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2023 Most Affordable Online MSN Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 12/21/2022
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Registered nurses (RNs) provide vital patient care in various clinical settings and play an integral role in healthcare teams. An online master's in nursing can help mid-career RNs fulfill career advancement goals. It can help RNs develop the skills to treat targeted populations, educate nursing students, or lead teams and organizations. 

Those interested in public service may alternatively seek an online master's degree in public health to acquire the skills necessary to work within communities delivering health education and programs that help others stay healthy. Also, our list of the most affordable online degrees can help students stay within budget and minimize student debt. View our methodology for details about rankings or learn more about us

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All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 Middle Georgia State University Macon (GA) $3,825
# 2 #2 Fort Hays State University Hays (KS) $4,478
# 3 #3 Wichita State University Wichita (KS) $4,620
# 4 #4 University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Oshkosh (WI) $4,633
# 5 #5 Fitchburg State University Fitchburg (MA) $4,934
# 6 #6 Georgia Southern University Statesboro (GA) $4,986
# 7 #7 Missouri State University Springfield (MO) $5,415
# 8 #8 Youngstown State University Youngstown (OH) $5,577
# 9 #9 Kennesaw State University Kennesaw (GA) $5,745
# 10 #10 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg (MO) $5,910
Annual Tuition: $3,825
Annual Tuition: $3,825
Annual Tuition: $3,825

Middle Georgia State University (MGA) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing - Adult/Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP), which also prepares nurses to sit for the American Nurses Credentialing Center's AGACNP certification exam. This 43-credit program is entirely online, with two full-day intensive/immersion sessions each semester. Full-time students may complete the program in five consecutive semesters or under two years.

MGA uses the Brightspace learning management system (LMS) to deliver online coursework and instruction. Distance learners in the online AGACNP program take classes such as Advanced Health Assessment/Diagnostic Reasoning, Leadership/Management and Healthcare Policy, and Advanced Pharmacology/Therapeutic Interventions. They must also complete 630 clinical hours of practice to graduate.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 91%
  • Average SATs: 880 -1090
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 1,852
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 268
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
Annual Tuition: $4,478
Annual Tuition: $4,478
Annual Tuition: $4,478

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing Administration for RNs interested in working in healthcare administration. Graduation requires completing 36 credit hours, which may take two years of full-time enrollment. RNs interested in teaching may find FHSU's online Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education of interest.

FHSU delivers its online curriculum via the Blackboard LMS. Students in the online nursing administration program enroll in courses such as Administrative Management in Health Care Organizations, Developing Nursing Theories, Informatics in Health Care Systems, and Advanced Foundations for Nursing Practice. They must also complete a final project and a nursing administration apprenticeship close to their home.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 96%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 4,411
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 2,453
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
Annual Tuition: $4,620
Annual Tuition: $4,620
Annual Tuition: $4,620

Wichita State University (WSU) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing - Nursing Education for RNs interested in becoming nursing educators. Students complete 37 credit hours of coursework, which may take two years if attending full time.

WSU's online students participate in class via the Blackboard LMS. The online nursing education program courses include Leadership and Emerging Issues in Nursing, Teaching Strategies for Nursing Education, Evidence-Based Nursing Practice and Outcomes of Care, and Advanced Pathophysiology. An applied learning or research experience is also required to graduate.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 89%
  • Average SATs: 1030 -1270
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 2,272
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 632
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
Annual Tuition: $4,633
Annual Tuition: $4,633
Annual Tuition: $4,633

The University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh (UWO) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing for RNs interested in career advancement. Students can choose from three program options: (1) Clinical Nurse Leadership, (2) Nurse Educator, or (3) RN to BSN to MSN. The online leadership and educator options require completing 37 credit hours to graduate, which may take two years of full-time attendance. The online RN to BSN to MSN option requires 60 credits, which may take up to four years to finish.

UWO delivers remote course content via Canvas. Students in the online MSN program take courses such as Clinical Prevention and Population Health, Chronic Care Management, and The Education Process in Nursing — depending on the chosen track. All graduate students must also complete a practicum.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 75%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 632
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 303
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
Annual Tuition: $4,934
Annual Tuition: $4,934
Annual Tuition: $4,934

Fitchburg State University is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing - Forensic Nursing for RNs interested in applying their skills within the legal system. This 39-credit program may take full-time students three years to complete, though up to six years are allowed.

Fitchburg State's online students access coursework and instruction through the Blackboard LMS. Courses within the online forensic nursing program curriculum include Forensic Nursing: Caring for Perpetrators, Forensic Nursing: Caring for Victims, Criminal Law: Substantive and Procedural, and Scientific Foundations for Forensic Nursing Interventions. A practicum is also required to graduate. RNs often work as medicolegal investigators, sexual assault nurse examiners, and death investigators after graduation.

  • Financial Aid Recipients: 91%
  • Average SATs: 990 -1150
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 385
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,402
  • School Type: Nonprofit
  • School Accreditation: NECHE

Getting an Online MSN Degree

An online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree prepares registered nurses to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) or enter into administration or education roles within the field. Students can earn an MSN degree in 12-24 months, depending on their academic credentials before entering the program. Below are two common types of online MSN programs:

  • BSN to MSN: These programs require registered nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to apply. Nurses can choose accelerated BSN to MSN bridge programs to earn their master’s degrees in 12 months.
  • RN to MSN: Students must have a registered nursing license, an associate degree or diploma in the field, and one to two years of full-time nursing experience. Students can typically complete an RN to MSN program in two years.

Regardless of the MSN program, students will take advanced clinical courses and select a nursing specialty, like nurse education, administrative leadership, nurse practitioner, or nursing informatics. While most of the coursework is facilitated online, students must also complete supervised clinical hours (ranging from 200-600 hours) at an approved healthcare facility in their area.

Why Accreditation is Important

Before enrolling in an online MSN program, students should determine that the school is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Nursing programs that have passed more rigorous reviews of standards and quality are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation is important to ensure that students can find employment after graduation and be eligible sit for advanced certification exams, such as the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP), Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (A-GNP), or Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP).

Common Online MSN Courses

An online MSN program will typically include a core curriculum and nursing specialization courses. Below is a list of standard MSN core courses and a description of what students will learn in each class:

  • Advanced Health Assessment: Students learn how to conduct comprehensive health assessments on patients across their lifespan. Other topics covered include health promotion strategies, risk assessment, and diagnostic reasoning. Students may also be required to complete a clinical practicum in this course.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: This course examines advanced concepts in how the body responds to disease. Students explore various conditions and how organ systems function. Students also learn how to diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients.
  • Advanced Pharmacology: Students learn the principles of drug therapy in response to various diseases. This course also covers how to prescribe pharmaceutical treatments to patients in a clinical setting. Other topics covered include adverse drug reactions, ethical implications, and patient education.
  • Organizational/Nursing Leadership: This course emphasizes leadership and communication strategies within the healthcare environment. Students will learn how to build collaborative teams to facilitate better patient outcomes. They will also develop skills in listening, training, and motivating, other employees.
  • Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing: Students learn how to apply best practices in patient care and make informed decisions based on evidence. In this course, students will analyze and evaluate current nursing knowledge for scientific merit. Students will also explore the ethical and cultural issues or barriers in evidence-based research.

Can I Get My MSN Without a BSN?

Registered nurses with an associate degree or diploma can apply to an RN to MSN bridge program without having a BSN. They are usually required to have one to two years of full-time experience. The schools on our most affordable MSN degree list that offer RN to MSN bridge programs are Drexel University, Lamar University, and American Public University System.

Cost of an Online MSN Degree

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the average cost of graduate tuition was $19,214 per year in 2018-2019. In comparison, the schools on our list of most affordable online MSN programs have significantly lower annual tuition rates between $4,048 - $6,755. These rates do not include other college-related costs, such as textbooks and technology fees. Students rarely pay the full sticker price for a degree by applying for financial aid, scholarships, or other funding sources outlined below.

Funding an Online MSN Degree

Once accepted into an MSN program, students should submit a FAFSA application for federal financial aid. Most students who apply receive some form of financial award, ranging from federal loans to grants. Beyond the FAFSA, some healthcare employers may offer tuition benefits to RNs pursuing graduate degrees in the field. Students may also be eligible for loans, programs, or scholarships to help offset the cost of an online MSN program:

  • Nursing Student Loans (NSL): The Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA) offers long-term and low-interest loans to nursing students enrolled full-time in a graduate program.
  • Nurse Corps Scholarship Program: This scholarship program is offered by the HRSA to students in graduate-level nurse practitioner programs or bridge programs. In exchange for receiving funding, graduates must complete a two-year service commitment in a critical shortage facility.
  • Scholarships: Students should contact their university to determine whether any graduate scholarship opportunities are available. Professional nursing organizations also offer scholarships to MSN students in various specialties. For example, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) has a scholarship for students in a nurse practitioner program. The Oncology Nursing Foundation also offers master’s degree scholarships for students at an accredited nursing school interested in oncology.

Is Getting an MSN Degree Worth It?

Students may wonder whether pursuing higher education will be worth the investment in terms of time and money. While this decision is personal to every individual and will vary based on a student's circumstances, below are a few metrics students might use to determine whether their investment will be beneficial in the long term. Considerations include future salary potential, job opportunities, access to roles with greater responsibility, and the opportunity to specialize in an area of interest within the field.

  • Salary: MSN graduates earn higher salaries and have more career advancement opportunities than RNs with only a BSN. The BLS reports that APRNs earned an average median salary of $115,800 in 2019, while RNs earned $73,330.
  • Job Growth & Career Advancement: The demand for APRNs is expected to grow by an unprecedented rate of 45% in the next decade, compared to 7% for RNs. In addition to providing patient care, APRNs have additional responsibilities that include working with providers to develop a patient care plan and, in some states, administer medication.
  • Specialization: Nurses with an MSN degree have the opportunity to specialize within the field. For example, APRNs can hold titles such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialists (pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, etc.). Graduates can also work as nurse educators or nurse administrators.

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