Whether working directly with patients, training other nurses or developing and managing health programs, nurses make a difference in their community. To work as a nurse practitioner, you need to have the appropriate credentials: about 94% of nurses hold a graduate degree in nursing, and most of the remaining 6% have been working for over 25 years. Increasingly, professionals in the field looking to jumpstart their career are turning toward online nursing programs for certification and an advanced education. In response to this demand, many schools now offer their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program entirely online. These programs prepare students for leadership roles and for advanced doctoral studies.
Online nursing programs allow students to receive the same training they would get in a traditional classroom. Online students watch lectures, collaborate with each other in virtual classrooms and complete coursework that is enhanced by multimedia material, including video and interactive sites. And online nursing students who already hold a nursing position often find they can complete their clinical practicum experiences in their current position, meaning there is no need to commute to a campus for in-person work.
To help you find a great online program, we’ve ranked the top 25 online nursing masters programs in the country. Each school offers a robust curriculum matching their traditional program, with easy-to-access online classes and a simple course management platform. If you’re looking to take the next step in your nursing career, consider pursuing an online master’s in nursing degree from one of these top schools.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||Cost||Address & Contact Info||School Links||Acclaim for Online Programs||School Description|
|1||Vanderbilt University||Nashville||$$$$$||2101 West End Avenue|
Nashville, TN 37240
Vanderbilt's online nursing master's programs in healthcare leadership prepares students for advanced roles in nursing and healthcare management. The e-learning curriculum focuses on the impact of local, state and national healthcare policy on nursing practices. Students learn a range of leadership skills, including how to implement quality standards, manage and mentor staff and collaborate across healthcare settings. The 39-hour program can be completed in less than three years by part-time students, or in one year if you attend full-time.
All courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Students can access course lectures and materials, upload assignments, participate in forums and communicate with peers and faculty through chat and email. Kaltura software is available for creating video presentations. All clinical encounters from practicum experiences are recorded in an online clinical log. Vanderbilt also provides online proctoring software that allows students to take supervised tests from their home or office.
|2||Georgetown University||Washington||$$$$$||37th and O St NW|
Washington, DC 20057-0001
Georgetown combines online classes with collaborative group projects and real-world experiences in their online nursing master's programs. Students focus on one of several specializations, including:
Online class sessions are synchronous and collaborative on streaming Zoom technology. Additionally, students can access coursework through the Blackboard learning platform at their convenience. Assignments may include readings, quizzes and interactive videos. Students also participate in clinical experiences throughout their online nursing degree program and complete one or more visits to campus to meet with peers and complete interactive simulations. Distance learners have full access to digital library resources, as well as live online chat services for technical issues.
|3||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||$$$$$||103 South Bldg Cb 9100|
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
UNC offers a hybrid MSN program that integrates online content and coursework with on-campus classes. Fully online bridge courses are also available for the RN to MSN program. MSN certification options include:
Students can take courses at their own pace; the average degree completion time for full-time students is one-and-a-half to two years.
UNC uses the Sakai learning management tool to deliver online courses. Here, students can watch recorded lectures and access assignments, discussion boards and wikis. They can also take quizzes and record journal entries through Sakai. UNC offers several Sakai tutorials to help students get up to speed with the program, and live chat, phone and email support services are available as well. Additionally, all UNC students have access to Lynda.com, a database of over 3,800 educational videos taught by experts on a range of subjects.
|4||University of Michigan - Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor||$$$$$||503 Thompson Street|
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Michigan now offers online classes for its online nursing master's programs. The nursing curriculum uses a multi-cultural perspective and combines analysis of theory with the latest field research and clinical practicum experience. Students pilot their own scientific study, incorporating statistics and research, in a subject relating to their career interests.
The school uses the Canvas learning platform to deliver its online courses. Students can access class announcements, assignments, discussions, quizzes, grades and more through Canvas for their online nursing degree. The class format varies by instructor, and technology tools may include Centra web conferencing, CTools (a collaborative project platform) and more. UM offers an extensive online Canvas tutorial on all sections of the dashboard, along with dedicated IT support over the phone and email.
|5||Johns Hopkins University||Baltimore||$$$$$||525 North Wolfe Street|
Baltimore, MD 21205
Prospective students at JHU can choose from three master’s programs: clinical nurse specialist, health systems management or a joint degree combining elements of both. All prerequisite courses can be completed online in a series of 10-week courses. Full-time students can complete the program in just four semesters.
JHU delivers online courses through Blackboard's learning management system. The courses encourage collaboration and participation, and students complete several virtual labs as part of their assignments. Students can also access recorded lectures, assignments, discussion boards and quizzes through Blackboard. A comprehensive set of tutorials and best practices on Blackboard are provided through each student's JHU web portal.
|6||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook||$$$$$||310 Administration Building|
Stony Brook, NY 11794
Stony Brook offers a few hybrid MSN options. Students can choose from an MS in nursing education, nursing leadership, nurse practitioner or nurse midwifery. Applicants without a bachelor’s in nursing are required to prepare a clinical practice portfolio for admission to the online nursing degree program. The number of in-person credits required varies by program, though all necessitate some on-site classes.
SUNY offers peer-reviewed and interactive activities through its proprietary School of Nursing learning management system. Assignments include analyzing case studies, discussing web-based articles and completing module courses. Students have access to an extensive digital library collection and to Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, a quarterly periodical available online.
|7||Ohio State University||Columbus||$$$$$||190 N. Oval Mall|
Columbus, OH 43210
OSU offers a fully online master of applied clinical and preclinical research program. Students choose from one of four interdisciplinary specializations: clinical research management, regulatory affairs, safety pharmacology and clinical pharmacology. The program is offered to students with a bachelor’s degree in any major, and in-state tuition is offered to all online learners. The 36 to 39-credit program includes a capstone project or internship.
Online courses are offered through Carmen, OSU’s learning management system. All classes are asynchronous, allowing students who work full-time to watch recorded lectures and complete assignments around their schedule. Online classes are limited to 35 students to allow optimal interaction between distance learners and faculty. Students may participate in live, interactive projects through Skype or other interactive technologies. They can also work with faculty to plan final capstone projects and internships, which can be completed with an approved mentor in the student’s hometown.
|8||George Washington University||Washington||$$$$$||2121 I Street, NW|
Washington, DC 20052
GWU's online MSN program offers multiple degree specializations. Students can choose one in:
The program trains leaders in effective communication and collaboration across healthcare fields. Clinicals are conducted at an approved site close to the student’s location.
GWU uses Blackboard to deliver its online program. Students use the platform to access and submit assignments, check class updates and communicate with peers and instructors. Students also use Blackboard to maintain and submit their master’s portfolio. Blackboard tutorials, library research tutorials and other academic services are available to distance learners.
|9||George Mason University||Fairfax||$$$$$||4400 University Dr|
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444
The hybrid MSN program at George Mason is specifically designed for RNs with clinical experience. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and want to teach in nursing schools, hospitals and community health care agencies. Students can begin their nursing degree online by taking non-matriculated courses prior to being accepted to the program. At this point, George Mason only allows distance learners to take courses part-time.
Classes are offered in a blended online and on-campus format. GMU uses Blackboard for its online classes, all of which are asynchronous and allow students to complete coursework at their own pace throughout the week. Students access course materials, discussion threads, wikis, blogs and other learning tools through Blackboard. Some courses may use Blackboard Collaborate for scheduled web conferencing sessions or real-time discussions. Students also have access to Blackboard Mobile and Kaltura software for creating video presentations. Online support is available through the ITS support center through live chat, over the phone and on email.
|10||University of Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||$$$$$||4200 Fifth Avenue|
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Pittsburgh’s nursing degree online offers several MSN degrees, including specializations in nursing administration, clinical nurse leadership and nursing informatics. Classes can be taken full-time or part-time. Students can complete the clinical hours for the clinical nurse leader concentration at an approved facility near the student’s home.
Pitt Online uses the Blackboard content management system. Classes are asynchronous, which means students can complete coursework around their own schedules. An interactive online curriculum encourages group collaboration, debate, research, problem-solving, networking and communication with faculty. Exams are proctored, and students may be required to complete tests online at a specific time. Students have access to an online orientation course and tutorials, along with a 24/7 computing services help desk.
|11||University of Mary||Bismarck||$$$$$||7500 University Dr|
Bismarck, ND 58504
UMary offers an online MSN graduate program grounded in Catholic teachings. Prospective students can choose from multiple degree options, including:
Curriculum and degree requirements to obtain a nursing degree online vary between programs, though all specializations (with the exception of the MSN/MBA) require 360 to 500 hours of practical experience. The nursing and healthcare informatics program is a new degree that will be first offered in January of 2016.
UMary uses Canvas as its learning management system. Students can access and submit assignments and communicate with peers and faculty over email and discussion boards. An extended mobile version of Canvas is also available to students. UMary provides students with a range of Canvas tour instructional videos, along with an IT support portal and help desk via phone and email.
|12||University of Colorado - Denver||Denver||$$$$$||1380 Lawrence Street, Lawrence Street Center, Suite 1400|
Denver, CO 80217-3364
Students in the University of Colorado Denver’s online MSN program choose from two MSN degree concentrations: informatics or nursing leadership/healthcare systems. Students are offered the chance to take an online course in informatics or up to 12 credits of courses in the leadership program before applying to a specific degree.
The online curriculum follows the same semester schedule as the on-campus program, and students receive customized program plans to ensure they properly proceed through their degree. Students access courses through the Canvas learning platform; all course materials and recorded lectures are available online in Canvas. Clinical practicums are arranged by a student and faculty member at a location close to the student’s home. Canvas help guides, a support hotline and live chat are easily accessible from the CU Online portal.
|13||University of Iowa||Iowa City||$$$$$||101 Jessup Hall|
Iowa City, IA 52242-1316
The hybrid MSN-clinical nurse leader program at Iowa prepares nurses to become leaders at the point-of-care. The 39-credit program takes three years to complete, counting all clinical experiences. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree in nursing and have two years of clinical experience.
Courses are primarily available online, with the exception of a health promotion and assessment course and a final capstone project presentation; total time on campus is estimated at one-and-a-half days. Students will also need a current RN in their home state to participate in local clinical experiences. Iowa delivers online courses through Iowa Courses Online (ICON), the school's course management system. Students can access course assignments, discussion threads, email and more through ICON.
|14||Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center||Lubbock||$$$$$||3601 4th Street|
Lubbock, TX 79430
Texas Tech offers multiple MSN degrees through its online graduate nursing program. Students can pursue an RN to MSN, an MSN in nursing education or an MSN in nursing administration. The program is designed for current RNs looking to use their leadership and management skills as a nursing practitioner. Depending on which degree you choose, you'll need to complete 39 to 42 credits.
Online courses are provided through Texas Tech's Worldwide eLearning site, accessed through the Blackboard learning management system. Students view recorded lectures, assignments, interactive discussion threads and chat rooms on Blackboard. Guided clinical experiences take place at an approved location close to the student's home. The school provides distance learners with Blackboard tutorials and online support, as well as additional learning resources, including career services and an online writing center.
|15||University of South Carolina||Columbia||$$$$$||Columbia-Campus|
Columbia, SC 29208
South Carolina's MSN in nursing administration program focuses on organizational leadership, preparing nurses to manage and deliver nursing services across health care sectors. Students are also prepared for national certification in nursing administration. The 30-credit program takes 12 to 18 months to complete. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and current RN licensure.
South Carolina uses Blackboard to deliver its online courses. Exact course delivery methods vary by instructor, but can include recorded videos and forum discussions. Students are provided with a dedicated technology services help desk, which provides online tutorials and help over the phone or through email.
|16||East Carolina University||Greenville||$$$$$||East 5th Street|
Greenville, NC 27858-4353
East Carolina offers several online and hybrid MSN degrees, including:
The neonatal nurse practitioner and nurse midwifery programs are hybrid degrees; the other three are offered fully online. Students are prepared with the theory and practical applications to function both independently and collaboratively as leaders in the field.
Online courses are available through Blackboard. Students can access course materials, assignments, discussion boards, chat rooms and more through the tool. Clinical experiences are arranged by faculty and students at a location close to the student’s home. Distance learners are provided with Blackboard tutorials and a dedicated help desk team, available over the phone or on email.
|17||Michigan State University||East Lansing||$$$$$|| |
East Lansing, MI 48824-1046
Michigan State offers a fully online MSN in adult gerontology and a hybrid MSN-nurse practitioner degree. Both degrees are designed to take two to three years to complete, depending on whether you attend classes part-time or full-time. Prospective students must apply to both Michigan State and the College of Nursing.
MSU uses the Desire2Learn (D2L) course management system to deliver its online resources. Besides an initial on-site orientation, all courses for the MSN in adult gerontology are available online, and clinical experiences can be arranged at a location near the student’s home. Course instruction methods vary depending on your professor, but may include assigned readings and analysis, discussion forums and other collaborative assessments. Distance learners have access to a D2L help site and several digital library resources and tutorials.
|18||University of San Francisco||San Francisco||$$$$$||2130 Fulton St|
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
USF prepares practicing RNs to advance in the field, training prospective nurses to implement patient care plans as a clinical nurse leader. The MNS program consists of 35 credits for RNs holding a bachelor’s in nursing, and 46 credits for those with an associate degree. The program can be completed in two years. Clinical experience is usually done at the RNs current place of work.
USF uses the Canvas learning platform, accessible through students' myUSF portal. Online class sizes are kept small to ensure close and regular interaction between faculty and peers. Through Canvas, students can access all course materials and recorded lectures, check for class announcements, participate in discussion forums and more. USF IT services provides a series of self-paced online trainings, as well as IT help online and over the phone.
|19||The University of Texas in Arlington||Arlington||$$$$$||701 S. Nedderman Dr.|
Arlington, TX 76013
The MS in nursing at UTA prepares practicing RNs for advanced work in the field. Students can pursue an MSN in nursing administration, nursing education or certification as a family nurse practitioner (FNP). Programs range from 36 to 51 credit hours and take an average of two years to complete. Applicants for the MSN-FNP program must be Texas residents.
Online classes are not linked to the school's semester schedule, allowing students to enter and complete the program at their own pace. Courses take anywhere from five to ten weeks to complete. UTA uses the Blackboard learning management system to deliver online courses, either over conferencing sessions or streaming recorded lectures. Exams are proctored online through the ProctorU service. For Blackboard IT support, distance learners can contact the center for distance education by phone or email.
|20||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||Greensboro||$$$$$||1400 Spring Garden St|
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
UNCG offers a hybrid MSN with either a nursing education or nursing administration concentration. RNs are prepared to be leaders in their profession, either in an educational or an executive-level role. The 36-credit program can be completed over three years. According to the school, over 90% of students quickly find positions in the field and the program boasts a 95% student satisfaction rate.
Courses are primarily delivered online through Canvas, with an occasional classroom meeting on-campus. Classes may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the instructor and content. UNCG offers distance learners a comprehensive set of online services, including a learning assistance center, library access and career services. Students can also connect to peers and participate in campus news and updates via UNCG Connect, the university’s social media hub.
|21||Allen College||Waterloo||$$$$$||1990 Heath St|
Waterloo, IA 50703-1999
Allen College offers a hybrid MSN program, combining professional standards with a liberal education foundation, experiential learning and community service. Students may choose from multiple degree specializations, including:
Programs range from 36 to 42 credits plus clinical experience, and part-time students will need three to four years to complete the program. Students must hold a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing to apply.
Online courses are delivered through Blackboard, which is hosted and accessed through the University of Northern Iowa’s eLearning portal. All core master of science courses are taught online. Other nursing and elective classes may be taught online or face-to-face depending on your degree track. Students can access recorded lectures and course assignments through Blackboard. Tutorials and eLearning support services are also provided to distance learners.
|22||University of New Mexico||Albuquerque||$$$$$||1700 Lomas Blvd NE|
Albuquerque, NM 87106
New Mexico offers two fully online MSN degrees: an MSN in nursing administration and an MSN in nursing education. The school also has a hybrid MSN-family nurse practitioner (MSN-FNP) program. The fully online programs are designed to meet the career goals of full-time professionals by offering a flexible course schedule compatible with fieldwork sites close to a student’s home. Both online programs can be completed in two years on a full-time schedule; part-time students must complete coursework within seven years. The MSN-FNP can be completed in three years by full-time students.
UNM uses Blackboard's learning platform for online courses, accessible through the UNM Learn portal. Students can access lectures and assignments, participate in discussion threads and access chat and email through Blackboard. For the MSN-FNP program, all non-clinical courses are offered online, while clinical courses and experiences are required on-campus and other assigned locations outside of New Mexico. A question-and-answer tool is available online, along with phone and live chat support.
|23||University of Arizona||Tucson||$$$$$||1401 E University|
Tucson, AZ 85721-0066
Arizona offers multiple online and hybrid MSN distance education options. Students can pursue a fully online MSN in clinical systems leadership or one of several nurse practitioner hybrid programs, including:
The fully online clinical systems leadership program can be completed in as little as 15 months by RNs who hold a bachelor’s in nursing. RNs with an associate degree must take a few additional classes and need two years to graduate. The nurse practitioner degree program lengths vary by degree requirements.
Online programs are hosted through UA's Outreach College and courses are accessible through the Desire2Learn (D2L) content management system. Students can access assigned readings, view recorded lectures and participate in online discussions through D2L. Some classes are asynchronous and allow students to complete coursework at their own pace, while others require regular attendance at scheduled online meetings.
|24||Saint Louis University||Saint Louis||$$$$$||One North Grand Blvd|
Saint Louis, MO 63103-2097
SLU's online MSN-nurse practitioner program prepares RNs to become leaders in their field through a combination of theory and practicum experiences. Students can choose from the following MSN-NP degree options:
All degree options can be combined with an educator role for students who wish to enter nursing education. Programs can be completed part-time or full-time; students are required to visit campus twice during their time in the program.
SLU uses the Blackboard learning management system to deliver its online course content, accessible through students' mySLU portal. Students can view course materials, discussion boards, chat rooms and their Google email account through Blackboard. Many professors hold virtual office hours, allowing online students to contact them through chat. An introductory Blackboard training video is provided for new students. Distance learners also have access to both an online library and writing center.
|25||University of Hawaii at Manoa||Honolulu||$$$$$||2500 Campus Road, Hawaii Hall|
Honolulu, HI 96822-2217
Hawaii's MSN program is offered completely online and in a hybrid format. The program is designed for RNs looking to advance in the field and offers students adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist (AGCNS) and advanced public health nursing (APHN) degrees. Both programs can be taken part-time or full-time. The AGCNS program can be completed in two years on a full-time schedule, while the APHN program can be completed in one year.
Courses are delivered through the Laulima online learning and collaboration server. Online courses may be synchronous or asynchronous, depending on the instructor. Students can access course syllabi, schedules, assignments, quizzes, discussion boards and other content tools through Laulima. Tests may be taken online or at a local testing center. Students can find a brief video orientation and tutorials on UH's IT Services site.
Professional RNs who choose to earn their master’s in nursing online will find plenty of positions and opportunities for advancement. According to several recent studies, hospitals and clinics need more nurses, and the demand will only increase as the baby boomer generation ages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing will be one of the fastest growing jobs well into the next decade.
Earning an MSN allows nurses to specialize in a particular area of interest, such as mental health care, pediatrics or oncology. Most nurses with an MSN can also become nurse educators at a local health care facility or college. Some of the best-paying MSN jobs include nurse consultant, research nurse, nurse educator, nurse administrator and advanced nurse practitioner. Average salaries vary widely by position and location, but nurses with an MSN often earn $30,000 more annually than those with only a BSN.
Keys to Success in an Online Master’s in Nursing Program
Studying online requires diligence and commitment. While online programs provide students with the flexibility to complete their program requirements around other obligations, students have to manage their time efficiently. Even part-time classes will require several hours of studying per week and you should start budgeting your time before your first class.
Most institutions offer online-readiness surveys to help students determine how they’ll perform in an online program. Students should research and prepare for the technical requirements and online learning platforms at their target schools. They should also make sure that their state authorizes their target schools to provide an online program with clinical experience in a location near the student’s home.
Entering the Field
MSN students generally enter a program with defined professional objectives. Some may choose to re-enter the field immediately after graduation, while others may pursue a doctoral degree. Regardless of your ultimate goal, students should have a career plan in mind prior to graduating with their MSN.
One of the primary benefits of an online master’s in nursing program is the opportunity to meet and network with reputable educators and nurses in the field. Many schools offer local networking events and an alumni career services network, affording students several avenues to form professional relationships. Students may also get involved in student organizations or serve abroad as part of their program: both of these options provide students with additional opportunities to make professional contacts before entering the field.
MSN students can also take advantage of their school’s career services center. Many career service offices will help students craft formal resumes, make professional contacts and apply for positions in the field. Students should regularly check dedicated nursing job boards for open positions that match their qualifications and career aspirations.