With more than 6,000 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the U.S., advanced practice nurses are in demand across the country. Providing quality primary care to diverse populations, these skilled, licensed professionals are earning annual salaries of more than $102,000 and enjoying greater on-the-job autonomy.
Online master’s in nursing (MSN) programs have become an increasingly popular path for registered nurses (RNs) who want to advance their careers and improve the quality of patients’ lives.
Master of Science Degree in Nursing
The Master of Science degree in Nursing delivered online by Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies blends carefully selected clinical-based nursing experiences and highly interactive online learning. Nursing@Georgetown brings innovative learning to students in their own communities.
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
- Nurse Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (NM/WHNP)
The Nursing@Georgetown FNP program takes 19 months to complete. The AG-ACNP program takes 23 months to complete. The WHNP program takes 27 months to complete. The NM-WHNP program takes 27 months to complete.
Start Dates: January, May and August
Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner
Designed for licensed registered nurses (RNs), Nursing@Simmons delivers the Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SNHS) renowned Family Nurse Practitioner programs in an innovative, online format that blends online classes and in-person learning experiences. Nursing@Simmons offers two program options for currently licensed RNs: an MSN designed for RNs who have earned a bachelor’s degree and an RN to MSN designed for RNs who have earned an associate degree or diploma in nursing.
The Nursing@Simmons program can be completed full-time in five terms over an 18-month period, or it can be completed part-time in seven terms over a 27 month period. The RN to MSN program can be completed in as little as 30 months full time while the part-time program can be completed in as little as 36 months.
MSN Start Dates: January, March, May, September and November
RN to MSN Start Dates: January, May and September
Master of Science in Nursing
Nursing@USC is the Master of Science in Nursing program from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Designed for registered nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least one year of experience, Nursing@USC prepares aspiring family nurse practitioners with a curriculum that integrates nursing and social work disciplines. Students are trained to understand the biomedical and social factors that influence patient well-being. While classes are held online, students also attend two on-campus intensives and complete clinical placements in or near their own communities.
The full-time program (five semesters) can be completed in 18 months. The part-time program (eight semesters) can be completed in 32 months.
Start Dates: September, January and May
Online Master’s in Nursing Programs
To accommodate RNs with diverse academic backgrounds, nursing schools offer different pathways for earning a master’s in nursing online.
Educational requirements vary by program type:
- RN-to-MSN programs are designed for RNs who do not have a bachelor’s degree. These programs require a diploma or certificate from a hospital-based program or an associate degree from an accredited institution.
- MSN programs may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification from a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Some MSN programs may simply require a bachelor’s degree of any kind.
- RN to MSN-Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) programs accept RNs with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing but may require more credit hours to complete than BSN/RN-to-MSN programs.
Beyond these differences in educational requirements, most MSN programs typically require:
- A current U.S. registered nurse (RN) license
- Letters of recommendation from nursing supervisors, faculty, and/or other professionals with direct knowledge of the applicant’s nursing skills and background
- Nursing experience, one to two years needed
- Written or video essay
- Standard admissions materials, including the application and application fee, official transcripts, résumé and personal statement
Some programs may also require completion of statistics and health assessment courses with a minimum GPA and certification in Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS).
Requirements vary by school, type of program and specializations offered, so applicants should review admissions criteria carefully before applying to any specific program.
Core Curriculum and Advanced Nursing Specializations
In keeping with American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requirements, typical MSN coursework includes advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and advanced pharmacology. Other coursework may cover topics such as healthcare ethics, research and clinical decision-making. Core courses vary depending upon whether the program is certified by CCNE or ACEN.
Online MSN programs offer specializations that prepare graduates to provide care as an advanced practice nurse or to become nurse educators, clinical nurse leaders, health policy experts or nurse administrators. The four main specialties within advanced practice nursing are nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife and certified registered nurse anesthetist. Each specialty requires enrollment in a specific program as well as passing an exam for certification. Most programs also require clinical hours to gain real-world experience. For more information on these paths, view the career section at the bottom of this page.
Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs: Key Factors
When comparing programs, applicants will want to consider the key factors that set apart the nation’s top online master’s in nursing programs:
Accreditation: Program and university accreditation ensures that the program meets rigorous qualifications and that its degrees will be recognized by current and prospective employers. Before applying, candidates should ensure the university is accredited by the appropriate regional accrediting body and the nursing program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Graduation from an ACEN or CCNE-accredited program is a prerequisite for nurse practitioner certification by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Dedicated Clinical Placement Team: Clinical training is a critical part of any MSN program. Because they educate RNs across the country, top online master's in nursing programs have clinical placement teams dedicated to placing students in healthcare settings aligned to their career interests and located in or near their own communities.
Rankings: Applicants may find that rankings can be useful, if not definitive, tools for understanding the relative strengths of a program. In reviewing rankings, applicants should note whether the ranking is for the school as a whole or for the individual MSN program. Some rankings specifically rate online programs. While many online programs are identical to on-campus counterparts, some are not and the on-campus ranking may not apply.
Platform: An effective technology platform and engaging, flexible format are essential to the online graduate school experience. When evaluating a program, applicants should consider whether it offers:
- The flexibility to earn an MSN while maintaining career and family commitments.
- Innovative technology that connects students and faculty through live classes, social media and online collaboration tools.
- On-campus immersion experiences where students gain hands-on experience working with expert faculty who are active clinical practitioners and researchers.
2U-Powered Healthcare Programs
2U partners with top universities to offer their degree programs online, including master’s programs in nursing. Students in 2U partner programs benefit from the highest-quality online learning platform available, with access to an online campus from anywhere they have an Internet connection. University faculty lead all academic issues related to programs, including instruction and curriculum development. 2U-powered programs feature:
created by faculty and available 24/7.
in a collaborative online classroom.
between students and universities.
at field placements or immersions.
from application through graduation.
Advanced Practice Nursing Careers
Within advanced practice nursing, there are four main specialties nurses can choose, in addition to working as educators and leaders:
Nurse Practitioner: Nurse practitioners provide both acute and preventive care to patients in a variety of settings. Depending on the state in which they are licensed, nurse practitioners often have their own practices and have the autonomy to perform tasks such as prescribing medication for patients. Nurse practitioners typically specialize in a specific population, with job titles such as women’s health nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner and acute care nurse practitioner.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): CRNAs treat patients who are in need of local anesthesia, general anesthesia, epidural, sedation and more. They care for patients before and after surgery and, depending on where they practice, may only need physician consent rather than supervision to provide such care. In 15 states, no physician supervision is required for CRNAs.
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): CNMs provide care that is specific to women over the course of their lives. This includes gynecological care; care during pregnancy, from preconception to postpartum; menopause and standard primary care. CNMs also deliver babies and care for newborns.
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): CNSs work within a specific population, using their expertise to educate staff members and act as consultants. They work to optimize patient care and outcomes.
Nurse Educator: Nurse educators work in a variety of settings including colleges, universities and teaching hospitals. They teach nurses of all levels who are furthering their educations while often continuing to practice as nurses themselves, in order to continue to understand changes in the field and best practices.
Nurse Executives: Nurse executives are leaders who coach, mentor and manage nursing staff. They have a wide variety of duties, including designing patient care models and improving quality of care.
(Bar Chart Showing % Growth in Demand from 2014 to 2024): Nurse Practitioner: 35%; Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: 19%; Certified Nurse Midwife: 25%; Registered Nurse 16%.
Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics