Online Master’s in Nursing Accomplish More with Your Nursing Degree

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While it’s possible to move into the nursing profession with an associate degree, those who want to advance to a leadership, research or clinical nursing role must earn their master’s degree. The online master’s in nursing can also prepare students for exciting and unconventional career paths.

When choosing a master’s degree program, format is important. For nurses who are busy working with patients and don’t have the time or financial resources to give up their jobs to enroll at a traditional campus – or who have family obligations and other commitments -- online nursing master’s programs are a popular alternative. This guide helps students find online master’s degree colleges, analyzes the specific programs, and shares the experiences of students who have already earned their online master’s in nursing.

Top Online Master's in Nursing

An incredibly fast-paced career, nurses who wish to pursue higher education may find the thought of going back to school to earn their master’s to be daunting. To balance the course-load with already busy careers can seem out of the question; however, online master’s programs in nursing can make these goals of a higher degree a real possibility.

While many schools may offer online programs, not all are created equally. Consideration must be given in regard to specialization, class format and timing. The list below offers an overview of the very best online master’s in nursing programs in the nation.


University of Central Arkansas offers an online MS in nursing with tracks including clinical nurse leader, nurse practitioner and nurse educator. The minimum cumulative GPA that applicants must have to get accepted into the program is a 2.7.

Subjects covered in the curriculum include health policy and economics, theoretical bases of nursing, advanced health assessment and healthcare quality and leadership. Depending on the track they take, students need 39 to 44 credit-hours to graduate and clinical hour requirements range from 400 to 720. MyUCA is the online portal that the school uses to store student transcripts, catalogs, class schedules and course assignments. Available support services include academic advising, career counseling, technical support and financial aid.

  • MSN (Clinical Nurse Leader)
  • MSN in Nurse Educator (Higher Education)
  • MSN in Nurse Educator (Staff Education)

The online MS in nursing at IPFW is offered with an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner concentration for students planning to work with adult patients. The program should provide graduates with the theoretical and practical knowledge to thrive in the current and future health care industry. Special emphasis is placed on evidence-based practice, pharmacology, pathophysiology, assessment and the care of adult patients in a variety of settings. In addition to the 46 credit-hours required, students will complete 600+ hours of supervised clinical practice in primary and acute care facilities. Full-time students can finish the program in three years.

  • MSN (Women's Health Practitioner)
  • MSN (Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Nursing Education)

The online MS in nursing at PU offers two areas of concentration based on student goals. The adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist track combines didactic courses and clinical practica courses, creating a well-rounded program for nurses seeking to work with adult populations. The family nurse practitioner course follows the same structure, with both equaling 47 credit-hours and 555 practicum hours. The department has a strong clinical emphasis and promotes the implementation of nursing theory. Online instruction is not available in every state, so students should check with the university before applying. Full-time study is unavailable for online learners; most part-time students graduate within 3-4 years.

  • MSN (Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist)
  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Nurse Executive)

To get admitted into the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff's online Master of Science in Nursing, students must have a bachelor's in nursing from an accredited school and their registered nurse license must also be in good standing. Thirty-nine credit hours are required to graduate in addition to a thesis and clinical practice prior to graduating.

Areas covered during the curriculum focus on addressing patient complex health needs, advanced pharmacology, understanding health policies and providing care for older populations. UARK Gmail, MyUAPB, Blackboard, ISIS and video conferencing are online portals and tools used to deliver lectures, connect instructors and students and save transcripts, submitted assignments and test scores.

  • MSN
  • MSN (Nurse Educator)

The online Master of Science in Nursing conferred at Columbus State University is delivered across several tracks, including informatics, educator and leadership. Courses built into the curriculum include advanced pharmacology, theory for graduate nursing practice, principles of education in nursing and advanced health assessment.

Generally, 36 credit-hours are required to graduate from a track. A thesis or project is also required to graduate. Learners log into CougarNet to apply for admission into the program, complete the registration process, apply for financial aid and access their class schedules. CougarView is used to download class assignments and submit tests and a student email address and password are needed to log into both systems.

  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Informatics)
  • MSN (Leadership)

IWU offers two online MS degrees in nursing and MSN-MBA program for students with entrepreneurial interests in the healthcare field. Within the MS degree, the Nursing Administration concentration includes a practicum component as well as coursework in organizational behavior, financing and role development. The nursing education concentration includes a student teaching component alongside curriculum design, adult education and program evaluation. Both MS degrees can be completed in 22 months of full-time education.

Consisting of 60 credit-hours, the MSN-MBA dual degree focuses on the integration of business and nursing skills to create innovative, modernized healthcare systems in a variety of settings.

  • MSN post MBA

SJC offers an online MS in nursing with a concentration for students seeking to become family nurse practitioners. This 46 credit-hour program includes studies in informatics, organizational and systems leadership, research, policy, population health and inter-professional collaboration. Coursework also includes advanced studies in pathophysiology, pharmacology and physical and health assessments. By combining 12-week theory courses with 600 hours of clinical work, graduates are prepared for roles in educating, consulting, collaborating, researching and influencing professional and public policies. Courses are offered across four terms yearly, allowing students to complete the program while juggling work and family commitments.

  • MSN
  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Administration)

The University of Hawaii at Manoa offers two different pathways to meet student needs. The 42 credit-hour adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist program prepares nurses for advanced care of acutely ill adults, delivering broad yet comprehensive knowledge in this specialty area. Consisting of 30 credit-hours, the advanced public health program focuses on health, wellness and disease prevention and is appropriate for nurses seeking to work in community and public health settings. Faculty provides online students with individualized programs of study to ensure quick progression. Once they choose a degree, students can enroll in either full- or part-time learning.

  • MSN (Nursing Education)
  • MSN (Nursing Administration)
  • MSN (Nursing Administration/MBA)

The Master of Science in Nursing at Sacred Heart University is a fully-online program which offers specializations in patient care, leadership and nurse educator. It takes approximately two to three years to graduate with a minimum of 120 hours of clinical practicum required. Students should learn how to lead healthcare teams, understand healthcare laws and policies, provide efficient care across organizations and address complex patient challenges.

Students log into MySHU to get their test scores, upcoming class assignments, course schedules, white papers and required textbooks. Student email, discussion forums and chat rooms are used to that students can ask their instructors questions and receive guidance. Academic advising, technical support and career counseling are also available.

  • RN-BSN-MSN (Clinical Nurse Leader)
  • RN-BSN-MSN (Patient Care Services Administration)
  • RN-BSN-MSN (Nursing Education)

Three online MS degrees in nursing are offered at ISU. The family nurse practitioner concentration is designed for students interested in health and human services professions. Depending on which culminating project is selected, the program can be completed in 2-2.5 years of full-time study. The nursing administration concentration is a great choice for nurses interested in assuming leadership roles in diverse healthcare and organizational settings. This track requires 35-38 credit-hours depending on final project selection. Nurses looking to facilitate the education of practitioners should consider the nursing education concentration, which serves as a foundation for doctoral studies.

  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Nursing Administration)
  • MSN (Nursing Education)

The online MS in nursing at LU is designed to accommodate the professional working nurse, while providing a rigorous and patient-focused program. Graduates should be prepared to design and execute complex healthcare strategies in a rapidly changing environment. The 40 credit-hour nursing education track equips nurses to work within academic, healthcare or community settings, covering topics such as methodology and delivery, educational theory and research and curriculum development. Consisting of 42 credit-hours, the healthcare systems leadership track develops skills in finance, economics, HR and organizational management, making it ideal for nurses looking to lead administration and improve the delivery of healthcare.

  • MSN
  • MSN (Nursing Education)
  • MSN (Healthcare Systems Leadership)

Under Wilmington University's online Master of Science in Nursing, licensed registered nurses can specialize in three concentrations: nursing executive, educator and legal nurse consultant. Core competencies built into the curriculum cover quantitative and qualitative research, ethics and legal standards, advanced nursing practice and politics and policy in the healthcare system.

Generally, 36 course credit-hours and a minimum 3.0 GPA are required to graduate. Web Campus and Blackboard are the schools' online portals, which students will log into to get their test scores, class assignments and course schedules. Streamed videos are used to deliver instructor lectures to students in real time. The school also relies on recorded videos so that students can watch lectures on a flexible schedule.

  • MSN (Nursing Leadership-Executive)
  • MSN (Nursing Leadership-Educator)
  • MSN (Nursing Leadership-Legal Nurse Consultant)

Jacksonville State University offers an online Master of Science in Nursing program administered through the School of Nursing. Specializations available include health nursing, emergency management and nursing education. The program is targeted for nurses with advanced skills, nurses who work with vulnerable people and nurses who are focused on healthcare promotion and illness prevention.

During the program, students learn about topics such as health planning, analysis of aggregate data, research and advanced nursing practice. It takes 38 credit-hours to graduate. The school utilizes the Blackboard system to track student transcripts, course assignments and class schedules. Support services available include career counseling, academic advising and financial aid.

  • MSN in Community Health Nursing
  • MSN in Community Health Nursing (Emergency Management)
  • MSN in Community Health Nursing (Nursing Education)

Albany State University's Master of Science in Nursing program is designed for adults with existing nursing experience and adults who are entering nursing or medical research are also a good fit. To graduate, adult learners must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and complete between 36 to 44 credit-hours.

Curriculum topics focus on nursing science and practice, medical research, role of the family nurse practitioner and ethics. New students are acclimated to online learning during an orientation. D2L and eCore are the school's online portals. Features accessed through D2L and eCore include class schedules, assignments, test scores, transcripts and textbooks. Other services available to students are campus email, discussion boards, chat rooms, academic advising and financial aid.

  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)
  • MSN (Nurse Educator)

Three different track options are available for students in pursuit on an online MS in nursing degree from MU, along with the option of earning a dual MSN/MBA degree. The online programs are designed for working nurses who wish to pursue higher education while managing professional and personal obligations. The nurse educator track is for nurses who want to teach other healthcare professionals or patients within a clinical setting, while the nurse manager option is a good fit for nurses seeking leadership roles. The palliative care track equips graduates with advanced knowledge of managing chronic disease. The MSN/MBA program is designed for nurses seeking executive or entrepreneurial positions.

  • MSN (Nurse Educator)
  • MSN (Nurse Manager/Administration)
  • MSN (Palliative Care)

California State University-Chico confers an online Master of Science in Nursing. Thirty credit hours are required to graduate and students should expect it to take two years to completion. The aim of the program is to prepare nurses to care for children and adults who live in rural areas.

The core curriculum covers areas such as nursing research, ethics, advanced pharmacology and health care educational systems. Recorded lectures, video conferencing and streamed guest seminars are used to deliver course material. In addition to the telephone, students use campus email, discussion boards and chat rooms to connect with their instructors. Program catalogs, transcripts, upcoming assignments and tests are accessed through the school's Chico Portal.

  • MSN (Nurse Educator)
  • MSN (Nursing Leadership)

The University of Delaware's online Master of Science in Nursing is administered through the school's College of Health Science. Students must complete 36-46 course credits to graduate, as well as a clinical practicum which can be performed at facilities close to where they reside. Degree tracks that may be completed fully-online are adult gerontology health, health services administration and clinical nurse specialist.

Family nurse practitioner and adult gerontology nurse practitioner are hybrid programs that require students to complete some course materials in-person. Areas focused on during the training include advanced pharmacology, healthcare policies, leadership management and healthcare informatics. To access class schedules, test scores and course assignments, students log into the school's online portal. Professor lectures are delivered using streamed and recorded videos.

  • RN-MSN
  • MSN (Adult Gerontology Health-Clinical Nurse Specialist)
  • MSN (Nursing of Children-Clinical Nurse Specialist)

The University of Alabama offers an online Master of Science in Nursing with concentrations including education, case management, leadership and practitioner. The distance education programs are administered through the school's Capstone College of Nursing. Students can complete their clinical research and residency work at a facility in their home state.

Areas covered in the curriculum include healthcare environmental outcomes, clinical decision making, advanced pharmacology and research and statistics. To get class schedules, assignments and examinations, students log into an online portal. Email, discussion boards, chat rooms and the telephone are used to connect students, their classmates and instructors.

  • MSN (Case Management)
  • MSN (Clinical Nurse Leader)

Loyola University's online MS degrees in nursing programs are designed for students seeking specialized health care positions. As the nation's first graduate specialty in Population-Based Infection Control and Environmental Safety, this 41 credit-hour concentration is on the cutting edge of community associated infections, emerging diseases, environmental hazards and bioterrorism. Graduates should be prepared for multi-disciplinary roles requiring critical analysis.

The health systems management track prepares graduates for leadership roles in an ever-changing environment. This program combines core concepts and theories with subspecialty preparation in health care informatics or outcomes performance management. Both degrees require internships to be completed in the student's state of residence.

  • MSN (CNS) in Oncology Advanced Practice Nursing
  • MSN in Health Systems Management (Health-Care Informatics)
  • MSN in Health Systems Management (Outcomes Performance Management)

With tracks in health systems leadership and education, the online master's in nursing at UWG prepares nurses for a range of advanced roles. The HSL track is split between two options: the leader/manager path is ideal for students focused on nursing management, case management and outcome measurement, while the clinical nurse leader role is suited for those looking to assume accountability for client care outcomes. The education track is designed for nurses interested in curriculum building, instructional skills and other teaching-related knowledge. This 36 credit-hour program can be completed in as few as four semesters, but part-time study is also available for working students.

  • MSN (Education)
  • MSN (Health Systems Leadership)

The online MS in nursing at ISU offers two tracks to meet each student's goals and needs. The 43 credit-hour nursing education option prepares nurses to work in various educator roles in hospitals, health departments, clinics and other practice areas. By focusing on current and future trends, graduates will be well-equipped to handle projected changes in the health care system. Consisting of 40 credit-hours, the nursing leadership option prepares nurses to lead in areas of acute, ambulatory care or community-based settings. Both degrees include on site lab/practicum hours to be completed in the student's state of residence.

  • MSN
  • MSN (Nursing Education)

Florida State University's online Master of Science in Nursing is taught along the nurse educator track. Adults must complete 35 credit-hours to graduate and must first also pass a background check. Ninety hours of a teaching practicum offer hands on training in areas that include theoretical foundations of nursing, ethics, advanced pharmacology and implementation and evaluation.

Distance learning materials are accessed via myCampus. In addition to downloading class schedules, students log into myCampus to submit assignments and tests. Actual lectures and seminars are delivered using recorded videos and real-time streamed video.

  • MSN (Nurse Leader)
  • MSN (Nurse Educator)

The online MS at FSU is one of the few forensic nursing degrees offered completely online. Designed for RNs seeking advanced leadership roles in their field, the program prepares graduates to contribute to the development of nursing science and the improvement of health care. This degree also provides a solid foundation for future doctoral studies. Alumni work can span myriad roles, including positions as death investigators, legal nurse consultants, investigators, advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners and risk management specialists. The program is comprised of 39 credit-hours alongside 420 hours of clinical practice, which can be completed in the student's state of residence.

  • MS in Forensic Nursing

Students pursuing an online MS in nursing at GU can choose between two tracks. The 40 credit-hour nurse educator concentration prepares RNs to teach in either a collegiate or health care setting, providing a solid base of theory and research in nurse education. The student completes 240 hours of practicum work in their state of residence, which provides hands-on training in real-world scenarios. Consisting of 47 credit-hours and 720 practicum hours, the family nurse practitioner concentration prepares graduates to work with diverse populations in clinics, community-based settings, long-term care and hospitals. All classes are offered on a 16-week trimester rotation via full- or part-time learning.

  • RN to MSN
  • MSN

The University of Colorado Denver offers an online Master of Science in Nursing with available specialties including adult gerontology, family nurse practitioner, informatics and pediatric nurse practitioner. A bachelor's in nursing, at least a 2.0 in clinical research and statistics and four reference letters are required to get admitted into the program.

Among the program's core courses are health systems, policies and social justice, foundations of healthcare informatics and research methods for advanced practice. UCD, My UCDenver and the University of Colorado ISIS are the portals that students may log into to access class schedules, course assignments and their test scores.

  • MSN (Informatics)
  • MSN (Leadership and Healthcare Systems-iLEAD)

AIC offers two concentrations within its online MS in nursing. The nursing administrator track instills healthcare management skills essential to health care leaders and decision makers. With an emphasis on continued patient care, students learn to support and guide other professionals and reach broader administrative goals. The nursing educator track prepares students to effectively teach future nurses, either in a classroom setting or in leading a practicum. Both tracks are composed of 36 credit-hours and are accessible to RNs already working in the health care arena. With full-time study, these degrees can be completed in as few as 24 months.

  • MSN (Nursing Administrator)
  • MSN (Nursing Educator),

USM's online master's degrees in nursing fall into two career-building specializations within fast-growing segments of the health care industry. The nurse educator track enables graduates to teach undergraduate courses or continuing education classes while also preparing them for doctoral study. The nurse administrator track establishes graduates as leaders within the health care field by advancing knowledge of organizational leadership, policy and evidence-based practice. USM's online programs allow students to complete clinical hours at their current places of work. Graduates are competitive candidates for management and executive-level positions.

  • MSN (Nurse Educator)
  • MSN (Nurse Administrator)

The University of Alabama Huntsville's online Master of Science in Nursing is offered in the leadership in healthcare systems concentration and focuses on areas including advanced pharmacology, leadership in resource management, pathophysiology, nursing research and advanced health assessment.

A total of 39 course hours and 339 clinical or nursing practice hours are required to graduate. Adult learners log into an online portal to download their class schedules, upcoming assignments and educational resources like textbooks. The university's bookstore and library also offer digital services. Students and instructors use the telephone, email, discussion boards and chat rooms to stay in touch and students may view lectures in real-time or recording via video conferencing and webinars.

  • MSN (Leadership in Health Care Systems)

The online MS in nursing at BU is designed to meet the challenges of today's constantly changing health care environment and to preparing nurses for leadership and education roles. The nurse educator track trains students for teaching positions in both clinical and academic settings. In addition to education-related topics, coursework provides advanced knowledge of health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Designed for students seeking work in administrative and executive roles, the nurse executive leader track focuses on collaboration, leadership, financial management and critical thinking. The online MS gives students flexibility to learn on their own schedules while meeting the demands of modern health care.

  • MSN (Nurse Educator)
  • MSN (Nurse Executive Leader-Nurse Administrator)

The online master's in nursing at NIU can prepare graduates for advanced practice positions as nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists, as well as roles within nursing education. This highly flexible program caters to the working professional, with the majority of students enrolled part-time. Students have up to six years to complete their degree. In addition to participating in an internship, candidates may also elect to produce an original thesis requiring completion of at least three additional semester hours. The distinguished faculty and administration at NIU are prepared to help students meet their professional goals and aspirations.

  • MSN

Registered nurses may broaden their theoretical and practical knowledge in preparation for a leadership role or doctoral study by enrolling in the online master's in nursing program at ONU. Great emphasis is placed on ensuring that students interact with a variety of multidisciplinary representatives to explore best practices. Students will choose one of two 36 credit-hour tracks, education or management and leadership, to meet their career goals. Both tracks are 36 credit-hours and are fulfilled one course at a time in an accelerated format. On average, students complete the coursework and the required 180 practicum hours within 17 months.

  • MSN
  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)

Auburn University at Montgomery's Master of Science in Nursing can be completed fully online, with the exception of the practicum portion. Degree specializations include nurse practitioner and nurse educator. Admission into the program requires that adult learners possess a bachelor's in nursing from an accredited school, and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Courses built into the curriculum include advanced theoretical formulations, evidence based practice, healthcare policy and ethics and advanced pharmacology. Students enrolled in the program have access to the school's Nursing Resource Center. Other tools available to nursing majors include career services, scholarships and the Student Health Services Clinic. Class schedules, assignments and examinations are accessed using the school's online portal, MyAUM.

  • MSN (Nurse Educator/Primary Care Practitioner)

The online Master of Science in Nursing program offered at Georgia Southwestern State University has three tracks built into the program, including educator, leadership and informatics. It takes between 36 and 44 credit-hours to graduate and students must adhere to the school's admissions cycle when applying to the program.

Areas that the curriculum focuses on include ethics in nursing, advanced pharmacology, leadership skills in practice and understanding healthcare policies. The school's online portal, GSW GaVIEW, houses student transcripts, registration materials, program applications, class schedules and course schedules. Students also log into the portal to submit examinations and to connect with academic advisors and career counselors. Instructors and students are connected using student email, discussion boards and chat rooms.

  • MSN

The online MS in nursing at LU offers a non-clinical track in health care systems management. The program provides the leadership skills and strategies necessary for nursing managers, directors or health care executives to overcome challenges and leverage new opportunities. Nurses looking to move from direct patient-care roles into an interdisciplinary systems leadership role will be well-suited to this online degree. Consisting of 36 credit-hours, the program can be completed in two years. Typically, students complete one course at a time, allowing them to focus on the curriculum while still working full-time.

  • MSN in Health Care Systems Management
  • BLEND to MSN in Health Care Systems Management

Students interested in a MS in nursing may earn one through Kennesaw State University's online program. After earning the degree, students should have the skills and knowledge to sit for the family nurse practitioner certification. A minimum of 40 credit-hours is required to graduate. Eighteen of these credit-hours are completed during a residency.

To gain admittance into the program, students must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and a minimum 3.0 GPA. The curriculum covers subjects like research, statistics, advanced pharmacology and advanced practice theory. Classroom material is delivered using videos and webinars, and students and professors also use email, chat rooms and discussion forums to keep in touch.

  • MSN in Advanced Care Management and Leadership (Nursing Administration and Health Policy)

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University's Master of Science in Nursing offers a women's health and an adult gerontology primary care practitioner track. Finished completely online, the program prepares adults to provide healthcare to children and adults, foster and utilize leadership skills, evaluate health policies and understand and adhere to ethics standards.

The curriculum covers areas like health promotion and disease prevention, clinical management of older adults and patient centered care. Video conferencing are tools used to deliver instructor led lectures and streamed videos also connect students to live guest seminars. Students keep in contact with instructors and their classmates using email, discussion forums and chat rooms. Blackboard houses student documents like transcripts, test scores, class schedules and specific course resources, like downloadable white papers and digital textbooks.

  • MSN (Nurse Practitioner-Adult Gerontology Primary Care)

The online Master of Science in Nursing at Catholic University of America is delivered through the family nurse practitioner track. Upon graduation, students should be able to sit for nursing certifications and enter into careers like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists or nurse instructors.

The curriculum focuses on topics like advanced health assessment, research, population health, advanced pharmacology and health care policy. Applications are accepted electronically. Through the school's online portal, students download program catalogs, semester class schedules and course assignments. Student email, discussion forums, chat rooms and the telephone are used to ask professors questions and reach both academic advisors and career counselors.

  • MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner)

VSU's online MSN with a concentration in psychiatric/mental health prepares graduates to become competitive and competent nurses equipped for a variety of roles. Some options include care manager, nurse educator or nurse administrator. Building on the baccalaureate nursing education, this degree focuses on specialized clinical roles. The online program is perfect for students already working in the field who wish to learn at their own pace. The degree culminates in a comprehensive examination on theory, research, the clinical focus and psychiatric/mental specialist topics. Candidates will also complete a thesis or project.

  • MSN (Family Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner)

Designed with the working nurse in mind, the online master's in nursing at Northwest Nazarene University provides students with the flexibility to balance professional and educational responsibilities. With faculty offering over 160 years of combined experience, the program should prepare graduate nurses for leadership and education roles in clinical facilities, educational institutions and community agencies. Internships are available within the student's state of residence in a variety of settings. Nurses with associate degrees complete the program in three years, while those with baccalaureate degrees can finish in two years of full-time online learning.

  • MSN

Inside Online Nursing Master’s Programs

For students who need flexibility while obtaining an advanced degree in nursing, online nursing programs allow them to fit graduate school into their busy schedules and learn at their own pace.

The first step is choosing an academic track to pursue. For example, a prospective student with an associate degree in nursing will be on a different track than someone who already has a bachelor’s degree in the field.

The following is a list of options for students interested in pursuing a master’s degree in nursing. Not all online nursing programs offer each of these tracks, and some may only accept students who have already obtained their bachelor’s degree and are licensed nurses.

Master’s Degree in Nursing

Intended for students who have a bachelor’s degree in an area other than nursing, this program usually takes 24 to 36 months to complete. In addition to the master’s level curriculum, this degree also provides foundational coursework and training for the student to achieve a licensure as a registered nurse.

Associate Nursing Degree to Master’s Degree in Nursing

This track is available to students who are already licensed registered nurses, but hold only an associate degree in nursing. Combining bachelor’s and master’s level coursework, this program usually takes 24 to 36 months to complete.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree to Master’s Degree in Nursing

This is the most widely available program for students seeking a master’s degree in nursing. It usually takes 18 to 24 months to complete, as students must already be registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to academic tracks, there are some other variables to consider when choosing an online nursing master’s program. Below are just some of the key considerations:


One of the primary reasons to obtain a master’s degree in nursing is to gain further education and expertise in a specialty. Specialization can help a nurse advance into teaching, administration or research. Make sure the online program offers the target specialty, and that the faculty is strong in that area.

Faculty Quality

Students should seek a school with faculty that has terminal degrees in their specialty, as well as proven experience in the field. This ensures that teachers are aware of current issues facing nurses, such as nursing shortages, the rise in chronic disease, and the latest industry research. Students can also look at how many academic papers the faculty has published in industry journals.


When deciding between online nursing master’s programs, students should research how well potential employers will regard a degree from their chosen university. Does a local hospital or academic institution prefer to hire graduates from a given school? Are graduates recognized nationwide or just locally? The reputation of a sterling skill spreads far and wide, and that can give graduates a boost in the job market.


Make sure the target school is accredited. There are currently two organizations that accredit nursing master’s programs: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation is especially important for online master’s degree nursing programs, as it weeds out potential scams and disreputable programs. Also, if an institution is not accredited, students will not be eligible for financial aid or state licensing.

Career Services/Networking

When deciding which program to attend, students should consider their long-term professional goals. Strong career services can help them land interviews with quality employers upon graduation, and a strong networking system can give them early connections with influential contacts in the field.

Onsite Requirements

Most if not all online nursing master’s programs will require in-person clinical or internship hours. Some schools allow the in-person work to be satisfied at an approved location close to the student. However, students should confirm their proximity to an approved clinical site before enrolling.

Exam Passage Rates

For some specialties, a certification examination may be required upon graduation. For instance, a nurse anesthetist must take a National Certification Exam (NCE) before beginning work in their selected field. Students should look at the program’s exam passage rate and compare it with the national average. This should offer a good idea of how well the courses prepare students for success in certification.

Concentrations & Coursework

Students enrolled in a master’s degree program can expect to receive an education that will allow them to practice nursing in a specialty area like anesthesia or midwifery, or to advance into related areas, such as nurse education, informatics or administration. Below are some of the most common areas of concentration and potential career paths for current and aspiring nurses.

Advanced Nursing Practice

This relatively broad concentration trains registered nurses to become nurse practitioners. Coursework is based on research, pharmacology, and diagnosis and management. This specialty enables registered nurses to more effectively treat, diagnose and manage various medical conditions. Typically, nurse practitioners go on to further specialize in a certain class of patients, such as family practice, pediatrics or gerontology.

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

    Provides diagnosis, treatment and care management for infants with acute and chronic illnesses.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    Sees a wide variety of patients, ranging from children to adults. Treatment can cover both chronic and acute illnesses.


This concentration primarily focuses on caring for women who are pregnant or have just had a child. This can also cover women’s reproductive health care. Course topics include midwifery, female primary care, pregnancy and female reproduction.

  • Certified Nurse Midwife

    Serves as the primary care provider for women who are pregnant or who have recently delivered a baby. Can also provide medical care for newborns and women’s health issues.


This concentration deals with the administration of anesthetics to patients. Classwork will cover subjects such as pharmacology, biostatistics, human physiology and anesthesia. Graduates can work toward becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist after passing the national certification exam offered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists.

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

    Specializes in the administration of anesthesia to patients.


The nursing research specialty trains nurses to become scientists, enabling them to get involved in clinical trials or research and to apply their knowledge in the actual practice of medicine. Coursework will focus on clinical research methods, medical research and biostatistics.

  • Nurse Researcher

    Participates in the administration of clinical trials and medical research. May also assist in the implementation of recently developed scientific concepts into the clinical setting.


The nurse education specialization trains nurses to become teachers, either as faculty in an academic or clinical setting. The curriculum covers concepts such as healthcare policy and law, research, nursing theory, and education and statistics.

  • Nursing Professor/Educator

    Educates nursing students in an academic setting, such as colleges and universities for various nursing professions.

Leadership / Administration

Online master’s nursing programs in leadership/administration specialties prepare nurses for upper management roles in clinical and other settings. In addition to nursing-related coursework, course topics include information technology, healthcare policy and management.

  • Nurse Administrator

    Manages the nursing staff in one or more healthcare facilities, such as hospitals or clinics.


Nursing informatics concerns the implementation of computer information systems in a healthcare setting. Coursework trains nurses to manage and/or improve healthcare through the effective use of technology and covers theories such as information technology, research, databases and statistics.

  • Nurse Informaticist

    A nurse who works on the integration of technology in a healthcare setting. Usually has training in computer science-related concepts, such as management information systems and data analysis.

Much of the nursing program aims to teach nurses to specialize and/or become experts in a given area. However, regardless of the specialty, there are some core concepts in all nursing programs. Below is a list of actual courses with descriptions.

Ethics for Advanced Practice Nursing

Provides a background and explanation of ethical concepts in relation to medical situations commonly encountered by nurses. Students learn how to analyze dilemmas and make ethical decisions through the use of clinical reasoning skills.

Introduction to Biostatistics

This course covers basic and frequently used statistical concepts in a healthcare environment through medical studies and research data. Also explores mathematical procedures to interpret and analyze statistical data.

Influencing Healthcare Quality, Safety & Policy

The objective of this course is to train nurses to understand the interrelation of factors determining healthcare policy. The factors of financial cost, effectiveness and ability to obtain medical care are considered within the context of the United States healthcare system. Students also learn about the effect of politics, economics and social influences on patient care.

Research Methods for Advanced Practice

Students will learn effective approaches to medical research and specific theories by which conclusions are made during the research process. This course will also help students develop data analysis skills and use them in an evidence-based nursing practice.

Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Nursing

This course examines the history of nursing theory, as well as how the profession is practiced today. Students will learn how nursing theories, methodologies and scientific concepts form the basis of a clinical skill set and practice.

Clinical Pharmacology for Advanced Practice Nursing

This course will examine the basis for drug interaction, biochemical theories for a medication’s effectiveness, and the pharmacological effect of drugs on the human body. Students will also review the legal, ethical and psychological considerations of using medications.

Advanced Health Assessment

This course trains students to properly assess patients. Students will gain the skills and knowledge to effectively analyze a patient’s medical history, make physical and mental assessments, and ultimately provide medical treatment and management.

Pathophysiology for Advanced Practice Nursing

This course involves the analysis of diseases, observed symptoms, and the biological process that occurs within the patient as it relates to the nursing discipline. Students will learn how to effectively assess a patient’s medical condition and provide the most appropriate treatment or care.

Timeline for an Online Master’s Degree in Nursing

Most online nursing programs offer both part-time and full-time options. Attending part-time allows students to learn at a slower pace and more easily balance academic pursuits with family and professional obligations. Let’s look at a general timeline for applying and enrolling in a full-time online nursing program.

Year 0

The first step is applying. Each school will have its own admission requirements, such as minimum GPA, previous degree earned and current status as a registered nurse. Assuming these points are met, students will need to complete an application. Common components of an application include: test scores (such as the GRE), certified transcripts, multiple letters of recommendation, in-person or online interview(s), payment of an application fee, proof of certification as a registered nurse, a resume or curriculum vitae and a personal statement. Check the deadlines for each these requirements. Many applications can be submitted online or through the nursing department’s website, but some application components, such as a transcript request or letter of recommendation, depend on another individual to complete them. Start these as soon as possible to avoid any delays.

Year 1

The first year of an online master’s program will focus on core classes that all students will take, regardless of specialty. If the program starts with students who are not yet registered nurses or do not have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, any prerequisites or accelerated classes in underlying concepts -- such as chemistry, human anatomy and human nutrition -- will be taken this first year. Some programs also offer summer sessions. Finally, depending on the specialty and program, students may take one or more electives this first year in graduate nursing school.

Year 2

By now, students will have decided on a specialty, and will begin taking courses tailored to their area of focus. Additionally, second-year students will begin clinicals, internships and/or practicums, which will provide hands-on experience and observation in a clinical setting. Finally, the student will be required to take a comprehensive examination prior to graduation.

If a student is enrolled in an accelerated program, and if the area of specialty allows, he or she may be able to finish in less than two years. However, if a student attends graduate nursing school part-time or pursues a more rigorous specialty, they can expect to complete their degree in two to three years.

From the Source: A Grad Talks Online Master’s Degree in Nursing

Peggy Rivers earned a master’s degree in nursing online, and has worked in both hospitals and clinics. She is currently a nurse practitioner. Rivers has the following tips for students earning an online master’s degree in nursing:

Choose the right program

Look for a program that best fits your needs and aspirations. For example, an online program might best serve a parent or someone who will be working throughout their program.

Talk to nurses who are doing what you want to do

They can help you determine which specialty and work location is best for you. Earning a master’s degree means being immersed in your specialty, so it’s important to find the right one.

Don’t forget about self-care

Graduate school isn’t easy. Nurses are always focused on taking care of others, but your own health is important, too. Pay particular attention to getting enough sleep. Establishing self-care habits now will help you stick to them throughout your career.

The Cost/Benefit Analysis of Obtaining an Online Master’s Degree in Nursing

Before deciding to pursue a master’s in nursing, prospective students must ensure that they can afford the degree. Next, they should determine whether it will be worth the investment of time and money. This section takes a look at the typical costs a prospective student can expect to pay. We’ll also explore what type of financial or professional boost the graduate may receive after graduation.

The Costs of the Degree

The single most important cost factor is tuition. This will vary based on type of institution (public versus private), as well as whether the student is an in-state resident or not. Some online programs have a flat tuition rate for distance learners. Generally speaking, private schools will cost more than public, and in-state tuition will be less than out-of-state tuition. To give a rough idea of what to expect, tuition fees can range from $560 per credit to as high as $920 per credit. There will also be additional costs to consider, such as books, cost of living, lab fees and malpractice insurance fees.

The Return on Investment

Earning an online master’s in nursing doesn’t guarantee a promotion, new career pathway or higher salary. However, it usually increases the chances of obtaining those goals and makes the nurse more marketable. A master’s degree also helps students meet the education requirements for many administration, specialization and teaching jobs that pay more than a conventional registered nursing position. The below chart provides average salaries in 2013 for nurses with specialties that typically require a master’s degree in nursing:

Nurse Type Top 10% Median (50%) Bottom 10%
Nurse Practitioner $126,250 $92,670 $66,960
Nurse Anesthetist $187,199+ $151,090 $106,010
Nurse Midwife $120,540 $92,290 $62,820

Compare these numbers with a registered nurse without a specialty that requires a master’s degree:

Nurse Type Top 10% Median (50%) Bottom 10%
Registered Nurse $96,320 $66,220 $45,630


Considering this significant increase in salary, a master’s degree in nursing is a worthwhile degree that will likely pay for itself within one to two years.

Additional evidence of the financial benefit of a master’s degree in nursing can be found in the 2013 data from the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate and undergraduate nursing programs. The average salary of a 2013 graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s bachelor’s nursing program was $56,701 and ranged from $35,000 to $85,000. However, a 2013 graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s master’s degree in nursing program who became a family health nurse practitioner averaged $85,687 in salary with a range of $71,802 to $108,000.

In 2008, only 13.2% of registered nurses had a master’s or doctorate degree. The demand for nurses with advanced degrees far exceeds the current supply.

Growing Need for Nurses with Master’s Degrees

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecasted a 34 percent increase in demand for nurse practitioners, a 29 percent increase for nurse midwives, and a 25 percent increase for nurse anesthetists from 2012 to 2022. This is much faster than the 11 percent average for all occupations.

Unconventional Careers for Master’s Degree Nursing Graduates

Although a majority of nurses are employed at hospitals or similar health care settings – according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 60 percent of RNs worked at general medical and surgical hospitals – these professionals can find more unconventional employment opportunities. In addition to common specialties such as anesthesia, teaching or nurse administration, there are several non-traditional career paths for highly trained nurses.

  • Forensic Nurse

    Forensic nurses work with patients who are victims of crime or who commit crimes, helping to collect medical evidence. They often become involved in the criminal justice system, and can expect to testify in court and/or consult with legal professionals.

  • Legal Nurse Consultant

    A highly trained nurse can become an expert in a more specialized area of nursing. This could include serving as a legal consultant, advising attorneys on a medical malpractice or personal injury case, or providing expert witness testimony at trial.

  • Occupational Health Nurse

    Occupational health nurses work in a business setting, such as an office or factory, where they can engage in various tasks, such as implementing wellness programs or running clinics for employees. A master’s degree nursing program provides important management, leadership and administration training for this career path.

  • Health Insurance Specialist

    Health insurance companies have a strong need for nurses with master’s degrees to help review medical care utilization and quality assurance. These tasks are well-suited to those with an administration education.

  • Outcome/Case Management Nurse

    Those in this profession work to improve patient care and healthcare management. By analyzing the effectiveness of all aspects of the medical system, outcome/case management nurses can reduce costs, boost efficiency, and minimize risk while providing better care to patients.