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2023 Best Online RN to MSN Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 7/25/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in RN to MSN Badge

An online RN to MSN program helps nurses advance their careers to higher paying and fulfilling nursing careers. An online RN to MSN is considered a bridge program — a degree pathway new and experienced nurses take to advance in their careers. The difference between an RN to BSN program and RN to MSN program is that the latter is a graduate nursing program, where registered nurses transition to advanced practice registered nurses in order to assume leadership roles, like nurse practitioners. 

Most online RN to MSN programs offer concentrations, like adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, nurse educator, public health nursing, nursing administration, and family nurse practitioner. Online nursing students can expect to complete clinical hours, seminars, and practicums to graduate. 

View our methodology for more details about our list or learn more about OnlineU.

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in RN to MSN Badge
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#1 Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

  • Salary Score: 79
  • Median Starting Salary: $115,619
  • Locations: Bloomsburg (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is a public university offering an online RN-BSN-MSN, totaling 120 credit hours. It can take four years to complete this program online. The program offers four concentrations: (1) adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, (2) family nurse practitioner, (3) public health nursing, and (4) nursing administration. The acceptance rate at Bloomsburg is 90%, with a graduation rate of 61%.

At Bloomsburg, online students complete coursework asynchronously and synchronously on D2L Brightspace. This online program helps students develop more flexibility in their nursing careers, with courses that include Transcultural Health, Family Nursing, and Personal Health. Students must take seminars and complete 660 clinical hours to graduate. Prospective careers include nurse navigators, charge nurses, and pediatric nurses.

#2 West Coast University

  • Salary Score: 76
  • Median Starting Salary: $110,302
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

West Coast University (WCU) is a private, for-profit institution offering an online RN to MSN, which requires 135-158 credit hours. Full-time students can expect to complete their master's degrees online within 16-32 months. WCU’s acceptance rate is 100%, with a 74% graduation rate. The program offers six tracks, such as nurse educator and nurse leader.

WCU’s online students complete courses asynchronously and synchronously on Canvas. The program lets students quickly transition from BSN to MSN courses, which include Public Health Nursing, Health Promotion and Disease Management, and Ethics in Healthcare. Depending on the program, students may be required to complete a practicum, culminating experience, or residency. Graduates may go on to work in hospitals, physician offices, and outpatient care services.

#3 Gonzaga University

  • Salary Score: 76
  • Median Starting Salary: $109,524
  • Locations: Spokane (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

At Gonzaga University — a private, nonprofit, Roman Catholic university — prospective students can pursue an online RN to MSN totaling 35 credit hours. Gonzaga’s acceptance rate is 76%, with a graduation rate of 85%. It can take two or more years to complete this program, which requires an on-campus immersion that lasts just two days.

Gonzaga facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on Canvas. This bridge program focuses on improving students’ health assessment skills and knowledge. The courses include Community Health, Nursing Research, and Business of Healthcare Management. The program requires a practicum and 315 clinical hours. Potential careers include chief nursing officers, nurse administrators, and health directors.

#4 Wilkes University

  • Salary Score: 74
  • Median Starting Salary: $106,744
  • Locations: Wilkes-Barre (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Wilkes University is a private, nonprofit university offering an online RN to MSN, equaling 51-54 credit hours. Full-time students can spend two or more years completing this program. The university accepts 95% of applicants, with 62% graduating. The program offers three concentrations: (1) Family Nurse Practitioner, (2) Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, and (3) Psychiatric/ Mental Health.

At Wilkes, online students complete coursework delivered in asynchronous and synchronous formats on D2L Brightspace. This program is for registered nurses seeking an MSN to become nurse practitioners. Example courses include Advanced Pharmacology, Teaching Methodologies and Strategies in Nursing Curriculum, and Psychopharmacology. Students must complete practicums to graduate. Future careers may include nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and nurse managers.

#5 University of St. Francis

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Median Starting Salary: $102,924
  • Locations: Joliet (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of St. Francis (USF) is a private, nonprofit, Roman Catholic institution offering an online RN-BSN to MSN that requires 36-56 credit hours. It can take two or more years for students to finish this degree. This program offers four concentrations: (1) family nurse practitioner, (2) nursing administrator, (3) nursing educator, and (4) psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. USF’s acceptance rate is 68%, and it has roughly the same graduation rate of 67%.

USF’s online students complete courses asynchronously and synchronously on Canvas. This program gives nurses the flexibility to complete their studies while working. Sample coursework includes Population Health, Evidence-Based Health Care, and Nursing Research. Practicums and a clinical residency are also required. Future careers are midwives, nurse managers, and nurse practitioners.

USF is not an LGBT-friendly university.

#6 Drexel University

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $101,146
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

At Drexel University — a private, nonprofit university — prospective students can pursue an online RN to BSN to MSN totaling 45-46 credit hours. This online degree is for nurses who do not already have a BSN, and it takes three years to finish. Drexel accepts 83% of applicants, with 68% graduating. This program has four concentrations: (1) nursing education; (2) nursing leadership in health systems management; (3) public health nursing; and (4) quality, safe, and risk management.

Drexel facilitates asynchronous and synchronous online learning on Canvas. Sample courses include Quality and Safety in Healthcare, Evaluation and Translation of Health Research, and Advanced Integrative Clinical Concepts. Students must complete practicums to graduate and pursue careers such as nurse anesthetists, directors of nursing, and legal nurse consultants.

#7 Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $101,061
  • Locations: Boston (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) is a private institution with an online RN to MSN that requires 62 credit hours. Part-time students can expect to spend three years to complete this program.

At MCPHS, online students complete courses in asynchronous and synchronous formats on Blackboard, a popular learning management system. The RN to MSN program helps students expand their expertise in providing primary care to individuals and families. Some of the program’s courses include Community Health Nursing, Chemistry of Nutrition, and Health Assessment. Students must complete clinical hours and a comprehensive scholarly project to graduate. Potential careers include family nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse managers.

#8 Thomas Edison State University

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $100,759
  • Locations: Trenton (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Thomas Edison State University (TESU) is a public institution offering an online RN-BSN to MSN, which totals 27-63 credit hours. This online program can be completed in as little as 15 months. TESU’s acceptance rate is 100%, with a graduation rate of 45%. The program has three concentrations: (1) nurse educator, (2) nurse administrator, and (3) nursing informatics.

TESU facilitates asynchronous and synchronous distancelearning on Canvas. The program prepares students for new nursing roles. Clinical practicums are required during the program for graduation. Example courses include Public Health Nursing, Health Policy, and Financial Management in Nursing Practice. Graduates may pursue careers like nurse administrators, nurse educators, and nurse informaticists.

2023 Best Online RN to MSN Programs

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 79 79 $115,619
# 2 #2 West Coast University 76 $110,302
# 3 #3 Gonzaga University 76 $109,524
# 4 #4 Wilkes University 74 $106,744
# 5 #5 University of St. Francis 71 $102,924
# 6 #6 Drexel University 70 $101,146
# 7 #7 Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences 70 $101,061
# 8 #8 Thomas Edison State University 70 $100,759
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What Is an RN to MSN Program?

RN to MSN degree programs are designed to grant a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to registered nurses (RNs) who have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Students who successfully complete an RN to MSN program receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) along the path to their MSN. It typically takes less time to earn an MSN this way than it would if you enrolled in separate BSN and MSN programs.

As an RN to MSN student, you can expect material covering increasingly advanced medical and patient care concepts. A typical program features courses on healthcare policy, patient assessment, and quality outcomes and informatics.

RN to MSN degree programs often allow or require you to choose a specialized concentration such as nursing education, administration, or adult-gerontology care.

Most online nursing master's degrees feature asynchronous classes without live meetings. Instead, you sign in to a learning management system to watch recorded lectures, complete virtual software modules, and submit assignments.

You must complete at least one clinical field experience, sometimes called a practicum, to graduate from an RN to MSN program. You'll work under an experienced nurse supervisor for a number of hours set by your state's nursing board. Even if you attend classes online, your clinical hours will take place in a working healthcare facility in your community. This might be your place of employment if you have a nursing job.

To learn about online nursing programs and nursing requirements in other states, explore our list of accredited online nursing degrees by state below:

Nursing Degrees by State

Degree Requirements

You must have an active RN designation and hold an ADN in order to apply for an RN to MSN program. Your application will include proof of each, including official transcripts from any college you've attended. You typically also need two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement on your education and career goals. These requirements are similar to those needed for RN to BSN programs, but RN to MSN admissions officers typically expect a higher GPA on your ADN coursework (3.0-3.25).

To graduate, you'll need to complete 36-45 credit hours of coursework and several hundred practicum hours. This might take three years with a full-time course schedule or four years at a part-time pace. 

Nursing Courses

RN to MSN degree programs commonly let students specialize in a focused area of nursing practice. But these programs often have a similar general nursing core, so we've listed a few typical courses below. 

Ethics in the Nursing Profession

Students in this class learn about and discuss the values of nurses and their professional associations. Topics might include public advocacy, triage, patient quality of life, and systemic healthcare inequity. 

Nursing Informatics

Faculty aim to teach data literacy for nursing purposes. This can involve lessons on software tools, evidence-based decision-making, record keeping, and policy planning using quality outcomes.

Patient Health Assessment

This course covers some of the most important skills needed for any nursing specialty. Enrollees study physical and mental health assessment, how to take patient histories, clinical interviewing, and electronic health records research.

Public Health

MSN-level professors hope to train nurses to think about the broader health context when treating patients. In this course, they discuss epidemiology, local health concerns, global health trends, and environmental disaster preparedness.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Nursing Degree?

MSN-prepared nurses can continue their education, secure a higher level role than they had before, or both. Below, we examine some of the potential pathways you might take after finishing your RN to MSN program.

Further Education

The nursing field is subject to credentialism, or the need to complete higher levels of education to get jobs that used to be available at lower levels. An MSN might open many doors in your career, but there are a couple of options for continuing your education.

Graduate certificates are shorter programs for nurses who want to add a skill or focus to their professional toolkits. These programs often last 9-15 months and are similar to concentrations in degree programs. Some popular certificate options include nurse midwifery, pediatric nursing, adult-gerontological nursing, and psychiatric mental health nursing. Some certificates might require that you graduated from a nurse practitioner degree program and hold an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) designation — see Nursing Careers for more information about APRNs.

Doctoral degrees in nursing include the PhD in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). PhDs are geared toward students who want to be academic researchers and professors. The DNP is a professional doctorate for nurses who want to keep work at a high level in the field. For years, there has been a push to make a DNP the entry-level qualification for nurse practitioners instead of an MSN.

Nursing Careers

Holding an MSN might qualify you for many types of nursing careers. This degree can lead to great variety even among people in the same graduating class. For example, you might become a gerontology nurse in a residential care facility while your classmate finds work as an acute care neonatal specialist at a children's hospital. 

RNs earn median yearly wages of $77,600 and can expect 6% growth in their profession during the 2021-2031 decade. It's still possible in many states to become a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner with an MSN. This group makes median annual salaries of $123,780 and is experiencing a very fast 40% rate of job growth. 

Be sure to read our pages on how to become a nurse and the different types of nurses. And if you're worried about burning out on patient care, we offer a resource on eight high-paying career changes for nurses.

Financing Your RN to MSN Program

These programs might leave you with less student loan debt by leading to two degrees on a condensed schedule. But RN to MSN programs are still expensive. It's a good policy to apply for all available financial aid that you don't have to repay, including scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.

Most students will still take out at least some student loans to help pay for school. You can use our student loan repayment calculator to help you compare financing packages at different colleges.

You can read our lists of the most affordable online MSN programs, the most affordable online BSN programs, or the most affordable online DNP programs to find cost-conscious distance learning degrees for each level of nursing.

FAQs About RN to MSN Programs

How Can You Go From RN to MSN?

There are two ways to progress to an MSN once you have an RN. You can enroll in an RN to BSN program that leads to a bachelor's degree. Alternatively, you can sign up for an RN to MSN program. These programs last a bit longer but they end with an MSN and grant you a BSN along the way.

How Long Is an RN to MSN Program?

RN to MSN programs are usually designed to last about three years for students with a full-time course load. Many schools offer part-time options because RN to MSN tracks are usually full of working nurses with families and other responsibilities. Part-time programs may take a year or two longer to complete.

How Can You Go From RN to MSN Without BSN?

RN to MSN program faculty make sure that students learn everything they would in both a BSN and MSN program. Just because the goal is an MSN doesn't mean that students skip learning bachelor's-level nursing skills and knowledge.

Can You Get a Master's in Nursing Online?

Colleges across the country offer online master's degrees in nursing. These include RN to MSN programs but also master's-entry options for candidates who already hold BSNs. You may find a degree program with fully online courses, but remember that you'll need to complete your practicum experience in person at a healthcare facility.

Bottom Line

RN to MSN programs offer an accelerated path to getting a nursing master's degree for those without a nursing bachelor's degree. Students learn advanced skills in patient assessment, public health, data-driven decision-making, and healthcare policy analysis. Most programs feature the chance to specialize in a particular area of nursing.

OnlineU provides a number of college planning resources to help you understand your online education options. Our Guide to Starting Your Online Education can then walk you through the application process once you're sure what and how you want to study.

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