6 Best Online MSN Programs Ranked (The Definitive Guide For 2022)

BetterNurse Best MSN Program Rankings
The best online MSN program is through Aspen University. Discover why and other top-rated online MSN programs here.

Share This Post

Want to advance your education and career by enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing program but feeling overwhelmed by all the options?

Then you’ve come to the right place!

We looked at reviews from real nursing students and took into consideration alumni ratings, tuition cost, program recommendation rate, and other factors to definitively rank the best online MSN programs.

In this post, you’ll discover the top-rated online MSN programs and learn a bit about each one. To see more detailed information about any of the programs, just follow the links to read our full, in-depth program reviews.

Finally, we’ll discuss some things to keep in mind as you determine if one of these programs may be a good fit for you.

What is the Best Online MSN Program?

Aspen University offers the best online MSN program. This is based on a number of factors reported by Gradreports.com, including real alumni reviews, cost of tuition, how often graduates would recommend the program to others, and more.

However, it’s key to remember that just because a program is a good fit for some students, it may be a different case for someone else.

For example, one school may seem to be a good fit, but if they don’t offer the exact specialization you’d like to study, it’s probably best to seek a different program to help you achieve your career goals.

Keep reading to learn more about Aspen University and other online MSN programs.

6 Best Online MSN Programs Ranked

The table below summarizes the top online MSN programs. You can read more about each program below the table.

All of the tuition data and information we used to rank the following programs was obtained from GradReports.com. This way, all of the following reporting comes from alumni who actually had first-hand experience in the programs.

The rankings were determined by multiple factors, including:

  • Tuition
  • Program flexibility
  • Alumni reviews
UniversityBetterNurse Aggregate Score (Max 5)
Aspen Univeristy4.83
WGU4.50
Purdue Univeristy4.33
Grand Canyon Univeristy4.25
Walden Univeristy4.17
South University4.00

1. Aspen University

Aspen University Online MSN Program Review

Aspen University’s online MSN program earned the top spot in our rankings for two main reasons: the cost of tuition and the alumni recommendation rate.

Of all the online MSN programs that made our list, Aspen appears to have the lowest average annual cost of tuition according to GradReports.

Additionally, it had the highest program recommendation rate of the schools we looked at. Of the 40 alumni who reviewed the program, 88% of them said they would recommend this MSN program to others.

88% of the surveyed alumni also claimed that the degree improved their career prospects.

The only thing to be wary about with this program is to ensure you’re in a location where you’ll be able to easily find a preceptor if you’re enrolling in a clinically-focused program. However, you should do this before you commit to any online nursing degree program.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
4.5554.83

2. WGU

WGU Online MSN Program Review

WGU’s online MSN program is a great choice because of its affordability and “competency-based education.”

This program allows you to take a series of assessments and transfer existing graduate credits to help you graduate faster. Of course, the less time it takes you to get your degree, the less money you’ll have to spend in doing so.

Since the average cost of tuition is the second-lowest of the schools that made our top program list, you could end up saving a lot of money by enrolling with WGU.

While the cost to get your degree may be lower than most other online MSN programs, there is one thing keep in mind with this school. According to GradReports, the average post-graduation salary was lower for this school when compared to others.

Remember, however, that there could be confounding factors producing the lower-than-average post-graduation salary. Also, the post-graduation employment rate is 99%, so you shouldn’t have any issues finding a nursing position once you complete the program.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
4.54.54.54.50

3. Purdue University

Online MSN Program Review

Purdue Univeristy’s online MSN program features excellent certification exam pass rates after students graduate. In fact, the success rate for Nurse Practitioner students that graduated in 2020 and took a certification exam was 97.8%.

Clearly, Purdue Univeristy demonstrates that it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a program that will prepare you for a career as a Nurse Practitioner, because they have the results to back it up.

Another great thing about this online MSN program is that they offer an ExcelTrack option. If you enroll in either their Nurse Educator or Executive Leader pathway, you can take as many courses as you like over a 10-week term for a flat rate of $3,200.

If you’re a highly-motivated student and interested in one of those education pathways, this could be the perfect choice for you.

The biggest downside we saw in this online MSN program is that there doesn’t appear to be an RN-to-MSN option. Therefor, if you want to enroll in Purdue’s MSN program, you’ll need to already have your BSN.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
4.254.254.54.33

4. Grand Canyon University

GCU Online MSN Program Review

Grand Canyon Univeristy’s online MSN program boasts a large range of different degree pathways you can pursue.

For example, they offer five different MSN degrees with emphasis in areas like Health Informatics and Nursing Education. They also offer two different Nurse Practitioner pathways: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (Adult-Gerontology) and Family Nurse Practitioner.

Uniquely, GCU also offers a dual degree called Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems. This particular pathway allows you to pursue your MSN and MBA simultaneously.

The only thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want to be in close contact with your degree advisor to ensure your program can be completed in the amount of time and budget that works for you. One GradReports reviewer stated they were told incorrect information.

While this appears to be an isolated incident, you should always pursue regular communication with advisors in whatever online MSN program you enroll in.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
4.544.254.25

5. Walden University

Walden University Online MSN Program Review

Walden University’s online MSN program is likely the most flexible of any of the programs we looked at when assembling these rankings.

This school offers nine different degree pathways in two categories: Nurse Practitioner specializations and Speciality Practice specializations.

Additionally, Walden offers both RN-to-MSN or BSN-to-MSN tracks. Uniquely, the school also offers online Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD in Nursing degrees. In fact, if you already hold a BSN, you can enroll in a BSN-to-DNP program without even needing to enroll in an MSN program.

Walden Univeristy provides even more flexibility by allowing you to choose your learning approach. You can go with “Course-based learning,” which is the traditional education approach with set deadlines and class times.

Alternatively, you can choose “TEMPO Learning,” which allows you to learn at your own pace with no predetermined schedule.

There was a GradReports review which stated finding a preceptor for this program was a challenge. However, it could have been an isolated incident. Before enrolling in any online MSN program, be sure to contact the school and communicate about these things before you commit.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
53.544.17

6. South University

South University Online MSN Program Review

South University’s online MSN program is heavily focused on providing positive outcomes for their students.

Unfortunately, the data and reviews for this school were sparse on GradReports. However, it’s clear on their website that their graduates have done some impressive things.

For example, one former student went on to get their DNP and has since fought sex trafficking and influenced nursing policy. Another graduate became a charge nurse for a 36-bed med-surge unit within five months of graduating.

Like most of the schools on this list, there’s also a healthy number of specializations and degree pathways to choose from.

Do keep in mind, however, that the lack of reviews make this school a little harder to compare and contrast with the others on this list.

Flexibility ScoreTuition ScoreAlumni Review ScoreBetterNurse Aggregate Score
4.53.544.00

What is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree offered to Registered Nurses who have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. However, it is possible to enroll in an MSN program as an RN with no BSN.

These Master’s degrees are offered by universities and online colleges. Nurses can choose from a variety of degrees to fit their expertise and educational goals.

MSN degrees have many different specialties. This is because these programs prepare nurses to become:

These degrees can lead to terminal degrees in nursing such as a Doctorate of Nursing Practice.

Master’s of Science in Nursing degrees are what permit you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

Pros of Enrolling in an Online MSN Program

There are quite a few advantages to enrolling in an online MSN program as opposed to attending one in person.

Below are some of the key benefits of online MSN programs.

Online MSN Programs Are Cheaper

Online MSN programs are cheaper than in-person programs.

The total cost for an MSN degree varies. However, degrees typically range from $35,00 to $70,000. Some private institutions cost upwards of $100,000.

The average cost of an online MSN degree is $29,000.

The cost differs based on:

  • Credit costs
  • In-state vs out-of-state tuition
  • Program length

Online MSN Programs Are More Flexible

While clinically-focused MSN programs will still require that you complete a preceptorship in person, all of the didactic teaching will be completed online.

Depending on what online program you enroll in, you may be able to complete your classes on your own schedule, and not have to go to class at any predetermined time. This can be super helpful for working nurses trying to advance their education while still remaining employed.

Many programs also offer rolling start dates, allowing you to start learning virtually whenever you’re ready to commit to getting your MSN degree.

How Much Does An MSN Program Cost?

On-campus, private-institution MSN programs cost the most. This is followed by public, in-person MSN programs, and finally online MSN programs.

MSN programs that do not require clinical hours are inherently cheaper because they require less requirements than clinical counterparts. These include roles like:

  • Leadership
  • Administration
  • Education
  • Informatics

MSN programs that require clinical hours, such as Nurse Practitioner programs, are more expensive.

In-person, private institutions are more expensive than in-person, public institutions. This is because they do not receive state subsidies. They support themselves solely through tuition and donations.

Public universities are cheaper due to federal and state funding. Also, state residents pay taxes that help fund their state’s public universities. As a result, the government covers part of the cost of attendance at public colleges.

Furthermore, online MSN programs are generally cheaper than in-person attendance because online programs have fewer expenses. Online programs do not have to pay as much for things like property and building maintenance.

Different Types of MSN Programs

The following are the most common MSN degree programs:

  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Public Health
  • Informatics
  • Administration and Management
  • Nursing Education
  • Forensic Nursing

The degrees are obtained through:

  • BSN to MSN programs
  • RN to MSN degree programs
  • Dual master’s degree programs
  • Post-master’s certificate programs

Traditionally, an MSN is obtained after you complete your BSN degree. The natural progression of degrees in nursing is typically:

Although an RN license is considered the cornerstone of all MSN programs, it is not required for all of them. With the recent push for online degree programs, there are endless options offered online.

MSN Programs vs Other Types of Nursing Degrees

An MSN degree is different than other types of nursing degrees, because it is considered a graduate level degree. That means it is an advanced practice degree.

It takes 35-50 credit hours to complete. On the other hand, a BSN degree requires 120 credit hours.

MSN courses:

  • Are more advanced
  • Build on expertise
  • Require more study time

These courses build on the premise that you are already proficient in nursing. The purpose is making you an expert in your field by the time you finish.

Nurses who obtain MSN degrees may have prescriptive authority depending on which degree is obtained, unlike lower-level nursing degrees.

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) vs Registered Nurses (RNs)

In order to become a Nurse Practitioner, you have to get your MSN.

Nurse practitioners (NP) differ from Registered Nurses (RN) in that they can:

  • Diagnose, order, and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Initiate and manage treatment
  • Prescribe medications

Some states even allow full practice. This means they can use their own license to practice instead of working under a physician’s license.

However, other states require physician supervision when practicing. When you are an NP with restrictive practice, a medical doctor “signs off” on all the prescriptive orders you write as an NP.

Can You Get Your MSN Degree If You’re Not An RN?

Recently, more universities have been offering a non-nurse MSN option. This allows non-RNs to obtain an MSN and then sit for the NCLEX-RN licensure upon completion of the program.

This newer degree option allows non-nursing baccalaureate holders to pursue a graduate-level nursing degree. Some would argue this route isn’t ideal, because RN experience is vital to understanding clinical leadership and nursing practice.

The key component to any nursing degree is the nurse licensure. This is the Registered Nurse (RN) license.

All 50 states offer the RN license under the accreditation board, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

How Long Does An MSN Program Take To Complete?

The time it takes to complete an MSN degree differs from other nursing degrees.

On average, the Master’s degree takes 18-24 months to complete. On the other hand, a BSN degree typically takes 3 to 4 years.

When completed, an MSN degree produces highly-educated nursing leaders with an average of 6 years of total education.

The nursing profession’s primary accrediting bodies for MSN programs include:

  • The Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) 

Make sure to verify that your school is accredited before you enroll in courses.

Why Should You Get Your MSN Degree?

There are quite a few advantages to getting your MSN degree.

We discuss a few of them below.

Acquire Leadership Skills

Acquiring an MSN degree allows you to build specific leadership skills within healthcare organizations. These degrees promote:

  • Communication
  • Delegation
  • Flexibility
  • Commitment
  • Engagement within the nursing community

Ultimately, the key leadership qualities in healthcare include:

  • Tech savviness
  • Strong communication skills
  • Time management
  • Focus
  • Integrity

All of these are shaped while participating in your MSN program.

Make More Money

Not only does an MSN prepare you to be tomorrow’s leader in healthcare, but you also earn more.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, MSN degrees can significantly raise your earning potential.

Enrolling in a flexible, online MSN program allows you to grow in your career while still working and earring money.

Educate Others

You should also consider getting an MSN degree if you are passionate about educating others.

Obtaining a Master’s degree in Nursing Education allows you to teach future nurses. Your guidance paves the way to the future of nursing, and you can provide engaging leadership for future nurses that lasts a generation.

Consider getting an MSN degree if you want to pave the way for nursing science while contributing to the profession in a meaningful way.

It also allows you to pave the way for nursing science by performing research and updating best practices. The overall contribution you could have to the nursing profession once you finish your degree is immeasurable.

How To Get Your Online MSN Degree

Obtaining an MSN requires the same preparation as any graduate-level degree.

Decide On Your Career Path

First, you should decide on your career path.

You need to select which nursing specialty you would like to pursue. After all, the while point of getting your MSN is to learn more highly-specialized knowledge and advance your career in a specific area of nursing.

Apply To MSN Programs

Once you know what kind of nursing you want to do, you need to apply to MSN programs.

Some MSN programs require you to take a GRE test and achieve a particular score. This is similar to the SAT you take to enroll in undergraduate school.

Most programs will waive GRE scores if your undergraduate GPA is above average. They may also waive them if you provide letters of recommendations speaking highly of your current nursing practice.

Select Your Core MSN Classes

Once you are accepted into a university, you will be assigned a guidance counselor to help you transition into graduate school.

Your guidance counselor will help you determine which core classes you will take for your nursing degree.

Most MSN degrees have similar core classes before breaking off into specialties. These courses are typically heavy on:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing research
  • Nursing theory

Complete Your Speciality MSN Courses

Once MSN core classes are completed, you will complete your specialty courses.

For example, if you are in a MSN-NP program, you would complete clinical hours with a Medical Doctor or Nurse Practitioner.

Similarly, for the nursing education MSN capstone project, you follow a nurse educator. Other final projects could include a research thesis presented to your Dean of Nursing for approval.

Prior to attending, make sure to review:

  • The school’s reputation
  • Online reviews
  • Success rates
  • Acceptance rates
  • Tuition costs
  • Program lengths
  • Whether or not it is accredited by ACEN or CCNE

How Much Does An MSN Nurse Make?

Master of Science in Nursing degrees can significantly raise your earning potential.

Advanced practice nurses can earn a median annual wage of $113,930, compared to $75,030 for Registered Nurses.

To see the salary potential for different types of nurses, check out our guide to nursing salaries.

Which Online MSN Program Should You Choose?

When searching for your next degree, you should take into consideration:

  • Your long-term goals
  • Total cost of the program
  • Program length
  • Established accreditations

First, decide which MSN specialty you would like to acquire.

Are you passionate about teaching the next generation of nurses or helping develop the next electronic medical record documentation systems? Or, do you want a more clinical and hands-on role?

Once you decide your specialty, you can pursue your MSN degree.

If you want to advance your bedside practice and still work directly with patient care, becoming a Nurse Practitioner may be the option for you. Advanced Practice RNs are involved in bedside care but have multiple roles in providing healthcare.

You may find that information systems are intriguing and you want to focus on documentation solutions for healthcare systems. If so, Nursing Informatics may be the direction you go for an advanced degree.

If you want to teach the next generation of nurses either didactically or during clinical rotations, Nursing Education is the path you should take. This is a balance between patient care and administrative work, meaning you can choose how much you are involved with clinical rotations.

Conclusion

The need for nurses with an advanced education has never been greater than it is right now, and the demand is only projected to increase.

By enrolling in an online MSN program, you can gain the education and skills you need to advance your career, while having the flexibility to continue working and learn on a flexible schedule that fits your lifestyle.

If you’re looking to get your MSN and reap the benefits that come along with an advanced nursing degree, then find a program now!

Get The Latest Nursing News In Your Inbox

Stay on top of the latest word that affects your career.

More To Explore

It's time For the next step

Whether it's a new a job, or continuing your education, BetterNurse.org is your career partner.