Online Master’s in Nursing Programs 2021

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Best Online Master's Programs in Nursing Badge

A master of science in nursing (MSN) prepares nurses for advanced practice roles with greater responsibilities. Registered nurses increase their median annual salary of about $75,000 to over $117,000 through nurse practitioner training. Advanced practice roles also report faster-than-average job growth projections, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Our list ranks the top master’s in nursing degrees online for 2021. Nurses can use the rankings to find the best program for their career goals and budget. This article also introduces salary data for nursing careers, common MSN courses, and scholarships for MSN students.

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Top 10 Programs for Nursing

? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
Rank School Avg Net Price ? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
1 Independence University $15616
2 The University of Alabama $10470
3 South Dakota State University $7516
4 University of Central Florida $6916
5 Liberty University $8051
6 University of Mary $12100
7 Towson University $6822
8 California State University-Chico $6738
9 Midwestern State University $3849
10 University of Central Missouri $6683

FAQ


  • What types of master's degrees in nursing are there?

    Nurses earn master’s degrees in different specialty areas, including programs for nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and nurse executives. These specialties prepare graduates for focused career paths.


  • What is the highest paying nursing specialty?

    The highest-paid nursing specialties include nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. These roles require a master’s degree.


  • How long is a nursing master's program?

    An MSN degree typically takes 2-3 years depending on the specialty. Programs that require extensive clinical hours, such as nurse practitioner, generally take longer.


  • What kinds of jobs can you get with a master's in nursing?

    After earning a master’s degree in nursing, graduates work as nurse educators, nurse executives, and nurse practitioners. The degree also leads to opportunities as a clinical nurse specialist or nurse midwife.


Why Get a Degree in Nursing?



A master’s degree prepares nurses for advanced practice and leadership roles. With a master’s degree, nurses increase their earning potential and professional responsibilities. Several nursing jobs, including nurse practitioner and nurse educator, require a master’s degree. Advanced practice nursing careers pay median annual salaries of over $100,000, making an MSN degree a good financial investment for many nurses.

Nurses who earn their nursing degree online benefit from a flexible schedule. Designed for working nurses, online programs with asynchronous coursework let students complete lectures and assignments around their nursing shifts.

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How Much Does a Nursing Degree Cost?

The cost of a nursing degree varies depending on the program and school. Private universities typically charge higher tuition rates than public schools. For example, the online master of science in nursing program at Duke University costs $1,910 per credit. At Penn State, students in the online MSN program pay $924 per credit.

Public universities may also offer tuition discounts for out-of-state students who enroll online. At Arizona State University, the online master’s in nursing program charges a flat rate of $704 per credit regardless of residency. This discount can save out-of-state students a significant amount in tuition. In addition to tuition, prospective applicants should also research fees, textbooks, and other expenses.

Earning a nursing degree online offers several cost-saving benefits. The flexible schedule makes it easier for working nurses to advance their education while maintaining their career. Distance learners also save on transportation and commuting costs.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree



How much can you afford to spend on a nursing master’s degree? The ACO affordability calculator uses your monthly income, expenses, and expected financial aid to determine your budget for a graduate degree. Use the calculator to identify nursing programs that fit your interests and budget.

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How Much Do Nursing Majors Make?



A nursing master’s degree prepares graduates for careers in high-paying, growing fields. Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $75,330 with faster-than-average projected job growth. With a master’s degree, nurses increase their earning potential. For example, the highest-paid RNs make over $116,000 annually.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) such as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives benefit from high salaries and strong job demand. These nurses earn a median annual salary of $117,670, and BLS data projects nearly 118,000 new jobs for APRNs between 2019-2029. These roles require a master’s degree in nursing.

Nursing salaries vary by industry. APRNs who work in hospitals or outpatient care centers earn above-average salaries for their field, while professionals who work in doctor’s offices or educational services earn slightly lower salaries. Job title, location, and experience also influence nursing salaries.

Courses in Nursing



A master’s degree in nursing emphasizes patient care, research, and problem-solving skills. Nurses strengthen their clinical abilities through training in healthcare quality improvement and evidence-based practices. Graduate students choose a specialization such as nurse educator, nurse practitioner, or nurse administrator to focus their studies.

MSN programs incorporate practicum hours to provide hands-on experience. Students enrolled in a nursing degree online complete their practicum requirements at a local hospital or healthcare site. This section introduces common graduate-level nursing courses. While each program and specialization comes with different course requirements, many nursing degrees include the following options.

Graduate-level, evidence-based practice courses blend theoretical and practical approaches to nursing. Students examine qualitative and quantitative nursing research and discuss applying research in nursing practice. Topics include advanced practice roles, interpreting research, and quality improvement. The course helps prepare nurses for advanced practice and leadership positions.

Nurses learn how to improve quality in healthcare settings. Topics include safety improvements, healthcare quality research, and patient care feedback. Learners study evidence-based quality improvement strategies, quality outcome measures, and healthcare organizational accountability. The course also emphasizes research and analytical approaches. Healthcare quality improvement classes help build core abilities for nurse leaders.

In nursing leadership courses, learners examine leadership theories, communication strategies, and healthcare leadership. Coursework helps students develop a personal leadership philosophy and strengthen their communication skills. Nurses also explore the best practices for leading teams in healthcare settings. The course helps prepare nurses for leadership roles.

Certifications and Licensure for Nursing



Registered nurses and APRNs need a license to practice in every state. Nurses can also pursue certifications to demonstrate specialized skills. For example, nurse practitioners earn certification in their specialty area and nurse educators also pursue certification. Nursing certification generally requires a degree, clinical hours, and passing scores on a certification exam.

Registered Nurse


Nurses must hold an RN license to complete their practicum hours and earn a master’s degree. Each state’s board of nursing sets the requirements for an RN license, which typically include a degree from an approved nursing program and passing scores on the NCLEX-RN Exam. Some states also conduct a background check.

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Nurse Practitioner Certification


Nurse practitioners pursue specialty certifications in their focus area. Organizations like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board and the American Nurses Credentialing Center offer certifications. Requirements typically include a master’s degree plus a minimum number of practicum hours and passing scores on a certification exam.

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Certified Nurse Educator


The CNE credential recognizes experienced nurse educators. Candidates must hold a graduate degree in nursing with either an emphasis in nursing education or a post-master’s certificate in nursing education. Nine graduate-level credits in education and a master’s degree also meet the requirement. After meeting the eligibility requirements, candidates pass a nurse educator exam.

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Scholarships for Nursing



Nursing students qualify for multiple scholarship opportunities. Professional associations, private foundations, and government agencies offer scholarships and grants for graduate students in nursing. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) offers a list of nursing scholarships. In addition to the following opportunities, nurses can research scholarships based on their state, employer, or career goals.


  • Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports nursing students in a bachelor’s program or higher. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.2 GPA with good academic standing.

    Amount: $5,000

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  • CastleBranch-GNSA Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: MSN students committed to innovation, mentoring, and leadership qualify for the scholarship. Applicants must attend an AACN-member school with a minimum 3.5 GPA. The scholarship also requires an essay.

    Amount: $2,500

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  • Deborah E. Trautman Future Nurse Leader Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports graduate students planning to work as nurse leaders. Applicants submit an essay. Recipients receive funding for a leadership development program and $2,000 to cover educational costs.

    Amount: $3,500

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Online Master’s in Nursing Programs 2021



See Our Rankings Methodology
  1. Independence University
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Independence University, a private nonprofit online institution, offers 2 Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees that can be earned with online coursework. Students in the MSN in Nursing Education program learn about nursing theory and current trends, teaching techniques and methods, to become educators in a range of health care settings. The MSN in Nursing Administration degree program prepares graduates for entry-level leadership, management and administrative positions throughout the health care industry. Both degree programs require 56 credit hours of coursework and are designed to be completed in 15 months. All coursework is provided online. However, students must participate in a practicum experience typically completed at an approved facility in the student's local community. To be admitted into either Independence University MSN program, an applicant must possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from a CCNE- or NLN-accredited program earned with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. Other requirements include a current unrestricted RN license from the state in which the student's practicum assignments will be completed, and a minimum of 1 year of nursing practice within the last 5 years. IU distance learners have access to a number of support resources, including academic assistance through the Student Success Center and career counseling services through IU's Career Services department. Additionally, all IU students are assigned an associate dean who acts as their personal learning coach.

  2. The University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Alabama's fully online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is designed for current RNs interested in pursuing a nursing specialization while seeking to advance their careers in the healthcare field. The program offers 3 concentrations. The Clinical Nurse Leader concentration (39 credit hours of coursework) prepares nurses as decision makers in coordinating care of distinct patient groups. The Case Manager concentration (39 credit hours of coursework) is for nurses interested in the care of patients in a specific age group or those diagnosed with a particular disease. Graduates with a Nurse Administrator concentration (32 credit hours of coursework) focus on health care policy and organizational operations issues while serving in executive-level positions. All 3 programs culminate in a practicum experience, and each program offers a thesis option. Admission into UA's MSN program requires a bachelor's degree in nursing earned with a minimum 3.0 overall GPA and current unencumbered RN license. Support services for distance students include career and academic counseling, writing assistance and technical support.

  3. South Dakota State University
    Location

    Brookings, SD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    South Dakota State University's online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is offered fully online, with 3 specializations: Clinical Nurse Leader, which prepares nurses for leadership positions throughout the health care field and qualifies them to apply for AACN Clinical Nurse Leader certification; Nurse Educator, which prepares graduates to create and evaluate nursing education programs and provides eligibility for the NLN's Certification for Nurse Educators; and Nurse Administrator, which prepares nurses for advanced practice in nursing leadership, education, clinical practice and administration. SDSU additionally offers a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization in a hybrid format for students seeking the knowledge and skills for advanced practice care of patients in all stages of life, with a particular emphasis on rural health care. Credit hour requirements and program lengths vary depending on the chosen specialization. Admission requirements include a bachelor degree in nursing earned with minimum 3.0 GPA and current RN licensure. Students must also have completed 1500 hours of RN practice prior to enrollment in the first clinical nursing course. SDSU student support resources include career and personal counseling, disability and veteran's services and tech support. Academic advising is available through Nursing Student Services.

  4. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The purpose of the University of Central Florida's online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree prepares RNs for leadership positions as nurse educators, advanced practice nurses and managers in all sectors of the health care field. The degree is offered with 3 specialization tracks: Nurse Educator (35 credit hours), which prepares graduates for teaching on college and university campuses and in private settings; Leadership and Management (36 credit hours), designed to prepare nurses to take leadership positions throughout the health care industry, and; Nursing and Health Care Simulation (31 credit hours), for nurses seeking to become simulation-based educators in university and private settings. Each of these MSN tracks can be completed with online coursework, although not all elective options or program prerequisites may be available online. Students are also required to complete a 60 clinical hour practicum, which is typically completed with an approved preceptor in the student's local area. An additional 180 clinical hour internship is required for Nursing and Health Care Simulation students. Admission into UCF's online MSN program requires a BSN from an accredited institution and a current RN license. Applicants with an RN license and non-nursing bachelor's degree may also be admitted, but must complete 3 prerequisite courses with a "B" or better prior to starting their graduate coursework. An extensive array of support resources for online students can be accessed through UCF's Online Student Connect Center.

  5. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Liberty University, a private, Christian-affiliated institution, offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with 5 specialization options: Nursing Administration, Nurse Educator, Nursing Informatics, MSN/MBA dual degree and MSN/MSHA dual degree. All specializations feature coursework that is completed 100% online in an accelerated 8-week course format. However, the Nursing Administration and Nurse Educator specializations require 200 clinical hours, typically completed as part of the student's current employment. Regular MSN tracks require 42 units of coursework, which may be completed in as little as 12 months. The 2 dual-degree programs each require completion of 60 units of coursework. Up to 50% of the required course credits may be transferred into LU's MSN degree program. Distance learners can access an array of online support services and resources through LU's Online Student Life program. Resources include counseling services, support groups, IT assistance and even prayer requests. Admission requirements into any of the 5 MSN degree programs include a BSN degree from a properly-accredited college, university or nursing school and a current and active RN license within the U.S. Applicants with a non-nursing bachelor's degree may also be admitted but must complete 5 specified bridge courses during their first year of degree study.

  6. University of Mary
    Location

    Bismarck, ND

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The private, Catholic-affiliated University of Mary has been in the business of training nurses since its establishment in 1959. Today, UM offers 5 Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, each featuring fully online coursework. MSN options include both an ADN to MSN and BSN to MSN in Nursing Leadership and Management, a BSN to MSN Nurse Educator, an MSN in Nursing and Health Care Informatics and a dual degree MSN-MBA in Health Care Administration. While all coursework is delivered online, students are required to complete 500 hours of practical leadership experience (with the exception of the Nursing and Healthcare Informatics, which requires 360 clinical hours), normally at the student's current place of employment. Total credits needed for graduation and program completion times vary by specific program. Admission requirements for all 5 MSN programs include a BSN degree (with the exception of the ADN to MSN, which requires a nursing associate degree or diploma) earned with an overall GPA of 2.75 or better and a current unencumbered RN license. UM online students have access to a wide range of support resources, including personal counseling through the Counseling Services program and academic assistance through the Student Support Center.

  7. Towson University
    Location

    Towson, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree offered by Maryland's public Towson University employs a "population-based" approach that teaches nurses the knowledge and skills needed to help patients navigate the complexities of today's health care system. The program is available with 2 concentrations: Nursing Education, which prepares graduates for teaching at nursing schools and for education and staff development positions at health care agencies; and Clinician-Administrator Transition, which prepares graduates for leadership positions throughout the health care field. TU's online MSN program is open to holders of a bachelor's degree in nursing (with a minimum 3.0 GPA) who are licensed or eligible for licensing as an RN in the State of Maryland. Students must complete 36 units of coursework. The program is offered in a hybrid format that alternates weekly online coursework and weekday evening on-site classroom instruction. Student support resources include career and academic counseling, childcare services from the University Child Care Center, financial aid assistance and much more.

  8. California State University-Chico
    Location

    Chico, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    California State University Chico's online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is designed to meet the needs of rural area nurses. The program prepares its graduates to be educators and leaders in health advisory positions at state agencies and private nursing facilities, as well as on nursing education faculties. The degree is offered with 2 concentration options: Nurse Educator and Nursing Leadership. Both options require completion of 30 units of coursework and feature theoretical course content that is presented entirely online. However, both concentrations include a 4-unit practicum requirement that must be completed in person working closely with an approved experienced nurse mentor (nurse educator or nurse leader) typically residing in the student's local community. The practicum requires 180 hours of student time with the nurse mentor. Admission requirements for CSUC's online MSN program include an bachelor's degree in nursing, 3.0 minimum GPA on the last 60 units of undergraduate nursing coursework, and a minimum GRE writing analytics score of 4.0. Support services for online students are available from the Office of Graduate Studies, Student Computing Services and the Advising and Financial Aid Offices, all of which can be accessed through the CSU Chico Home Page. IT assistance is available through IT Support Services.

  9. Midwestern State University
    Location

    Wichita Falls, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Midwestern State University offers online graduate nursing programs through its Wilson School of Nursing. Degree seekers can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing in 1 of 3 majors: Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator. Students at Midwestern State learn advanced nursing practices in patient care, as well as academic research skills. Applicants should have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from a nationally accredited program and a current RN license to practice in Texas and the student's state of residence. Competitive applicants have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Prospective students must also submit their official transcripts and answers to the supplied essay questions. Students who pass the first round of the admissions process will participate in a personal interview with the graduate program coordinator. This is a competitive program and incoming learners are expected to have documented work experience in the field. Online students at Midwestern State have access to counseling services, student leadership and involvement opportunities, financial aid support, tutoring and career planning services.

  10. University of Central Missouri
    Location

    Warrensburg, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Online students can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree entirely online at the University of Central Missouri. Degree seekers in this program develop advanced nursing and healthcare practices and learn to conduct original academic research. Students choose between 2 emphasis areas: Nurse Educator and Family Nurse Practitioner. Core courses include Methods of Research in Nursing, Organizational Leadership in Complex Health Systems and Health Care Policy and Advocacy. Students in both tracks must complete a final capstone clinical experience for graduation. Those pursuing the Family Nurse Practitioner track complete a series of practicum experiences to be eligible for graduation. Incoming students must have a bachelor's degree in nursing from a program accredited by the National League for Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Competitive applicants have an undergraduate GPA of 3.25 or higher and at least 1 year of work experience in the field as registered nurses. UCM subscribes to a rolling admission policy and reviews applications throughout the year. Students must earn a "C" or higher in each class to remain in good standing. Student services available at UCM consist of career services, academic advising, tech support and the Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity.

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