Earning a Master’s in Nursing Education Online

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positions for registered nurses (RNs) to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026. To teach these future nurses, academic and clinical institutions must hire more qualified nurse educators with advanced degrees. Nurse educators today need at least a master's degree to apply for teaching posts, and many go on to earn their Ph.D. or DNP (doctor of nursing practice).

A 2017 faculty census survey by the National League for Nursing (NLN) found that a master of science in nursing (MSN) was the most popular credential for full- and part-time nurse educators: 59% of full-time nurse educators earn an MSN, and 63% of part-time nurse educators earn one. The NLN also found that 38% of full-time and 17% of part-time nurse educators held a doctoral degree.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Nursing Education?

High demand for nurse educators can help candidates find good career prospects, job security, and competitive salaries. Aspiring nurse educators must earn an advanced degree to compete for most teaching positions, and those who wish to teach at the college or university level should obtain a doctorate. Bachelor's-level students interested in teaching the next generation should start by earning a master's degree in nursing education online or on campus.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Nursing Education?

Pursuing Specialization

The BLS projects positions for postsecondary nurse instructors to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026. Educational programs prefer to hire faculty with expertise in a particular area. By pursuing an online master's degree in nursing education, candidates can take the first step toward earning specialized certification in pediatrics, obstetrics, evidence-based practice, acute care, or health policy.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Most nurse educator positions begin at the master's level. Earning an online master's degree in nursing education creates opportunities for career advancement.

Online Learning Technology

Nurse educators can teach in a number of settings, including traditional classrooms, laboratories, hospitals, or distance learning environments. These professionals must know how to use the latest in communication technology to successfully teach prospective nurses, interact with students and peers, and create optimal curricula.

Prerequisites for Online Nursing Education Programs

Prospective students applying to master's of nursing education online programs must meet various prerequisites before beginning graduate study. Master's students typically enroll after obtaining years of experience working as RNs.

  • Work Experience: The majority of nurses applying to master's in nursing education online programs bring years of practical experience. According to a 2014 survey by the NLN, 60% of master's students in nursing were 30 or older. This indicates that nursing students do not typically go straight from undergrad to graduate school. Not all master's programs require work experience, but many prefer to admit students with three to five years of experience.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Many programs require applicants to provide scores from the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), which features three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Prospective students should check on whether their schools impose minimum standardized test scores. GRE scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Master of nursing education online programs require applicants to complete prerequisite courses before starting their graduate studies. Most undergraduate nursing degrees include these prerequisite courses, but some prerequisites, like communications, fall outside of typical nursing curricula. Some schools require minimum a GPA for prerequisite classes.
  • Recommendations: Applicants should obtain at least three letters of recommendation, and request these letters at least two months in advance. Afterward, they should compose thank you notes for each letter.
  • Essays: Prerequisites vary by school, but applicants should prepare to write a personal essay or statement. Essays allow applicants to demonstrate to admissions officers that they can follow instruction and are articulate and passionate about a career in nursing.
  • Interviews: Applicants who must interview as part of the admissions process should expect to answer questions focusing on their clinical experiences. For a master's in nursing education online program, they may also want to convey a love of teaching others.
  • International Students The application process for international students is similar to that for domestic students. However, international applicants must submit scores from either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam or the International English Testing System (IELTS) exam, if English is not their native language. International students should also check on nursing licensure requirements and their equivalency in the U.S.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Nursing Education?

Nurse educators typically make more than $80,000 per year. According to BLS data, professionals in the 10th percentile earn $40,630 annually, while those in the 90th percentile pull in $124,090. Factors impacting earning potential include prior clinical experience and geographic location. Advanced degrees act as prerequisites for most teaching nursing educator posts, and a master's degree in nursing education can qualify degree holders for other career paths, as well.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Nursing Education Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Registered Nurse

Median Pay: $70,000

Job Growth: 15%

RNs provide and coordinate care for individuals, families, groups, and communities. They care for the injured and sick, rehabilitate patients, and provide emotional support and advice to patients and their caregivers. They work as part of teams that include physicians and other healthcare specialists.

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Median Pay: $45,360

Job Growth: 16%

Health educators' top priority is promoting wellness and helping to improve the health of individuals and communities at large. These professionals assess health needs, strategize solutions, and implement wellness plans. They may also lead training programs, collect and analyze data, and serve as advocates on health resources and policies.

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

At the postsecondary level, teachers work in colleges or universities to provide instruction to future nursing students. They may also work on advising, scholarly research, and continued clinical practice. These professionals' academic institutions rank them based on academic preparation and clinical practice experience, with potential ranks including instructor, assistant professor, and professor.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Non-Traditional Careers for Nursing Education Graduates

Master's degree in nursing education online programs prepare graduates for various teaching roles, particularly in community health. Degree holders may also qualify for nontraditional careers, such as counselors in schools or workplaces. Graduates' skills and knowledge in education, communication, and resourcefulness qualify them for a variety of interesting career options.

Career Stats Description

School and Career Counselors

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors help students develop the skills they need to succeed in school, while career counselors provide similar services to adults in the workforce. Both gather data from aptitude assessments, interviews, and evaluations to create plans of action to help their clients succeed.

Skills Overlapped: Similar to nurse educators, counselors form plans and work with individuals to help them attain certain goals. Like postsecondary teachers, who must possess strong verbal communication skills to give lectures, counselors must possess speaking skills to work with students and clients.

Social and Human Service Assistants

Median Pay: $33,120

Job Growth: 16%

Social and human service assistants help clients receive their entitled benefits and services, such as Medicaid. They also work to find qualified individuals who can help with clients' daily activities. Social and human service assistants work with other professionals in the field, such as social workers, to ensure they cover all the bases for the client and their family.

Skills Overlapped: Like health educators, social and human service assistants must have strong interpersonal skills to deal with clients all day and help make them feel comfortable. Health educators must also work well with others, since in community or clinical settings, they also deal directly with patients. Social and health service assistants similarly help individuals determine treatment plans, home care, and recovery.

Instructional Coordinators

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators develop and coordinate agreed-upon curricula. Through analyzing data, working closely with teachers and staff, and reviewing the latest in educational materials, instructional coordinators help establish teaching standards and curricula that best meet student needs.

Skills Overlapped: Instructional coordinators and nurse educators both develop curricula for their students. To do so, they must possess analytical skills to examine data and plan strategies. They must also feel comfortable making decisions to determine coursework and demonstrate commitment to finishing projects.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master’s in Nursing Education

Although college costs continue trending upward, nurses who return to school for their master's in nursing education can still find financial assistance. Master of nursing education online programs differ regarding tuition rates, study timelines, and learning formats. Many online schools, for example, charge online learners the in-state tuition rate, regardless of their state of residency. Prospective graduate students should start researching financial aid opportunities with degree- and subject-specific scholarships and grants.

Scholarships for Online Nursing Education Master's Students

As you begin your search for financial assistance, make sure to check for scholarships at the local, state, and national levels. Smaller competition pools offer better chances for prospective students to stand out. College students, including those studying nursing education, can choose from a variety of scholarship options.

What to Expect from a Master’s Level Online Nursing Education Program

Curricula vary between programs, but you can expect to find similar core courses in most master's in nursing education online programs. Degree requirements may also overlap. Most master's degrees in nursing education online (or on-campus) include 30 to 36 credits. Students in any program should expect to complete clinical hours and/or a culminating capstone project.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone

    Final Year

    A capstone is one of two possible culminating experiences for a master's degree in nursing education online program. Capstone courses demonstrate students' ability to use a fact-based approach to assess an issue.

  2. Thesis

    Final Year

    A thesis is a graduate-level research paper, usually around 40 pages, on a chosen issue, argument, or problem in nursing. Working with an adviser, students draft an outline, gain approval, and write a final argumentative paper to synthesize their own research and the work of others.

  3. Clinical Hours / Field Work

    Throughout Program

    As with BSN students, MSN students work in a clinical setting over the course of their program. Typical practicums for master's programs last 100 hours, during which students put their theories and best practices to use.

  4. Graduate Certificate

    First Year

    First-year graduate students might consider gaining a graduate certificate. These certificates typically comprise nine credits, and can boost a nurse's professional profile.

  5. Licensure Exam

    Final Semester

    Nurse educators don't need to apply for a teaching license to instruct at a college. However, these professionals must renew their RN licensure and make sure it remains valid.

  6. Intent to Graduate

    Before End of Final Semester

    Graduate students must also submit an intent-to-graduate form to the registrar's office. Students must do this before the final semester deadline to demonstrate that they are on schedule to complete all degree requirements, including their thesis.


In a master's in nursing education online program, learners study many of the same topics found in other education programs, including curriculum design, teaching methods, and student assessment.

Foundations in Nursing Education

In this core course, students learn the foundational principles of teaching in different settings. This course prepares nurse educators to work in classrooms, laboratories, healthcare agencies, and distance learning environments.

Assessment Strategies

This course teaches prospective nurse educators to evaluate, assess, and assist students in various educational settings. Topics include methods of achieving learning outcomes; interpreting test results; and analyzing student success, achievement, and potential.

Curriculum Design

Learners in this master's in nursing education online course study how to build curricula, specifically curricula integrating the national nursing accreditation standards and agreed-upon best practices of instructional design.

Teaching Methods in Nursing

This course addresses various teaching methods used for clinical, didactic, and online learning. It focuses specifically on technology, specifically the use of simulations, live streaming, and proctored exams.

Role of the Nursing Professor

Students in this course receive an introduction to the college and university environment. Topics include academic policies and protocol, prospective and current student issues, and situational events for a classroom or clinical setting.

Degree Timelines

Students pursuing master's degree in nursing education online program full time can expect to finish all requirements within two years. Part-time students may take three to four years to complete their degrees.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description


3-4 years

Students enrolled part-time in a master's in nursing education online program can usually finish all requirements within four years. Students opt to enroll part-time for various reasons, such as family or work obligations. Many part-time master's students continue to work full time while they study.


2 years

Full-time students usually enroll in nine credits, or three courses, each semester. In this case, a 36-credit program would take four semesters to complete. Clinical work plays a major role in any master's in nursing education online program, which may also affect a student's enrollment status and completion time.


3 years (MSN); 5 years (MSN + Doctorate)

Accelerated nursing programs serve students whose bachelor's degrees are in different fields. Accelerated programs in nursing combine the undergraduate requirements that non-nursing students miss, essentially adding one year. Accelerated programs in nursing may also combine MSNs and doctoral degrees into one five-year program.

Licenses and Certifications

A teaching license is not necessary for employment at the postsecondary level, in which case an advanced degree acts as your qualifying credential. That said, to teach others in nursing, educators must hold a valid nursing license. Academic and clinical institutions also value proven expertise in a particular area, such as pediatrics, acute care, management, public policy, or evidence-based practice. Certification demonstrates nurses' leadership skills, initiative, and dedication to a field.

  • Certified Nurse Educator: The industry considers the CNE the gold standard for nurse educator certification. Though certification is not necessary for nurse educators, a CNE signals to employers that professionals have met and exceeded established professional standards. Candidates must hold a master's or doctoral degree in nursing education and pass the CNE exam.
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification: The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners issues this specialty certification to candidates who pass the certification exam and meet one of three criteria options: minimum clinical hours (five years), an advanced academic degree, or an approved fellowship program.
  • Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator: To earn this certification, which the National League for Nursing specially created for academic clinical nurse educators, you must pass the certification exam and demonstrate expertise in the role. Nurse educators can then go by various titles, including preceptor, clinical faculty, and adjunct faculty.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations benefit current students and recent graduates through professional fellowship, networking opportunities, and jobs or internships. Members also gain access to annual conferences, career services, and discounts on events, continuing education, and journals. Many professional organizations also offer scholarship opportunities for members only.

  • American Nurses Association: Formed in 1896 as the Nurses Associated Alumnae, ANA now serves members in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Member benefits include discounted continuing education, certification, and career services.
  • National Student Nurses Association: NSNA boasts a membership of 60,000, and remains committed to serving the needs of U.S. student nurses. Members enjoy benefits like annual meetings, leadership opportunities at their school or state associations, and scholarships.
  • Association for Nursing Professional Development: ANPD aims to advance quality healthcare through the support and promotion of nurses' professional development. The association maintains its dedication to lifelong learning in interprofessional environments.
  • Emergency Nurses Association: ENA serves the professional needs of more than 43,000 emergency nurses around the world. Members enjoy free monthly continuing education, free online courses and toolkits, discounts on certification, and reduced annual conference fees.
  • National League for Nursing: The NLN supports its its 40,000 individual members through professional development, networking opportunities, testing services, grants, and public policy initiatives. The NLN also serves the industry needs of its 1,200 institutional members.
  • Research & Training by NIH: This compendium from the National Institutes of Health lists medical research initiatives; resources for clinical research, NIH studies, and science; and information on safety, regulation, and guidance for the medical and science communities.
  • Teaching Resources, ANA Enterprise: ANA collates a wealth of online resources to help nurse educators reach and teach students. Members can find classroom tools, instructor modules, and certification resources.
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Nursing educators nationwide use AACN's education resources and guidance to design curricula that adequately prepare future generations of RNs. Topics include industry standards and best practices.
  • GW School of Nursing: The George Washington University School of Nursing shares its collection of open educational resources with nurses. The school also offers more than a dozen interactive multimedia learning modules on topics such as clinical compliance, digital research, and medical terminology.
  • Evidence-Based Nursing, BMJ: Offered by RCNi and the BMJ, this database compiles vetted resources on evidence-based nursing practice. The editors apply strict criteria to healthcare journal articles and provide expert commentaries on all accepted papers.