Best Online Master’s Degrees in Nursing: 2016

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Next-Level Nursing Programs, Careers and Salaries

As one of the largest and highest-paid segments of the workforce in the United States, nurses are always in high demand. Though becoming a registered nurse is possible with an associate or bachelor’s degree, master’s degree holders will see many more employment avenues open to them, including administrative and teaching positions.

Online Master’s in Nursing Timeline

Getting in: The Application Process

Now that the school has been chosen, it’s time to apply. The actual requirements depend on the particular online master’s in nursing program. However, the following list is a good representation of what most schools will require of applicants.

  • Undergraduate nursing education.

    Students must have graduated from a nursing program – a bachelor’s, associate or diploma program. Some schools require students to earn a bachelor’s degree, even if they have an associate degree or diploma and have been working as a nurse based on those credentials.

  • An active nursing license.

    Students typically must have an active nursing license in their home state from a school accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). Some schools consider eligibility for licensure enough for admission.

  • Nursing experience.

    The majority of online master’s in nursing programs want to see at least one year of experience as a working nurse; some require two years or more. Including a resume is a good start, but students might also be required to obtain a statement of employment verifying their work experience. There are also some nursing schools with pre-licensure programs designed for students without prior nursing experience.

  • GRE scores.

    Students must take the Graduate Record Examination and have their current scores sent to the school of their choice. Some nursing schools will waive the GRE requirement if a student earned exceptional grades in undergraduate studies.

  • Minimum GPA.

    Transcripts showing overall GPA and course grades are required. Some schools require a minimum GPA overall, while others focus on certain nursing or science courses that form a foundation for the master’s degree.

  • Letters of recommendation.

    Most schools require at least three letters of recommendation from those who have close knowledge of the applicant, such as former professors and nursing colleagues. The best recommendations will highlight nursing-specific qualities – for example, praise for having exceptional bedside manner will likely carry more weight than a general compliment about academic performance.

  • Prerequisite courses.

    Some core courses are required before entering the program. Applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree have probably completed such requirements, but those who have earned an associate degree or diploma might need to take courses in natural science, social science, humanities, and/or math before applying for admission.

  • Personal statement.

    An essay explaining why the applicant is seeking an online master’s in nursing will wrap up most application packets.

Year 1

Core courses are the name of the game during the first year. Examples include nursing ethics, pharmacology and pathophysiology. Those who have earned the bachelor’s degree may have already taken at least some core courses, so they will be able to move into concentration courses faster. Those with an associate or diploma will take courses such as human nutrition or chemistry.

Year 2

Students focus on their chosen nursing concentration during the second year. They will also complete clinical experiences or an internship, depending upon the school’s requirements. Some online master’s in nursing programs might take a student’s current employment into account as a way to meet this requirement. Students will also take a comprehensive exam at the end of the second year, which will evaluate all they have learned during the nursing program.

Though most nursing master’s programs can be completed within two years of full-time study, many students opt to continue working during their time in college. Online programs accommodate this by allowing students to spread their work out over three years, sometimes more, to complete all the requirements. Conversely, accelerated nursing programs allow students to finish in less than two years. It all depends upon the nurse’s work schedule, the particular school and the student’s comfort level with a larger course load.

Testing & Graduation Requirements

Students must prove they have learned the proper knowledge and skills during their master’s degree program. Graduation requirements are in place to ensure that program graduates are prepared to enter the workforce with their new degree. These testing and graduation requirements are common in online nursing master’s programs:

  • Comprehensive exam.

    This exam judges students on the nursing skills and knowledge they have learned throughout the master’s degree in their area of concentration. The exam is usually taken at the end of the second year, but many schools allow students to take the exam up to one year after their final class.

  • Clinical requirements.

    Though graduate students are already nurses who have some experience in the nursing field, clinical rotations are likely required to familiarize students with their new concentration. These rotations can usually be completed at a hospital or facility near the student.

  • Minimum GPA.

    Students must earn a minimum grade in certain classes, as well as a minimum overall GPA. Some courses that are integral to the concentration must be passed with higher grades than other courses.

  • Registered nurse licensure.

    Students who did not have their registered nursing license when they entered the program must typically have earned a license before their degree is awarded.

Search Online Master’s Degrees in Nursing

There are over 330 master’s in nursing programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission, and many of those programs can be found online. With so many worthy opportunities for higher education, how can a student choose the right school? Our search tool helps make the process easier by allowing for searches based on location, student population, school type, degree level and even the amount of tuition.

Student Population:
School Type:
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What a Master’s in Nursing Means for Career & Salary Potential

Simply choosing to get a master’s degree is the first step; deciding on a concentration is the next. These concentrations offer specialized courses that prepare nurses to provide equally specialized care to various populations — and prepare them for particular types of careers.

Concentrations
Advanced Practice

This concentration is divided into four specializations: midwifery, anesthesia, clinical nursing and nurse practitioner. Each of these advanced practice specializations requires at least a master’s degree and prepares nurses to handle duties with a great measure of autonomy. For instance, a nurse anesthetist might be the only person who oversees anesthesia in a hospital, and a nurse practitioner might be the sole healthcare provider in rural or underserved areas.

Career:
Nurse Midwife
Nurse Midwife

Focuses on the health and care of mothers and infants. Nurse midwives, who are in an advanced practice field, often provide prenatal care, guide mothers through labor and delivery, handle the care of a newborn infant, and provide gynecological services.

Nurse Anesthetist
Nurse Anesthetist

Provides pain relief to patients. These advanced practice nurses administer local and general anesthesia and handle pain relief for anything from minor injuries to major surgeries.

Nurse Practitioner
Nurse Practitioner

Assesses, diagnoses and treats patients. In some areas, nurse practitioners might be the only healthcare providers available, which is partially why in some states they have the freedom to prescribe medications.

Leadership and Administration

The leadership and administration concentration prepares nurses to step into supervisory roles. In addition to work that focuses on the clinical side of nursing, students also take courses in management, healthcare policy, information technology and other subjects that open the door to working in higher-level leadership positions.

Career:
Charge Nurse
Charge Nurse

Oversees the nurses in a hospital or clinic while handling a small number of patients individually. Charge nurses are highly skilled and evaluate other nurses, provide them with education and encouragement, and help keep the clinic or hospital running smoothly.

Nurse Administrator
Nurse Administrator

Focuses on management of the staff in hospitals or clinics. These administrative nurses might not actually work with patients but instead supervise those who do.

Legal Nurse Consultant
Legal Nurse Consultant

Works within the legal system, usually serving as an expert witness on a particular aspect of nursing practice. For instance, a legal nurse consultant might present information to a jury during a malpractice case on what a nurse should (or should not) have done.

Pediatrics

Children often require very different care than adults. That’s why pediatric nurses are trained specifically to deal with the challenges faced by children. The concentration focuses on everything from critical care nursing to preventative care to proper child development. Students can further specialize to work with patients in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), children who have cancer or other young people who need extra care.

Career:
NICU Nurse
NICU Nurse

Focuses on infants in the critical care unit because of low birth weight, prematurity or other conditions. NICU nurses provide highly specialized care, sometimes to infants who are so fragile they can’t be touched.

Pediatric Nurse
Pediatric Nurse

Handles the medical issues of children. They might also provide education and support to concerned parents.

Oncology Nurse
Oncology Nurse

Provides competent, compassionate care to those who suffer from cancer-related maladies. They might provide chemotherapy, radiation and related treatments, and they can specialize even further to work in surgical oncology.

Oncology

Oncology prepares nurses to work with patients who suffer from health issues related to tumors and cancer. Among other duties, they administer chemotherapy drugs, use radiation treatment, handle emergencies related to pain relief and cancer complications, and provide palliative and hospice care.

Career:
Oncology Nurse
Oncology Nurse

Provides competent, compassionate care to those who suffer from cancer-related maladies. They might provide chemotherapy, radiation and related treatments, and they can specialize even further to work in surgical oncology.

Acute Care Nurse
Acute Care Nurse

Provides short-term care for those suffering from short-lived acute conditions, such as recovery from surgery, serious and sudden illness, or traumatic injuries.

Research

This concentration can prepare nurses to move into administrative and research duties, or it can be used to enhance clinical work, especially in a particular nursing specialty, such as oncology. Nurses can earn their master’s degree in this concentration in order to run or participate in clinical studies. Courses cover research methods, biostatistics and other pertinent topics.

Career:
Legal Nurse Consultant
Legal Nurse Consultant

Works within the legal system, usually serving as an expert witness on a particular aspect of nursing practice. For instance, a legal nurse consultant might present information to a jury during a malpractice case on what a nurse should (or should not) have done.

Nurse Administrator
Nurse Administrator

Focuses on management of the staff in hospitals or clinics. These administrative nurses might not actually work with patients but instead supervise those who do.

Potential Salary Increases with a Master’s Degree

Nurses who choose to earn a master’s degree in nursing not only boost their job prospects, but can also enjoy higher salaries. Registered nurses, who need only an associate or bachelor’s degree, made a median pay of $66,640 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Advanced practice nurses, who must hold a graduate degree, enjoy much higher pay. For instance, nurse anesthetists make $153,780 a year, nurse midwives $96,970, and nurse practitioners $95,350.

Growth potential 34%
Salary Potential $95,350

Additional Resources & Links

The following resources might be of help to those in the nursing profession:

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing

    The AACN offers detailed information on accreditation of nursing programs, as well as further information for faculty and students.

  • American Nurses Association

    This membership site touches on numerous topics, including advocacy, ethics, health and safety, credentials, conferences and special member benefits.

  • Emergency Nurses Association

    Designed for nurses who provide acute care, this site touches on education, government relations and legislation, practice and research, pertinent publications and other key points.

  • Health Resources and Services Administration

    Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA offers numerous resources to help students find grants, complete continuing education credits, discover job opportunities and more.

  • Learning Nurse Resources Network

    This site is filled with information that can help active students and seasoned nurses alike with continuing education, professional development and informal learning.

  • National Student Nurses’ Association

    This network for students focuses on leadership and scholarships, but many student nurses will be most interested in its career center.

  • Nurse.com

    Full of information on education, jobs, continuing education, awards and events, this site is a must for the serious nurse in any specialization.

  • Nursing and Allied Health Resources Section

    This wiki page is loaded with content relevant to nurses, including journals, continuing education opportunities, salary surveys and drug resources.

Best Online Master’s in Nursing Degrees

Nurses are busy people. By the time they complete their bachelor’s degree, many of them are already working full time in the medical field. Finding the time to take graduate courses can be tough, but that’s why online nursing master’s programs are so popular — students can complete coursework when it is most convenient for them. Check out our list of the Best Online Master’s in Nursing Degrees for 2015-2016 to get the scoop on the most impressive programs.

To learn how we ranked them, check out our methodology.

RANK COLLEGE SCORE TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO COST GRADUATION RATE
1 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 100.00 12:1 91%
1 Allen College 100.00 9:1 75%
3 Clarkson College 97.00 11:1 59%
4 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health 95.50 12:1 66%
5 Catholic University of America 91.00 7:1 67%
6 Samford University 90.00 12:1 66%
6 Carlow University 90.00 11:1 60%
6 Western Carolina University 90.00 16:1 58%
6 Maryville University of Saint Louis 90.00 13:1 66%
10 Concordia University-Wisconsin 89.00 13:1 61%
10 University of Iowa 89.00 16:1 70%
10 George Washington University 89.00 12:1 79%
13 University of Mississippi 88.00 18:1 61%
13 Cox College 88.00 11:1 91%
13 Duquesne University 88.00 13:1 78%
16 Wheeling Jesuit University 88.50 12:1 64%
16 University of Virginia-Main Campus 88.50 15:1 94%
16 Stony Brook University 88.50 16:1 69%
19 Winston-Salem State University 88.00 14:1 46%
19 Roberts Wesleyan College 88.00 13:1 63%
19 University of Delaware 88.00 15:1 79%
22 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus 87.50 14:1 82%
22 Saint Joseph’s College of Maine 87.50 11:1 63%
24 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 86.50 17:1 78%
25 East Carolina University 86.00 18:1 59%
25 Otterbein University 86.00 10:1 59%
25 Vanderbilt University 86.00 8:1 93%
28 University of North Carolina at Greensboro 85.50 17:1 56%
28 Gonzaga University 85.50 11:1 83%
30 Texas Christian University 85.00 13:1 75%
30 Cedarville University 85.00 13:1 70%
30 Indiana Wesleyan University 85.00 16:1 63%
30 University of South Carolina-Columbia 85.00 18:1 73%
30 Andrews University 85.00 9:1 59%
30 University of Southern California 85.00 9:1 91%
36 Georgetown University 85.00 11:1 95%
37 Ball State University 84.00 15:1 59%
38 University of St Francis 84.00 11:1 56%
39 Eastern Mennonite University 84.00 10:1 62%
40 Rutgers University-New Brunswick 84.00 16:1 81%
41 Queens University of Charlotte 84.00 10:1 62%
42 University of Hawaii at Manoa 84.00 13:1 56%
43 Graceland University-Lamoni 83.50 13:1 54%
44 Seton Hall University 83.00 14:1 66%
45 Fitchburg State University 82.50 15:1 57%
46 Michigan State University 82.50 17:1 79%
47 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 82.00 18:1 60%
48 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale 82.00 12:1 55%
49 Drexel University 82.00 10:1 67%
50 Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University 81.00 15:1 40%