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Online Master’s Programs in Nursing

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Updated on: 09/20/2018

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.

Best Online Master’s in Nursing 2018-2019

Get Seal Methodology 2-Year Schools

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.

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Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Independence University Salt Lake City, Utah$15,61679%-100%2Yes Yes Yes School website
2 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Alabama$10,47056%53%68%2Yes Yes Yes School website
3 South Dakota State University Brookings, South Dakota$7,51657%91%60%1Yes Yes Yes School website
4 University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida$6,91643%50%73%1Yes Yes Yes School website
5 Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia$8,05188%24%55%1Yes Yes Yes School website
6 University of Mary Bismarck, North Dakota$12,100100%77%59%3Yes Yes Yes School website
7 Towson University Towson, Maryland$6,82247%74%70%1Yes Yes Yes School website
8 California State University-Chico Chico, California$6,73842%65%63%1Yes Yes Yes School website
9 Midwestern State University Wichita Falls, Texas$3,84964%74%50%1Yes Yes Yes School website
10 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg, Missouri$6,68366%75%55%1Yes Yes Yes School website
11 Ohio State University-Main Campus Columbus, Ohio$11,56080%54%85%2No Yes Yes School website
12 Ramapo College of New Jersey Mahwah, New Jersey$14,54537%53%74%1Yes Yes Yes School website
13 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, Arizona$8,95682%78%54%2No Yes Yes School website
14 Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida$9,68444%58%80%1No Yes Yes School website
15 California University of Pennsylvania California, Pennsylvania$11,59214%96%58%1Yes Yes Yes School website
16 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, North Carolina$4,34868%41%59%1Yes Yes Yes School website
17 University of Toledo Toledo, Ohio$13,16692%94%47%2Yes Yes Yes School website
18 University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa$8,85675%84%71%1No Yes Yes School website
19 Fitchburg State University Fitchburg, Massachusetts$3,18642%75%58%1Yes Yes Yes School website
20 Boise State University Boise, Idaho$6,23241%82%44%2Yes Yes Yes School website
21 Grand Valley State University Allendale, Michigan$15,40868%82%68%1No Yes Yes School website
22 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, Ohio$12,79058%76%72%5Yes Yes Yes School website
23 Cleveland State University Cleveland, Ohio$9,56545%87%42%2Yes Yes Yes School website
24 Ferris State University Big Rapids, Michigan$7,04669%78%51%1Yes Yes Yes School website
25 Ball State University Muncie, Indiana$8,38640%62%62%1Yes Yes Yes School website
26 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, Massachusetts$13,52465%60%77%1Yes Yes Yes School website
27 Clarion University Clarion, Pennsylvania$11,59241%94%51%1Yes Yes Yes School website
28 Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Tallahassee, Florida$8,01955%31%46%1Yes Yes Yes School website
29 University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Green Bay, Wisconsin$7,64028%73%53%1Yes No Yes School website
30 California State University-Dominguez Hills Carson, California$6,73870%48%40%1Yes Yes Yes School website
31 University of Mississippi University, Mississippi$7,64465%78%64%1No Yes Yes School website
32 Davenport University Grand Rapids, Michigan$12,94293%78%41%1Yes Yes Yes School website
33 William Carey University Hattiesburg, Mississippi$8,40086%51%60%3No Yes Yes School website
34 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, Colorado$9,98346%93%50%1Yes Yes Yes School website
35 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, Texas$4,89658%69%46%3Yes Yes Yes School website
36 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, Texas$5,78454%67%81%1No Yes Yes School website
37 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, Mississippi$7,54968%60%51%1No Yes Yes School website
38 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, Alabama$9,83476%76%51%1No Yes Yes School website
39 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, New York$10,87066%41%71%8No Yes Yes School website
40 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville, Illinois$6,31246%89%53%2No Yes Yes School website
41 Delta State University Cleveland, Mississippi$6,29858%89%38%1No Yes Yes School website
42 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, Utah$6,5001%-19%1No No Yes School website
43 Utah Valley University Orem, Utah$7,19239%-35%1Yes Yes Yes School website
44 Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights, Kentucky$10,00861%91%40%1Yes Yes Yes School website
45 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, Florida$5,46738%60%52%1No Yes Yes School website
46 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, Louisiana$5,73849%62%40%1Yes Yes Yes School website
47 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Oshkosh, Wisconsin$7,64022%65%57%1No Yes Yes School website
48 Albany State University Albany, Georgia$3,40214%50%44%1Yes Yes Yes School website
49 Georgia Southwestern State University Americus, Georgia$3,33036%68%36%1Yes Yes Yes School website
50 Columbus State University Columbus, Georgia$5,70611%53%37%1Yes Yes Yes School website

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.

Nurse Anesthetist

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.

Critical Care

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.

Family Practitioner

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.

Pain Management

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:

Nurse Administrator

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.

Research Nurse

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.

Nurse Consultant

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:

National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners

Supports and develops dermatology nurse practitioners, while assisting all NPs with leadership and guidance in the field of dermatology.

National Association Directors of Nursing Administration/Long Term Care

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.

National Association of Bariatric Nurses

The association’s mission is to advance the health and quality of life of individuals and families experiencing obesity, and to promote best practices of holistic nursing care for bariatric patients.

National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists

The mission of the NACNS is to advance the unique expertise and value the clinical nurse specialist contributes to health care.

National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses

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.

Career Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Nurse Administrator Less than $60,000 $98,350 More than $120,000 +20%
Advanced Nurse Practitioner Less than $74,000 $110,930 More than $120,000 +31%
Clinical Nurse Specialist Less than $64,000 $70,000 More than $110,000 +15%
Research Nurse Less than $52,000 $70,000 More than $89,000 +15%
Nurse Instructor, Post-secondary Less than $45,000 $71,260 More than $81,000 +15%
Nurse Consultant Less than $54,000 $70,000 More than $120,000 +15%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

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

When evaluating a program, look for schools that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). These are the two accreditation organizations that certify a program meets the requirements for a master’s degree in nursing. Between them, the commissions certify curricula for the Master of science in nursing, master of nursing, master of science degree with a focus in nursing and the master of arts degree with a focus in nursing.

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:

  • Scholarships

    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.

  • Grants

    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.

  • Student Loans

    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.