Top 10 Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree Programs for 2018

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.

What Are the Best Online MSN Programs?

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Capella University Minneapolis, MN

Assessment: In addition to your other coursework, the MSN program includes a flexible practice immersion, allowing for the immediate applicability of knowledge gained in the classroom.

Program: A master's degree in nursing gives you access to a wealth of new information and knowledge within the healthcare system. Capella's flexible program gives you the option to choose from one of five emphases: diabetes nursing, nursing education, nursing informatics, care coordination, or leadership and administration. Meet your goals and advance your career by earning your MSN degree online.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants to the MSN General Nursing Specialization must have a bachelor's degree in nursing from an institution accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency or an internationally recognized institution. Your official bachelor's transcripts, minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale. RN license verification including your current, unrestricted RN license (or its equivalent) to practice in the United States.

Accreditation: Capella's MSN General Nursing specialization is accredited* by The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), a nationally recognized accreditation agency approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The Commission ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.


Walden University Minneapolis, MN

Assessment: Help build the next generation of nurses by sharing the lessons from your practical and academic experience as a nursing educator.

Program: Shape the present and future of healthcare with Walden's Master of Science in Nursing program. Walden University supports a dream of seizing a leadership role in patient care, administration, or education with an online nursing master's program in one of eight available specialties, including adult gerontology-acute care nurse practitioner, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, public health nursing, and more.

Admissions Requirements: Walden's MSN program is for registered nurses who hold a hospital diploma, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a bachelor's degree, and have at least two years of work experience in nursing.

Accreditation: Walden University is accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of The North Central Association; Walden nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing (CCNE).


Herzing University Milwaukee, WI

Assessment: Pursue the advanced degree that you need in a way that fits your learning style and busy life to reach the career you want.

Program: Achieve the pinnacle of skill and specialization in nursing in as little as 20 months. Ranked among the "Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs" for 2016 by U.S. News & World Report, the family nurse practitioner program is offered exclusively online, allowing working nurses the convenience of managing coursework on their schedule.

Admissions Requirements: Herzing University's MSN program is for those who hold a current, active and unrestricted license as a registered nurse (RN) in the same state in which they live. (Note: Holding a multi-state, compact state license and being a resident in a compact license state will be deemed to have met this requirement. Requirements also need students to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited university or college with an overall minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Accreditation: The Master of Science in Nursing program offered by Herzing Online is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.


Colorado Technical University Colorado Springs, CO

Assessment: Our program is intended to be affordable, grounded in real-world nursing management experience, and cover evidence-based practice, informatics, policy-making, and more.

Program: CTU offers two Master of Science in Nursing concentrations: Nursing Administration and Nursing Education. Each degree program is designed to be completed in as little as 18-20 months. Students in the MSN-NA program will be taught to apply new systems of thinking to create positive change and to lead with a strong sense of personal, professional, fiscal, and ethical accountability; the MSN-NE program trains students to promote quality and safety to students and synthesize evidence-based learning and practices within teaching.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants to the MSN General Nursing Specialization must have a bachelor's degree in nursing from an institution accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency or an internationally recognized institution. At this time, Colorado Technical University cannot accept MSN students who are residents of the states of Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Accreditation:The university is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). The College of Nursing of Colorado Technical University (CTU) is currently seeking programmatic accreditation of its Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).


Norwich University Northfield, VT

Assessment: Norwich University's Master of Science in Nursing program equips working nurses with the relevant knowledge, skills, and experience needed to assume leadership positions in nursing administration or education.

Program: Through a series of core courses, students develop a broad-based knowledge of health systems as well as essential skills in critical thinking, problem solving, research, evidence-based practice, communications, and management. MSN online students may pursue one of two tracks in nursing administration or nursing education. The program offers four start dates per year, and students can graduate in as little as 18 months.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an NLNAC- or CCNE-accredited program, as well as current nursing licensure in their state and a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.

Accreditation: Norwich University is accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges; the MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).


South University Savannah, GA

Assessment: For over a century, South University has given students the personalized attention they need to achieve their career goals.

Program: South University offers a wide range of MSN online programs designed to help working nurses enhance their careers and deliver quality patient care. Both the MSN and RN to MSN offer five specializations: adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse administrator, nurse educator and nursing informatics.

Admissions Requirements: All applicants to the Master's program must hold a current and unencumbered license in the state in which they are completing program requirements.

Accreditation: South University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; in select states where the program is offered, South University's MSN and/or BSN programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).


Georgetown University Washington, DC

Assessment: Rigorous, values-based programs from a prestigious school of nursing at the oldest Catholic university in the country.

Program: The Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies offers an online MSN in a clinical nurse leader specialization for pre-licensure students, as well as AG-ACNP, family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery/women's health nurse practitioner and women's health nurse practitioner specializations for post-licensure students. Some specializations require minimal on-campus intensives in addition to online coursework and clinical experience in the student's state of residence.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants to the AG-ACNP specialization must have at least one year of work experience in nursing; all applicants must have a valid nursing license in addition to other admissions requirements.

Accreditation: Nursing@Georgetown programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), Accreditation Committee for Midwifery Education (ACME), Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), and American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).


Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN

Assessment: A management-oriented online nursing program from one of the most renowned and highly-rated nursing schools in the world.

Program: Vanderbilt School of Nursing's online MSN is offered in 12 specializations that can be completed on-campus or online in block format for distance students. The university also offers a dual MSN/Divinity degree. The program boasts high licensure and specialty certification pass rates across all MSN concentrations.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants must have a BSN from a regionally accredited university with a GPA of 3.0 or better, as well as submit GRE scores and hold a valid, unencumbered nursing license.

Accreditation: Nursing programs are accredited by the National League for Nursing (NLN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education.


Benedictine University Lisle, IL

Assessment: A uniquely customizable and values-centered interdisciplinary program from an established Catholic university in the Benedictine tradition.

Program: Benedictine University's School of Health Services offers a 36-39-credit-hour online MSN program that can be completed in as little as two years. Students can choose either a nurse educator or nurse executive leader concentration. The program includes a practicum experience and requires a capstone project to complete the degree.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants must have a regionally accredited BSN with a GPA of 2.75 or higher and a valid RN license.

Accreditation: Nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE); institutional accreditation is provided by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools of the Higher Learning Commission.


Saint Xavier University Chicago, IL

Assessment: Highly selective leadership oriented degree programs from a top-ranked Catholic university and a nursing school nationally recognized for its excellence in nursing education.

Program: Saint Xavier's School of Nursing offers an online MSN in Clinical Leadership or Executive Leadership. Students will be trained in all aspects of nursing leadership, including finance, communication, marketing and management economics. The programs emphasize the care of underserved populations and overcoming health care disparities. Clinical Leadership students must complete a two-part clinical immersion experience, while Executive Leadership majors must complete a capstone project in addition to online coursework.

Admissions Requirements: Applicants must have a CCNE- or NLNAC-accredited BSN with GPA of 3.0 or higher, as well as a valid nursing license and at least one year of full-time work experience.

Accreditation: Nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE); institutional accreditation is provided by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools of the Higher Learning Commission.

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.

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.
  • Median Annual Salary: $103,880
  • Projected Growth Rate: 31%
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.
  • Median Annual Salary: $100,590
  • Projected Growth Rate: 31%
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.
  • Median Annual Salary: $165,120
  • Projected Growth Rate: 31%
Nurse Educator
Nurse educators are responsible for training nursing staff at a hospital or through a college or university nursing program.
  • Median Annual Salary: $65,940
  • Projected Growth Rate: 35%
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.
  • Median Annual Salary: $98,350
  • Projected Growth Rate: 20%
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.
Nurses specializing in informatics analyze healthcare data to explore methods of using medical technologies and other research tools to improve patient outcomes.

Salary Outlook for Nursing Program Graduates

Graduates of online MSN programs can expect to make significantly more money than registered nurses with an associate or bachelor’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that advanced practice nurses (nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners) earn an average salary of $110,930. Nurse Journal, similarly, details salaries ranging from $61,000 to $154,300. The table below provides a breakdown of the average salaries and projected growth rates of five career options that many online master’s in nursing graduates pursue.

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.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Nursing Program?

Each online MSN program prepares students to practice medicine and work in leadership roles. Each school offers their own distinct curriculum and unique areas of specialization, which makes it important to choose a program that reflects your personal interests and career goals. The course offerings described below are common among all online master's in nursing programs.

Curriculum for an Online Master's in Nursing

  • Roles and Context for Advanced Nursing Practice: This course is an introductory seminar that emphasizes the importance of evidence-based practice and its implementation in a healthcare environment. Students also learn about the field’s legal and ethical framework, as well as quality of care and safety practices. This class also provides essential information for all students hoping to become advanced practice nurses, regardless of speciality.
  • Advanced Pharmacology: In this course, advanced nursing students examine common pharmacological therapies. Coursework emphasizes drug prescription and monitoring, as well as the decision-making process that informs creating a treatment plan. This course is ideal for aspiring family nurse practitioners, as they frequently fill prescriptions.
  • Leadership and Nursing Practice: This course covers strategic leadership tactics and teaches students how to promote positive healthcare outcomes, communicate effectively, adhere to ethical and legal regulations, and advocate for their patients. Coursework covers the prioritization of patient care in complex environments. The curriculum is ideal for those pursuing clinical nurse lead or management positions.
  • Advanced Health Assessment Across the Life Span: This course is designed to help students further develop their diagnostic skills and prepare them to pursue advanced careers in medicine, such as family nurse practitioners or emergency nurse practitioners. Coursework examines lifespan development, health risk analyses, and patient histories, which teaches students how to appropriately determine normal and abnormal variations of health within the life cycle.
  • Pathophysiology: This course integrates advanced physiology and clinical implications, teaching students about organ systems and their potential abnormalities. By the end of the course, students should be able to differentiate between aberrant biological processes causing illness and normal symptoms of the body’s life cycle.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Nursing?

There are several factors that can affect the length of online MSN programs. Schools offers a variety of program structures and credit requirements. Additional factors include practicum requirements, specialization tracks, requisite clinic hours, and cohort versus asynchronous formatting. Most online master’s in nursing have students start the curriculum together at set times of the year with course lengths ranging from eight to 16 weeks. However, they are designed so that individual classes are self-paced. Online master’s in nursing programs generally take two or three years of full-time study to complete; part-time students may take three or four years to graduate.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Nursing Prepares For

  • Nurse Practitioner Certification and License: Nurse practitioners must have both certification and state licensure. To obtain both, students must work as a registered nurse, earn a master’s of science in nursing, and pass a certification exam in their chosen speciality. The final step is applying for state licensure. Once completed, nurse practitioners work as a independent, specialized medical providers.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: CRNAs are advanced practice nurses who specialize in the administration of anesthetics. They generally work in surgical teams to ensure patient safety and wellbeing. Employment as a CRNA requires a registered nurse license, a MSN, and additional CRNA certification through a national agency like the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife: CNMs focus on gynecological, prenatal, and postnatal care. The path to earn this certification is extensive. Students must have experience as a registered nurse, earn a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on midwifery, and then pass a national qualifying exam. This certification awards licensure in all 50 states.

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.

Financing Your Online Master's in Nursing

Most students earning their online master's in nursing will need some kind of financial aid to pay for their degree. Fortunately, there are several options available. The first step is to complete the FAFSA to see if you are eligible for federal financial aid. You can also inquire with your university about scholarships and work-study programs. Nursing scholarships and grants through federal aid or professional organizations are available as well. Loan forgiveness programs are also an excellent resource for students who want to work at nonprofit medical organizations or with underserved populations for extended periods of time.

Scholarships for Master's in Nursing Students

Those pursuing a master of science in nursing online can qualify for a variety of scholarships earmarked for nursing professionals. Nursing scholarships are often divided by specific qualifications, such as race or gender. Many others are speciality-specific and are offered by professional organizations with a vested interest in training and hiring qualified professionals.

*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.

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