Work With an Online Nursing Master’s Degree?

An online MSN can provide you with the same opportunities of an on-campus program. Students with an MSN can work in a hospital, doctor’s office, psychiatry practice, or in a nursing care facility where they may be able to diagnose patients, prescribe medications, and give comprehensive exams. Each nursing career and occupation setting comes with different salary expectations. Salaries can also vary from state to state. 

Find the Best Online MSN Program For You

In searching for the best online accredited colleges for nursing, it’s important to take into account the clinical and credit hours necessary to complete the program and any GRE requirements. These factors, among many others, can help students decide which online nursing programs are best suited to their needs.


Sponsored Online MSN Programs

Sponsored Online MSN Programs
School Name GRE Clinical Hours Required Credit Requirement
Georgetown University GRE Not Required 650 44
University of Southern California GRE Not Required 784 49
Simmons University GRE Not Required 672 48

Explore Online MSN Programs

We’ve compiled a list of online accredited colleges for nursing programs with degree and program requirements. An important component to any accredited online nursing program, specifically in the healthcare field, is their ability to provide top tier clinical placements and great online coursework. Any good MSN online It’s common for MSN programs to have a team of dedicated professionals working to match you with a medical center that meets your needs for clinical placement. Find the most affordable online MSN program for you!

School Name GRE Requirement? Clinical Hours Required Credit Requirement
Angelo State University No GRE Required 600 49
Ball State University No GRE Required 180 36-47
Benedictine University N/A 70 36-39
Capella University No GRE Required Minimum of 100 Hours 54
Carlow University No GRE Required 600 33-49
Cedarville University No GRE Required 300-600 38-44
Charleston Southern University Yes if GPA less than 3.5 N/A 39
Chatham University No GRE Required 500 33
Clarion University of Pennsylvania No GRE Required 600 45
Clarkson College No GRE Required 135 39-51
Cleveland State University No GRE Required 300-400 32-38
Delta State University No GRE Required 240 49
Drexel University No GRE Required 160 45
Duke University No GRE Required 560-728 36-49
Duquesne University No GRE Required N/A 30-44
Eastern Kentucky University GRE Required 750 46-47
Florida Atlantic University GRE Required 560-1064 49
Frontier Nursing University No GRE Required 675 60-64
Fort Hays State University No GRE Required 120 36
George Washington University No GRE Required 600-700 48-54
Georgetown University
No GRE Required 600-1000+ 40-49
Georgia College & State University No GRE Required 45 39-45
Graceland University No GRE Required 540 47
Grand Canyon University GRE Required 200 36
Jacksonville University Yes if GPA is less than 3.0 N/A 48-51
Johns Hopkins University No GRE Required 504 35
Liberty University No GRE Required 200 36
Loyola University No GRE Required 2,000 43-53
Michigan State University No GRE Required 250 90
Morehead State University No GRE Required N/A 48-49
Morningside University No GRE Required 500-600 38-47
Northern Kentucky University No GRE Required 100-600 33-47
Northwest Nazarene University No GRE Required 100 36-48
Norwich University No GRE Required 100 36-40
Nova Southeastern University No GRE Required 130 36
Ohio State University No GRE Required Individualized hours 39
Ohio University No GRE Required 200-650 30-46
Old Dominion University Yes if GPA is less than 3.5 N/A 49-52
Purdue University No GRE Required 640 60-90
Queens University of Charlotte No GRE Required N/A 38
Regis College No GRE Required N/A N/A
Saint Xavier University No GRE Required 600 35-47
Simmons University
No GRE Required 672 68
Southeastern Louisiana University GRE Required 225-720 40-49
Thomas Edison State University No GRE Required 150 36
Union University No GRE Required 380-560 39-46
University of Alabama- Huntsville No GRE Required 135 30
University of Arizona No GRE Required 560 46
University of Arkansas GRE Required 75 39-42
University of Central Arkansas   No GRE Required  180 31-32
University of Cincinnati No GRE Required 672 50
University of Colorado - Denver GRE Required 630 30-34
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Yes if GPA is less than 3.5 630 46-48
University of Kansas No GRE Required 540 37-39
University of Louisiana - Lafayette No GRE Required 600 42-45
University of Mary No GRE Required 500 43
University of North Alabama N/A 600 32-41
University of Pittsburgh Yes if GPA is less than 3.5 420 38.5-42
University of Rochester No GRE Required 56 37
University of South Carolina No GRE Required 672 36-47
University of Southern California
No GRE Required 784 49
University of Southern Indiana No GRE Required 545-705 42-44
University of Texas Yes if GPA is less than 3.0 720 36-39
University of Texas-Tyler No GRE Required 675 36
Western Carolina University No GRE Required 120 38-39
Wheeling University No GRE Required 168 46


Last Updated August 2020