Best Master’s in Nursing 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.

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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.

Top 10 Best Master’s in Nursing Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
2 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
3 University of Washington Seattle, WA
4 University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
5 University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX
6 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL
7 University of Maryland College Park, MD
8 University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
9 Duke University Durham, NC
10 New York University New York, NY


  • 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.

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. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD



    Johns Hopkins University offers several master’s in nursing degrees for current and future nurses alike. The entry-into-nursing MSN provides students with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing the opportunity to enter the field while joint MSN/MPH and MSN/MBA programs combine public health and business curriculum with advanced-level nursing coursework. Johns Hopkins MSN in health systems management gives nurses information and tools to use and develop innovative technology-based practices. Johns Hopkins’s graduate nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist curricula are now offered through their doctor of nurse practice degree, an advanced-track, emersion program. Johns Hopkin’s nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  2. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA



    The master of science in nursing program at the University of Pennsylvania offers students several specializations designed to engage individual interests and advance professional goals. Practicing nurses can focus on pediatric, adult, and family acute or primary care or they can incorporate coursework in one of the numerous minors the Penn offers to supplement the MSN program. Learners interested in healthcare and nursing management also have the opportunity to pursue degrees in healthcare leadership and healthcare administration to advance in non-clinical settings. Applicants to Penn’s MSN programs need to have a BSN in the field. Penn’s nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  3. University of Washington

    Seattle, WA



    Designed for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any field, the University of Washington’s master of science in clinical informatics and patient-centered technologies (MS-CIPCT) includes 46-49 credit hours of coursework about the role of technology in patient care. Students study the role of technology in clinical settings and throughout the healthcare industry while learning the theories and application of technology use. Learners with healthcare experience benefit from hands-on training in innovative tools and practices to advance their careers and all students complete a scholarly project or thesis to demonstrate competency development. Part-time students can complete the MS-CIPCT degree in two years while full-time students can fulfill degree requirements in as few as 15 months.

  4. University of Virginia

    Charlottesville, VA



    The University of Virginia offers a master’s of science in nursing program with 10 specializations to established nurses and students looking to enter the field. UVA’s MSN in clinical nursing leadership has tracks for direct-entry into nursing and for advancement to managerial and leadership positions for practicing nurses. Additional concentrations in adult, pediatric, neonatal, and psychiatric acute and primary care give learners options to pursue personal interests and enhance professional knowledge. The UVA accepts only 90 applicants annually for their programs. Full-time students can complete a MSN in two years; part-time students usually meet degree requirements in three years. All of UVA’s nursing degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  5. University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, TX



    The University of Texas at Austin’s master of science in nursing program provides students with knowledge and skills to build nursing competencies as entry-level learners and practicing nurses alike. Specializations in family, pediatric, and psychiatric nursing; leadership in nursing; and adult-gerontology clinical nursing provide students with two-year nursing degrees that incorporate advanced coursework on aspects of nursing. The three-year alternate entry MSN program introduces students without a nursing background to nursing fundamentals before exploring leadership, adult-health, and psychiatric concentrations. UT’s MSN degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  6. University of Alabama at Birmingham

    Birmingham, AL



    The University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) offers a master of science in nursing program with 11 specialties and six subspecialties to students that have a BSN. Learners can pursue degree concentrations in adult-gerontology, pediatric, and family nurse practitioner fields or nursing leadership and informatics. Subspecialties in oncology, palliative care, and nurse education give students additional opportunities to tailor their degree to meet their personal and professional goals. All of UAB’s MSN degrees give students knowledge based in core nursing competencies and provide them with critical-thinking and analytical skills applicable to the field. Applicants must pass a background check for admission. The UAB’s nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  7. University of Maryland

    College Park, MD



    Tailored to prepare registered nurses for advanced positions within the field of nursing, the RN to MSN program at the University of Maryland includes coursework on nursing fundamentals for students that need to complete a BSN before advancing to MSN classes. By substituting the BSN curriculum for core MSN coursework, registered nurse complete 31 credit hours of coursework before choosing one of three specializations: community and public health, nursing informatics, and health services leadership and management. MSN curricula include between 38-40 credit hours of advanced coursework offered online and on-campus. The UM’s RN to MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  8. University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor, MI



    The University of Michigan offers master’s in nursing degrees based in advanced clinical practice to students that want to pursue specialized credentials in acute, primary, family, and midwifery care. Practicing nurses study assessment, diagnostics, therapeutic techniques, and consultation methods to develop enhanced skills in patient care while simultaneously building leadership competencies applicable to the field. Students can also pursue a MSN in systems, population, and leadership, emphasizing improving health outcomes throughout the human lifespan and in various community and social settings. The UM’s MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the midwifery concentration is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).

  9. Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Duke University offers master of science in nursing degrees in 11 specialized areas, eight of which provide advanced practice content for registered nurses. Three non-clinical degree tracks emphasize nurse education, health informatics, and nursing and healthcare leadership for professionals that want to focus on administrative and managerial aspect of nursing. All students complete core coursework designed to meet the standards for numerous nursing certifications, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Advanced classes also provide students with opportunities to study nursing fields, including oncology, orthopedics, and cardiology. Duke’s programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  10. New York University

    New York, NY



    The master’s program at New York University provides practicing nurses with advanced coursework to build knowledge and develop skills for professional growth and career enhancement. NYU’s MSN program includes specializations in nine areas, including adult-gerontology primary and acute care, midwifery, nursing administration, and pediatric nurse practice. Students can also specialize in palliative care, holistic nursing, and substance abuse care, further tailoring the MSN to meet their needs and goals. Core coursework includes nursing theory, research methods, issues and trends in nursing, and population-focused care. Combined with clinical placements, NYU’s MSN programs give students access to fundamental information and experiential learning opportunities. Students interested in community-based health practice, policy, and programming can enroll in the dual MSN/MPH program.

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: 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 Education Award

Who Can Apply: 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

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