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An In-Depth Look at Online RN to MSN Programs

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Demand is growing for nurses who can lead and also provide critically needed primary care, a role that many advanced practice nurses can fill. An online RN to MSN program is one of several graduate-level educational paths for registered nurses who wish to advance their career. The RN to MSN program offers prospective students a continuous transition from basic nursing practice to an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) position. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of online RN to MSN programs, including a review of curricula, specializations, and degree expectations to help aspiring APRNs find the right school and program.

Best Online RN to MSN Programs 2018-2019

Best-Online-RN-to-MSN-Programs Bedge
Get Seal Methodology

Methodology

Best Online RN to MSN Programs 2018-2019

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

Data Sources: Eligibility Criteria:
  • Each college must be accredited
  • Each college must be a not-for-profit institution
  • 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
Ranking Factors:
  • Affordability
  • Quality
  • Flexibility
  • Program

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.

Notes:
  • A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
  • Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
2-Year Schools

As the population ages, the need for more skilled nurses is steadily on the rise. Earning an online RN to MSN degree gives graduates the flexibility they need to further their education while advancing their careers to a skilled, leadership role. Advanced practice nurses have a greater understanding of the nursing discipline and can specialize in a number of areas. We’ve compiled more information about the transition from RN to MSN, what it looks like and what it can do for your career.

Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida $4,478 43% - 73% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The online MSN degree program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) is designed for students who already have a bachelor's degree in nursing. Students who have a non-nursing bachelor's must fulfill specific prerequisites to be eligible for admission. Three tracks are available including leadership and management, nursing and health care simulation and nurse educator. Each track has a different set of graduation requirements. The leadership and management track is fully online and requires 36 credit hours and 315 clinical hours. The nursing health care simulation track is available online with some on campus activities and requires 11 courses and 60 clinical hours. The nurse educator track is fully online and requires 35 credit hours and 240 clinical hours. Online UFC students may access a range of support services such as academic advising, writing tutors, a resource center with peer-assisted learning, career services and the UCF library online. No special discount rate is offered to online students; tuition is $372.32 per credit hour for in-state students and $694.82 for out-of-state students. To qualify for admission, students must submit official transcripts from each college/university and have a BSN degree from a program accredited by the CCNE or ACEN, or a non-nursing bachelor's degree with certain prerequisites including 3 courses: Dimensions of Professional Practice, Public Health Nursing and Nursing Research. In addition, students must have taken an undergraduate statistics course and have an RN license. They must also submit an essay and CV, and they may also be required to participate in a faculty interview.

School website
2 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Alabama $10,470 56% 1% 68% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The RN to BSN/MSN program at the University of Alabama gives qualified registered nurses an accelerated route for completing both BSN and MSN degrees. To graduate from this program, students must complete 50 credit hours and a practicum. Two tracks are offered to students including clinical nurse leader and case management. The clinical nurse leader track prepares students to oversee a team of care providers and evaluate patient outcomes. The case manager track equips students with the knowledge and skills to work closely with patients and create long-term health care plans for those living with diseases like HIV/AIDs or cancer. Courses are offered online, and no campus attendance is required. The Bama By Distance Student Services team is available to offer personalized support to students navigating the admissions and financial aid process and to help coordinate proctored exams. In addition, students can access an online library, technical support and tutoring assistance. Distance learning tuition rates are the same as on campus, in-state tuition rates; $364 per credit hour for undergraduate courses and $394 per credit hour for graduate courses. At various times, scholarships are available to nursing students through the College of Continuing Studies and the Capstone College of Nursing. To be eligible for admission, students must have an unencumbered RN license in the U.S., an associate degree or diploma from a program accredited by the Accredited Commission for Education in Nursing, ACEN, a 3.0 GPA in lower-division core courses and a 3.0 for the last 60 credit hours of undergraduate work.

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3 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, Alabama $8,040 77% 1% 59% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing offers an RN Mobility program for RNs looking to earn a master's degree. This program has a wide variety of MSN specialty tracks are available including family, adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric/mental health, pediatric primary care, pediatric primary and acute care, pediatric acute care, neonatal, women's health, clinical nurse leader, nursing health systems administration and nursing informatics. Graduation requirements vary depending on the specialty track; for example, the family nurse practitioner specialty requires 45 total credit hours, 13 clinical and 32 didactic, with 600 total hours of direct patient care. In contrast, the clinical nurse leader specialty requires 31 total credit hours, 9 clinical and 22 didactic, with 420 hours of clinical contact. The RN-MSN nursing program offers flexible scheduling, and clinical experiences are designed on an individual basis with students working under a clinical preceptor such as a certified nurse practitioner or physician. Courses are all offered online. Students can access tutorial videos and contact support for help using the Canvas portal. As an added resource, the UAB Nursing Network also broadcasts monthly 30-minute live video discussions with expert nursing faculty. No special tuition discount is offered for online students; however, residents and nonresidents are charged the same amount, $505 per undergraduate credit hour and $656 per graduate credit hour. To qualify for admission, applicants must complete a bachelor's degree or higher in a field other than nursing and have an associate degree in nursing from a regionally accredited institution. Students must also have at least one year of clinical experience and a nursing license, have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and submit three letters of recommendation and transcripts from all previous educational programs. Students who have a GPA of 3.2 or higher may waive the GRE/GMAT/MAT requirement.

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4 South Dakota State University Brookings, South Dakota $7,155 57% 1% 60% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The Registered Nursing to Masters of Science Nursing Program (RN-MSN) at South Dakota State University provides RNs interested in furthering their education. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in nursing with a 3.0-3.3 GPA, completed all baccalaureate admission requirements, have coverage by a non-employer sponsored RN liability insurance, and complete certain courses within a certain time frame prior to completing required graduate courses at SDSU. Eligible students can request to substitute 2 graduate level courses in place of undergraduate courses. Within the RN-MSN program, students can opt for several different degree specializations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator, and Clinical Nursing Leadership. The Clinical Nursing Leadership specialization offers Administration or Clinical Nurse Leader emphasis. These specializations can provide students with focused information and knowledge to accommodate their professional goals. Different tracks have different credit requirements, and depending on concentration, programs may be offered completely online with an on campus requirement or a hybrid of both distance and in person learning. Students should consult with academic advisors for assistance. Online students have access to SDSU's library which provide a multitude of services such sending books, articles and other materials electronically, providing technical help and research assistance. The South Dakota State Master of Science Family Nurse Practitioner program has met the American Nurses Credentialing Center certification eligibility educational requirements. Students who complete these programs are eligible to sit for the ANCC certification.

School website
5 University of South Florida-Main Campus Tampa, Florida $4,559 69% - 71% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The University of South Florida's RN-MS program is highly competitive. Interested applicants must be registered nurses and have bachelor's degrees (which can be in a non-nursing field). They must have a GPA of at least a 3.0, and must complete and submit an application. Different concentrations within this program include Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Family Health Nursing, Nurse Anesthesia, Nursing Education, Occupational Health Nursing/Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nursing, and Pediatric Health Nursing. one concentration can be selected. Depending on concentration and field of study within the program, additional requirements may be necessary. Some core classes may be completed online, but the majority of courses are offered on campus with students required to participate in person for didactics, labs, clinicals, etc. The program can be completed in 5-9 semesters for full time students and 7-12 semesters by part time students. Information sessions are available for interested students as an introduction the program, application process, as well as to provide an opportunity for additional information. Upon graduation, students are prepared with a variety of skills applicable to the workplace, including professional research, leadership, implementation of health policy, case management and consultation. Financial aid and scholarships are available along with graduate assistantships and research assistantships to qualified students. The USF College of Nursing has Florida Board of Nursing approval, and the University of South Florida is accredited by Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

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6 Troy University Troy, Alabama $7,224 57% 1% 39% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The RN to BSN/MSN at Troy University is a track for registered nurses who have associate degrees in nursing or an accredited diploma from a nursing program. Offered online, students have access to faculty and advisors on 4 campuses - Montgomery, Troy, Phenix City, and Dothan, Alabama. Students have the opportunity to take master's level courses while completing the BSN, with the ability to select their clinical location. Many academic advisors can be reached by telephone or email. Students interested in applying should provide official transcripts, 2 letters of recommendation and proof of their RN license. Students should have at least a 2.5 GPA, completed prerequisite courses and a certified background check. Progression to the MSN program requires additional clinical requirements as well as GRE or MCAT scores. A 4 semester nursing sequence, this program generally takes 18 weeks to degree completion and offers several different routes of study. Students can select the Family Nurse Practitioner Track, the Nursing Informatics Specialist Track, or the Clinical Nursing sequence, with varying course requirements for each. Online students can generally expect more affordable tuition as well as financial aid and scholarships. Troy University also provides financial assistance to currently serving military students. Additional support is provided by free online unlimited tutoring in a variety of subjects offered through a program called NetTutor, and access to alumni as well as online career services help students with setting goals, career objectives, as well as interviewing skills, obtaining jobs etc.

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7 Washington State University Pullman, Washington $9,324 72% 1% 70% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The RN-Master's of Nursing Program (RN-MN) at Washington State University is designed for students with bachelor's degrees in nursing who want to pursue their master's. As such, full time as well as part time programs are available to accommodate working schedules. Once accepted into the program, students can choose between two tracks - Nursing Leadership or Nursing Education. These will be merged in the Fall of 2019, so qualifications for graduation may change. Those who obtain the nursing leadership certificate are eligible to sit for the national certification exam. Full time students can expect to complete the program in as little as 2 years whereas part time students usually complete the program in 3-4 years. The program is a hybrid program with students meeting on campus 5 times for each course, with the rest online. Those interested in applying must be currently registered nurses with bachelor's degrees licensed in the state of Oregon or Washington. Interested applicants must have an overall GPA of a 3.0 for all college courses with a minimum grade of a 2.0 in each prerequisite course. Certain additional required courses include statistics, chemistry, and microbiology to name a few. In order to bridge the gap between the bachelor's and master's program, students are expected to take 2 additional graduate level nursing courses before applying. These courses are offered online with one date on campus. RN-MN advisors are available for consultation before applying to the program for assistance in determining additional admission requirements and the application process.

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8 Missouri State University Springfield, Missouri $6,150 54% 1% 57% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The Accelerated Master's program at Missouri State University is available to students who are already enrolled in the Nursing Completion Program for Registered Nurses (BSN-C program). The BSN-C program is offered completely online for registered nurses who already have an associate's degree in nursing. Several courses are counted as undergraduate requirements as well as prerequisites to the graduate program. Students who graduate from the Accelerated Master's program can obtain a master's degree in the Nurse Educator specialization. Students interested in this transition program must apply prior to admission and enrollment in courses required for the BSN program. Students on the accelerated track must go through a pre-admission interview as well as submit documents including their GRE test scores, 2 letters of recommendation, and the current American Heart Association BLS for Healthcare Providers certification. In addition, students meet all of the admission requirements for the BSN completion programs, have 1 year of full time experience as a registered nurse, and have an overall GPA of a 3.25 or higher. A minimum of a B average must be maintained in all of the undergraduate as well as graduate courses taken. The program is offered as a hybrid program of online and on campus courses. Missouri State offers specific online support with custom training, a help desk, tutoring, navigating Missouri State's online system and providing access to its library, among others. Scholarships, financial aid, and assistantships are available for graduate nursing students.

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9 Winona State University Winona, Minnesota $7,103 47% 1% 59% N/A Yes Yes Yes

Winona State University's RN to Graduate Nursing Pathway is for highly motivated nurses currently enrolled within the WSU RN-BS Completion program. Students must have professional experience as registered nurses and an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Graduate courses will be substituted for baccalaureate level credits in the RN - BS Completion program. Students will take 10 credits of graduate level courses in place of undergraduate level courses and have 10 credits waived towards their graduate program, thus reducing the amount of graduate level credits required and reducing the time necessary to obtain their master's. Interested students must fill out a separate application for this advanced plan of study, and can consult with advisors from both the undergraduate as well as graduate nursing programs for assistance in course selection as well as with the application process. This pathway allows graduate students to select a program of Nurse Educator, Clinical Nurse Specialist, or Nursing Organization Leadership. Graduates of the nursing master's programs are prepared for continued graduate studies or for advanced nursing roles in the workforce, with specific skills developed within each program. As these programs are directed towards working professionals, courses are offered in a variety of methods including online, one day per week on campus, or a hybrid of both. Winona State has 3 campuses located in Winona and Rochester, Minnesota. Different programs have different requirements, and different plans of study can affect how long it takes to complete the program.

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10 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, Mississippi $7,549 68% 1% 51% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The RN-MSN program at The University of Southern Mississippi allows registered nurses to obtain their master's in Family Nurse Practitioner or a Psychiatric Mental Health Practitioner. Both offer coursework fully online with varying requirements for on campus work. The length of completion varies with each program, but the general time frame for full-time students is 1.5 to 2 years. A part time plan is also offered to accommodate working schedules but does prolong the length of the program. Interested students must be licensed nurses in the state of Mississippi, submit scores from the verbal and analytical sections of the GRE, have proof of current CPR certification, criminal background check and certain immunizations. This program allows registered nurses to obtain their master's but upon completion, students in this program will not receive a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. Requirements include graduate core courses, courses from each specialization, as well as clinical coursework. Academic policies are the same for all students pursing master's degrees. A comprehensive exam is required and the entire program of study must be completed with at least a 3.0 GPA in order to graduate. Online students pay resident tuition instead of out of state tuition with financial aid and scholarship opportunities available. A military friendly school, military or service members can also seek financial aid and scholarships specific to them. Graduates of the program have secured positions as nurses in rural and urban community health settings, as Psychiatric Registered Nurses and Primary Care Psychiatric Mental Health nurses.

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11 Ball State University Muncie, Indiana $8,992 40% 1% 62% N/A Yes Yes Yes

An online Master of Science in Nursing is available at Ball State University. Students can select the nurse educator, nurse administrator or family nurse practitioner track. Registered nurses who hold an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in another field may pursue the RN to MSN program; however, since their undergraduate degree is in a field other than nursing, these students will be required to take 16 credits of upper-division nursing courses at the bachelor's degree level. The RN to MSN program usually takes 9 to 10 semester to complete and leaves students with a master's degree. Admission requirements for Master of Science in Nursing program include a bachelor's degree in nursing with a minimum GPA of 3.0 (this is not a requirement for the RN to MSN track) and a registered nurse license. Prospective students must undergo a criminal background check and meet certain health requirements. Students who enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing at Ball State University are encouraged to work with a graduate adviser who can help them develop a plan of study for their track of choice. They will begin the program by taking an introductory course that discusses information technology in nursing practice, research and education. Then, they'll focus on their core nursing courses and move on to the specialized nurse educator, nurse administrator or family nurse practitioner courses. Nursing Theory, Issues in the Aging Adult Population and Primary Care of Adults are a few examples of the core nursing courses students will be required to take. Although Master of Science in Nursing programs are flexible, they must be completed within 6 years.

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12 Tarleton State University Stephenville, Texas $3,900 50% 1% 47% N/A Yes Yes Yes

Tarleton State University offers an RN to MSN that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This program is designed for students who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Students who enroll in the RN to MSN can specialize in nursing administration or nursing education. The nursing administration specialization is for nurses who would like to pursue leadership positions in various health care organizations. Those who opt for the nursing education specialization will learn how to teach patients, families, nurses and nursing students. Although most courses are taught online through the Blackboard Learning Management System, there are some in-person courses on Tarleton State University's campus. Prospective students are required to hold an associate degree or diploma from a nursing program that is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and a minimum GPA of 3.0 on their last 60 hours of completed coursework. In addition, they must have at least 2 years of nursing experience, complete 57 general education and nursing prerequisites, hold a registered nurse license and submit GMAT scores, a resume and 3 letters of recommendation. Additionally, students must earn a grade of "C" or better on a basic statistics course. Once enrolled in the program, students are required to complete 39 to 42 credit hours. Two of the courses in the nursing administration and nursing education routes involve clinicals. Prior to registering for their initial clinical course, students must submit evidence of certain immunizations, a CPR certification and TB screening.

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13 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, Colorado $6,624 46% 1% 50% N/A Yes Yes Yes

At the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, students can earn an online Master of Science in Nursing. This program enhances clinical problem-solving and research skills and prepares students for clinical nursing positions. Students who enroll in this program may select the nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialty. Those who opt for the nurse practitioner specialty may take courses to become an adult nurse practitioner, adult/geriatric nurse practitioner or family nurse practitioner. All Master of Science in Nursing students are required to take core courses such as Philosophical Foundations of Advanced Nursing Practice, Advanced Nursing Practice and Health Care Policy, and Nursing Research. Admission criteria for the Master of Science in Nursing program includes a current registered nurse license, a minimum GPA of 3.0 on all previous coursework, the completion of a bachelor's degree in nursing and prerequisite undergraduate courses in subjects including statistics, nursing research and health assessment. In addition, prospective students must show proof of current nursing experience. Transfer students are required to meet all admission criteria and can transfer a maximum of 12 credits. Registered nurses with bachelor's degrees in fields other than nursing may apply for the RN to MSN program as long as they meet all other Master of Science in Nursing requirements. Once enrolled, students attend a new student orientation and work with an assigned adviser to design a plan of study and receive assistance with any issues. To graduate with a Master of Science in Nursing, students must take 37 to 47 graduate-level credits, earn at least a 3.0 on all required nursing courses and complete the program within 6 years.

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14 Ferris State University Big Rapids, Michigan $11,144 69% 1% 51% N/A Yes Yes Yes

Registered nurses may enroll in an RN to MSN at Ferris State University. This program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and can be completed online, with the exception of a few courses in the nursing informatics concentration. It is designed for registered nurses who have completed an associate degree or diploma in nursing and would like to earn their bachelor's degree and master's degree in nursing in a shorter period of time. Students will begin by completing all of the 16 Bachelor of Science in Nursing bridging courses that will prepare them for the Master of Science in Nursing program. Once they complete these courses and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0, students can apply for accelerated admission to the MSN program and bypass 10 nursing credits. Organizational and Systems Leadership, Critique of Evidence for Practice, and Clinical Prevention and Population Health are a few examples of the core courses in the MSN program. To be considered for admission to the RN to MSN at Ferris State University, students are required to hold a valid registered nurse license and a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher in their nursing associate or diploma courses. Since many students of this program work full-time, 1 to 2 courses are typically taken each semester. Those who take at least 9 credits a semester are considered full-time students and may qualify for federal financial aid. Graduation requirements include a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 as well as the completion of all courses and a professional portfolio within 5 years from the time the MSN courses are started. After graduation, students are prepared for advanced specialty roles in nursing administration, nursing informatics or nursing education.

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15 West Texas A & M University Canyon, Texas $4,989 43% 1% 44% N/A Yes Yes Yes

West Texas A&M University offers a Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN. This program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and offers 2 role specializations. The online comprehensive MSN prepares students for nursing administration and management or nursing education careers. It consists of courses such as Advanced Nursing Education and Leadership and Bioethics and Advocacy. Those who graduate with the comprehensive MSN often work in hospitals, outpatient environments and nursing schools. The family nurse practitioner specialization is a hybrid program for students who are interested in advanced practice registered nursing and would like to evaluate, diagnose, manage and care for patients who are sick, injured or living with chronic diseases. It includes courses like Family Nurse Practitioner Primary Health Care and Nurse Practitioner Role Development. After completing the comprehensive MSN or family nurse practitioner program, students will be able to use patient-care technologies to deliver excellent patient care, communicate and consult with other health professionals and apply research to promote change in various healthcare environments. To apply for the MSN, students must hold a registered nurse license and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 for their last 60 hours of college credits. They are also required to participate in a phone interview and submit a resume, goal of statement and 2 clinical references. In addition, they must meet certain immunization requirements. To graduate with an MSN from West Texas A&M University, students must complete 39 to 40 credit hours for the comprehensive MSN and 46 credit hours for the family nurse practitioner specialty. In addition, they must earn a "B" or higher in all courses and complete a thesis or comprehensive exam.

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16 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, New York $6,470 66% - 71% N/A Yes Yes Yes

A Registered Nurse Baccalaureate to Master's Program is available at Stony Brook University. It's intended for students who hold an associate degree or diploma in nursing and hope to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing. While many of the courses can be completed through distance education, there are some courses that must be taken in person. Admission requirements for this program include a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, at least 1 year of clinical experience as an RN in a clinical area of interest and 57 college credits with a minimum grade of "C." In addition to meeting these requirements, students who would like to pursue the Registered Nurse Baccalaureate to Master's Program should submit a personal statement, 3 letters of recommendation, proof of at least 1 year of clinical nursing experience and their official transcripts. They must also complete 3 prerequisite science courses by the application deadline and submit a clinical practice portfolio that will be evaluated to determine whether they qualify for the program. Once admitted, students will receive an email with detailed instructions on how to use the CastleBranch web-based software system so that they can undergo a background screening process. Students who enroll in this 71-credit-hour program can expect to take a variety of professional socialization, health sciences, clinical nursing and core courses. A few examples of these courses are Professional Role Development in Nursing, Fundamentals of Pharmacology and Population Health Nursing. Registered nurses who would like to learn more about the Registered Nurse Baccalaureate to Master's Program are encouraged to attend the information session.

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17 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Oshkosh, Wisconsin $6,422 22% 1% 57% N/A Yes Yes Yes

At the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, students have the opportunity enroll in the RN to BSN to MSN program that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The RN to BSN to MSN program is designed for registered nurses who would like to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) while completing their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Registered nurses who would like to pursue this program must hold an associate degree or diploma from an accredited nursing program and have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5. During this program, students attend online and distance-education courses to complete their BSN, which is 120 credit hours. They may apply for the MSN program while they are in their first semester of the BSN. Students have the option to take some MSN courses as electives in the last year of their BSN. A few examples of the courses that can be taken include Pharmacology for Advanced Nursing Roles, Foundations for Advanced Nursing and Interprofessional Collaboration, and Healthcare Informatics. Although all courses feature assignments and deadlines, there are no structured class times, so students can easily fit this program into their varying schedules. Students are encouraged to work with an academic advisor from the College of Nursing so they can determine an appropriate plan of study that will allow them to complete their BSN and MSN. To graduate from the RN to BSN to MSN program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, students must earn a minimum grade of a "B" on all graduate-level courses and complete their MSN within 5 years.

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18 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, Utah $5,780 1% - 19% N/A No No Yes

Western Governors University offers an online Master of Science in Nursing Education that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. This program is designed for registered nurses who would like teach and train nursing students, nurses, school children, parents and community organizations. It consists of 37 courses and is typically completed in 1 to 4 years. Advanced Professional Roles and Values, Essentials of Advanced Nursing Practice Field Experience and Evolving Roles of Nurse Educators in Diverse Environments are a few examples of the courses in this curriculum. Students who would like to pursue this degree are required to hold an associate degree or diploma in nursing and must be a current registered nurse license. Prospective students must also submit a resume and be working as a nurse at the time they apply. Since nurses are typically busy and tend to have unpredictable schedules, this online program allows nurses to study and complete tests at times that fit their schedule. It focuses on competency-based education, which measures success by learning rather than class time. How quickly students learn, the time they devote to studying and their previous knowledge will all determine how a student progresses through a course. All students will receive access to a program mentor who will guide them from their first day up until they graduate. After completing the Master of Science in Nursing Education, students will be prepared to work in hospitals, schools, community agencies, business and a variety of other environments. Western Governors University Master of Science Nursing Education graduates can be seen teaching and training at Kaiser-Permanente, Purdue University, University of Utah and Hospice Care of California.

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19 University of North Carolina at Charlotte Charlotte, North Carolina $3,737 28% 1% 58% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte gives students the opportunity to pursue an RN to MSN. This program can be completed entirely online and is designed for nurses who would like to further their careers. Students in this program can specialize in community public health nursing, nursing administration or nursing education. The community public health nursing specialization teaches students how to develop community-based nursing interventions, while the nursing administration specialization prepares students for administrative positions such as nurse executive or nurse manager. Students who opt for the nursing education specialization gain the knowledge and skills necessary to teach nursing. To enroll in the RN to MSN program, prospective students must meet all the admission criteria for the RN-BSN program, have 1 year of professional nursing experience and write a statement of purpose that describes their experience and the reason they'd like to pursue a master's degree in nursing. Additionally, prospective students must hold a current registered nurse license and earn at least a "C" in all required prerequisites. A few examples of the core courses in the RN to MSN program include Design and Coordination of Care, Health Policy and Planning in the U.S. and Theoretical Foundations of Nursing. While the nursing education specialization is 39 credits, nursing administration is 36 credits and community public health nursing can be completed in 38 credits. All courses are delivered through Canvas, a learning management system that allows students to access course content, submit assignments, participate in discussions and take exams in a secure online environment.

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20 Lamar University Beaumont, Texas $5,664 20% 1% 38% N/A Yes Yes Yes

Lamar University's streamlined online RN to MSN program is for current registered nurses who wish to advance their practice in nursing and enter nursing administration or nurse education. The program strives to give students a foundation in strategic management in a health care setting - teaching methodologies, ensuring patient safety through safe and healthy work environments for nurses and, overall, delivering quality care. All graduates of the program will earn their bachelor's in nursing and can complete the program in either the Nurse Administration or the Nurse Education concentration. By pursuing what the program calls an RN-MSN articulation track, the program eliminates 9 credit hours that would be taken if students completed their BSN and MSN separately. Both concentrations require the completion of 56 credit hours of master's level coursework (29 of those credits go toward the BSN). Some of the core courses in each track are the same including Comprehensive Holistics Health Assessment, Theoretical Foundations and Advanced Nursing Issues. Some courses are track-specific such as the Marketing Concepts and Health Information Systems for the Administration track and Curriculum Design and Nurse Educator Practicum for the Education track. Nursing students are also eligible to apply for over a dozen scholarship programs specific to nursing students pursuing their degree full-time. Graduates of the program often go on to careers in executive leadership, training and staff development, nurse education or facility administration.

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21 University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona $10,160 74% 1% 63% N/A Yes Yes Yes

University of Arizona's online RN to MSN program provides an accelerated approach to career advancement for current registered nurses. Students with an associate in nursing can complete the 11 required courses in as few as 24 months if enrolled full time, and students entering the program with a bachelor's can complete the required 8 courses in as few as 15 months. Courses are offered in a 7-week online format. Full-time students typically take 2 courses per term totalling 6 courses per year to complete at an accelerated pace. However, because most students are full-time practicing nurses, the online courses may be paced out in the best way for the student. The master's program is in Nursing Clinical Systems Leadership and the upper-level courses are not focused on clinical practice, but more on health systems. The program touts coursework that builds on students' existing nursing knowledge and skills and can be applied directly to day-to-day nursing and health practice to position students for leadership positions. Examples of courses include Foundations of Systems Leadership, Population Health, Health Care Business Dynamics and Health Promotion and Risk Reduction. Coursework for students entering with an associate also include classes that would typically be covered in a BSN undergraduate program. Incoming students must have passed a 3-credit, college-level statistics course prior to beginning the program (this may be completed at the beginning of the program in addition to other course requirements). Many graduates from the program go on to pursue careers in nurse leadership in positions such as as clinical care coordinators, nurse educators, patient navigators and quality and safety coordinators.

School website
22 Texas Woman's University Denton, Texas $4,950 48% 1% 47% N/A Yes Yes Yes

Texas Woman's University offers a streamlined program for current registered nurses to advance their careers while continuing to work full time through the online RN-MS program. Because the program leads to both a bachelor's and master's degree, prospective students receive concurrent admission to the College of Nursing. To complete the bachelor's in nursing, students must earn 120 undergraduate credit hours total. However, 60 of those credits must be completed before admission and may be transferred from the associate degree program. Once students have earned their BSN, they may choose from 4 clinical specialties: Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Educator, Nurse Practitioner and Health Systems Management with a business or health care administration minor (each 40-46 credit hours of study). Each of the tracks requires up to 22 required nursing core courses which range from more practice-based courses for the Nurse Practitioner track (e.g. Advanced Pathophysiology and Pharmacotherapeutics for Advanced Nursing Practice) to theory, policy or research courses for the Nursing Health Systems Management or Nursing Education programs (e.g. Health Policy & Health Promotion and Research & Quality Improvement in Nursing). A unique aspect of the program for students who have participated in prior continuing education courses are the "challenge exams." For several upper-level courses (e.g. Introduction to Nursing Research, The RN Nursing Experience with Families and Groups and Promoting Wellness in the Aging Family), students may submit proof of prior coursework in the subject or evidence of work experience in that subject. The specific requirements depend on the course.

School website
23 University of South Alabama Mobile, Alabama $7,248 57% 1% 42% N/A Yes Yes Yes

The University of South Alabama's College of Nursing touts itself as an early adopter to online nursing education. With a variety of programs to choose from, they offer a flexible program for registered nurses to achieve their bachelor's and master's in one program, the RN to BSN/MSN Pathway. The program is designed in phases for diploma and associate degree RNs. The first phase of the pathway is the undergraduate track where students follow the RN to BSN track which includes 19 courses (62 semester hours) of standard bachelor's prerequisites and a professional component (31 of the total BSN semester hours), which includes courses such as Concepts of Professional Nursing, Accelerated MSN Advanced Pathophysiology and Community Health. Many of the assignments in the professional component are practice-based that can be completed in the students' home community and often within their current nursing position. To continue to the MSN pathway, students must apply for BSN graduation. Upon completing the BSN, students move to the second phase of the program, the MSN degree. Within this phase, students may choose from 6 specialties: Informatics (37 credit hours), Nursing Administration (37 credit hours), Clinical Nurse Leader (30 credit hours), Clinical Nurse in Adult/Gerontological Nursing (32 credit hours), Nurse Practitioner Programs (39 credit hours) and Dual Role as Family Nurse Practitioner/Adult-Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (51 credit hours). Students who pursue the nurse practitioner tracks must have 2 years of clinical experience by the time they begin the MSN stage of the program. Students must have a current registered nursing license to be admitted to the program.

School website
24 University of North Alabama Florence, Alabama $6,336 66% 1% 44% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
25 Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania $7,238 6% 1% 66% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
26 Salem State University Salem, Massachusetts $910 53% 1% 49% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
27 Clarkson College Omaha, Nebraska $11,976 58% 1% 17% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
28 Nebraska Methodist College Omaha, Nebraska $13,632 75% - 49% N/A No No Yes School website
29 Clayton State University Morrow, Georgia $3,886 9% - 38% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
30 Georgia College Milledgeville, Georgia $7,180 9% 1% 62% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
31 University of Connecticut Storrs, Connecticut $11,224 56% - 82% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
32 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $17,688 41% 1% 83% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
33 Austin Peay State University Clarksville, Tennessee $6,216 23% 1% 40% N/A No No Yes School website
34 Thomas Edison State University Trenton, New Jersey $6,350 - - - N/A No No Yes School website
35 Georgia State University Atlanta, Georgia $6,846 23% 1% 58% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
36 Charleston Southern University Charleston, South Carolina $24,100 98% 1% 35% N/A No No Yes School website
37 Worcester State University Worcester, Massachusetts $970 50% 1% 55% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
38 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Lubbock, Texas $5,890 - - - N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
39 Lourdes University Sylvania, Ohio $19,920 95% 1% 34% N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
40 Goodwin College East Hartford, Connecticut $19,500 96% - - N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
41 Allen College Waterloo, Iowa $16,464 - - - N/A Yes Yes Yes School website
42 Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing Peoria, Illinois $18,850 - - - N/A No No Yes School website
43 University of Maryland, Baltimore Baltimore, Maryland $8,496 - - - N/A Yes Yes Yes School website

Online RN to MSN Programs Degree Search Tool

After working as a nurse for a few years, RNs may decide they want to open themselves up to advanced positions and higher earning potential. Online RN to MSN programs are a great option for this goal. Like other online degrees, these programs allow students to balance personal and professional commitments with a flexible academic schedule. The search tool below highlights programs with these features while also taking into account other important considerations such as specializations, program success, clinical rotations, and faculty experience.

Understanding the RN to MSN Online Program

The overarching goal of RN to MSN programs is to equip registered nurses with the knowledge and skills to positively impact and improve health outcomes. These roles may be in both direct care practice roles (e.g., Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator, Clinical Nurse Leader) and indirect healthcare roles (e.g., Health Informatics, Community Health, Clinical Research, Program Management). To that end, graduate nursing education in RN to MSN programs is founded upon three core educational areas: nursing core coursework, direct patient care instruction, and specialized area content.

Meet the Expert: Keith Carlson

Keith Carlson is a Board Certified Nurse Coach who works under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, where he helps nurses create satisfying, healthy, and enriching careers. A nurse since 1996, Carlson also writes the award-winning nursing blog, “Digital Doorway”, and is the co-founder and co-host of RNFM Radio.

  • Nursing Core

    The nursing core includes curricula in broad, foundational areas of nursing that are essential for nurses, regardless of their area of practice.

  • Direct Patient Care

    Direct patient care includes coursework and hands-on instruction required to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to provide advanced levels of direct patient services.

  • Specialized Area

    These are clinical and educational experiences defined by an area of practice for specific nursing functions (e.g., Family Health, Pediatrics, etc.).

The sections below provide a deeper dive into the core components mentioned above, including program expectations, curricula, and specialized learning tracks.

The RN to MSN Student Profile

The RN to MSN opens the door to professional opportunities in nursing for the non-traditional learner. These programs are designed to be flexible and customizable, meeting the needs of students from nearly every background and area of practice. For example, consider the stories of the following three RN to MSN students:

Student profile #1
Nancy P

Nancy is a pediatric nurse with an associate degree and nine years of experience as a nurse at her local hospital. Building upon her professional knowledge, Nancy can enroll in an online RN to MSN program to facilitate the development of an advanced skill set that translates to her ultimate career goal of becoming a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) and opening her own private practice.

Student profile #1
John A

John holds a bachelor’s degree in education, but wants to pivot his career and move into nurse education. Using his background in teaching and curriculum development, John can pursue a Nurse Educator specialty track in an online RN to MSN program to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to transition into a nursing education role in his local community.

Student profile #1
Marsha W

A registered nurse with an associate degree and 15 years of experience in a home health agency, Marsha can enroll in an online RN to MSN program for professional development in administration, finance, management, and leadership, and thus gain entry into administrative and managerial roles in the home health industry.

RN to MSN Tools

Graduates of master’s degree programs in nursing build upon their entry-level nursing practice education, skills, and expertise. This level of training provides students with a greater understanding of the nursing discipline, positioning them to engage in advanced patient care practice, leadership, and nursing management. To that end, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has defined nine essentials of learning that students in master’s nursing programs acquire. This knowledge and skills set can be considered the core fundamentals of what RN to MSN programs provide to students.

Essential Knowledge/Skill What is Learned
Evidence-Based Nursing Practice Ability to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge–nursing, public health, social and biological science, organizational theory–to improvement of patient care across healthcare settings.
Quality Improvement & Safety Understanding of quality improvement, organizational and performance management, quality standards, tools, and methods.
Organizational & Systems Leadership Organizational and leadership skills in relationship to providing advanced patient care, especially from a decision-making, ethical, and health systems perspective.
Integrating Scholarship into Practice Research-based skills that can be applied in a variety of healthcare practice settings.
Informatics & Healthcare Technology Knowledge of contemporary technology and communication technologies that are used to coordinate, deliver, and measure patient care.
Health Policy & Advocacy Understanding of modern healthcare trends and policy issues, including advocacy, patient intervention, policy creation, and implementation.
Clinical Prevention and Intervention Broad knowledge of the concepts of clinical prevention and delivery, including organizational- and client-centered care through strategic planning, management, and evaluation, to varying patient populations.
Master’s Level Nursing Practice Advanced understanding of nursing science and practice, aligned with the ability to translate that knowledge into direct patient care and indirect care factors.
Collaboration for Health Outcome Improvement Leadership, communication, and collaboration skills to coordinate, implement, and manage patient care within varied health care settings.

Coursework

Exact course titles will vary greatly between schools and programs, but in general, the following are topics and areas that most online RN to MSN programs cover:

Nursing Research

An introduction to quantitative and qualitative research theories and methodologies specifically for nurses. The course emphasizes critical analysis of nursing and health care research so that students can effectively evaluate and apply principles. Strong focus will be placed on research design, sampling, data collection, and ethics.

Human Anatomy and Physiology

An integrative approach to the study of physiology and human anatomy. This course reviews the fundamentals of body systems, including research into cell biology, nervous and muscular systems, and biochemistry.

Principles of Professional Nursing

An introduction into the role of the professional nurse and the provision of direct patient care. This class reviews the history of nursing, as well as its overall organization and structure within the U.S. healthcare system.

Nursing Ethics

A review of the ethical issues within both the nursing profession and the healthcare system. Students discuss ethical principles and study ethical dilemmas, values, and beliefs, thus gaining an understanding of how they apply to clinical experience and practice.

Clinical Practice Foundations

A course that introduces students to the nursing process, ranging from assessment to evaluation in patient care settings. Through a blend of classroom- and clinically-based instruction and practice, students develop knowledge of, and experience in, client-centered nursing.

Organizational Behavior

The study of the various theoretical organizational models of both healthcare systems and the delivery of care. Students gain an understanding of the underlying conceptual framework of nursing management, developing skills in leadership, communication, and decision-making.

Role of the Advanced Nurse Practitioner

A comprehensive overview of the nurse’s position within the U.S. healthcare system in relation to healthcare delivery and its stakeholders, such as patients, consumers, government agencies, insurance companies, etc. Students develop insight into health planning, healthcare economics, and resource management.

Outcome Measures and Quality Improvement

A multifaceted examination of both client outcomes and methods for quality improvement in various healthcare environments and settings, this course teaches students about varying measurement tools and research methods.

U.S. Healthcare Systems

In this course, students explore contemporary trends in healthcare, and the managerial implications facing healthcare leaders, focusing on areas such as communication, leadership, and team-building skills. Other subjects of study may include conflict resolution, ethics, financial operations, and outcomes management.

Health Assessment

This course offers students the opportunity to develop keen assessment skills in multiple health and patient care settings.

Specialties or Tracks

The master’s in nursing can expand the career potential of registered nurses, positioning them for a range of opportunities in advanced nursing care. Benefits include greater career flexibility, increased earning potential, and expanded autonomy. Whether the goal is to move into nursing administration and leadership, or provide primary care to patients, the master’s degree is the first step in achieving that goal.

Broadly, the curriculum of MSN programs is generalist in nature. However, prospective students can customize their course of study, concentrating their online RN to MSN program in specialty educational tracks. Below is a list of popular specializations that MSN students may consider.

Family Nurse Practitioner

One of the most common educational tracks at the master’s level, Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) programs examine foundations of nursing theory and research, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of evidence-based nursing practice. The curricula of these programs focus on enhancing the assessment and primary patient care skills of the advanced nurse practitioner.

Students develop proficiency in family-oriented care, working in preventative and direct patient treatment of individuals, ranging from infants to aging adults. A flexible course of study, FNPs graduate their programs able to work in a multitude of healthcare settings, including private practice, hospitals, correctional facilities, health departments, medical offices, and other settings.

Healthcare Leadership

This advanced area of practice prepares students for leadership roles in milieus across today’s 21st-century healthcare system. Healthcare leadership programs cover the foundational principles of healthcare management, specifically focused on the delivery of health services.

Curricula include the in-depth study of topics such as quality and outcomes measurement and improvement, human resources, health informatics, resource allocation, patient safety, evidence-based nursing practice, and other subjects. Students develop a breadth of professional knowledge and skills that translate to administrative and managerial positions in both clinical and health-based organizations, ranging from hospitals and outpatient care clinics, to corporate organizations and ambulatory care centers.

Nurse Educator

Continual training and skill development are vital to nurse career advancement, but they are also cornerstones of providing quality nursing care. In Nurse Educator graduate tracks, students gain the knowledge and skills required to facilitate that training and expertise in other nurses.

Curricula focus on two specific areas: the foundations of nursing education, and clinical education. First, students study the principles of education—student learning assessment and curriculum development—generating competencies in the creation, implementation, and evaluation of nursing education programs. Secondly, students specialize in a clinical area of practice, using direct care practicums as a method to gain an understanding of how to translate experience in the field into classroom-based learning.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

The fundamental role of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) is to provide quality, evidence-based care to patients ranging from birth to 21 years of age.

In these educational tracks, the curricula include primary pediatric care and advanced clinical care skills through both hands-on training and didactic instruction. Students study topics such as advanced health assessment, clinical reasoning, issues in pediatric care, and more. Graduates from these programs can pursue multiple career avenues in settings such as private practice, K-12 schools, or community health agencies.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

The goal of Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) educational tracks is to prepare nurses to provide primary care to women of all ages and backgrounds.

Through a combined program of study–clinical and didactic–students explore topics specific to women, such as hormone therapy, family planning, well-woman care, breast health, and more. By developing advanced knowledge and skills in this area, graduates have the opportunity to serve patients in settings such as family planning clinics, prenatal clinics, private practice, women’s health clinics, home health agencies, and more.

In addition to the five common MSN tracks mentioned above, students may also consider specializations in areas including the following:

  • Gerontology
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Palliative Care
  • Mental Health
  • Midwifery
  • Neonatal Care
University of Florida
  • Enrollment: 20,747
  • Tuition: $12,642
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Florida
  • Master of Science in Nursing - Clinical Nurse Leader
Ohio State University
  • Enrollment: 15,412
  • Tuition: $12,425
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Ohio
  • Master of Science in Nursing
Western Governors University
  • Enrollment: 14,731
  • Tuition: $6,790
  • College Type: Private
  • State: Utah
  • Master of Science in Nursing Leadership And Management (RN to MSN Option)
  • Master of Science in Nursing Education (RN to MSN Option)

Online RN to MSN Timeline

Prospective students should exercise due diligence regarding their research of online RN to MSN programs prior to making a decision. While specializations and curricula are part of an in-depth review of each department, taking a step back to get a high-level, comprehensive overview of each particular program can assist students in gaining a clear understanding of the differences and potential benefits of each university’s nursing department and online program. The first step in this process is to develop a complete degree timeline, one that includes thorough research, application requirements, as well as the curriculum plan for the general RN to MSN and specialty requirements.

Program Research

Registered nurses considering online RN to MSN programs should begin the research process as early as possible, especially since they may need to spend time completing program requisites and gathering application materials.

Program research begins by developing a target list of online RN to MSN programs, and then collecting data to review for each potential program of study. The areas to review include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books, technology purchases, travel)
  • Total credits required for graduation
  • Faculty background and experience
  • Online learning format (hybrid, on-campus, synchronous, asynchronous)
  • Residency or campus visit requirements
  • Clinical practicum requirements
  • Site placement process for clinical practicums
  • Online learning technology requirements
  • Available degree concentrations and specializations

Additionally, students may wish to create a spreadsheet listing each university’s application process and requirements, covering areas such as the following:

  • Minimum GPA requirements
  • Standardized testing scores (MAT, GRE, etc.)
  • Application fees
  • Deadlines for application submission
Application Preparation

Each university has varying admission requirements for their online RN to MSN programs. However, there are some commonly shared requirements including:

  • Associate of Science in Nursing or diploma from an accredited program
  • Undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0
  • Active, unencumbered registered nursing license

Aside from those three minimum requirements, prospective MSN students may also be asked to submit a variety of application documentation, including, but not limited to:

  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Curriculum Vitae or resume
  • Letters of Reference
  • GRE or Miller Analogies Test scores
  • Written professional statement of interest
  • Online nursing application
  • Application fees

The timeline below describes a hypothetical plan for a 65-credit, five-semester RN to MSN online program with a Family Nurse Practitioner specialty track of study. The timeline is for a student entering the program with an Associate of Science in Nursing degree. The curriculum is divided between 26 “bridge” or pre-specialty classes and three additional semesters of FNP coursework.

Year 1 RN-to-MSN Bridge Coursework

The first year of the online RN to MSN program involves the completion of a series of bridge classes. These classes are typically undergraduate prerequisites designed to prepare students for advanced graduate work during the final portion of their studies. Common topics of study include statistics, health assessment, nursing research, pharmacology, nursing ethics, and critical thinking.

Semester 1
  • Introduction to Health Assessment
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Critical Thinking and Evidence-Based Nursing
  • Introduction to Health Care Systems
Semester 2
  • Principles of Research
  • Introduction to Statistics
  • Pharmacology
  • Human Behavior
  • Nursing Ethics
Years 2 and Year 3 Family Nurse Practitioner Coursework

The final two years of the program are spent exclusively completing specialty training to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. This program of study includes both classroom-based instruction and hands-on clinical rotations.

Curricula broadly cover the foundational knowledge and responsibilities of advanced practice nursing, including topics such as clinical reasoning, advanced health assessment, healthcare improvement, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and primary care.

The first portion of the final two years concentrate on core Family Nurse Practitioner courses, transitioning to advanced, industry-specific training.

Throughout the final two semesters, students usually complete a series of clinical practicums in several different areas of practice, such as family healthcare, pediatrics, children and adolescents, and adult and geriatric care. The length of each practicum varies by specific program, but most typically range between 90 and 120 hours per clinical rotation.

Semester 3
  • Foundations of Healthcare Improvement
  • Contemporary Healthcare Issues
  • Clinical Reasoning and Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Principles of Pathophysiology
Semester 4
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Primary Care Competencies
  • Advanced Nursing Health Assessment
  • Practicum in Primary Family Care
  • Advanced Nursing Practice – Women's Health
  • Advanced Nursing Practice – Adult & Geriatrics
Semester 5
  • Practicum in Primary Care – Children & Adolescents
  • Practicum in Primary Care – Adult & Geriatrics
  • Clinical Decision Making and Research
  • Practicum in Primary Family Care
  • Clinical Foundations for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety

One major factor not to be overlooked is program length. In short, students should remember that they may be required to complete between two to three additional semesters of RN to MSN coursework before enrolling in advanced specialty classes.

For example, some online RN to MSN programs allow students to enter the program with an associate or bachelor’s degree. Students with an associate degree may need to finish two semesters of bridge coursework—which is equivalent to a baccalaureate sequence of courses—subsequent to enrolling in MSN classes.

Depending on the program, students with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field may be required to complete a pre-specialty program of study that may encompass approximately one year of coursework prior to enrolling in MSN classes

What Does a Great RN to MSN Online Program Offer?

The role of online RN to MSN programs is to offer educational paths for non-traditional students and learners to complete progressive educational studies in preparation to enter clinical, research, and academic-based nursing roles. Due to nursing’s broad scope, online master’s degrees in nursing allow students to craft customized programs of study that align with their future career goals. Indeed, students should pursue RN to MSN programs that offer a solid combination of generalist and specialized concentrations.

Online RN to MSN programs are typically designed to complement and mirror their on-campus counterparts. Typically, students can complete their didactic program of study through online learning, coupled with in-person clinical practicums completed in their local area. Depending on the institution, RN to MSN programs may be offered through asynchronous (self-paced) or synchronous (requires scheduled participation) online learning formats. Prospective students should ensure they are familiar and comfortable with online learning, as well as review the support services for distance learning that the department and university provide.

Regarding program quality, students should review the curricula of not only their designed specialization, but also the entire RN to MSN program at their school of choice. They should seek universities that provide a solid blend of theoretical, classroom-based learning, and clinical practicums that offer extensive, profession-based skill development.

Below are four additional indicators of quality that students may consider prior to enrolling in a program.

  • Program Success

    Success is determined by three major criteria: 1) the graduation rate; 2) the job placement rate for graduates from the RN to MSN program; and, 3) student support. Quality RN to MSN programs should make these numbers available, offering insight into the types of jobs their nursing graduates secure following completion of the program. Finally, online programs should provide personal online learning support services, including advisors who guide students through their educational experience—from admission to graduation.

  • Clinical Rotations

    For students on a clinical educational track, clinical proficiency is a central focus of an online RN to MSN program. Designed to improve the nurse’s assessment, diagnosis, and intervention skills, clinical practicums allow students to translate their evidence-based instruction into practice across a variety of healthcare settings. It is important to note that not all online programs will be able to arrange clinical placements in all geographic locations. Students should confirm that their chosen practicum site can accommodate a clinical placement before enrolling.

  • Faculty Experience

    An experienced faculty is the driving force behind a successful RN to MSN degree program. The best programs boast a robust combination of faculty members across a variety of nursing specialties, roles, and areas of practice.

  • DNP Preparation

    For some RN to MSN students who wish to continue their studies at the doctoral level, the MSN is not a terminal degree. Such students must first ensure that the MSN and its associated educational tracks are recognized by the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs to which the student may wish to apply.

Interview with an Online RN to MSN Student

Stephanie R. graduated in 2008 with an associate degree in nursing, and has worked as a pediatric nurse for the past seven years. Recently, she realized that her greatest desire was to work in primary care as a Family Nurse Practitioner, so she enrolled in an online RN to MSN program. Currently in her second year, Stephanie shared her thoughts on her educational experience, the challenges of juggling multiple responsibilities, and why she is pursuing a career in family health.

Q&A with Stephanie R.

Why did you choose your program?

I chose my online MSN program for a variety of reasons: degrees offered, school reputation, location, and cost. Before beginning my master’s program, I knew I wanted to be a Family Nurse Practitioner, so it was important that my university offered this option. Also, I wanted to stay close to home for the support of my parents and family while attending school. Lastly, my local university offered a competitive program for an affordable price. My selection has turned out to be a great choice. I’ve been very happy with my education and clinical preparation, and the support from my faculty.

What has the MSN coursework been like?

As a fulltime student, I spend a minimum 40 hours per week on school-related work, including assignment completion, study time, and clinical rotations.

Could you describe your clinical rotations?

I have had wonderful experiences in my clinical rotations. In my program, rotations begin during the second term, and continue until graduation. The student is expected to contact and contract with individual nurse practitioners throughout the community each semester. The number of required hours per semester is 240, which equates to approximately two to three days per week. The program total is 780 hours. The first semester consisted mainly of “shadowing” the preceptor, but as I became more confident, I eventually assumed the role of nurse practitioner (e.g. I would complete the exam, assessment, plan, and documentation under my preceptor’s supervision).

What's been the biggest challenge of the program to date?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is finding balance in my life. In addition to being a wife and mother of two small children, I work part-time and go to school full-time. Each one of these factors is very demanding and deserving of my full attention. So, like many of my classmates in similar positions, I’ve had to create a schedule and routine that maximizes my time and energy, all the while reminding myself that graduation is not far out of reach.

What are your post-graduation career goals?

I plan to work as a primary care provider in a family practice setting, and I hope to care for patients of all ages and backgrounds.

What advice do you have for prospective online RN to MSN students?

If a student is interested in a more autonomous role than that of a registered nurse, I strongly recommend pursuing a graduate degree. Graduate-level education will increase the student’s clinical competence and confidence. If the student is committed to their education, their preparation will result in high-quality, effective healthcare delivery, fulfilling a great need within their community. Lastly, there are countless opportunities in primary care and specialty fields, and with recent healthcare changes and an ageing population, there’s a great need for more providers.