June 13, 2024

Best RN to MSN Programs | Online Options 2024

What is an RN to MSN Program?

Are you a Registered Nurse (RN) looking to advance your career with a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN)? It’s easier than you think! There are programs available for RNs with ADNs or BSNs, and even non-RNs with Bachelor's degrees in another field.

RN to MSN programs are bridge programs for registered nurses who do not have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, but want to go straight into an MSN program or complete their MSN and BSN at the same time.

These are accelerated programs so that RNs don't have to take the time to complete their BSN and MSN programs separately. This is especially good for RNs who know they want to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) and want to get there as quickly as possible.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Top RN to MSN Online Programs

1.) Messiah University, Mechanicsburg, PA  

Messiah University is a private Christian university located in Pennsylvania. The university offers an online RN to MSN option for nurses with an ADN.

  • Admissions: 
    • Spring: November 15th
    • Summer: March 15th
    • Fall: June 15th
  • Program Length: 2 years 
  • Track Offered: Nursing Education and Nursing Administration
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: 
    • Undergraduate Courses: $400 per credit hour
    • Graduate Courses: $710 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Information: 
    • Phone Number: (717) 766-2511
    • Email Address: gradprograms@messiah.edu

2.) University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

The University of West Florida allows nurses to earn their BSN on their way to earning their MSN. In completing the BSN program, students earn 12 credit hours at the undergraduate rate, which are applied toward their MSN. This program builds on the student's previous nursing training and experience for continued success. It consists of three clinicals over the course of two years. 

  • Admissions: Rolling
  • Program Length: 24 months
  • Track Offered: Nursing Education
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: $425 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Information: 
    • Phone Number: (844) 372-9390
    • Email Address: cohnursing@uwf.edu

3.) Liberty University*, Lynchburg, VA

Liberty University’s* RN to BSN to MSN program offers students five specialization tracks, each with a personalized curriculum. This program is 100% online, allowing students to focus on their current careers while advancing their education. Courses are eight weeks in length, allowing students to move at a fast pace. 

  • Admissions: Applications are accepted twice a year for fall and summer sessions. 
  • Program Length: Two years
  • Track Offered: Nursing Education, Nursing Administration, Nursing Informatics, Health Policy, Community Health
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: $330 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Information: 
    • Phone Number: (800) 424-9595
    • Email Address: luograd@liberty.edu

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

4.) William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey

Designed to be flexible for working RNs, William Paterson University’s MSN programs allow students flexibility in their education. These programs are 100% online and require no in-person visits to the campus. With six start dates, students have increased flexibility to make this program work with work and family commitments. 

  • Admissions: Rolling
  • Program Length: 20 to 24 months, depending on track
  • Track Offered: Nursing Education, Nursing Administration, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: $25,742.30 - $38,080 depending on track
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Phone Number: (833) 960-0139

5.) Sacred Heart University* , Fairfield, CT

Sacred Heart helps students earn their BSN and MSN in an accelerated, online program. Students can transfer up to 90 credits earned at a previous institution toward their degrees. Sacred Heart will launch its RN-MSN FNP and RN-MSN Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner programs for students with an RN starting in Fall 2024.

  • Admissions: Rolling
  • Program Length: 2-6 years
  • Track Offered: Nursing Education, Nursing Management and Executive Leadership, Clinical Nurse Leader, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: $695 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Phone Number: (877) 791-7181

6.) Capella University

Capella University lets students reach their advanced nursing career goals faster with their FlexPath program. Students work at their own pace, determined by their own schedules and needs.  At Capella, students can expect to pay less for their degree the faster they complete it. Capella might not be the best choice for students who need a slower pace and will earn their degree over a longer period of time. 

  • Admissions: Rolling
  • Program Length: 54-66 quarter credit hours, depending on specialization
  • Track Offered: Care Coordination, Nursing Education, Nursing Informatics, and Nursing Leadership and Administration
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: $2,850 per 12-week billing session (FlexPath); $450 per credit (GuidedPath)
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Phone Number: (877) 884-0733

7.) Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, NH

The SNHU RN-to-MSN online program pathway lets students take advanced placement (AP) courses during their BSN and use them to waive courses for certain MSN tracks. This allows RNs to transition from a BSN to an MSN faster.

  • Admissions: Rolling
  • Program Length: 2-4 years
  • Track Offered: Population Healthcare, Family Nurse Practitioner, Healthcare Quality & Safety, Nurse Executive Leadership, and Nursing Education
  • Location: Online with in-person clinical component
  • Program Cost: 
    • BSN Courses: $330 per credit hour
    • MSN Courses: $637 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Information:
    • Phone Number: (888) 387-0861
    • Email Address: nursing@snhu.edu

How to Go From RN to MSN - 3 Ways

MSN degrees are not one size fits all. There are actually a lot of options for nurses, and the best option for you will depend on where you’re starting out. Below are 3 ways to earn your MSN, depending on your starting point.

1. How to Get Your MSN if You Have a Bachelor’s Degree in a Different Field

Known as a direct-entry Master of Science in Nursing MSN, this type of program is designed for people who are interested in getting their MSN but have a Bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. 

Basic requirements: 

  • Bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field
  • Registered Nursing license
  • Minimum required relevant bedside experience 
  • GRE (if required)

2. How to Get Your MSN if You Have an ADN or Diploma RN

If you have your associate degree in nursing, or if you are a diploma RN, you have a couple of different options. Your first is the traditional route, earning your BSN and then applying to an MSN program.

But as we mentioned, there are faster options available where RNs can earn both their BSN and MSN at the same time, known as RN-to-MSN bridge programs. These typically allow RNs to earn their MSN about a year sooner than the traditional route. Some of the shortest RN to MSN online programs last just over a year, though the actual length will vary by school and student.

Basic requirements: 

  • ADN degree or diploma 
  • Registered Nursing license
  • Minimum required relevant bedside experience 
  • GRE (if required)

3. How to Get Your MSN If You’re Currently Working on Your BSN

If you earned or are earning a joint RN/BSN degree, you could continue directly into a BSN to MSN program, or choose to work with your undergraduate degree while pursuing your MSN. 

Basic requirements: 

  • Enrolled in an accredited BSN program
  • Registered Nursing license
  • Minimum required relevant bedside experience 
  • GRE (if required)

Career Options for Nurses Who go from RN to MSN

Earning your MSN opens a ton of doors for nurses. Some of the options for MSN nurses include:

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse Practitioners (NP) can serve as primary or specialty care providers and typically focus their care on a specific population, such as families, children, or the elderly. Nurse Practitioners have more authority than Registered Nurses and in certain states, even have full-practice authority. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average nurse practitioner's salary was $126,260 as of May 2023.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Certified Nurse-Midwives provide health care and wellness care to women, which may include family planning, gynecological checkups, prenatal care, and helping mothers give birth. Although their approach is somewhat different, CNMs in many ways offer similar care to that of an OB/GYN doctor. According to the BLS, CNMs earn, on average, an annual salary of $129,650 as of May 2023.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses who've obtained advanced degrees (a master's degree at minimum) and training in a specialized area of nursing practice. According to ZipRecruiter, as of June 2024, they earn an average annual wage of $94,545.

Nurse Administrator

Nurse Administrators are typically advanced practice registered nurses who've earned at least a master's degree. They manage and oversee the nursing staff in a healthcare facility. ZipRecruiter reports this specialty earns a median salary of $84,334

Nurse Educator

Nurse Educators are MSN-prepared nurses who work in academia. They develop coursework curricula, teach courses, evaluate educational programs, oversee clinical rotations, and conduct research. According to the BLS, the median annual salary as of October 2023 was $84,320 for nurse educators in post-secondary universities. 

>> Show Me Online MSN Programs

Online RN-to-MSN Programs: Should You Get Your MSN Degree Online?

The key difference you should be aware of when choosing an online program for your MSN degree is that with an online degree, you may never actually meet any of your classmates or instructors in person, depending on the specific path you decide to take with your MSN degree.

If you choose an MSN for managerial purposes, for instance, it’s entirely possible that the degree can be done entirely online. If you choose to specialize as a Nurse Practitioner, however, there will be hands-on instruction and clinical hours required in addition to your online coursework.

Most online programs for RN-MSN degrees work as hybrid programs, which means most of your didactic courses will be in an online format, while the clinical portions will take place in person. Some programs have different sites for the clinical programs and some schools even allow students to customize their clinicals for even more convenience, such as finding a local office or clinic to work in.

However, online programs may not be right for every student. Online programs are a popular option for nurses who are trying to go to school while working, live in areas that are not near a school that carries an MSN degree program, or just need some more flexibility because of their family/life obligations.

How Much Can an RN With an MSN Make?

In addition to increased career opportunities, MSN-prepared nurses also can expect a significant pay bump. U.S. News & World Report found that, on average, an RN with a Master’s degree can expect to earn about $20,000/year more than an RN with a two-year, bachelor’s, or equivalent degree. But the exact salary will vary based on the following: 

  • The specialty 
  • Employment setting
  • Full-time or part-time employment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the common MSN roles of Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners as having an average salary of $129,480/year or $62.25/hour. 

What You Need to Get Into a Master's Program: MSN Program Requirements

Although the specific program requirements will vary based on the school and the extra degree you choose, the general requirements to be accepted into an MSN program include: 

  • BSN Degree or an Associate’s Degree in Nursing/Nursing Diploma 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field
  • GPA of at least 3.0
  • Completion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) - if applicable
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Recommendations from colleagues or professors 
  • Statement of Purpose 
  • CV/Resume 
  • Proof of nursing license 
  • Criminal background check upon acceptance
  • Interview

Some schools may also require a certain amount of time working as an RN, such as one to two years, while others with an RN-MSN track may allow you to proceed directly into the program without any RN work experience. Some schools, for instance, allow RN or BSN students to apply for the MSN program while they are still in school. 

Specifically, RN to MSN programs that award an NP or CNS degree will require students to have relevant bedside clinical experience. 

Much like an RN or BSN degree, the MSN degree focuses on core foundational classes before moving on to practicum courses. RN to MSN programs require clinical hours with a licensed preceptor at an approved clinical site. Specific hours will vary based on the specialization.

What to Expect in the RN-to-MSN Program

The exact classes, curriculum, and clinical hours specifications of an MSN degree will vary based on the specific type of program. When enrolling into an MSN program, students will choose the type of pathway they are interested in, whether that be a Management Track, a Public Health Track, or an Advanced Nursing Position track. 

But, in general, a basic, non-specialty MSN program will have around 72 credit hours, with a course load of classes that may include topics such as: 

  • Foundational courses
  • Biostatistics
  • Health concerns across the lifespan
  • Clinical management
  • Pharmacology & pathophysiology
  • Leadership
  • Ethics
  • Research
  • Capstone project

Choosing an RN to MSN Program

There are a variety of things to consider when choosing an RN-to-MSN program -- cost, location, online vs in-person, etc. -- but the most important is accreditation.  

Why is it important to choose an accredited and credentialed program? 

By choosing an accredited MSN program, you'll know that it meets the current highest-quality standards for the degree. Accreditation also means that the school may offer qualifications for federal financial aid for you as a student. And it assures future employers you've received the highest quality training possible. 

If you know that you want to continue onto a DNP program after your MSN degree, you absolutely must graduate from an accredited MSN program. Unaccredited schools may also not be eligible for federal student aid, so if you know you will need federal aid, you’ll need to choose an accredited school. 

The two main accreditation bodies in the United States are as follows:

Should I Get my MSN as an RN?

As an RN considering an MSN degree, the truth is, only you can answer the question if an MSN degree is right for you and beneficial for your career

Earning your MSN may be the best path for you if you are a nurse who, 

  • Has the desire to gain more knowledge and additional skill sets in a specialty field 
  • Strives to further your career with an advanced degree
  • Plans to move into a clinical specialty role, such as an NP or CNM
  • Wishes to advance into a managerial or leadership role
  • Wants to move on to an academic or research-based setting
  • Simply has the desire to gain increased knowledge with more education

The Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree in Nursing

Some of the leading benefits of obtaining your MSN degree after your RN include:

  • Access to advancement opportunities. Getting your MSN is the only way to have access to certain advanced specialty careers in nursing, such as becoming a Nurse Practitioner, a Nurse Anesthetist, or a Nurse-Midwife. You’ll also gain deeper knowledge in your chosen field and serve as a mid-level practitioner for your patients. 

  • Salary increase. With advanced skills and education comes a significant increase in salary. The salary range for a nurse with an MSN degree varies from as low as $60K/year for a nurse manager up to $230K/year as a chief nurse anesthetist. For floor nurses, an MSN degree may not significantly increase your paycheck, but for more advanced positions, the degree will coincide with salary increases. 

  • Tuition reimbursement of an MSN. Depending on what field you choose and what policies your current workplace offers, you may be able to receive reimbursement for getting your MSN. 

  • A step towards a more advanced degree. If you would like to pursue further education beyond your MSN, such as your Doctorate in Nursing, you will need your Master’s as one step in the process. 

  • More career opportunities. Earning your MSN opens the door for further career opportunities, such as managing, teaching, or research positions. 

Earning your MSN may be your pathway to gaining valuable knowledge in your field, increasing your salary, and providing valuable opportunities for career advancement.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

FAQs

  • Do nurses need to have an RN license in the state they are applying to attend an MSN program? 

    • Rules will vary by state and by school, but in general, although you do need to have an active and unencumbered nursing license, it does not have to be in the same state as the school you will be attending. 
  • Is RN to MSN a good idea?

    • Earning your MSN is a big investment of time and money, but for many nurses, it's well worth the effort. With the increased career and salary opportunities, a master's degree in nursing can most definitely be a good idea. 
  • How long does it take to go from RN to MSN?

    • Many of the direct RN-MSN programs can be completed in around two years, although they may take longer for some individuals depending on the type of program and if the program is part or full-time. Many MSN students work part-time or full-time hours while pursuing their degree, so the degree may take additional time if you are working full-time.
  • What can a nurse do with an MSN?

    • Some of the popular options for MSN nurses are becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Nurse Administrator and Nurse Educator. 
  • How much does a nurse with an MSN make?

    • This will depend on a number of factors including your specialty and where you work, but U.S. News & World Report found that an RN with a Master’s degree can earn about $20,000/year more than an RN.
  • Can you go from RN to NP?

    • Yes! Through an RN-to-MSN bridge program, RNs can get their master's degree in nursing and specialize as a nurse practitioner.
  • What is the best MSN degree to get?

    • The best MSN degree will depend on what you specifically want to do. However, some MSN specialties pay more than others, for a list of the highest-paying specialties for MSN-prepared nurses, check out this article. 

 

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