If you’re looking to expand your nursing career beyond the traditional care of patients into hospital administration or leadership, you might be considering an online master’s degree in nursing. Find out what courses and specializations are typically offered in this advanced degree and what career opportunities it can open up. Plus, discover which colleges and universities offer the best online programs.
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
In developing these rankings for the best online master’s in nursing programs, we gathered data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the U.S. Department of Education and published materials from the universities highlighted on the list. All schools on this list are fully accredited.
What Can I learn in an Online Master’s in Nursing Program?
Advanced coursework in nursing covers varied topics including healthcare resource management, pharmacology, acute and chronic illnesses and medical ethics. Programs that emphasize administration or leadership may also include courses in business and management. Students enrolled in a master’s in nursing program can expect to obtain the following skills:
The best practices for leadership in healthcare settings
The latest federal and state rules and regulations guiding nursing and healthcare
Operational skills for the planning and management of nursing departments in a hospital or clinical setting
Best practices for keeping patient information safe and storing patient data securely
What common courses are offered in a master’s in nursing program?
Below is a list of common courses found in online nursing master’s programs. While courses vary by institution, most schools cover similar or overlapping topics.
Theoretical Foundations and Instructional Strategies in Teaching and Learning
Covers best practices and topics for teaching nursing as a profession. This course examines pedagogies, adult learning theories, learning styles, learning environments and the evaluation and testing methods in nursing education.
Nursing Leadership in Healthcare Organizations
An examination of effective leadership skills in a healthcare setting, managing staff and developing talent. Business and leadership models are examined from various viewpoints, with special focus on improving leadership in healthcare organizations.
Healthcare Operational Planning and Management
Covers the need for strategic goals in a healthcare setting, how to optimize resources and staff and effective management for achieving goals. Explores the ways in which healthcare delivery is evolving, with greater emphasis on patient value and less on volume, while evaluating ways medical facilities are working to meet these challenges.
Population Health, Epidemiology & Statistical Principles
A math-intensive course on studying health patterns across populations, including the statistical prevalence of illness and disease. Professionals planning a career in research or clinical practice in infectious diseases learn how to manage and evaluate large volumes of data to understand health trends and recognize patterns.
Information Workflow in Healthcare
An overview of systems for data storage and retrieval of healthcare information, including patient records and treatment. The course examines how workflow is an important part of designing usable information systems. Students learn that, in healthcare, poorly designed or ineffective workflow systems can create problems both for the medical facility and the patients it treats.
What exams or projects should I expect?
Coursework for the master’s degree in nursing usually includes a final exam for each class, as well as periodic testing. Lab work may be an additional part of courses covering clinical subjects such as blood testing and tissue sampling.
To graduate, students may have the option of completing either a master’s thesis or a capstone project. The master’s thesis is an independent research project that includes designing a study of some aspect of the nursing field and performing all aspects of the research process. The thesis examines a theory or knowledge gap, and delivers results in original, clearly defined new knowledge. A capstone project is a scholarly process that addresses a clinical problem in nursing practice. The project gathers and examines evidence and applies it to a clinical situation. The final product of the capstone project demonstrates mastery of work accomplished throughout the program and must be presented as a manuscript of publishable quality.
What specializations are available in a master’s in nursing program?
Here is a sampling of specialties open to the graduate with a master’s degree in nursing.
Assists the anesthesiologist during surgery and surgery preparation. Requires a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia as well as experience in a hospital setting. The nurse anesthetist attends to the patient before, during and after surgery in a hospital setting or dental practice.
Nurses with this specialization often hold a leadership role in emergency facilities and oversight of intensive care units. Professionals in this specialization care for patients who have experienced invasive surgery, life-threatening accidents, trauma and organ failure.
May work in the community as part of a public healthcare organization, helping families with children lead healthy lives. Nurses in this profession may serve as the face of a public healthcare organization by managing a community health facility, soliciting state and local governments for budget funding and ensuring patient care meets accepted standards.
Focuses on the care and comfort of patients facing prolonged recovery from injury or illness. Emphasis on pharmaceutical knowledge. These nurses specialize in the care of patients with chronic or debilitating pain. They are experts on pain management interventions and techniques, whether through prescription narcotics, chiropractic medicine, nerve stimulation and exercise or diet consultation.
What Can I do with a Master’s in Nursing Degree?
A master’s degree in nursing prepares graduates for leadership and administrative roles in a healthcare setting. Here are a few possibilities:
Supervise and manage nursing staff in a healthcare clinic or hospital. Nurse administrators plan staffing needs for various operating shifts, develop talent on their team and consult regularly with physicians on the operating performance of the nursing unit.
Work for pharmaceutical companies in the evaluation and testing of new drugs, assist physicians at teaching hospitals and universities with their research or work for government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control. This career path requires a strong foundation in statistical analysis.
A nurse consultant works with medical facilities to improve efficiency, streamline operations and enhance healthcare as delivered by the nursing staff. Identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Nurse consultants are independent contractors who set their own hours and fees.
Joining professional nursing organizations is a good way to stay current in the field while enjoying networking opportunities with others. Membership is a great way to learn about new trends in place at other medical centers and find out about career opportunities. There are dozens of professional nursing groups. Here is a sampling:
The mission of NADONA is to be the leading professional organization for current and aspiring nursing leaders thru professional development, board certification, and clinical expertise related to the promotion of health and wellness of individuals in long-term care and post-acute care.
The NALPN’s mission is to foster high standards of nursing care and promote continued competence through education/certification and lifelong learning, with a focus on public protection.
How Much Can I Make with a Career in Nursing?
There are a variety of careers available in the field of nursing, especially for those with a master’s degree. Here is a small selection of potential careers to pursue, but students should keep in mind that additional certification, licensure and experience may be necessary in addition to a master’s degree.
According to data from Nurse Journal, the average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing ranges from $42,343 and $81,768. With a master’s degree in nursing, the earnings potential increases to $62,281 and up to $195,743 over the course of the graduate’s career.
Additionally, there are many job opportunities open to nurses with a master’s degree that go beyond typical bedside nursing. These alternative career paths allow nurses to work within the healthcare field but often in unexpected or highly advanced ways. A nurse with a master’s degree has an increased potential for career advancement over a nurse without a master’s degree.
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Nursing Programs
Accreditation provides the assurance that a master’s degree in nursing program does, in fact, deliver the necessary skills and knowledge accepted in the field. The value of a master’s degree also depends on the respect employers have for schools. The graduate of an unaccredited nursing program is not going to be viewed as favorably by prospective employers as the graduate from an accredited and widely respected program. Look for accreditation status on the website of any considered program or school. If none is listed, contact the program and ask.
How to Pay for a Master’s in Nursing Degree
Although online programs tend to be less expensive than their brick and mortar counterparts. Here are some options for funding a master’s degree in nursing:
Nursing scholarships for graduate students are highly competitive and tend to be school specific, so one approach is to look at available scholarships within the program you select. Look for scholarships for nursing graduate degrees from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Education Funds.
Competition for grant dollars is no less fierce than for scholarships. Amounts vary by organization, but typically range from $1,000 to $10,000. Look for top grants awarded by Walden University and Nursing@Simmons.
A variety of financial packages are available for nursing students seeking to borrow for tuition costs while pursuing graduate studies in nursing. As a first step, fill out a federal FAFSA form to determine eligibility.
US Public Health Services Corps
The USHSC will pay for some or even all of your tuition in exchange for of 2 to 4 years of employment in a rural area that is medically understaffed.