The Guide to Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Programs

If you are a registered nurse (RN) or have recently graduated from a BSN program looking to move your career forward, a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) could be a good option for you. Candidates with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) may have an advantage when it comes to seeking advanced positions in nursing, and some nursing positions, such as APRNs, are only available to these candidates. Many MSN programs are designed to allow students to continue working as they study, so you do not have to worry about taking time off to pursue this degree. Continue reading on to learn how you could earn an MSN online.

Sponsored Online MSN Programs

Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

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 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice


Earn Your MSN Online from Simmons University

Earn an MSN online from Simmons University. Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP — and prepare to raise the standard of patient care.

  • Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP
  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • Full-time and part-time tracks available


Earn Your M.S. in Nursing Online at St. John Fisher University

Earn an M.S. in Nursing online at the Wegmans School of Nursing. Bachelor’s in nursing and RN license-required. 

  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options: PCFNP, PMHNP, AGACNP, AGPCNP


While it is possible to practice nursing without an advanced degree, completing an MSN program online opens up an array of additional pathways for career specializations as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Can You Get an MSN Online?

Schools offering online nursing education programs strive to create distance-learning opportunities that rival their traditional on-campus experiences. These online accredited colleges for nursing degrees provide a variety of digital content and technological support to ensure that coursework is as immersive and engaging as possible.

Students can expect online MSN  programs to include:

  • Cloud-based platforms for accessing and submitting course materials
  • A combination of live and recorded lecture content
  • Interactive and multimedia learning modules
  • Opportunities for digital communication and collaboration with students and faculty
  • Assistance to resolve any technical issues

These hybrid nursing programs make it possible for students to complete the coursework components of an MSN program online since they are self-paced. Students can study in the places and at the times most convenient for them—a huge benefit for practicing nurses whose shifts may not align with typical on-campus course schedules.

Be advised, many MSN degree programs require a certain number of clinical/practicum hours focused on a nurse’s specialization or specializations so that, upon completion, students have the experience to obtain licensure in their chosen fields. These hands-on experiences cannot be replaced by online distance learning. That said, being able to complete the coursework components of a master’s in nursing program online is an undeniable convenience.

Are There Accelerated MSN Programs Online?

An accelerated master’s in nursing program is designed for students who have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to pursue a career in nursing. These BSN to MSN programs can be online and are also for students who are not registered nurses. Accelerated MSN programs, their time commitment, and curriculum will depend on the chosen specialization. 

Clinical rotations are required for these accelerated master’s in nursing programs. Students should prepare for the length of these programs. Also, students may need to take bachelor’s level courses before being admitted to an accelerated MSN program online. Once a student has taken these courses, they may officially begin the BSN to MSN online program. 

MSN Online Program Curriculum

An online nursing master’s degree program is a blend of core nursing courses as well as coursework and practicum experiences tailored to a student’s chosen APRN or NP specialty.

Courses vary by institution, but core coursework for most MSN programs online includes classes like:

  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Health Assessment
  • Health Care Management
  • Health Care Policy
  • Informatics
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Research in Nursing Best Practices

A student’s specialty track and state licensing requirements will determine the remainder of the master’s in nursing degree course load. As mentioned, most specializations will include clinical hours that provide students with hands-on experiences in their chosen fields while also counting toward degree credit hour requirements.

Full-time students with an existing BSN degree can often complete their MSN in two years. Part-time students can expect the MSN degree program to take two to three times longer depending upon their course loads and the required number of clinical hours.

It is worth noting that it is becoming common for schools to offer combination BSN/MSN programs that admit students seeking to complete both degrees in sequence. However, while there may be some courses that can be completed online,many of these accelerated programs are not yet offered both online and on-campus. 

Online Master’s in Nursing Admissions Requirements

A master’s in nursing online program requires students to meet certain criteria before admission. While everyone’s journey into nursing school is different, here are common steps to help guide you: 

  • Candidates can choose a nursing specialty, which includes a certified nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and certified nurse-midwife.
  • Candidates can attend information sessions to compare programs and choose the best MSN school online program for them. 
  • Candidates should make sure they’ve completed the prerequisite coursework. These prerequisites include: for entry-level nursing master’s: a bachelor’s or other graduate degree in a field other than nursing; for registered nurse (RN) to master’s: associate degree in nursing or a related field and RN license; and for a bachelor’s to master’s: bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field.
  • Candidates must also pass entrance exams. 
  • Candidates can expect to provide a letter of recommendation, transcripts, personal essay, letters of intent, and an interview with their application.

Accredited Online MSN Programs, No GRE Required

Some accredited online MSN programs require a GRE before admission, while others do not. If a nurse is applying for an online MSN program that does not require the GRE, he/she can focus on work instead of studying for an exam. 

Online Master of Nursing Specializations

A key part of selecting an online nursing master’s degree program is deciding upon a specialization. This focus area will likely determine a large percentage of the credit hours earned toward the MSN degree as well as what state requirements must be met so the degree can be put to use in the field.

Some online MSN programs require applicants to choose their concentration upon enrollment; others allow some flexibility before a commitment to a particular track must be made. Either way, it helps to have an idea of the concentration you are pursuing when selecting and evaluating a prospective school. There is no guarantee that simply because a school offers an online master’s in nursing, it has the exact concentration or specialization you seek. Similarly, there is no guarantee the experiences in each specialization are of equal quality. Here are some typical areas of specialization:

Why Get an Accredited Online Master of Nursing Degree?

Wondering if nursing school is worth it? Completing an online MSN degree from an accredited online nursing program provides nurses with numerous benefits including:

MSN Careers and Salary Outlook

A career in nursing offers many paths with numerous specializations and concentrations. Those with a master’s in nursing degree are in high demand. With the aging population, increased public reliance on outpatient and urgent care, and shortage of nurses in many areas, nurses of all kinds should continue to enjoy job security.

Licensed Nurse Jobs (LN)

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are entry-level health care professionals that hold a minimum of a postsecondary non-degree certificate. They perform basic medical services under the supervision and direction of more experienced nurses and doctors.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $47,480

Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 11% from 2018-2028, faster than the projected growth of all jobs.

Registered Nurse Jobs (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) typically have more responsibilities and qualifications than LPNs/LVNs. It is possible to have an RN career by either completing a non-degree nursing program, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program, or a BSN program.

Nurses who obtain a master’s degree in nursing or higher are classified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are a distinct class of RNs who possess both an MSN degree and at least a year or more of RN experience. A CNS-certified RN can expect to earn on the higher end of the RN pay scale.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $73,300

Projected job outlook: Employment is expected to grow 12% over 2018-2028, more than double the projected growth of all jobs over the same span.

Nurse Practitioner Jobs (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NPs) provide primary and specialty health care to patients. Their expertise and licenses allow them to diagnose, treat, counsel, and (in some states) prescribe medication. Unlike LNs and most RNs, those with an NP career have the authority to carry out many health care services without the approval of a physician.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $115,800

Note: this figure varies depending upon specialization and industry.

Projected job outlook: Employment for NPs is projected to grow an impressive 26% from 2018-2028.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Jobs (APRN)

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) consist of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. APRN careers require the highest education of all nursing occupations. They also have the highest pay in the nursing sector. APRNs must have a license and a certification before beginning their career.

2019 Median Annual Pay: $115,800

Note: this figure varies depending upon specialization and industry.

Projected job outlook: Employment for NPs is projected to grow 26% from 2018-2028. 

Online Master of Science in Nursing Program FAQ

Here are some answers to questions frequently asked by students who are interested in an online Master of Science in Nursing program:

How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Nursing Online?

It depends on the school but, generally, it takes two years or longer to complete a program. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing lists programs by state so students can learn more about program length.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse if You Already Have a Bachelor’s?

Students who have a bachelor’s degree and want to become a nurse need to prepare for one to three years of curriculum/field experience before beginning their career. A BSN-to-master’s in nursing online and its duration will depend on the chosen specialization. Becoming a nurse-midwife can take one to two years; becoming a nurse practitioner could take one to three years along with one to two years of field experience. Before committing to a BSN-to-MSN online program, students should research the best fit for them. 

How Much Does an Online Master’s in Nursing Education Cost?

The average cost per credit for an online master’s in nursing is around $950, although it can be as low as $300. Some institutions are even higher per credit. Overall, MSN tuition can be $18,000 to $57,000. Students should spend time researching the best fit for their financial needs. Private school MSN tuition tends to be on the higher end for those who are considering going private versus public.

Where Can You Work With an Online Nursing Master’s Degree?

An online MSN can provide you with the same opportunities of an on-campus program. Students with an MSN can work in a hospital, doctor’s office, psychiatry practice, or in a nursing care facility where they may be able to diagnose patients, prescribe medications, and give comprehensive exams. Each nursing career and occupation setting comes with different salary expectations. Salaries can also vary from state to state. 

Find the Best Online MSN Program For You

In searching for the best online accredited colleges for nursing, it’s important to take into account the clinical and credit hours necessary to complete the program and any GRE requirements. These factors, among many others, can help students decide which online nursing programs are best suited to their needs.

Last Updated August 2020