Most Affordable Online Master’s in Nursing Programs 2021

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Nursing Programs 2021
Most Affordable Online Master's in Nursing Programs Badge

Designed for current nurses with a bachelor’s or associate in nursing, online nursing master’s programs help nurses take the next step in their careers. A master of science in nursing (MSN) provides plenty of flexibility, allowing students to specialize their degree in various nursing fields.

Depending on the specialization selected, the career outcomes can be lucrative. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners earn a median wage of $115,800. Nearly all potential outcomes could see significant job growth over the coming years, too.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses, nursing programs were known to turn qualified applicants away before  COVID-19 due to limitations regarding faculty, class sizes, and clinical sites. And the pandemic has caused the field to become more competitive thanks to the changes schools have had to make to the traditional learning environment, such as limiting class sizes and switching to an online learning format. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that there was a 6% increase in enrollment in baccalaureate nursing programs in 2020. 

This resource explores the most affordable online master’s in nursing programs, as well as how an MSN aligns with nurses’ career goals.

Accredited Online College Programs

Top 30 Affordable Online Master’s in Nursing Programs in 2021

  1. Fort Hays State University
    Location

    Hays, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Fort Hays State University offers the most affordable master's in nursing online degree program on our list. With 100% online courses, this program is suitable for working RNs who desire a career in nursing education. Students may choose to add the nursing education specialty track to their online MSN degree. Foundation courses include advanced statistics, developing nursing theories, healthcare policy and politics, informatics in health care systems, and research in nursing. Admission requires a baccalaureate degree with an upper division major in nursing from a CCNE-accredited program. U.S. News and World Report ranks Fort Hays #126-#165 in best regional universities in the Midwest. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #35 out of more than 1,200 programs surveyed by U.S. News.

  2. University of Nevada
    Location

    Las Vegas, NV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    University of Nevada's online master's in nursing programs include the MSN in Nurse Educator. This fully online program offers curriculum that meets the Essentials of Master's Education in Nursing as identified by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Classes may be completed online, and full-time or part-time enrollment options are available. Some of the required courses include advanced health assessment, advanced pathophysiology and genetics, nursing education, and nursing education scholarship. U.S. News and World Report ranks UNLV among the top 300 best national universities in the country. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #16 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  3. University of West Georgia
    Location

    Carrollton, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    University of West Georgia's online MSN programs offer coursework 100% online. The 36-credit hour degree is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and takes approximately two years to complete. A part time plan of study is also available, though must be completed within six semesters. Three specialty tracks are also offered, including clinical nurse leader, leader/manager, and nursing education. General coursework, regardless of the specialty track, includes health promotion and advanced health assessment, role of caring in the healthcare profession, and theoretical foundations of nursing practice. U.S. News and World Report ranks UWG among the top 300 national universities. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #31 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  4. University of Central Arkansas
    Location

    Conway, AR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Some of the most affordable MSN online programs on our list are offered by University of Central Arkansas. MSN courses are delivered entirely online with the exception of clinical courses with a laboratory component. The lab portions of some classes require minimal on campus meetings. Some of the required courses include advanced health assessment, advanced pathophysiology, health policy and economics, research for evidence-based practice, and theoretical foundations of nursing practice. Several specialty tracks are also offered in areas like clinical nurse leader, nurse educator, and nurse practitioner. U.S. News and World Report ranks the university #72 in best regional institutions in the South and #26 in top public schools. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #51 out of more than 1,200 programs surveyed by U.S. News.

  5. Angelo State University
    Location

    San Angelo, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Angelo State University offers MSN online degrees that are both accredited and highly affordable. The online MSN also offers a family nurse practitioner specialty designed for baccalaureate nurses who want to develop expertise in an advanced practice role. Courses are delivered online and taught by Angelo State professors. These courses include advanced health assessment, evidence-based practice and theory for advanced nursing, health policy and ethics, leadership and roles in advanced nursing, and population health epidemiology for advanced nursing. U.S. News and World Report ranks Angelo State #96-#126 in best regional universities in the West. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #58 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  6. Florida Atlantic University
    Location

    Boca Raton, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University offers online MSN programs with several specialization options. Online specialties include advanced holistic nursing, clinical nurse leader, nurse educator, and nursing administrative and financial leadership. All programs are fully online except for the nurse educator MSN, which is a partially online graduate program. Courses include advanced nursing practice, leadership in nursing administration (for the nursing administrative specialty), and philosophical and theoretical foundations of advanced nursing practice roles. Admission requires an earned bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) and ample clinical experience. U.S. News and World Report ranks Florida Atlantic among the top 300 best national universities. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #39 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  7. The University of Texas
    Location

    Arlington, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Some of the most affordable MSN online programs on our list are offered by The University of Texas. UT Tyler offers an online MSN with a concentration in nursing administration open to professional RNs. This program is fully online and serves as preparation for the national certification examination. Students receive a combination of online learning and practicum hours for hands-on experience in the nursing administration field. Courses include delivery of care, health care informatics, health policy and population health, and translational science. U.S. News and World Report ranks UT Tyler #90 in best regional universities in the West and #34 in top public schools. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #5 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  8. Georgia College & State University
    Location

    Milledgeville, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Open to BSN students, the online master's in nursing programs at Georgia College & State University prepare nurses to further their careers. The MSN is a fully online program with minimal face-to-face on-campus requirements. The degree offers concentrations in family nurse practitioner (FNP), nurse educator, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. For the FNP specialization, courses include healthcare research and statistical analysis, nursing theory – principles and application, and perspectives of advanced nursing practice. U.S. News and World Report ranks Georgia College #31 in best regional universities in the South. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #39 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

  9. Ferris State University
    Location

    Big Rapids, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The online master's in nursing programs at Ferris State University include the MSN degree. This fully online program is designed to meet the needs of BSN nurses who want to advance their careers by taking online courses and completing a master's degree. The program is open to registered nurses with a bachelor's degree in nursing and accepts twenty students in the fall and spring semesters. To be accepted to the program, students must also have received an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better and provide a minimum of two years of full time clinical nursing experience. U.S. News and World Report ranks Ferris State #83 in best regional universities in the Midwest and #18 in top public schools. Also, the online graduate nursing programs rank #58 out of more than 1,200 programs surveyed by U.S. News.

  10. University of Colorado
    Location

    Boulder, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    University of Colorado is one of our top picks for affordable MSN online degrees. The school offers an online MSN with a concentration in health care informatics. The program has earned rankings with major publications such as U.S. News and World Report and has been in operation since 1997. Also, the program is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Courses include foundations of healthcare informatics, health systems and policy, philosophical and theoretical nursing, and research methods for advanced practice. U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Colorado #207 in best national universities and #113 in top public schools.

FAQ

QuestionAnswer
What types of master’s degrees in nursing are there?Online MSN students can earn a degree in leadership, education, or administration. They can also study to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist.
What can you do with a master’s in nursing?A master’s degree in nursing leads to advanced careers in nursing. Those that earn an MSN enjoy better paying positions with a specialized role.
How long does it take to get a master’s in nursing?A nurse studying full time can finish an online MSN in just one year, though many nursing students must complete clinicals which adds another year or two of study.
What is the highest paying job in the nursing field?

According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists earn a median wage of $174,790, though some nurse anesthetists earn even more.

Source: American Association of School of Nursing

What Are the Goals of Nursing?



Nurses aim to help others through holistic practices. Aside from providing medical care, nurses monitor patients’ mental and emotional wellbeing. All nurses must first complete an associate or bachelor’s program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination to become registered. This allows nurses to perform basic nursing tasks, though many specialize their careers through on-the-job experience.

A master’s in nursing builds off previous education and experience, teaching new skills that apply to different fields of nursing. Many advanced nursing positions, including positions as a nurse practitioner or nurse midwife, require at least a master’s degree.


Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Majors



Completing an online master’s nursing program helps current registered nurses advance their careers. However, the potential job openings for MSN graduates vary significantly based on the specialization that students select. Fortunately, the BLS projects that many graduate-level nursing careers could see high job growth rates from 2019-2029. Keep in mind that no level of education guarantees neither a specific position in nursing nor a specific salary.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner $115,800 45%
Health Educator and Community Health Worker $46,910 13%
Registered Nurse $73,300 7%
Medical and Health Services Manager $100,980 32%

Source: BLS

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner
Three positions that require at least a master’s in nursing, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners help specific populations and perform specialized tasks. All three positions require professional certification.

Health Educator and Community Health Worker
Health educators and community health workers promote wellness and healthy habits for individuals and communities. These professionals create strategies to improve health, then work with individuals or groups to implement the strategy. They two work in different environments but often together.

Registered Nurse
Registered nurses provide patient care and treat various health conditions. These nurses assess patients, administer medicine, observe patient reactions, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. A registered nurse must complete an approved nursing program and become a licensed registered nurse before they can practice professionally.

Medical and Health Services Manager
Also known as healthcare executives, medical and health services managers coordinate healthcare services. These professionals manage a group of physicians, a department, or an entire facility. Most healthcare facilities prefer to hire candidates who hold at least a master’s degree.

Accreditation for a Master’s in Nursing



Accreditation determines the academic quality of a school and program. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) works with the federal government to verify accrediting agencies. Colleges and universities receive either national or regional accreditation. Employers and doctoral programs prefer applicants who graduate from regionally accredited institutions.

Prospective nursing students should also be aware of programmatic accreditation, especially at the graduate level. The two most important nursing accreditation organizations, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, accredit the best nursing programs. However, advanced nursing programs might secure additional accreditation. If nurses plan on studying a niche field, they should also research other nursing accrediting organizations. Students can find a full list of accrediting organizations through CHEA.

Courses in a Nursing Master’s Program



The courses a nurse takes during their online MSN vary depending on specialization. Each track leads to a specific career outcome, and the required coursework prepares students for that career.

Still, many online MSN programs have similar course overlap. These advanced courses build upon ethical and theoretical topics introduced at the undergraduate level. Because online master’s in nursing programs vary significantly based on specialty, the courses below outline potential courses a learner might take.

  • Quality and Safety in Healthcare

    Patient safety continues to demand more attention from healthcare professionals, and quality and safety in healthcare addresses ways to improve patient outcomes and prevent avoidable harm. This course teaches theories and advancements in science that help improve patient outcomes. Learners also explore the complexities of providing quality and safe healthcare to patients.

  • Healthcare Policy and Law

    Healthcare policy and law explores the legal issues surrounding healthcare. Topics in this course include mental health, food, drugs, environments, policy, and professional actions. Students use the material learned in this course to address potential liabilities within healthcare facilities. While not required for many MSN specializations, those interested in nursing administration or leadership will likely take this course.

  • Foundations in Innovation and Implementation in Health and Healthcare

    This course covers the important growth and development of healthcare best practices. Students learn about new technologies — such as wearables and 3D printing — and discover ways to utilize innovations to improve patient care. Learners also explore different theories regarding healthcare innovation and determine whether these theories apply to different scenarios.

  • Applied Biostatistics for Clinical Practice

    Required for many nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurse programs, this course teaches students to apply biostatistics to their field. Nurses learn to use statistics to model data and community information, helping professionals find patterns within communities. The direct application of biostatistics varies based on specialization, though the growing importance of data and analytics in healthcare makes this an important course for many MSN students.

  • Pharmacotherapeutics

    Often split into two courses, pharmacotherapeutics introduces the use and effects of drugs. Learners spend most of the course analyzing the different actions and reactions of drugs, determining potential patient harm. By the end of the course, nurses can identify common prescription drugs and describe their uses in medicine. Anyone planning on prescribing medication or drugs to patients must complete pharmacotherapeutics during their MSN program.

What Are the Benefits of a Degree in Nursing?

Advance Your Career
An online MSN teaches important skills that prepare nurses for new positions. Some positions require at least a master’s degree in nursing.
Increase Your Salary
Higher levels of education often lead to higher paying careers. Many MSN career outcomes offer larger salaries than registered nursing positions do.
Become a Leader
MSN programs teach important leadership skills, especially if students specialize in nursing leadership.
Quality for Advanced Certifications
Many nursing certifications require applicants to complete a graduate program from an accredited school. Advanced certifications increase employability and qualify nurses for specific licenses.
Focus Your Career
Whether you plan on working in administration or prescribing medication, an MSN allows nurses to focus their career in a specific area.

Types of Online  Degrees in Nursing



Multiple pathways into the world of nursing exist. When considering an online nursing degree, your options include BSN-to-MSN, RN-to-MSN, and direct entry to MSN.  These degree options have varying lengths and requirements. 

BSN-to-MSN – Nurses who have obtained their BSN can enroll in an BSN-to-MSN program, and complete MSN-level coursework and clinical hours to earn an MSN. Students can expect to complete the MSN program in one to two years depending on the school. This offers nurses the opportunity to advance their careers and increase their earning potential.

RN-to-MSN Nurses who have obtained their RN license can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program. Students will complete BSN clinical hours and coursework that allow them to enroll in, and graduate from an MSN program.  Students can expect to complete the MSN program in 1.5 to 2 years depending on the school. 

Direct Entry to MSN – Non-nursing degree students with no experience who have obtained a degree in another field can fast-track their path to a registered nurse. By simply enrolling in an MSN program of their choice, students can expect to complete the MSN program in 15 months to 3 years depending on the school. 

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist



Nurse anesthetists face stricter requirements than other advanced practice registered nurses. After becoming registered nurses, the BLS states that nurse anesthetists then must earn one year of experience working in critical care. Next, nurses must complete an accredited nurse anesthesia program. While some MSN nurse anesthesia programs exist, many healthcare facilities prefer applicants complete a doctoral nurse anesthesia program.

After graduating from an approved program, nurses then become certified through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Nurse anesthetists must also maintain their certification through continuing education courses.

Certifications and Licensure for Nursing Majors



Beyond education, certification plays an important role helping MSN graduates secure high-level nursing positions. Many nursing careers require a specific professional certification to become licensed. Other certifications help job applicants stand out. Note that certification requirements vary by desired position, location, and education level.

Certified Nurse Educator

The CNE certification serves nurses in various educational roles, including technical schools and large, four-year universities. To qualify, applicants must hold an active RN license and complete a graduate nursing program with an emphasis on education. Finally, nurses must complete two full years of employment within a five-year window.

Certified Nurse Midwife

Required for anyone planning on becoming a nurse midwife, the American Midwifery Certification Board’s nurse midwife certification helps graduates secure and maintain a nurse midwife position. Applicants must complete an eligible nurse midwifery program, the computer-based test, and continuing education to renew the certification.

Family Nurse Practitioner

The top certification for anyone earning a degree to become a family nurse practitioner requires all applicants to complete an accredited graduate program. As with other NP careers, family NPs must earn a professional certification to become licensed in their state.

How Can a Master's Student Pay for College?

To cover the costs of earning an MSN, many nursing students take advantage of scholarships. Scholarships provide free funds that go toward an education, and some scholarships only accept applicants pursuing an MSN or graduate-level nursing degree. Some scholarships may even cover the entire cost of an online MSN.

Uniform Advantage-GNSA Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Members of the Graduate Nursing Student Academy may apply for this award. Applicants must be currently enrolled in a graduate-level nursing program, hold a minimum 3.5 GPA, and provide professional references. GNSA selects two winners twice a year based on academic excellence.
Amount: $2,500

Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Available to nurses at every academic level, the Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship selects two winners every three months, giving MSN students plenty of chances to win. Applicants must maintain a minimum 3.2 GPA and be currently enrolled in an AACN member institution associated with CastleBranch. Recent applicants awaiting college approval can also apply.
Amount: $5,000

APIC Graduate Student Award
Who Can Apply: The APIC Graduate Student Award provides $5,000 in funding to anyone pursuing a graduate degree related to infection prevention and evidence-based implementation science. Winners of the award present their thesis at the APIC Annual Conference. The three previous winners of this award all pursued a graduate degree in nursing.
Amount: $5,000

Nursing Economic$ Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Nursing Economic$ provides four $5,000 scholarships to current RNs pursuing a graduate degree in nursing. Applicants must choose a graduate emphasis in administration or management. Additional requirements include studying at an accredited nursing school and planning to work in nursing administration, management, education, or leadership.
Amount: $5,000

AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: The Scholarship Fund selects four $2,500 award winners per year. Applicants must pursue a degree in nursing, a graduate nurse educator program, or an accelerated program. The fund gives special consideration to students completing an RN-to-MSN bridge program
Amount: $2,500

What Are the Most Affordable Online Master’s in Nursing Programs? Here Our Top 10 Picks

Rank School Location
1 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
2 University of Nevada Las Vegas, NV
3 University of West Georgia Carrollton, GA
4 University of Central Arkansas Conway, AR
5 Angelo State University San Angelo, TX
6 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL
7 The University of Texas Arlington, TX
8 Georgia College & State University Milledgeville, GA
9 Ferris State University Big Rapids, MI
10 University of Colorado Boulder, CO

Accredited Online College Programs

Angelica Leicht picture

Angelica Leicht

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Angelica Leicht is an editor for Grad School Hub. A proud University of Houston alum (go Cougs!), she previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

Latest Posts

See All Posts
5 Careers for a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Graduate

5 Careers for a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Graduate

June 10, 2021   |   Staff

If you have a passion for justice combined with a fascination with human behavior, then a job in forensic psychology could equal your dream job. Obtaining your master’s degree in...

Using Your Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree To Help Companies with Workplace Return

Using Your Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree To Help Companies with Workplace Return

June 2, 2021   |   Mandy Sleight

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 changed the face of work for many Americans. Early in the pandemic, millions of people across the nation transitioned from working...

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.