Best Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Degrees 2021

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A master’s in nursing builds high-level knowledge, preparing nurses for career progression or a move to a different nursing sector entirely. Building on previous education, a master’s degree typically prepares students for specialized clinical practice, leadership and management roles, or nursing educator positions. In general, graduates of nursing master’s programs can move into more advanced nursing positions and earn higher salary levels.

Graduates of nursing master’s programs often assume the role of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). These highly trained healthcare professionals commonly specialize in one nursing practice area, such as geriatric, pediatric, or neonatal nursing. APRNs may also move into specialized roles such as midwife or nurse anesthetist.

This page offers an overview of nursing master’s programs, including typical courses, program accreditation, and career and salary outlook. We also cover answers to common questions and scholarships for nursing graduate students.

FAQ


  • What is nursing?

    Nursing focuses on providing care for individuals, families, and communities. Nurses assess patient health, provide care, and educate patients about health issues.


  • How long does it take to earn a master's in nursing?

    While completion time varies, most master’s in nursing programs take 1-4 years to complete.


  • What can I do with a master's in nursing?

    A master’s in nursing program prepares graduates for various advanced roles in nursing practice, including management and leadership positions. It can also prepare nurses to teach.


  • What is an APRN?

    An APRN holds at least a master’s degree in nursing and provides advanced, specialized care in a specific role or to a specific patient population.


  • What is the difference between a nursing master's and a physician's assistant program?

    Nurse practitioners typically possess special training to serve specific populations such as pediatrics or geriatrics. Physician’s assistants often focus on a specific area of medicine such as internal or emergency.


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Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Master’s Graduates



Graduates of nursing master’s programs pursue various healthcare career pathways, largely dependent on their specialization. Nurses may pursue careers treating specific patient populations, such as pediatric, emergency, women’s health, or psychiatric nursing. Nurses can also move into specialized career paths, such as midwife, nurse anesthetist, or nurse educator.

The duties associated with a graduate nursing degree typically expand on those of RNs and bachelor’s-level nurses. Master’s graduates commonly take greater responsibility in their workplace. This responsibility involves treating more specialized patient cases, assuming leadership roles, and implementing new care plans and healthcare initiatives. With an advanced degree, nurses often move into management positions with corresponding salary increases.

High-level training coupled with an increased demand for healthcare professionals bodes well for the future for nurse practitioners and other nursing specialists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects careers for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and nurse practitioners to grow an astonishing 45% between 2019-2029. The national average sits at just 4%.

Career Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10%
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners Less than $82,460 $115,800 More than $184,180

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Nursing

When researching nursing master’s programs, always ensure that a school holds proper regional accreditation. Accreditation indicates that a school has met designated academic and administrative standards.

For master’s in nursing programs, students must also confirm proper programmatic accreditation, which assesses individual nursing programs. Any school offering a master’s in nursing should hold programmatic accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Learn more about accreditation and why it matters in our guide to accreditation.

Courses in a Nursing Program



A master’s in nursing program builds advanced knowledge in clinical practice and theoretical nursing concepts. Students take courses related to their speciality, general nursing, and topics such as nursing management and leadership. Many programs emphasize research, often requiring students to complete a research-based thesis or capstone.

This list highlights five courses commonly found in master’s in nursing programs. Exact course titles and content vary among programs, and not every program offers each of these courses. However, this list offers a general idea of what to expect from nursing master’s curricula.

Nurse leaders depend on the latest research to inform their practice and methods of care delivery. Most programs include at least one course focused on the concept and practice of nursing research. This course explores strategies for appraising, evaluating, and synthesizing contemporary nursing research, along with key research methodologies.

In the most general sense, nursing focuses on health promotion among patient populations. This course highlights approaches to disease prevention, health promotion, and chronic health problems among various populations. Students also explore the specific needs of unique patient groups and strategies for treating them.

This course examines the role of leadership in improving patient care and health outcomes. Common topics include theories of leadership, team building techniques, conflict resolution, and communication skills.

With very few exceptions, most master’s in nursing programs include a significant clinical component. Students develop their skills through hands-on practice in a supervised healthcare setting. Occurring over several semesters, practicums build a broad assortment of clinical skills and experiences.

Many nursing master’s programs include a culminating component requiring nurses to synthesize their learning and demonstrate major concept mastery. A thesis requires students to perform original research on a nursing topic. A capstone often calls for students to address a real-life nursing issue.

Scholarships for Nursing

Even students enrolled in the most affordable nursing master’s programs benefit from scholarships. They provide financial assistance without repayment obligations. Businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations offer scholarships for students enrolled in nursing master’s programs. Some scholarships serve nurses of specific backgrounds. Others cater to those pursuing a specific career path.

Heart of Healthcare Scholarship

Who Can Apply: BestNursingDegree.com offers this scholarship to nursing master’s students in any concentration or specialization. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.5 GPA.
Amount: $1,000

National Association of Hispanic Nurses Scholarship

Who Can Apply: NAHN offers this scholarship to members in good standing currently enrolled in any nursing program. Applicants must hold NAHN membership for at least six months prior to applying.
Amount: Up to $5,000

DiversityNursing.com Education Award

Who Can Apply: DiversityNursing.com offers this scholarship to full-time or part-time nursing students at any academic level. Applicants must create an account on the site’s JobSeeker platform.
Amount: $5,000

Best Master’s in Nursing Degrees 2021



Our ranking highlights some of the best nursing master’s programs nationwide. The schools on this list combine rigorous academics, top-notch professional preparation, and comprehensive student support services. These schools also hold proper regional and programmatic accreditation, ensuring that students receive the best possible nursing education.

  1. The University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    Tuition

    $14156

    Operating in Austin, Texas, the University of Texas at Austin offers a master of science in nursing that engages qualified registered nurses in the study of nursing science, related sciences, professional foundations, and other important areas of the nursing profession.

    UT-Austin's master's in nursing program offers five concentrations, including family nurse practitioner, primary care pediatric, and psych/mental health. Except for the leadership in diverse settings concentration, the curriculum features coursework that meets the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners requirements for Advanced Practice Nurse status. Full-time students can finish this master's in nursing in 1.5-2 years.

    To apply, registered nurses must hold a current bachelor of science in nursing or a non-nursing bachelor's degree with an associate in nursing. Candidates must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA in upper-division work, and they must submit GRE scores. The University of Texas at Austin is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  2. University of California, Davis
    Location

    Davis, CA

    Tuition

    $15724

    At its Davis, California, campus, UC Davis offers a master's entry program in nursing for nurses seeking healthcare-related leadership training and preparation for the national licensing exam for registered nurses.

    Along with featuring the prerequisite courses needed to transition into the nursing profession, UC Davis' accelerated master's in nursing program provides a path to registered nurse licensure for students with a non-nursing undergraduate degree. The curriculum uses integrated case-based learning, innovation, and technology to help students to become better problem-solvers and independent thinkers in healthcare leadership roles.

    Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. The University of California, Davis, is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  3. University of California, Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $15002

    The University of California, Los Angeles — U.S. News & World Report's No. 1 public university for 2021 — offers a master's entry-level clinical nursing program. This degree provides pathways to a registered nurse license, a clinical nurse certification, and a public health nursing certification.

    Complete with summer enrollment, UCLA's two-year curriculum for this master's in nursing degree features courses that lead to a master of science in nursing. Graduates qualify to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination for registered nurse licensure. Students learn a system-level, population-based method of healthcare. Along with other topics, the coursework covers risk reduction, evidence-based practice, and informatics.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university with an overall 3.0 GPA. The University of California, Los Angeles is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  4. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $13016

    Located in Orlando, Florida, the University of Central Florida features a master of science in nursing that expands on students' undergraduate nursing education and professional experience.

    This UCF master's in nursing offers three program tracks: a 36-credit leadership and management path, a 35-credit nurse educator track, and a 31-credit nursing and healthcare simulation. After graduation, students qualify to take the national certification examinations in their areas of interest.

    The program's core curriculum develops learners' management and teaching strategies, analyzing all factors that influence the nursing profession through advanced scientific and theoretical knowledge.

    Prospective students must hold a non-nursing degree or a registered nursing license with an associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma. Before entry, students must take nine undergraduate credits of prerequisite nursing classes. The University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Brigham Young University
    Location

    Provo, UT

    Tuition

    Unconfirmed

    Operating under the support and guidance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young University's master of science in nursing trains students to become family nurse practitioners.

    Although BYU educates about 2,800 graduate students, the College of Nursing's graduate program accommodates only 30 students at a time. The curriculum focuses on topics such as supportive interventions, counseling, and teaching. Students can earn this degree in 2-3 years. Because some of the most dynamic clinical opportunities are remote, students must arrange transportation to the sites.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from an institution with a national nursing professional accreditation, plus a current Utah registered nursing license in good standing. Prospective students must have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate work. Brigham Young University is regionally certified by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

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