While nurses with RN certification or even a bachelor’s degree have many options to choose from, those with a Master of Science in Nursing degree have even more flexibility and room for advancement. Speaking of flexibility, the affordable online options today are incredible!
Not only does a graduate degree in nursing open the door to further specialization and promotion, it can extend a nursing career to last throughout your lifetime.
As one nursing website noted, going on for your master’s degree can open the door to teaching and management positions that are more highly paid as well as less physically demanding than front-line and entry-level jobs.
How much money can you make with an Online MSN degree?
The nursing profession is hugely rewarding. You get to make people feel better all day long! But lucky for you, the salary for nurses with an advanced degree is a significant attraction too. According to Payscale.com, nurses with a master’s degree in some specializations can earn $140,000 a year and up.
Especially given the ever-changing realities of health insurance and reimbursement patterns, nurse practitioners and similar professionals will increasingly find their skills are needed to provide quality care to everyone. In fact, statistics are showing that the demand for these jobs will increase by 31 percent by 2026!
What can you do with an Online MSN degree?
There’s a whole range of avenues you can take your MSN degree. You can gain the skills and advanced training you need to deliver care in several of these specialized roles, including nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner. With an MSN and certification as an advanced practice nurse, you are able to deliver many of the same services as physicians, and can take on a leadership role in the healthcare team both in medical offices and in hospitals.
Nurses who are pursuing an MSN typically concentrate on one of four advanced practice areas:
- Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Anesthetist
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Certified Nurse Midwife
In addition, graduate study in nursing is recommended for those interested in entering the business and management side of healthcare, and learning more about leadership, management, policies and finance.
What are the requirements for an Online MSN degree?
Typically, an MSN program can take up to two years to complete. While some MSN programs also require work experience for admission, most programs generally require the following:
- A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- A Registered Nurse (RN) license
- Minimum GPA and GRE scores (varies by program)
- Clinical experience (varies by program)
What are the Most Affordable Online MSN degrees?
Here at College Choice, we’ve circled in on the Most Affordable Online MSN degrees. We took a number of steps to find our list. First and foremost, we filtered our results for online degree programs. Then we looked at affordability and the return on investment – a big factor in how you decide on a school. Our methodology draws from our data team at College Choice, the quality resources at U.S. News & World Report, and the number smarts at Payscale.com.
If you’re ready to take the next step and begin your MSN while maintaining your current job and studying online, read on!
Most Affordable Online Master's in Nursing
Fitchburg State University
Fitchburg State University takes the cake for the most affordable online master’s program in nursing. It offers an MSN program in Forensic Nursing. On successful completion of all program requirements, you’ll not only receive a degree – you’ll also be prepared to meet the requirements for certification as an Advanced Forensic Nurse Board Certified (AFN-BC).
Regardless of the setting, you’ll be prepared to help the victims of violent crime recover from their trauma – and help the perpetrators of those crimes turn their lives around and reduce the risk of reoffending. With the MSN in forensic nursing, you’ll be qualified to serve in a number of exciting career fields including:
- Legal Nurse Consultant
- Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)
- Forensic Nurse Hospital Based Expert
- Risk Management Specialist
You’ll be ready to contribute to the development of nursing science and the improvement of health care, and to pursue doctoral study if you so desire. Fitchburg State University is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
University of North Dakota
Located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines of the University of North Dakota offers numerous online masters programs in the area of nursing. Through all of the online programs, students will complete required online courses, a few brief on-campus visits, and a clinical preceptorship.
Graduates of the distance program are well prepared to function as advanced practice nurses, teaching and coaching patients in health maintenance, managing other professionals in complex healthcare systems, and practicing with ethical integrity and cultural sensitivity. Students have a wide range of possible specializations when seeking a master’s degree in nursing. These include:
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) track
- Nurse Educator track
- Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing track
- Public Health track
Upon successful completion of the program, students in the FNP track will be eligible to complete the National Certification exam through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Once certified, you’ll be prepared for primary care practice in a variety of settings and may obtain prescription privileges depending on your state regulations.
Another top affordable online master’s program in nursing can be found at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Currently, this program offers students the opportunity to specialize in two areas, either in Nursing Administration or in Nursing Education.
The Nursing Administration track is intended to give registered nurses the advanced knowledge they need to excel in organization, management, leadership, health care policy and economics. Meanwhile, the Nursing Education track gives registered nurses the knowledge and skills necessary to become nurse educators in academic settings. Some of the stand-out online classes for these degrees include:
- Healthcare Policy and Finance
- Advanced Nursing Issues
- Nurse Educator Practicum
Alongside the business courses that comprise the nursing administration track, students may also have the additional opportunity to prepare for a dual degree, receiving the MSN alongside the MBA. While Lamar University offers the combined dual MSN/MBA degree, these additional business courses aren’t currently available online. However, you can transfer equivalent courses, up to 9 credit hours, into the MSN/MBA program from other online schools.
Fort Hays State University
From its campus in Hays, Kansas, Fort Hays State University offers a number of affordable online degrees to supplement its residential offerings. Among those programs, you’ll find several options for continuing your nursing education at the master’s degree level and for specializing in advanced nursing topics.
While studying online at FHSU, you’ll interact with other nurses across the country and around the world, learning how to best solve today’s nursing challenges. Like a number of other programs, Fort Hays offers the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in both Nursing Administration and Nursing Education tracks. Whatever your specialty, you’ll complete your degree online with both asynchronous learning and supplemental audio conferencing. A few stand-out classes include:
- Healthcare: Policy and Politics
- Informatics in Health Care Systems
- Developing Nursing Theories
- Complexity in Health Care Organizations
The hands-on administration and education experiences required for the NA and NE tracks can be taken near your place of residence, so you can balance your education with family and job responsibilities. As part of the graduation requirements, you’ll also be expected to pass a comprehensive examination in your field and to complete an individual Evidence-Based Practice Project.
West Texas A&M University
Located in Canyon, Texas, West Texas A&M University offers an online comprehensive M.S.N. program in addition to its residential degree offerings in the field. The comprehensive M.S.N. program at West Texas A&M will prepare you to work at an advanced nursing practice level in complex health care environments, and it allows you to tailor your nursing education with a variety of elective courses.
Required coursework in this program includes advanced studies in pathophysiology, pharmacotherapeutics, and advanced assessment to enhance clinical practice. In addition, practical coursework is personalized to address each student’s specific learning objectives. As part of the comprehensive MSN program, you can choose to specialize in elective areas including:
- Holistic Nursing
- Nursing Administration/Management
- Nursing Education
- Nursing Informatics
Graduates of the program find work in many settings, including hospitals, outpatient settings, administrative positions, educator positions, and in collaborative practice with physicians and other health care providers, and schools of nursing. West Texas A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the graduate program in nursing is additionally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
If you’re interested in taking your nursing career to the next level, preparing to assume leadership roles in your specialty area, and studying for your master’s degree in a Christian college environment, the program at Tennessee’s Union University may be right for you.
The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at Union prepares students in advanced theory and practice in a specialized field of nursing, while also teaching you to care for the health and well-being of diverse people in an intercultural world. Available MSN tracks include Education, Administration, and Nurse Practitioner, with possible practitioner sub-specialties in the following:
- Family Care
- Adult/Geriatric Primary Care
- Pediatric Care
- Family Psychiatric Mental Health
Union’s curriculum will prepare you to analyze nursing problems conceptually, use theories related to nursing practice, and integrate principles of spiritual care and bioethics into your professional role. You’ll have the opportunity to practice in a variety of health-care settings, integrating knowledge of healthcare economics and policy into the delivery of cost effective, ethically responsible nursing care.
Spring Arbor University
Another religious college with extensive nursing programs for graduate students is Michigan’s Spring Arbor University, which is historically affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. Faith is an important part of the philosophy behind the curriculum.
If that focus on faith and learning appeals to you, Spring Arbor might be the right choice for an MSN degree specializing in nursing education, preparing to work as a nurse practitioner, or for a joint MSN/MBA degree for nurses interested in the management and administrative aspects of health care. You can choose from some of the following MSN/MBA dual-degree program concentrations:
- Health care administration
- Human resource development
- Organizational consulting
One of the unique online programs at Spring Arbor, intended for nurses who already hold a BSN from an accredited nursing program, is their 36-month, CCNE-accredited MSN/MBA dual-degree program that can take you from bedside to boardroom with the skills you need to be an ethical leader in our complex healthcare system.
Western Governors University
While Western Governors’ University has only been in existence for twenty years, it has already built an extensive portfolio of online degree programs. This nonprofit institution was founded in 1995 by state governors looking to change the way education could better the lives of their citizens.
WGU is an all-online, competency-based university, which means their degrees are granted for what students learn rather than how much time they spend in school. The graduate nursing programs available at Western Governors’ University offer a number of specializations, including the following:
- MSN with a focus in Education
- MSN with a focus Leadership and Management
- MSN with a focus in Nursing Informatics
- MS in Integrated Healthcare Management (in the College of Business)
Each degree requires a total of 36 competency units (CUs), the equivalent to the traditional credit hour. In addition to your coursework, you’ll also complete a capstone project and a practical internship. Western Governors’ University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and the nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Gardner Webb University
The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree at North Carolina’s Gardner-Webb University is structured to give students an advanced and comprehensive nursing education, while also preparing them for specialized career opportunities in nursing administration, education or a direct patient care role as a family nurse practitioner.
Graduate of the Gardner-Webb MSN program will tackle courses that pertain to nursing, genetics, public health, quality improvement in the healthcare system, and organizational sciences. Regardless of your area of specialization, you’ll be ready to take on a leadership role as a nurse with the skills and knowledge to make a difference in healthcare organizations and in the lives of your patients. A few highlight classes include:
- Theoretical Basis for Advanced Practice
- Perspectives of Caring
- Nursing Economics and Finance
- Health Care Law and Ethics
While the nursing administration and nursing education tracks require 31 to 36 credit hours to complete, the family nurse practitioner program requires the completion of 51 credit hours of coursework, and will prepare you to sit for the national certification examination. Gardner-Webb University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the nursing programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing
Located in Peoria, Illinois, Saint Francis Medical Center’s College of Nursing is a Catholic institution that offers a wide range of graduate programs. In each case, the program is designed for online delivery to meet the needs of the busy working nurse who wants to to advance their knowledge and professional skills.
The graduate program offers a predominantly online Masters of Science in Nursing degree. In addition, St. Francis Medical Center offers an accelerated degree pathway to the MSN for those RN’s who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. Students can choose from a number of different specialities including:
- Nursing Management Leadership
- Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Educator
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
Just this year, Saint Francis Medical Center rolled out a new master’s degree—MSN in Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Iowa’s Graceland University offers online Master of Science in Nursing programs with specialty tracks designed to prepare you to become either a family nurse practitioner or a nurse educator. Both of Graceland’s online graduate nursing programs are designed to provide working RNs the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in nursing through the completion of a combination of online cohort courses, on-campus focus sessions, and faculty- and preceptor-guided practicum experiences in the student’s local community.
Over the course of the MSN program, students will be required to attend a two-day focus session located at Graceland University’s School of Nursing satellite campus in Independence, Missouri. This Master of Science in Nursing focus session is scheduled in conjunction with the Advanced Practice Competencies Lab. Students in the Family Nurse Practitioner program are also required to complete 720 hours of practicum work that can be done in the student’s own community. Some highlight classes include:
- Theory in Nursing
- Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
- Primary Care of Families
During the practicum, the student’s hands-on experiences are directly supervised by an approved local preceptor as well as a member of Graceland’s nursing faculty. Meanwhile, for nurse educator candidates, your studies will blend theory and research with an emphasis on guided practice in the educator practicum. The required 240 hours of practicum work are also able to be completed in the your own community.
University of Southern Indiana
The nursing graduate programs at the University of Southern Indiana include non-clinical tracks as well as a number of specialities within the nurse practitioner certification. Regardless of which track you choose, you’ll learn how to integrate critical thinking, exercise independent judgment, provide leadership, synthesize what you’ve learned, and promote the essential values of caring in your professional and personal life.
While the Nursing Education and Nursing Management and Leadership tracks require 42 credit hours each to complete the degree, each of the nurse practitioner tracks require significant clinical work as well. On average, you’ll be required to complete about 600 clinical hours for your degree in addition to the 42 credit hours of coursework. Some of your concentration options include:
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Nursing Education
- Nursing Management and Leadership
Like many of the programs we evaluated, Southern Indiana’s MSN program is limited to students in certain states due to credentialing regulations. Before you apply, check with each program for eligibility details. Moving into a state not recognized by the graduate nursing program might prevent you from continuing in MSN coursework, unless you are on active military status and are transferred for reasons having to do with your service.
Stevenson University, located in Maryland, offers a Master of Science in Nursing for online students with three options for specialized concentrations, and a unique program in population-based care coordination. Each program is designed for registered nurses who already hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and who are ready to take the next step and earn their master’s degree.
With multiple start dates available throughout the year and accessible online courses, this MSN program is a flexible option designed for busy working adults looking to expand their career horizons. Your three three options for specialized concentrations include:
- Nursing Education
- Nursing Leadership and Management
- Population-Based Nursing Care
If you choose the nursing education option, you’ll learn how to implement and evaluate courses using multiple strategies. The nursing leadership and management track helps you to implement best business management practices in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Finally, the population-based care track prepares students for roles that have increased in demand since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Concordia University at Irvine
The MSN degree at California’s Concordia University at Irvine is designed to prepare you for the next phase of your career – whether that’s working as a nursing leader in healthcare management or teaching as a clinical or academic advanced nurse educator.
The curriculum for this MSN degree is based on competence in nursing practice, resource management, quality improvement, and demonstrating skills in leadership and in critical thinking. The Nursing Leadership track focuses on the advancement of healthcare delivery in the clinical setting, while the Nursing Education track will equip you to teach undergraduate nursing students in a variety of specialty content and clinical practice areas, and to become an advanced nurse educator in the hospital setting. Here’s a look at some classes:
- Health Care Context and Organizational Systems Leadership
- Applied Statistics for Nurses
- Advanced Health and Physical Assessment
- Ethics in Nursing
As a Christian university associated with the Lutheran tradition, Concordia’s nursing program is designed to help students become caring, compassionate, and competent in their field. Working closely with faculty role models, you’ll learn to see nursing as both a philosophical and scientific approach to caring for all those who seek health care, disease prevention and management, health promotion, and health education.
Founded on evidence-based nursing practice, Lynchburg College’s MSN program provides students with educational experiences that are grounded in current knowledge and cutting-edge research. This degree emphasizes quality improvement and healthcare informatics.
The program at Lynchburg is focused on one area of specialization, offering nurses the education and skills needed to become clinical nurse leaders within healthcare settings. This 37-credit-hour program can be completed in 18 months, and also includes a required component of clinical experience. Here’s a sneak peek at a few classes:
- Nursing Theory and Role Development
- Healthcare Policy and Decision Making
- Nursing Leadership and Ethics
- Community Assessment
If you’re ready to take on a higher level of responsibility within your current job, or looking for the qualifications to move to another position in nursing management, the MSN at Lynchburg College is an affordable option that can be completed in a relatively short time frame. Lynchburg College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and its nursing degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
New Hampshire’s Rivier University offers several graduate nursing programs that prepare working professionals for positions in advanced practice nursing, or to teach in schools of nursing or other healthcare settings. Students in the program will develop state-of-the art skills, preparing them to excel in today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment.
Students in the FNP program learn advanced theory and clinical skills in topics like pathophysiology, health assessment, family nursing theory, quality healthcare improvement, health policy, and research design. Through online courses and field practicums completed locally, students gain the knowledge and skills needed to work as family nurse practitioners, adult nurse practitioners, or adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners. Specializations available online include:
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Nursing Education
- Leadership in Health Systems Management
- Master of Public Health
As well as being affordable and convenient, Rivier’s programs prepare students for success. In fact, the American Nurses Credentialing Center reports that graduates of Rivier’s M.S. in Nursing program who sat for the certification exam for Family Nurse Practitioner in 2014 and 2015 had a 100 percent pass rate.
The State University of New York at Delhi offers an online program in nursing leading to a Master of Science degree (MS) with a focus on nursing education. Graduates of a master’s program in nursing education are prepared to fulfill roles as nurse educators in pre-licensure (RN) and bachelor’s degree programs (BSN), serve as staff development coordinators, and work as community educators.
The program requires 42 credits for graduation, and can be completed either on a part-time or full-time basis. Full-time students can enroll in as many as 16 credits per semester, which means that a motivated student can finish the program in less than two years. SUNY Delhi’s program is noted for its flexibility, and it’s designed to allow working nursing professionals to study around their demanding schedules by offering two 7-week sessions per semester. A sampling of courses includes:
- Managing Human Resources
- Finance and Economics in Healthcare
- Role of the Nurse Administrator
- Health Policy and Technology in Healthcare
In addition to your coursework, you’ll also complete required practical education with clinical placements in your community. This program not only prepares nurses at the graduate level for teaching positions, but it also serves as a foundation for doctoral studies. SUNY Delhi is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Winona State University at Rochester
The mission of the Department of Nursing at Winona State University at Rochester is to “educate caring, ethical, creative, and accountable nurse leaders who provide person- and relationship-centered care for individuals, families, groups, communities and populations in a diverse society.” The Master in Nursing degree strives to do just that.
Courses in this program are offered in a variety of delivery methods, depending on your location and schedule: one day per week on campus, online, or in a hybrid format. The hybrid format requires attendance on campus or in synchronous web-based meetings up to four times per semester, with the remainder of the course delivered in a web-based platform. This MSN includes several options for specialization, including:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Educator
- Nursing and Organizational Leadership
Students in the Nurse Educator and Nursing and Organizational Leadership programs can choose a distance option on a three-year plan, with all courses offered in hybrid format. Those in other programs are also able to access their required courses in the hybrid format. If you’re interested in a program that emphasizes respectful and ethical care, that values social and intellectual diversity, and that seeks to educate its students in a creative and innovative environment, WSU might be a great fit for you.
University of North Alabama
The Master of Science in Nursing program at the University of North Alabama is an all-online program that consists of two tracks: Nursing in Teaching-Learning Environments and Nursing Leadership in Organizational Environments. As always, state nursing regulations may limit your eligibility for these programs, and prospective students should check with their state Board of Nursing and with the school for details.
The Teaching-Learning degree option is intended for students who seek teaching positions in academic and clinical settings. Students will learn the theoretical basis of teaching methodologies, learning assessment, evaluation of learning, and other components of effective education, as well as how to develop curricula and create other teaching projects. As part of this program, you can also choose a clinical area of focus including:
- Adult Health
- Women’s Health
There are two required clinical courses for each track, which can be completed in consultation with approved preceptors in your own community. Students must hold a current unencumbered license to practice nursing in the state where your clinical experience takes place. The University of North Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The MSN programs are additionally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
University of Texas at El Paso
The Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) program at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) prepares professional nurses for post-graduate roles in a variety of advanced practice and specialty areas. Graduates have increased autonomy and independence in their practice and are eligible to apply for national certification.
All of the nurse practitioner concentrations are 49 semester credit hours in length for students seeking the MSN degree, while the other majors require 33 credit hours of coursework. Clinical practicum time for nurse practitioner students varies from a minimum of 610-720 hours, based on concentration and the particular skills essential to practice in the field. The program at UTEP offers students a choice of three majors:
- Nursing Education
- Nursing Systems Management
- Nurse Practitioner with concentrations in Adult/Gerontology with an Acute Care focus, Family, and Pediatrics
While courses are delivered online, there are some significant requirements for in-person attendance at UTEP that may affect your decision-making process in applying. Graduate orientation, usually held in August just prior to the start of fall semester, is mandatory for all students. Nurse Educator or Nursing Administration students may need to travel one or two additional times during the program, and Nurse Practitioner students may have to come to UTEP’s campus up to three times per semester. In lieu of a thesis, MSN students have the option to complete an electronic portfolio that demonstrates achievement of program outcomes and competency in specific knowledge and skills related to the major.