As healthcare needs have changed and nursing shortages have emerged, colleges and universities have made it a top priority to develop ways for a future registered nurse (RN) to gain advanced academic credentials. RN-to-MSN online programs are key to making this happen because they allow current RNs to earn an advanced degree in half the time that it would take to complete separate bachelor’s and master’s programs. If you never attended a bachelor’s program or have a degree in an unrelated field, the shortest RN to MSN online programs can help you grow your nursing career.
Overview of RN-to-MSN Programs
Earning a master’s degree in nursing allows you to develop advanced skills, deepen your knowledge of a specialization, and explore new opportunities. For many nurses, the time required to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree is a major obstacle, and an RN to MSN program is a logical solution.
Purpose of RN-to-MSN Programs
Many advanced nursing roles, including management positions and nurse practitioners, require a master’s degree. An RN who hasn’t earned a bachelor’s degree could spend six years or longer completing undergraduate and graduate programs
RN to MSN programs bridge the gap and allow nursing professionals to gain their advanced degrees in less time. In most of these programs, students complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously, potentially shortening their graduation timeframe by years.
Many colleges and universities offer MSN degrees, but RN to MSN online programs have specific features that you won’t find elsewhere. These include:
- Accelerated learning structures: The curriculum of an RN to MSN program typically includes a few essential bachelor’s level courses and major-specific graduate courses, and some provide self-paced formats.
- Specialized tracks: These programs often allow students to pursue a degree concentration, such as nursing education, family nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontology primary care.
- Online flexibility: You can participate in an online program from any location, and the option for asynchronous courses makes it possible to build your own schedule.
These elements of RN to MSN programs make them especially appealing to nurses who are currently employed. Rather than putting their careers on hold while they develop their skills and knowledge, they can continue working and take classes in their downtime.
Importance of Earning a Nursing Degree
Many job opportunities in healthcare are only open to candidates with graduate degrees. Nurses with advanced training have expanded responsibilities, such as diagnosing and treating illnesses, supervising nursing teams, and managing nursing departments. They also play a vital role in underserved communities, providing care to vulnerable patients with limited access to medical facilities.
Continuing your education is also beneficial to your personal career progression. By completing a master’s program, you can focus on an area that you feel especially passionate about, such as pediatrics, cancer treatment, or psychiatric health. You may also earn a higher salary and have the chance to advance into a leadership position.
Evaluating the Top RN-to-MSN Online Programs
When it comes to advancing your nursing career, various factors come into play in choosing the right RN to MSN online program. The list of programs featured in this article was curated based on a holistic set of criteria, aimed to provide a well-rounded view rather than focusing solely on one aspect such as program duration.
We considered several factors to ensure that we present options that could cater to different individual needs and preferences. These factors include the duration of the program, the quality of instruction based on faculty credentials and program accreditation, availability of online course options for added flexibility, cost of the program, and its popularity among students.
It’s important to note that the programs listed are not necessarily the “fastest” or “shortest” options available. While program duration is a significant factor, it should not be the sole criterion for your decision-making. Quality of education, flexibility, and overall fit for your career goals are equally, if not more, important. Therefore, we recommend considering all these aspects when evaluating which program suits your individual needs best.
Top 15 Shortest RN-to-MSN Online Programs
Nurses who prefer working in the classroom to the emergency room can enroll in the RN to MSN Nursing Education program at Capella University. The program accepts active RNs with associate’s degrees and includes a combination of bridge, core, and specialization courses. Capella offers self-guided and structured learning formats, which require 33 or 66 credits, respectively.
At Chamberlain, students have the option to earn a BSN and MSN or to skip the bachelor’s program entirely. The RN-BSN to MSN option has nine possible specializations, and full-time students can graduate in eight semesters. The accelerated RN to MSN program is shorter, but it requires a higher minimum GPA for admission. Both programs are available fully online.
To enroll in the accelerated RN to MSN nursing program at Drexel University, students must have a bachelor’s degree in a separate field. The curriculum includes 15 undergraduate bridge credits, practicum experiences, and specialized courses in areas such as nursing education and public health nursing. Most students graduate in three years.
Duke offers all of its nursing master’s programs fully online, but they also include required intensive sessions that are held on campus. The university offers concentrations including health informatics, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, and nursing education, most of which students can complete in two years. Unlike many RN-to-MSN programs, Duke University requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree but will accept an unrelated major if the applicant has an associate’s degree in nursing.
Georgetown University’s RN-to-MSN program offers a combination of online and on-campus components, with completion times that vary based on the student’s pace. The program features a range of nursing specialties to suit diverse career goals. Credit transfer options may be available, depending on the student’s previous educational experience.
The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a bridge pathway that prepares students with an unrelated bachelor’s degree to begin the master’s program. The program’s emphasis is nursing leadership in health care systems, and you can complete it in five weeks. The bridge program itself does not grant you a master’s degree. Instead, it gives you the necessary undergraduate credits to gain admission to the GCU nursing master’s program.
The ASN to MSN program at Indiana Wesleyan University allows students to enroll in graduate school without completing a bachelor’s degree. They offer degree majors in health systems leadership, nursing education, and primary care nursing with a family nurse practitioner specialization. The program requires 58 or 60 credit hours and allows students to complete clinical requirements in their local areas.
Loyola University’s accelerated RN to MSN program grants students with an unrelated bachelor’s degree a BSN equivalency. This allows them to participate in the MSN program without earning a new bachelor’s degree so that they can graduate more quickly. After completing the bridge courses, you’ll begin work in the family nurse practitioner program, which requires 48 credit hours and 720 supervised practicum hours.
Maryville University’s RN-to-MSN program is designed for online delivery, allowing for flexibility in completion time. Various concentrations are offered to cater to different nursing career paths. A credit transfer policy is in place to accommodate students with previous academic achievements in the field of nursing.
You can earn a BSN and MS in Nursing: Leadership in Health Care Systems from Regis University in three years. You’ll receive 33 credits for having an RN license, which allows you to complete your undergraduate studies before moving on to master’s level courses. The program includes 135 total credit hours, all of which you can take fully online.
Sacred Heart University’s RN-to-MSN program doesn’t require any on-campus participation, and you can complete it in 3.5 years. The university offers nursing education, nursing management and executive leadership, and clinical nurse leader concentrations. Depending on your educational background, you may be able to transfer up to 90 credits from past academic programs.
The RN-to-MSN program at South University offers a master’s program with a family nurse practitioner specialization. You can transfer up to 90 credit hours from previous degree programs, and most students finish in around three years. In addition to coursework, the program also requires you to complete 750 clinical hours before graduating.
The University of Cincinnati’s RN-to-MSN program is an online course of study with a flexible completion time frame. Students have the opportunity to choose from multiple nursing concentrations to align with their career aspirations. The university offers a credit transfer policy that is designed to accommodate a variety of educational backgrounds.
At Walden University, students can select one of nine specialization options, including nursing education, public health nursing, and nurse executive. The program is available in self-based and faculty-guided formats, allowing students to earn their master’s degree in as few as 14 months. Although Walden doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree in nursing to enroll, students without one may have to complete general education classes before beginning their master’s level coursework.
If you hope to become a nurse educator or manager, the RN to MSN program at Western Governors University (WGU) may be a good option. With the ability to transfer up to 90 credits, students typically graduate from this program in 42 months. The specialization options available are nursing education, leadership and management, and nursing informatics.
Career Growth Opportunities Post-MSN
Earning a master’s degree in nursing can open doors to professional roles that you didn’t qualify for in the past. You might pursue a position in management, specialized care, or research. Popular positions for post-MSN nurses include:
- Nurse practitioner
- Nursing educator
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nurse midwife
- Clinical nurse specialist
- Nurse manager
- Health informatics nurse
These roles require knowledge and skills that most bachelor’s programs don’t provide.
BLS Insights: Salaries and Job Outlook
The pay and job growth for MSN degree holders are highly competitive, significantly outpacing those of RNs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners as of 2022 is $125,900. This is substantially higher than the median annual wage for registered nurses, which is $81,220.
From 2022 to 2032, the BLS projects that these roles will have a growth rate of 38%, which is much faster than the 3% rate for all occupations. This translates to around 29,200 job openings each year for advanced nursing professionals.
Advantages of Online RN-to-MSN Programs
RNs have a lot of options when it comes to furthering their education. They’re often drawn to RN-to-MSN programs because of the personal, financial, and academic benefits they offer.
Flexibility and Convenience
Earning a master’s degree is time-consuming, making it difficult for some students to pursue their educational and professional goals. Online RN-to-MSN programs make it easier for you to fit your coursework around your other obligations. Whether you’re a working parent with an overloaded schedule or a nurse pulling double shifts to make ends meet, you can complete online classwork during lunch breaks and before you go to bed.
No matter what school you attend, college tuition is usually expensive. Completing an RN to MSN program reduces costs because you can earn your degree in a much shorter timeframe. In addition, you can avoid paying for housing and fees by enrolling in an online program.
Diverse Course Selection
Online RN-to-MSN programs offer a wide array of specializations and courses. When you take classes online, you can choose the program with the courses you prefer, regardless of whether it’s located nearby or across the country.
Nursing programs offered online are highly accessible to people of all backgrounds. A nurse with a learning disability can use transcripts and assistive devices to enhance their learning experience. Likewise, an aspiring nurse practitioner with a limited budget can take classes without taking on excessive debt or requesting time off work.
Financial Aspects: From Tuition to Additional Costs
Budget is a serious concern for many RNs hoping to enhance their careers. The exact cost of your degree differs based on the program you attend, but you can plan to pay for tuition, fees, and materials, at a minimum.
Tuition and Fees
Colleges generally charge tuition for online students by credit hour. Some have higher rates for out-of-state students, while others charge the same tuition regardless of your location. In addition to tuition, you may also have to pay fees for electronic access and student services.
You can also expect to spend money on books and course materials, but renting them may help limit the expense. Classes with lab components often have extra fees. If you attend a program with an on-campus residency or practicum requirement, you may have to pay for travel and housing during those experiences.
Diving into the RN-to-MSN Curriculum
The classes you take during an RN-to-MSN program depend on the school you attend and the major or concentration you choose. Many colleges incorporate a blend of general and targeted bachelor’s and master’s level courses.
RN-to-MSN online programs generally have core courses that all students have to take, such as:
- Healthcare informatics
- Basic research and evidence-based practice
- Health assessment
- Communication and collaboration
- Advanced nursing practice
These classes will help you build a solid foundation for a variety of potential careers.
Many programs also offer students the chance to take elective courses in subjects that they find most interesting. Electives usually focus on specialized areas of the field, such as:
- Clinical work
- Women’s health
- Global health disparities
Taking elective classes helps you tailor your education to your professional goals and become better prepared for your preferred roles.
Gearing Up: Admission Requirements
Your chances of gaining admission to an RN-to-MSN program will be higher if you know what to expect. Every college has a distinct set of criteria, but some requirements are common across programs.
Before enrolling in an RN-to-MSN program, you’ll most likely need a minimum of an associate degree in nursing. Some schools also require a bachelor’s degree, but it may not have to be in nursing. Applicants with unrelated degrees often take a few prerequisite courses prior to beginning their master’s programs.
Standardized Test Scores
Some schools only admit students with minimum scores on standardized tests, such as the GRE. In those cases, your scores should be current, and you’ll need to have an official copy of your test results sent to the admissions office.
Accreditation: Ensuring Quality in Nursing Education
When you compare RN to MSN programs, accreditation is one of the most vital issues to consider. Attending a program without accreditation could ultimately be a waste of your time and money.
The Importance of Accreditation
To earn accreditation status, colleges must undergo a thorough evaluation and prove that they have met high standards. Accrediting bodies assess the program’s curriculum, outcomes, and faculty. Attending an accredited program helps ensure that you receive a quality education with the most up-to-date information in the field. As a result, many employers and PhD programs only accept master’s degrees from accredited schools.
Accreditation is also important if you plan to continue your education beyond your master’s degree. It’s easier to transfer credits from an accredited institution, which helps you avoid repeating courses that you’ve already taken at a different school.
Recognized Accrediting Bodies for Nursing
Nursing programs can seek accreditation from regional or national accrediting bodies. However, they also often seek accreditation from organizations that exclusively evaluate programs within a particular industry or discipline.
For nursing programs, the primary accrediting bodies are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Completing an ACEN or CCNE-accredited MSN program is a requirement for many advanced nursing jobs.
Financial Support: Scholarships and Aid for Aspiring Nurses
Concerns about money shouldn’t deter you from getting ahead in your career. You can likely avoid paying for your college degree out-of-pocket by exploring different financial aid programs.
Scholarships Tailored for Nursing Students
Many organizations offer scholarships specifically for students pursuing degrees in nursing. Possible scholarships you might apply for include:
- Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation and Procter & Gamble Endowed Scholarship
- Nursing Economic$ Foundation Scholarships
- Nurse I Am Scholarship
Some scholarship programs have specific requirements in terms of major, school, and location. Look closely at the requirements before you submit your materials.
Financial Aid Options
For many students, the first step to securing financial aid is filing a FAFSA, which determines whether you’re eligible for federal loans or grants. Some state governments also offer separate aid to qualifying students enrolled in local programs. Practicing RNs may be eligible to receive financial support from their employers. Organizations often provide tuition reimbursement or assistance to students who want to earn an advanced degree. Your supervisor or human resources department should have information about available aid and whether your preferred degree program qualifies.
Application Tips and Key Deadlines
Applying for financial aid will go much more smoothly if you’re prepared. Follow these tips to simplify the process:
- Provide official documentation: When you apply to a scholarship or financial aid program, you may need to provide official documents, such as your RN license or transcripts. Keep these documents on hand when you apply, and be ready to request official copies from the organization that issued them.
- Write compelling scholarship essays: A strong personal statement can help you stand out from other applicants to a scholarship program, while a poorly written essay might indicate that you’re not committed to your education. Ask someone to read through your essay and identify errors or confusing statements so that you can correct them before you submit it.
- Pay attention to deadlines: Financial aid deadlines are often much earlier than when you’ll begin attending school, and applying early might earn you priority consideration. For example, the FAFSA application is usually open through the spring, but many students opt to apply in the fall.
Keep in mind that you’re unlikely to get a positive response from every financial aid program. Seeking funding from multiple sources is a good way to ensure that you get at least some of the funding you need.
RN-to-MSN Programs: Answering Common Questions (FAQ)
Can you get an MSN without a bachelor’s degree?
Yes, you can earn a master’s degree in nursing without a bachelor’s degree. In some programs, you can earn your BSN and MSN at the same time, while in others you can skip the BSN and move directly to the master’s degree.
How long does it take to finish an RN-to-MSN program?
Although the length varies depending on your specialization, most RN-to-MSN programs require two to four years of study. If you have transfer credits, you may finish earlier.
Are there any fully online RN-to-MSN programs?
Yes, some schools offer RN-to-MSN programs that you can complete entirely online. You’ll take classes, participate in discussions, and submit classwork through a learning management platform. Some programs with clinical or practicum requirements allow you to complete them in your local area.