Choose the Best Online RN-to-MSN Program for You in 2021

You’re a registered nurse (RN) and looking to enhance your expertise. What is the next logical step for your career? You might consider pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Earning an MSN degree can help increase your experience and knowledge of nursing, which may benefit you as you advance in your career. An MSN degree may provide you an opportunity to specialize within your nursing career. For example, you could be an advanced practice nurse practitioner (APRN), able to carry out more involved and advanced clinical work with patients.

RN-to-MSN bridge programs may provide a clear pathway to accelerating your nursing career to the next level. Designed for registered nurses who are looking to specialize in their nursing career, these programs give you the chance to build on the skills you’ve already accumulated.

Sponsored Online Nursing Program

Simmons’ Online RN to FNP Program

Nursing@Simmons’ online Registered Nurse (RN) to Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program enables licensed RNs to earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University and prepare for certification as an FNP.

  • Earn your MSN from a CCNE-accredited program.
  • Collaborate with expert faculty, many of whom are active practitioners.
  • Choose a part-time, full-time, or extended plan of study.

Accredited RN-to-MSN Online Programs 2021

The RN-to-MSN programs below are either accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

The programs below may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or associate in nursing degree with an active registered nurse (RN) license. Be sure to check with your preferred program for more information.

Accredited RN-to-MSN Online Programs 2021
University Location Duration Concentrations
Advent Health University Orlando, FL 18 Months
  • Administration and Leadership
  • EducationFamily Nurse Practitioner
American College of Education Indianapolis, IN 30 Months
  • Nurse Administration
  • Nurse Educator
American International College Springfield, MA 24 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Administration
  • Nurse Educator
Aspen University Denver, CO N/A
  • Administration and Management
  • Forensic Nursing
  • Informatics
  • Nursing Education
  • Public Health
Bradley University Peoria, IL 40 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
Bryan College of Health Sciences Lincoln, NE 36 Months
  • Nurse EducatorNurse Leadership
Capella University Minneapolis, MN N/A
  • Care Coordination
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nursing Leadership and Administration
Concordia University, Wisconsin Mequon, WI 3-4 Years
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Educator
  • Healthcare Informatics
CUNY School of Professional Studies New York, NY Within 5 Years
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Organizational Leadership
  • Nursing Informatics
DePaul University Chicago, IL 2-4 Years
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nurse Educator
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 2-3 Years
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Leadership in Health Systems Management
  • Nursing EducationPublic Health Nursing
  • Quality, Safety and Risk Management in Healthcare
East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN 18 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing Education
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Excelsior College Albany, NY N/A
  • Leadership and Administration of Health Care Systems
  • Nurse Informatics
  • Nursing Education
Fairleigh Dickinson University Teaneck, NJ 48 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Education
Felician University Lodi, NJ 29-45 Months
  • Nursing Administration
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Franklin University Columbus, OH 16-30 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Administrator
Gonzaga University Spokane, WA 36 Months
  • Nursing Leadership in Healthcare
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Indiana, PA 24 Months
  • Administration
  • Education
Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN <60 Months
  • Administration
  • Education
Jacksonville University Jacksonville, FL 18 Months
  • Clinical Nurse Educator
  • Informatics
  • Healthcare Quality and Safety
  • Leadership in Healthcare Systems
Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 18 Months
  • Community Health
  • Health Policy
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing Informatics
Loyola University, New Orleans New Orleans, LA N/A
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Healthcare Systems Administration and Leadership
  • Nursing Informatics
MCPHS University Boston, MA 36 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
Mercy College of Ohio Toledo, OH 36 Months
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Leadership
Messiah University Mechanicsburg, PA N/A
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nurse Educator
National University San Diego, CA 12-21 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Nebraska Methodist College Omaha, NE 30 Months
  • Nurse Executive
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Nurse Educator
Northwest Nazarene University Nampa, ID 36 Months
  • Leadership and Education
Oklahoma Baptist University Shawnee, OK N/A
  • Education
  • Global Public Health
Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais, IL 30-36 Months
  • Education
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Leadership/Management
Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT 2 Years
  • Operational Leadership
Regis University Denver, Colorado 3 Years
  • Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
Robert Morris University Moon Township, PA N/A
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Leadership
Roberts Wesleyan College Rochester, NY 29 Months
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Leadership and Administration
Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ N/A N/A
Simmons University
Sponsored Program
Boston, MA As few as 32 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
South College Knoxville, TN 30 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
South University Savannah, GA N/A
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse AdministratorNurse Educator
  • Nursing Informatics
Spalding University Louisville, KY As few as 18 Months
  • Healthcare Leadership
  • Nurse Educator
Spring Arbor University Spring Arbor, MI N/A
  • Nurse Educator
Tennessee Technological University Cookeville, TN 2.5-3 Years
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
Tusculum University Greeneville, TN N/A
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
Union University Jackson, TN 1.5-2.5 Years
  • Administration
  • Education
University of Arizona Tucson, AZ As few as 24 Months
  • Clinical Systems Leadership
University of Central Florida Orlando, FL N/A
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing and Healthcare Simulation
  • Nursing Leadership and Management
University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI 1-2 Years
  • Advanced Population Health Nursing
University of Mary Bismarck, ND As few as 20 Months
  • Nursing Leadership and Management
University of Maryland Baltimore, MD As few as 2 Years
  • Community/Public Health Nursing
  • Health Services Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Informatics
University of Massachusetts, Amherst Amherst, MA N/A
  • Nursing Education
University of Mississippi Medical Center Jackson, MS 2 Years
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing and Health Care Administration
  • Acute Care Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 3 Years
  • Health Care Leadership and Administration
University of Southern Maine Portland, ME As few as 24 Months
  • Nursing Administration and Leadership
  • Nursing Education
University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, TX As few as 24 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
Walden University Minneapolis, MN N/A
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Education
  • Nurse Executive
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Public Health Nursing
Wayland Baptist University New Braunfels, TX N/A
  • Nurse Educator
West Coast University Irvine, CA As few as 24 Months
  • Advanced Generalist
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Leader
  • Nursing Informatics
Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT 36-42 Months
  • Education
  • Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Informatics
Wilkes University Wilkes-Barre, PA 44 Months
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
William Paterson University of New Jersey Wayne, NJ 18-28 Months
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing Education

Things to Consider When Choosing a School with an RN-to-MSN Program

With the many accredited RN-to-MSN online programs listed above, it becomes apparent that there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a school with an RN-to-MSN program. But the options don’t need to become overwhelming. By focusing on your professional goals, program accreditation, and specializations, you can narrow the pool of potential RN-to-MSN programs to a manageable few, then select the one that’s just right for you.

Goals

The first thing to consider when choosing a school with an RN-to-MSN program is your goals. If you’ve yet to become an RN, take a step back and consider how to become a nurse and learn more about the array of online nursing programs and nursing degrees

If you’ve already begun your nursing career as an RN, where do you want to go from here? RN-to-MSN programs may prepare you for careers as an advanced practice registered nurse, such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. 

Is there a particular population you would like to work with, such as women? If so, the RN-to-MSN program for you should include a women’s health nurse practitioner specialization. If you first consider your goals, then the RN-to-MSN program that is right for you will become more apparent.

Program Accreditation

Program accreditation is one of the foremost things to consider when choosing a school with an RN-to-MSN program. There are two agencies that accredit MSN programs: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Both the CCNE and ACEN are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation as accrediting bodies. Accreditation by the CCNE and ACEN is a voluntary process for programs with the public interest in mind. The RN-to-MSN programs listed above are accredited by CCNE or ACEN.

Specializations

Specializations are an important consideration when choosing a school with an RN-to-MSN program, as they dictate not just the program’s curriculum, but the nursing roles you may be qualified to pursue following graduation. RN-to-MSN programs may prepare you for particular nursing roles by offering different academic tracks that build upon the common core curriculum with electives on specialized knowledge, techniques and skills. Depending on the school, RN-to-MSN programs may offer the following specializations:

Education Requirements

RN-to-MSN programs generally require at least an associate degree. Most MSN programs require applicants to have a license as a registered nurse (RN) in their state. Nurses who have an RN license may be better positioned to enter the MSN program of their choice. Nurses with an associate degree or a nursing certificate might need to complete transitionary undergraduate coursework once admitted to an MSN program.

Typically, MSN program applicants must submit letters of recommendation and transcripts showing previous academic work. While admission requirements vary by program, competitive MSN applicants often have a minimum GPA of 3.0 from their associate or bachelor’s degree programs.

RN-to-MSN Curriculum

RN-to-MSN curricula vary depending on the program or specialization you choose. Specializations may include a family nurse practitioner or adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner concentrations. 

Generally, RN-to-MSN online programs consist of core courses grounded in theory and practice. Courses may include pathophysiology and practicums that allow students to apply theory to practice.

Quality accredited programs typically require students to complete a specific number of clinical practice hours at approved clinics, hospitals and nursing teaching facilities.

Certificate and Licensure

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), including nurse practitioners, require at least a master’s degree, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA). While licensure requirements for APRNs may vary state to state, a license issued by the state you wish to practice in and a national certification may be required. Be sure to check with your state’s board of nursing.

Learn more about nursing licensure requirements in your state.

Scholarships for RN-to-MSN Program Students

There are scholarships for RN-to-MSN program students that may help them finance their education. Ask your prospective program about the options, but consider the following as well:

Learn more about nursing scholarships and financial aid.

Should I Pursue an RN-to-MSN?

RN-to-MSN programs are necessary for nurses who want to become authorities in their fields. If you want to gain expertise, become a specialist working with specific populations and earn a higher salary, an RN-to-MSN program may be the best pathway for you.

The median annual wage for specialized nurses who must hold an MSN to practice was $115,800, according to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. The lowest paid 10% earned less than $82,460, while the highest 10% earned more than $184,180.

When considering this, note that the entry-level educational requirements for becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) will change by 2025. In 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) committed to making the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree the new threshold requirement for entry-level nurse practitioner education. A DNP is the highest practice-based degree that can be earned in the field of nursing. Its curriculum is designed to support the complex, ever-changing health care process—enabling nurses to tackle clinical and administrative leadership roles. 

Additional Programs

There are additional programs that may be of interest to students researching RN-to-MSN programs. These include:

  • Accelerated RN-to-MSN Program: For registered nurses looking to earn their Master of Science in Nursing faster than traditional on-campus college programs. Learn more about accelerated nursing programs.
  • Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs: For non-nursing degree-holders looking to earn their MSN to become registered nurses or advanced practice registered nurses. Learn more about direct-entry master’s in nursing programs.
  • Dual Nursing Degree Programs: For those looking to earn both an MSN and a degree in a complementary field, such as healthcare administration, public health, business administration or public administration, there are dual nursing degree programs.
  • RN-BSN to MSN: For registered nurses looking to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in nursing degree, an RN-BSN to-MSN bridge program may be their preferred pathway.
  • RN-to-Nurse-Practitioner Program: RNs looking to become nurse practitioners may consider pursuing an MSN online nurse practitioner (NP) program.
  • RN-to-Family Nurse Practitioner Program: RNs seeking to become family nurse practitioners, who provide primary clinical care to everyone from infants to the elderly, may pursue an online Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Learn more about other online nursing programs and nursing degrees, including other Master of Science in Nursing degree programs.

What Is a Post-Graduate Certificate in Nursing? 

Post-graduate certificates in nursing are programs designed for nurses to further their education after they’ve already obtained their MSN or DNP. This may help equip them to specialize in an area that might not have been covered in depth during their graduate studies. This specialization may be clinical or in more of a leadership or management capacity. Numerous schools offer programs like these. Some of the many examples of specialties with a corresponding postgraduate certificate include:  

  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner.
  • Emergency nurse practitioner. 
  • Family nurse practitioner.
  • Women’s health nurse practitioner.
  • Nursing education.
  • Health care policy. 
  • Nursing leadership. 
  • Health systems and administration. 

The number of credit hours and corresponding time it takes to complete a post-graduate certificate in nursing is likely to vary depending on the institution offering it as well as the subject matter, but generally, it takes one to two years. Post-graduate nursing programs require a clinical experience component, much like any other accredited nursing degrees, according to the CCNE Clinical Practice Experiences FAQ. The time it may take to complete this experience may impact completion time for the post-graduate certificate.

Requirements for admission to a post-graduate certificate program in nursing may also vary by institution and subject matter. Some common requirements may include:

  • MSN or DNP from an ACEN- or CCNE-accredited institution.
  • 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
  • Active, unencumbered RN license. 
  • APRN license.
  • Clinical hours.
  • Letters of recommendation.

Be sure to check with your desired institution and program when weighing your options to make sure you will meet application requirements.

FAQs

What is RN to MSN?

An RN-to-MSN program is a bridge graduate nursing program designed to pave a clear path from registered nurse to advanced practice registered nurse to qualify for advanced nurse practitioner careers in the field.

How long is an RN-to-MSN program?

RN-to-MSN programs vary in length. Generally, accredited online nursing programs last two to three years. Whether you pursue your degree in a full- or part-time program will determine the duration of study.

What is an RN-BSN-to-MSN Program?

An RN-BSN-to-MSN program is a combined bachelor’s and master’s in nursing program for RNs. It is intended for RNs who have only completed their associate degree in nursing, but would like to obtain  their BSN and MSN.

What is an RN-to-NP Program?

An RN-to-NP program is a postgraduate degree program for RNs seeking to become nurse practitioners (NPs). NP programs are master’s degrees that help prepare RNs for licensure and practice as advanced practice registered nurses (APRN).

How is course content delivered in an online RN-to-MSN program?

Course content is delivered in an online RN-to-MSN program via one of two general methods: synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous delivery relies on audio, video and/or text-based telecommunications platforms, which allow students and instructors to interact in real-time. Asynchronous delivery is self-paced, allowing students to listen to recordings, watch videos, or read texts at their convenience.

Will an online RN-to-MSN program help me get a job?

While completing an RN-to-MSN program does not directly correlate with securing a job, it may help prepare you for licensure at the APRN level with your state. Check with your state’s board of nursing for licensure requirements for APRNs.

What will I learn in an RN-to-MSN Program?

What you will learn in an RN-to-MSN program will differ based upon your school and concentration, but all master’s programs in nursing should include the following, as stipulated by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing:

  1. Background for practice from sciences and humanities.
  2. Organizational and systems leadership.
  3. Quality improvement and safety.
  4. Translating and integrating scholarship into practice.
  5. Informatics and healthcare technologies.
  6. Health policy and advocacy.
  7. Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes.
  8. Clinical prevention and population health for improving health.
  9. Master’s-level nursing practice.

What is the difference between an RN-to-MSN and a traditional MSN program?

The difference between an RN-to-MSN and a traditional MSN program lies primarily in the admissions criteria. RN-to-MSN programs accept RNs who may have only completed their associate degree in nursing, while traditional MSN programs require applicants to have a bachelor of Science in nursing.

Can I complete an RN-to-MSN Program without a nursing degree?

You may complete an RN-to-MSN program without a bachelor’s in nursing degree, but an associate in nursing degree is often the minimum educational qualification. Students with no educational background in nursing may instead want to consider a direct-entry master’s in nursing program.

Last updated February 2021.