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Best Online RN to MSN Programs For 2022

Written By: Editorial Staff @

RN to MSN programs are gateways for registered nurses with associate’s degrees who want to attain their Master’s of Nursing Science (MSN) degree without having to go back to school to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). This track primarily opens up professional opportunities in nursing informatics, nursing administration, or nursing education. If you’re interested in attaining an advanced practice nursing credential, once you finish your MSN through one of these programs, you can easily pursue a nurse practitioner certificate program. Enrolling in one of the many RN to MSN programs online this year or next will enable you to save time and money in the long run. Keep reading if you want to learn more about the best online RN to MSN programs.

What Exactly Is the Goal of an RN to MSN Degree Program?

RN to MSN programs are specifically designed to be a shortcut for RNs with two-year degrees who want to earn the credentials and the skills necessary to take their career to the next level. With a two-year degree, in all likelihood, you will never advance beyond floor nursing. A BSN will give you some career flexibility but not as much as an MSN. So, why not go for it?

There are two types of online RN to MSN programs:

• Bridge programs:

Bridge RN to MSN programs are designed for registered nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. These nurses have already taken the required general undergraduate education courses and may not have to repeat them.

• Traditional programs:

Traditional RN to MSN programs are aimed at nurses who have graduated from community colleges or hospital diploma programs. In addition to coursework in the bachelor’s and master’s tracks, these nurses will most likely need to earn general undergraduate education credits.

5 Reasons Why Registered Nurses Must Get Their MSN Degree

The American economy has taken a major hit during the coronavirus pandemic, but the demand for nurses remains high. With a degree from one of the best RN to MSN programs online, you’ll be able to take better advantage of the many opportunities available to RNs who are at the top of their game. An MSN degree will enable you to:

1. Earn more money:

Many nursing jobs associated with the MSN track offer six-figure salaries, which is a considerable bump up from the average salary earned by a floor nurse.

2. Work better hours:

As a floor nurse, you are expected to work every other weekend. Nurses with MSNs go on to work either in advanced practice, clinical education, or healthcare management, and these career tracks commonly adhere to a 40-hour work week. Working more regular hours will allow you to spend more time with your family.

3. Prolong your professional career:

In 2011, the incidence of OSHA-recordable injuries and illnesses among hospital workers was higher than it was among construction workers. Nurses who work on hospital wards routinely deal with exposure to infectious disease, back injuries, needle sticks, and exposure to toxic substances. Even if you don’t get injured, though, floor nursing is a physically demanding career because you are always on your feet. As an MSN-prepared administrative nurse, you will be exposed to fewer potential hazards, and it’s likely you’ll spend a significant amount of time behind a desk.

4. Explore more career options:

Whether you decide to become a clinical specialist, an administrative healthcare leader, a researcher, an educator, or a public health expert, as an MSN-prepared nurse, you’ll have numerous opportunities.

5. Remain in demand:

The need for nurses with administrative training has never been higher. An MSN education will prepare you to take on leadership roles in whatever professional circumstances you find yourself in as you continue your nursing career.

Online RN to MSN Programs VS. Traditional RN to MSN Programs: Pros & Cons

It’s true that there was once a time that online nursing education didn’t command the same respect as campus education, but those days are long over. RN to MSN programs online that have been accredited either by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are in every way equivalent to the face-to-face learning that takes place in university classrooms. ACEN and CCNE are programmatic accreditation agencies that are officially recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. So long as you are attending an ACEN- or CCNE-accredited school, you can be confident in the quality of your MSN education.

There are other advantages to RN to MSN online programs as well. When you enroll in a distance learning program, you take full control of your own schedule. You can keep working a full-time or part-time job, and you can continue fulfilling your family responsibilities. If you have young children in the home, you can plan your class and study time around their schedules. Online classes are often significantly less expensive than their campus counterparts, and you’ll save on extras like transportation costs (including car maintenance), and room and board.

Your relationships with your professors and fellow classmates may pose more of a dilemma, however. A physical classroom offers many more opportunities to build rapport with those around you. As a student in one of the many online RN to MSN programs, you will have to be proactive in taking advantage of electronic chat, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other digital communication channels that are open to you. Additionally, studying at your own pace may prove to be a challenge for students who aren’t self-starters. If you’re a procrastinator by nature, you may be tempted to postpone lessons, assignments, and studying if you’re enrolled at an online school.

How Long Are Online RN to MSN Programs?

Most RN to MSN online programs typically entail 60 to 120 credits, which will take between 30 and 48 months to complete. These discrepancies in length reflects the fact that different clinical specialties may require different numbers of clinical hours. Additionally, compliance with licensing requirements may vary from state to state.

Students who enroll in the University of Pittsburg’s RN-to-MSN nursing informatics or clinical nurse leader specializations, for example, can expect to spend their first year taking coursework equivalent to classes they would take to earn a BSN. Thereafter, prospective MSN candidates who are working toward a nursing informatics specialty must earn 38.5 credits while students specializing in a clinical nurse leader specialization must earn 42 credits.

Students pursuing clinical nurse leader, health system management, and public health nursing MSN specialties through Drexel University’s RN to MSN program must complete 45 credits while students in the nursing education and quality assurance MSN tracks must complete 46 credits.

The University of Central Florida requires RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to take nine credits of classes as prerequisites before they will be admitted into the university’s MSN program. Thereafter, both the Leadership and Management specialty and the Nurse Educator specialty can be completed in five semesters by full-time students and seven semesters by part-time students.

How Much Do RN to MSN Online Programs Cost?

Graduate nursing degree programs are expensive, and the best online RN to MSN programs are no exception to that rule. You can expect to spend anywhere between $22,070 and $231,600 earning your degree. Private universities tend to be more expensive than state-subsidized schools, and many universities offer discounted tuition to residents of their own states even when courses are offered online. Some schools will also charge you for the malpractice insurance you’ll need in order to participate in clinical rotations.

Ball State University charges a tuition rate of $339 per credit for Indiana residents who are taking between 1 and 11 credits in conjunction with one of the university’s RN to MSN online programs; out-of-state residents must pay $551 per credit. Students who are taking 12 to 18 credits per semester, however, will be charged a flat fee of $4,069 on top of which Indiana residents will be charged $25 per credit and non-residents will be charged $237 per credit. Students taking more than 18 credits will be charged the same flat fee, but Indiana residents will pay an additional $339 for each credit over 18 while non-residents will pay $551 for each credit over 18.

The University of North Carolina is another school that charges state residents less than out-of-state residents. North Carolina residents pursuing one of its RN to MSN online programs will pay $20,348 their first year, $29,707 their second year, and $11,745 their third year; this amount includes tuition, and insurance and safety fees. Out-of-state students will spend considerably more: Their first-year tuition and insurance costs will amount to $33,642, which will rise to $51,862 the second year before decreasing to $20,607 in Year 3.


Online RN to MSN programs follow the same curriculum guidelines as traditional, campus-based RN to MSN programs. Many schools allow students to apply selected course credits towards both bachelor’s and master’s degree requirements, reducing the number of total credits required. After all, BSN and MSN degree programs tend to have overlapping coursework requirements to some extent: The same general education classes and introductory nursing courses may be required in both the baccalaureate and master’s level nursing degree programs. RN to MSN programs streamline their educational requirements by eliminating such redundancies.

Once general education and introductory nursing courses are out of the way, the curriculum will be very similar to a standard BSN to MSN program with the caveat that RN to MSN programs seem to offer more specialties with an administrative focus such as nurse educator or clinical nursing leader rather than clinical nurse practitioner options. Some schools award a BSN to students in their online RN to MSN programs upon completion of required coursework while others only award an MSN or award a BSN and an MSN at the end of the program.

Jacksonville University requires students on the RN to MSN track to take 23 credits of BSN nursing courses before they can begin taking MSN core courses and specialization courses. Students at the Western University of Health Sciences will take one full year (13 credits) of “catch-up” classes. On the other hand, Drexel University’s online RN to MSN bridge program only requires students to take one additional course in genetics and its application to the nursing process.

Admission Requirements for Online RN to MSN Programs

Though admission prerequisites for the best RN to MSN programs online vary by school, all of them will require an unencumbered nursing license, transcripts pertaining to nursing education and any other undergraduate education, letters of recommendation, a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0, a resume and a personal statement. Many schools may require an in-person or telephone interview as well. Most schools give preference to candidates who have at least one year of professional experience. International students will need to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.

If you want to enter one of the University of Pittsburgh’s RN to MSN online programs, you will need to submit three letters of recommendation as well as proof that you’ve completed all prerequisite general education and nursing education courses. The University of North Carolina offers applicants the opportunity to have their transcripts from previous schools evaluated to see if they have what it takes to be accepted to UNC. Applicants to the University of Central Florida’s RN to MSN program must reside in one of the 34 Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) states.

How to Pay for Your RN to MSN Education?

When you invest in an RN to MSN program, the returns on your investment are likely to be great, but the upfront investment itself will be sizeable. It’s important to start planning your budget before you start applying to schools.

One of the advantages to enrolling in an online program is that you can continue working while you are studying for your degree. Some employers will even help subsidize their employees’ educations in exchange for a promise to continue working for a set amount of time after you graduate.

The federal government gives out needs-based grants and loans on the basis of the information contained in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Some states also use the FAFSA to determine financial aid, so make sure you submit the form before its deadline. Additionally, you may qualify to receive a stipend as a teaching or research assistant at the school you’re accepted at; in fact, some schools even make loans available to students. In a pinch, you can also apply to private financial institutions for loans although they typically charge higher interest than government and academic loans.

10 Things to Keep in Mind While Applying for Top RN to MSN Online Programs

An RN to MSN program offers the most convenient way for a registered nurse to qualify for professional roles like nurse informaticist, nurse educator, or nurse manager. Here are some tips to help guide you as you apply to the best RN to MSN programs online.

1. Keep a detailed list of what you need to do:

Applying to an RN to MSN program is a complicated process. Make sure that all your prerequisite classes have been taken within the past five years; if not, you may need to retake them before you apply. Keep track of the forms you’ll have to submit as part of your application, and make sure they’re in by the deadline.

2. Research schools thoroughly:

There are doubtless many schools that can provide you with the education you’re seeking, but do they also meet your goals in terms of cost, course schedules, and overall program reputation? Remember that most schools require a fee with your application, so applying to schools that don’t fit your needs can get very expensive.

3. Check out your prospective instructors:

Your program’s website should list all faculty members, their education, their credentials, and their professional experience. Since successful online teaching differs in many respects from face-to-face teaching, make sure your instructors have prior distance teaching experience as well.

4. Check out national certification exam results:

Passing rates are the true test of how effective any RN to MSN program is. It speaks to how well instructors and class curricula are able to prepare students. Passing rates for both first-time and repeat test takers should be displayed on your prospective school’s website. If they aren’t, that’s a red flag.

5. Submit your application as soon as possible:

Competition for spots in one of the best online RN to MSN programs can be fierce. Once those spots are filled, admissions are closed. If you want to optimize your chances of acceptance, hand your application in early.

6. Choose your references carefully:

Your references should be professional contacts who can speak to your skills set and your character. Make sure to contact potential references beforehand to guarantee they’re able to provide you with a strong, positive referral. Send them a thank you note afterwards and update them on whether or not you were accepted into the program they recommended you for.

7. Take time writing your personal statement:

Your grade point average and test scores are important data but they won’t give the admissions committee any real insight into your individual strengths. Your personal statement is your opportunity to showcase your personality and your commitment to your goals. Take time crafting it.

8. Practice interview techniques:

Most RN to MSN online programs require a successful interview as part of the admissions process. Make sure you know how to make a great first impression.

9. Take advantage of rolling admissions:

Whereas campus-based programs typically wait for the end of a semester to enroll new students, online schools often offer multiple start dates per year and accept students into these classes on a first-come-first-serve basis. Some starting dates are more popular than others, so you can raise your chances of acceptance by applying for a spot during a less competitive cycle.

10. Familiarize yourself with online research tools:

Familiarize yourself with online research tools like your school’s library and databases. That way you can hit the ground running when you start taking classes.


1. Ball State University - Muncie, IN

Specializations offered:

Nurse Educator, Nurse Administrator, and Family Nurse Practitioner

2. University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

Specializations offered:

Nursing Informatics and Clinical Nurse Leader

3. Jacksonville University - Jacksonville, FL

Specializations offered:

Clinical Nurse Educator, Leadership in Healthcare Systems, Informatics, and Healthcare Quality $ Safety

4. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Chapel Hill, NC

Specializations offered:

Health Care Leadership $ Administration

5. Loyola University New Orleans - New Orleans, LA

Specializations offered:

Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Informatics, and Healthcare Systems Administration $ Leadership

6. Drexel University - Philadelphia, PA

Specializations offered:

Clinical Nurse Leader, Leadership in Health Systems Management, Nursing Education, Public Health Nursing, Quality, Safety, $ Risk Management in Healthcare, and Undeclared

7. Seton Hall University - Nutley, NJ

8. University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ

Specializations offered:

Nursing Clinical Systems Leadership

9. University of Central Florida - Orlando, FL

Specializations offered:

Healthcare Simulation, Leadership $ Management, and Nurse Educator

10. Western University of Health Sciences - Pomona, CA

Specializations offered:

Administrative Nurse Leader, Clinical Nurse Leader, and Ambulatory Care Nursing

View Ranking Methodology

Career Opportunities for RN to MSN Graduates

Obtaining a master’s degree in nursing can advance your career significantly. As noted above, the majority of MSN specializations available through these types of programs tend to be in fields like nursing informatics, nursing education, and nursing leadership. However, if you’re interested in advanced clinical practice, many schools offer MSN-prepared RNs the opportunity to enroll in certificate programs that will prepare them to become clinical nurse practitioners in one year or less.

As a nursing informatics specialist, you can work in healthcare facilities and academic institutions or be employed in the private sector as a clinical analyst, a health information specialist, or a systems administrator. Many nurse educators work as clinical instructors in hospital settings, updating nurses and other healthcare workers on the latest techniques and protocols; nurse educators also work as instructors in nursing schools. Nurse leaders assume nurse management jobs in hospitals, clinics, and community healthcare facilities.

Average Earnings

An MSN will boost your earnings significantly. As an RN with no graduate degree, your average hourly wage is $30 an hour or $64,751 a year, but as an RN with an MSN, you’ll make $45.19 an hour, which works out to $7,830 a month or $94,000 annually. An MSN can raise your earning capacity by more than 46 percent.

Per Hour $45.19
Per Month $7,830
Per Year $94,000

Job Market

As an RN, you’re already in a highly sought-after occupation. Most of your professional opportunities, though, may lay in floor nursing or as a go-to in a private physician’s practice, and clearly, you’d like to move away from these types of jobs. Don’t worry! Once you earn your MSN, there will still be a huge demand for your services.

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the demand for nurse managers and other healthcare administrators is expected to grow by 32 percent over the next 10 years. The demand for nursing informaticists and other healthcare information specialists will grow by 10 percent while the demand for nurse educators and other healthcare educators will grow by 13.2 percent. Indeed, many experts believe that increasing the supply of nurse educators is the key to solving the worsening shortage of nurses that’s currently reaching crisis levels in the U.S. since nurse educators so often end up teaching at nursing schools.

Useful Organizations & Associations

Once you’ve graduated with an MSN, affiliation with the following organizations can provide you with networking and professional education opportunities:

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP):

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is the premier advocacy organization in the U.S. for advanced practice nurses.

American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM):

The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) represents sets practice standards for certified midwives and certified nurse midwives in the U.S.

American Nurses Association:

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is the preeminent organization for professional nurses in the U.S. Its subsidiary branch, American Nurses Credentialing Center, determines the credentialing requirements for various nursing specialties.

American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses (ASPAN):

Nurses who work in pre-anesthesia care, post-anesthesia care, ambulatory surgery, and pain management are represented by the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses (ASPAN).

American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA):

The American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) supports the professional interests of individual nurses and corporations who work with healthcare data.


If you’re a registered nurse who’s graduated from a two-year program, why go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing when you could earn a master’s degree in nursing in the same amount of time? Enrolling in one of the best online RN to MSN programs will open the door to a variety of professional specializations that can help ensure you keep growing professionally.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

1. What prerequisites should I complete to prepare for graduate-level coursework in an online RN to MSN program?

The more courses you can transfer over from an accredited school, the fewer courses you’ll be required to take as part of your graduate school studies. RN-to-MSN program prerequisites typically include classes in statistics, nutrition, psychology, literature, and communication.

2. I earned my associate nursing degree from a school that did not have national accreditation. Can I still apply to an online RN to MSN program?

The two agencies that accredit nursing programs in the U.S. on a national basis are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), but a number of agencies like the New England Commission of Higher Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges offer what’s known as regional nursing accreditation. Many two-year nursing associate degree programs have some sort of regional accreditation but most hospital diploma programs do not.

Transferability of credits is a major hurdle for RNs educated in either of those two venues who are seeking to continue their education. Research the transfer policies at the schools to which you’re interested in applying very carefully. The truth is your RN to MSN program may not accept either your degree or your credits if the program you went to was not nationally accredited. If they accept your degree but not your credits, you may be able to take your prerequisites over at an accredited school. If they won’t accept your degree, though, you should not apply to an RN to MSN program because you probably won’t be accepted. Chances are you will have to begin your nursing education again from scratch.

3. Is work experience a prerequisite for getting accepted into an online RN to MSN program?

Professional experience is an important part of any RN to MSN program application. Essentially, these programs are designed to let you cut to the front of the line, and the application committee wants to make sure you have the right chops to do that. Experience that’s closely related to the field you’re hoping to specialize in will make you more competitive. Graduates of two-year programs who don’t have work experience should consider applying to a traditional BSN program.

4. Is the GRE required for acceptance into an online RN to MSN program?

Many online graduate nursing programs do not require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Check the requirements of the schools you’re interested in applying to carefully. If your school does require GRE test scores, consider taking a GRE prep class.

5. Will I have to do clinical rotations in an online RN to MSN program?

The clinical rotation requirement varies among online RN to MSN programs. Some schools will allow you to apply the clinical rotations you already did in your basic nursing program to these requirements while others may let you use the time you’re spent working at a nursing job. When additional clinical hours are required, in most cases, your school will allow you to perform them at a hospital or clinic that is close to where you live.

6. If I do an RN to MSN program, will I get an actual BSN degree?

This varies according to the RN to MSN program. Some schools will bypass the BSN degree altogether while others will award it either at the time you’ve completed the equivalent of your online BSN studies or at the same time you receive your MSN degree.