As the population ages, technology advances and more nurses retire from the ranks, nurses with degrees from top online master’s in nursing programs will continue to be in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment opportunities for nurses will continue to grow by 16% by 2024, and Johnson & Johnson projects that nursing will be the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. by 2018. When the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued its recommendation in 2010 that 80% of nurses hold a BSN by the year 2020, only 50% of nurses held this qualification; as of 2016, up to 60% have a bachelor’s degree in the field.
Because the market is slated to become overly saturated with BSN graduates, recent studies have shown that nurses with more advanced qualifications, such as MSN training, can help to reduce morbidity and mortality rates at healthcare facilities. This, paired with a greater need for qualified nurses to care for a higher number of insured Americans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), makes for a career with longevity for years to come.
Advantages of an Accredited Online Nursing Degree
Among the many advantages of earning an MSN from a top online nursing school is that nurses can maintain their employment and/or family responsibilities while earning their degree. Many of the best online nursing schools and degree programs don’t require any campus visits and allow practicums and clinicals to be completed in the student’s home region. Graduates of online MSN programs also have a broader range of job prospects and a greater earning potential in the workforce. Recent studies found that nurses with MSN degrees earn roughly $20,000 more than those with only a BSN degree and are eligible for advanced positions in the field.
The Master of Science in Nursing serves a dual role as both an advanced post-graduate degree for RNs and an entry-level requirement for students aspiring to a career in a specialized area such as nurse administration or clinical nurse management. Graduates of online MSN programs who wish to further their education may pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nursing (ND) among the field’s terminal degree options. While doctoral nursing programs require a BSN and many applicants already have an MSN degree, some programs available to non-MSN-holders culminate in a dual MSN-DNP degree.
How We Rank the Best Online Nursing Schools and Degree Programs
Online nursing schools and degree programs can vary widely in terms of quality, name recognition, and value. To assist those looking for a high-quality, accredited online MSN degree from a top online nursing school, we’ve assembled the following ranking of what we consider to be the best nursing schools offering online MSN programs in 2017. Our rankings are based on publicly available data evaluated according to several different criteria, including reputation, accreditation, student satisfaction, ratio of students to instructors, and tuition. Read more about our rankings philosophy and find a list of our other top college and degree rankings on our rankings page.
Top Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs Ranked
All of the top online MSN degree programs in our rankings require an accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or the completion of an RN to BSN bridge program. If you are interested in a top online BSN program, visit our ranking of the best online BSN programs.
Choosing the Best Online MSN Program
Once you’ve decided to pursue an MSN online program, you may still have questions about what makes one stand out among the rest. What makes a good online nursing master’s program? We’ve included some key attributes to look for, below:
- Quality: A reputable online MSN program will always be accredited, potentially by an individual nursing-specific accreditation agency as well as a national or regional entity. In addition to meeting the highest standards of quality for an online master’s in nursing programs, specialty accreditation demonstrates that the school understands and caters to the unique needs of its nursing students. Though nursing licenses are issued at the state level, a good online MSN program will prepare you for necessary licensure exams to become an RN.
- Affordability: While online nursing master’s programs do not typically offer the same federal financial aid as undergraduate degrees, some programs now offer nursing scholarships and incentives to nursing students in an effort to continue drawing applicants toward this major. Even if you are required to seek funding from a private lender or take out students loans to help to pay for the remainder of the cost of your degree, a good online MSN program will offer affordable tuition prices in the absence of exorbitant on-campus fees and commuting costs.
- Convenience: While your MSN online program will still require in-person clinical or practicum experience, the majority of the coursework should be available online. In addition to the convenience of completing courses from your home, most online MSN programs will work with you to arrange hands-on experience to meet degree requirements at a facility near you, even if the school is located in another state.
- Post-Graduation Services: When researching accredited online MSN programs, look for a school that offers comprehensive credentialing assistance, guidance toward continuing education, and job-placement services, among other available post-graduation programs. While many schools have beefed up their offerings to recruit applicants in recent years, not all of them see students through to finding a job after graduation. Be sure to check statistics like job attainment and earnings for graduates of your program at the six-month mark.
Pursuing a Nursing Career
Graduates of online nursing master’s programs are eligible for a wide variety of RN and specialty occupations, spanning diverse clinical responsibilities, medical specializations, and professional settings. A 2012 study of nurse practitioners conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Professions reported the highest numbers of nurses working directly with patients in clinical practice, though graduates of MSN online programs have dozens of career options to choose from. From midwives to anesthetists to nurse educators, earning a master’s in nursing online can open the door to an advanced career in the field.
The following are just some of the exciting nursing occupations open to MSN graduates:
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): Nurses in this position are responsible for treating common illnesses, injuries and medical conditions among both children and adult patients.
- Certified Nurse Midwife: Midwives care for pregnant women and their babies throughout the pregnancy, labor and birth process, often continuing to provide maintenance wellness care post-birth.
- Clinical Nurse Specialist: A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice nurse responsible for diagnosing and treating illnesses included in their area of expertise; subordinates may consult a clinical nurse specialist for guidance or mentorship.
- Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Nurse Anesthetists provide anesthesia to surgery and childbirth patients, working alongside family practitioners, surgeons, dentists and other physicians to treat patients of all ages.
- Nurse Educator: Nurse educators are responsible for training nursing staff at a hospital or through a college or university nursing program.
- Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL): Nurses in this speciality help to coordinate health care plans for patients at a hospital, clinic or other medical organization; they also monitor patient outcomes and make changes, as needed, to patient care plans.
- Patient Care Services Administration: This unique specialty is ideal for nurses interested in managing administrative elements of a medical practice such as regulatory compliance, practice spending and budgetary concerns.
- Case Management: Nurses employed in this specialization are responsible for making a commitment to understanding patient needs and providing better care by customizing services to each individual patient and treatment.
- Informatics: Nurses specializing in informatics analyze healthcare data to explore methods of using medical technologies and other research tools to improve patient outcomes.
Visit this site to explore more nursing specialties and career options.
*The schools listed above are sponsored. Sponsored school listings are distinct paid advertisements and are clearly marked with a “SPONSORED” or “FEATURED” tag to distinguish them from editorially ranked schools. Learn more about how rank schools or contact us with questions.
To determine the best online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 9 best online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.