In today’s uncertain economic climate, one thing is for sure: jobs in the healthcare field will continue to be in demand. And few healthcare professionals have more career options than skilled, licensed nurses.
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.
Recommended Online Programs
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!
See our rankings methodology page.
Most Affordable Online Master's in Nursing
Fitchburg State University
Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts provides a unique M.S. in Nursing with a concentration in forensics for RNs who want to transition into or build their skills in this nuanced sub-discipline. The degree requires 39 credits and exists completely online. Students cover topics such as scientific foundations for forensic nursing interventions, caring for victims/perpetrators, and forensic science and technology. They also complete a practicum at an approved facility. Applicants must hold a valid RN license and at least one year of experience at their time of application. Regardless of residency, this cheap online nursing program only costs $319 per credit.
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
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences at West Texas A&M University in Canyon provides a unique online comprehensive M.S.N. for practicing RNs who want to advance their careers through an individualized graduate degree. In addition to core topics, learners can take on an elective focus in either nursing education or nursing administration/management. The program receives accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and offers start dates in the spring and fall. The degree requires 39-40 credits, B grades or higher in each class, and completion within six years of the start date. To provide additional flexibility, both part- and full-time options exist.
Functioning as a private Christian institution in Tennessee, Union University offers an online M.S.N. with tracks available in nursing administration and nursing education. In addition to preparing students to take on meaningful roles upon graduation, the coursework helps them compete for doctoral degrees. Newly enrolled learners join a cohort and move through coursework together in accelerated 7-8 week classes. Regardless of location, students pay $600 per credit and must maintain a GPA of 3.0 to graduate. Those who dip below this number are placed on probation; if they don’t raise their GPA, they are dismissed from the program. Union’s degree receives accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Spring Arbor University
Spring Arbor, MI
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
Salt Lake City, UT
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.
Boiling Springs, NC
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).
Saint 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.
Graceland University maintains locations in Iowa and Missouri as well as a distance learning campus. The school’s master’s in nursing online offers specializations in nurse practitioner or adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner for individuals seeking nuanced career paths. In addition to completing courses during the 16-week trimesters, all online degree seekers must visit the Independence, Missouri campus to take part in two-day intensive learning sessions. Regardless of concentration chosen, students complete 47 credits. They take 6-8 credits if pursuing the full-time path, or 3-4 on the part-time path. This program receives accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
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.
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.
Rivier University in New Hampshire provides one of the best online nursing master’s programs with three different options for concentration areas: family nurse practitioner, nursing education, and leadership in health systems management. While the FNP concentration requires 43 credits and takes three to five years, the remaining two require 36 credits and take two years. Courses last between 7-15 weeks each depending on the topic. Rivier offers numerous start dates throughout the year to accommodate the fluctuating schedules of existing nurses enrolled in this graduate degree while working. Applicants must hold a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and an unencumbered, active RN license to receive consideration.