Most Affordable Online RN to MSN Programs in 2021

Most Affordable Online RN to MSN Programs in 2021
Most Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs Badge

Registered nurses (RNs) can increase their earning potential and qualify for advanced practice roles by enrolling in RN-to-MSN online programs. Many of the highest-paying nursing careers require a master’s degree. Nurse midwives, nurse practitioners (NPs), and nurse anesthetists earned a median annual salary of nearly $118,000 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The field is also projected to grow an astronomical 45% over the next ten years.

During an RN-to-MSN program, nurses take bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and master of science in nursing (MSN) courses to build advanced health assessment skills, expand their clinical experience, and gain specialized training in their concentration area. In as little as three years, RNs can complete the requirements for a BSN and MSN degree. Completing the program online also allows you to balance familial responsibilities and gain work experience while pursuing your degree.

We’ve compiled the best RN-to-MSN programs that will help bridge your career as a registered nurse to a nurse practitioner while being both affordable and flexible.

Accredited Online College Programs

Most Affordable RN-to-MSN Programs Online in 2021



  1. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
    Location

    Edinburg, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located near the southern tip of Texas, UTRGV offers an accelerated online master of science in nursing education. The program trains nurses for clinical and academic educator roles. Students can complete the 36-credit MSN program in as little as 12 months.

    During the MSN program, learners study educational design, strategies for clinical teaching, and leadership as a nurse educator. The program also introduces students to a variety of instructional strategies, methods to assess and evaluate learners, and the scholarship roles of a nurse educator.

    The program features seven-week courses and multiple start dates per year. Online learners qualify for the university's $1,000 Graduate Dean’s Accelerated Online Scholarship. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also submit official transcripts, a short essay, and proof of a current RN license.

  2. California State University-Dominguez Hills
    Location

    Carson, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in the South Bay region of Los Angeles, CSUDH is a public institution that offers a variety of on-campus and online programs. At CSUDH, students can earn their MSN degree online. The program offers concentrations for aspiring clinical nurse specialists, family nurse practitioners, nurse administrators, and nurse educators. Within the clinical nurse specialist concentration, students focus on neonatal, pediatric, or adult/gerontology nursing.

    Clinical nurse specialists build advanced clinical practice skills, gaining hands-on experience with their focus population. The nurse administrator and nurse educator options provide focused training for leadership and educational roles within healthcare systems. In the family nurse practitioner program, nurses build advanced practice nursing and primary care skills. Graduates qualify for national certification as a family nurse practitioner.

    MSN students complete 30-48 credits, depending on their concentration. During the program, learners take core courses, role-emphasis courses, clinical courses, and electives. Family nurse practitioner students must complete their clinical hours in California. CSUDH also offers an online RN-to-BSN program for registered nurses without a bachelor's degree.

  3. Western Governors University
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    An online university, WGU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in multiple areas of study. Registered nurses can enroll in the RN-to-MSN online program, choosing from concentrations in nursing education, informatics, and leadership and management.

    The online bridge program trains nurses to improve patient outcomes, make decisions in a clinical setting, and lead teams. Students begin the program by taking BSN coursework before specializing their training at the master's level.

    WGU ranks as one of the best RN-to-MSN programs for nurses seeking an accelerated option. WGU charges a per-term tuition rate. Applicants work with an enrollment counselor to complete the admission process. They need an associate degree or diploma in nursing, a current RN license, and a resume.

  4. Utah Valley University
    Location

    Orem, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    An open-admission institution located in Orem, UVU emphasizes real-world experience in its programs, including the online MSN degree program. The program trains nursing students for advanced practice roles as nurse educators in academic and clinical settings.

    The curriculum emphasizes theoretical foundations, teaching techniques, and leadership development to help nursing students gain the skills needed for academic and leadership roles. Students take courses on topics like curriculum design, nursing informatics, and nursing research. Students also complete a project or thesis to culminate the degree.

    Applicants need a BSN degree from an accredited nursing program with a minimum 3.2 GPA overall or in their last 60 credits of undergraduate courses. UVU also requires three letters of recommendation. Incoming students can choose a part-time or full-time schedule.

  5. Thomas Edison State University
    Location

    Trenton, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public institution focused on educating adults, TESU grants degrees and certificates in more than 100 areas. TESU also offers online degrees, including an RN-to-MSN online program. Designed for experienced nurses, the program offers a flexible route to career advancement.

    The program offers nurse educator, nurse administrator, and nursing informatics specialist focus areas. After meeting the BSN requirements, RNs only need to take 27 additional credits to complete their MSN degree.

    The program uses a self-paced format with no time limit to complete the degree. Applicants must submit official transcripts and proof of a current RN license. TESU offers multiple ways to earn transfer credits.

  6. The University of Texas at El Paso
    Location

    El Paso, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A Hispanic-serving institution with over 80% Hispanic students, UTEP enrolls nearly 25,000 undergraduate and graduate learners through 10 colleges and schools. The school's online master's in nursing program offers concentrations in nursing education, nursing administration and management, and nurse practitioner.

    The 33-credit nursing education program trains nurses in the best practices for educating nurses. During the 33-credit nursing administration and management concentration, students learn to manage human and financial resources to improve healthcare quality. The nurse practitioner program requires 46-49 credits and 675-775 clinical hours.

    The program features seven-week courses and two start dates per year. Applicants must hold a current RN license and a BSN from an accredited college or university. UTEP does not require GRE scores or letters of recommendation.

  7. California State University, San Bernardino
    Location

    San Bernardino, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, CSUSB enrolls over 20,000 students annually. The public university offers an online MSN degree that features concentrations in advanced community/public health nursing, population health for clinical nurse leaders, and nurse educator. Nursing students complete most of their lessons online with a limited number of in-person meetings.

    The program trains students to provide nursing care in public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory settings. The program works with nurses to arrange clinical practicums that meet the program's learning objectives.

    Nurses can complete the master's program in as little as two years. Prospective students need an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. CSUSB also requires a current California RN license, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

  8. Marshall University
    Location

    Huntington, WV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1837, Marshall University is a public university in Huntington, West Virginia. MU offers an online master of science in nursing with concentrations in nursing administration and nursing education. The 36-credit program includes thesis and non-thesis tracks. Graduates qualify for national certification in their concentration.

    The nursing administration concentration includes 18 credits of leadership and management training, while the nursing education concentration requires 21 credits of educator training. To culminate the degree, students can complete a thesis, development courses in teaching, additional administration coursework, or electives.

  9. The University of West Florida
    Location

    Pensacola, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Pensacola, UWF offers more than 70 degree-granting programs, including online options. Nurses without a bachelor's degree can enroll in UWF's accelerated RN-to-MSN online program to complete their degree in as little as three years. The program offers concentrations in nursing education and nurse executive.

    Learners study topics like community nursing, evidence-based practice, and health systems leadership. Students also study population health promotion, advanced health assessment, and nursing theory. The program prepares graduates for national certification exams.

    Applicants need an associate degree in nursing with a minimum 3.25 GPA. RNs who do not meet the GPA requirement can apply to the online RN-to-BSN program. UWF also requires a current RN license. The program offers multiple start dates per year.

  10. Northeastern State University
    Location

    Tahlequah, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, NSU enrolls nearly 9,000 students annually. The public institution offers an online MSN program with concentrations in administrative leadership in nursing, nursing education, and nursing informatics. The accelerated program offers six start dates each year.

    The program comprises 32 credits and features seven-week courses. During the program, students strengthen their nursing leadership skills through coursework and practicum requirements. The unique nursing informatics option leads to careers in consulting.

    Applicants to the online MSN program need a BSN degree from an accredited nursing program with a minimum 2.5 overall GPA or a minimum 3.0 GPA in nursing coursework. They must also submit official transcripts and a current RN license.

  • Our Methodology, Explained

    Grad School Hub compiles rankings based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics play a significant role in how we source our educational data. After collecting insight for each institution, we organize information into five weighted categories.
    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 20%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 40%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 15%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 10%
    A more comprehensive evaluation of how each category is determined and scored is accessible on our Ranking Methodology page.

Answering your questions about RN-to-MSN programs


  • How long are RN-to-MSN programs?

    Most RN-to-MSN programs take 2-4 years, depending on the program, the nurse’s prior experience, and the concentration area. NP programs generally require additional credits.


  • Can I get an MSN without a BSN?

    Yes. If you choose an accelerated MSN program, you don’t need to complete a BSN first. RN to MSN programs are designed to bridge RN’s to jobs as nurse practitioners without having to complete a BSN. You can also pursue an MSN with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. 


  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Accreditation ensures that a degree meets minimum quality standards. Without it, you won’t qualify for federal financial aid, an employer may be hesitant to recognize your education, which could be a barrier to acquiring licensure. If you’re pursuing an MSN degree, you should only enroll in accredited programs. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are nationally recognized accreditors for nursing.


  • How much does a nurse with an MSN make?

    According to PayScale, nurses with an MSN degree earn over $94,000 per year on average. Salaries vary depending on the specialty area, with advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) typically earn higher salaries.


Affordable Doctorate Programs in Physical Therapy Online Overview

Online education programs are an excellent way to earn a degree with a more flexible schedule to fit your lifestyle. But unlike many other degrees, a physical therapy doctorate can’t typically be done entirely online. Instead, these programs are a hybrid model, where your education is divided between online classes, and in-person labs and clinical practice.

The structure of these hybrid programs provides plenty of benefits to students. First, given the accelerated nature, you can earn your doctorate in as little as two years. Additionally, the online learning component marks it easier to learn in an environment you’re most comfortable in. The in-person components usually happen quarterly, making them easy to schedule around.

The online learning component of these programs makes them no less rigorous. You will learn various topics, including anatomy, physiology, evidence-based practice, and many more.

What Are the Benefits of an RN-to-MSN Degree?

Specialization Options
Nurses can specialize as nurse educators, nurse administrators, or NPs in an MSN program. These concentrations prepare nurses for specific careers after graduation.
Accelerated Timeline
I In an RN-to-MSN program, nursing students can earn a BSN and MSN in less time. Many programs let nurses apply BSN coursework toward their MSN degree. Alternatively, you do not need a bachelor’s in nursing to enter a MSN program. With an accelerated MSN program, you can enter with an ADN or diploma in nursing.
Career Advancement
Many nursing roles, including nurse educator, NP, and clinical nurse leader, require a master’s degree. Nurses can advance their career by pursuing their MSN online.
Increased Earning Potential

Nurses with an MSN degree earn an average of over $117,000 per year, according to the BLS. Earning an MSN thus translates into increased earning potential and leverage for negotiating higher salaries.

Flexibility
The online learning format helps working nurses earn a graduate-level degree without stepping back from their career. Nursing students complete coursework on a flexible schedule.

Career and Salary Outlook for Nursing Majors



Students who earn an RN-to-MSN online can pursue several careers, including NP, nurse anesthetist, nurse educator, and clinical nurse specialist. In these roles, nurses can specialize in emergency nursing, acute care, oncology nursing, and prenatal nursing.

Outside of clinical roles, MSN graduates can also pursue opportunities in community health work, health education, and healthcare management.

CareerMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner$115,80045%
Health Educator and Community Health Worker$46,91013%
Registered Nurse$73,3007%
Medical and Health Services Manager$100,98032%

Source: BLS

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioner
Also known as APRNs, these professionals provide primary and specialty care for patients. They record medical histories, perform exams, and diagnose health problems. APRNs need a master’s degree and most roles also require a specialty certification.

Health Educator and Community Health Worker
These professionals improve the health and wellness in a community by educating individuals and implementing health policies. They collect data on health concerns, assess the community’s health needs, and create programs to teach people about wellness. Health educators and community health workers also connect people with health services.

Registered Nurse
RNs care for patients in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical facilities. They educate patients about health conditions, conduct health assessments, and administer treatments. RNs also communicate with doctors about a patient’s condition. With a master’s degree, RNs work as nurse educators, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse administrators.

Medical and Health Services Manager
Also known as healthcare executives, these professionals oversee healthcare organizations. They improve quality and efficiency through new procedures, set a facility’s goals and objectives, and recruit staff members. A nursing background plus business training prepares candidates for healthcare administrative positions.

Accreditation for a Master’s in Nursing



Nurses researching online RN-to-MSN programs should always look for accredited schools and programs. Attending an unaccredited nursing program can negatively shape a nurse’s career prospects.

Accredited schools meet high standards for granting degrees. Learners who attend accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid and often find it easier to transfer credits. To earn accreditation, schools undergo a rigorous review from an independent accrediting agency. These agencies evaluate the school’s student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic mission. Prospective students can research a school’s accreditation status in the Department of Education database.

Accredited nursing degrees meet the requirements for nursing licenses and professional certifications. Most employers only hire nurses who attend an accredited program. In nursing, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) grant accreditation to graduate-level nursing programs. CCNE and ACEN recognize programs that follow the best practices for training nurses.

Courses in an RN-to-MSN Program



RNs complete bachelor’s courses, master’s courses, and concentration-area courses in online RN-to-MSN programs. Depending on their focus area, nurses learn administrative and leadership skills, teaching strategies, and primary care nursing.

During an RN-to-MSN online program, nurses strengthen their leadership, research, and clinical skills. Programs incorporate clinical training to provide hands-on experience in multiple settings. Many programs also include research projects, a master’s thesis, or clinical projects.

See below for common courses in RN-to-MSN programs. Keep in mind that exact courses vary depending on the program and the learner’s concentration area.


  • Advanced Health Assessment

    At the master’s level, nursing programs build on RNs’ skills through training in advanced health assessment. Nursing students apply their pathophysiology training to conduct comprehensive assessments. The class covers multicultural, socioeconomic, and environmental factors that shape an evidence-based health assessment. In addition to conducting a physical exam, learners practice conducting mental health exams. The course also explores how to assess a patient’s health literacy and how to create plans based on a health assessment. The class may include simulations or labs.

  • Evidence-Based Practice

    In this class, nursing students strengthen their evidence-based practice skills. Learners study nursing theory and learn how to apply nursing research in clinical settings. The course introduces nurses to different research methodologies. Students learn how to critique published studies and translate research into evidence-based practice. By examining and analyzing nursing research, nurses learn how to stay current in their field and improve patient outcomes based on research. Many programs include practicum hours.

  • Community and Population Health

    This course covers health issues that affect groups and communities. Nursing students learn to assess and analyze health challenges in community settings. Coursework introduces students to healthcare policy strategies, community health principles, and interventions. The course may also cover local or regional issues affecting vulnerable populations, case management in community settings, and care coordination. Most community and population health courses incorporate practicum hours to gain hands-on experience.

  • Primary Care Nursing

    Students explore the common health issues that advanced practice nurses encounter in a primary care setting. Degree-seekers strengthen their health assessment skills, learn about differential diagnosis techniques, and practice designing care plans. Depending on the program, the course may also cover primary care for childbearing women and newborns or primary care for vulnerable populations. Most frequently included in family nurse practitioner programs, the nursing class trains graduates for primary care roles.

  • Nursing Leadership

    Many master’s programs include nursing leadership classes to train RNs for advanced roles in the field. The coursework emphasizes leadership theory, nursing concepts, and critical thinking in a healthcare setting. Nurses may complete a written project or clinical experience as part of the class. In a clinical seminar, students observe leadership strategies, learn about conflict resolution, and study quality control. In nursing leadership classes, students strengthen their organizational and management skills.


How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist



Nurse anesthetists earn the highest salaries in nursing, according to the BLS. The median annual wage for nurse anesthetists nearly reached $175,000 in 2019.

Becoming a nurse anesthetist takes several years. Before enrolling in an accredited nurse anesthetist program, applicants must demonstrate at least one year of nursing experience in a critical care setting. Prospective nurse anesthetists must attend a specialized graduate program and train in pain management and emergency services. Programs incorporate clinical hours so degree-seekers gain hands-on experience treating patients.

Graduates must then apply for the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) credential. Starting in 2025, CRNAs need a doctorate to receive their certification.

Certifications and Licensure for Nursing Majors



While all advanced practice nursing careers require an RN license, many also require professional certification. NPs, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives can demonstrate their training and experience by earning certification from a specialized organization. The following certifications require a master’s degree in nursing.

Certified Nurse Practitioner

Several organizations offer certifications for NPs, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Candidates need a master’s degree from an accredited program. NPs can pursue specialty certification in subfields such as family nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner.

Certified Nurse Educator

Nurse educators with a master’s degree can apply for this credential. The certification recognizes leaders in nursing education. Candidates need a current RN license and a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis in nursing education. Nurses who specialize in a different field can apply for the credential with two years of academic employment.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs need a master’s degree and must pass an examination from the Council on Certification of Nurse Anesthetists to earn their credential. MSN students must attend an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program to receive the credential. After 2025, the CRNA credential requires a doctorate.

How Can a Master's Student Pay for College?

Nursing students can apply for scholarships to cover the cost of college. Unlike loans, which must be repaid, scholarships provide free money toward a degree. RN-to-MSN students can explore the nursing scholarships below and research opportunities based on their program, university, or specialty area.

AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports students earning their master’s degree in nursing, including students attending accredited online RN-to-MSN programs. The committee gives extra consideration to graduate students in nurse educator programs and those in RN-to-MSN programs. Finalists submit recommendation letters and other materials. The organization awards one scholarship per quarter.
Amount: $2,500

ENA Scholarships
Who Can Apply: The Emergency Nursing Association awards scholarships to nurses earning a master’s degree with a concentration in nursing administration, nurse practitioner, nursing education, or public health. Applicants must be current ENA members with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates submit two recommendation letters and provide proof of enrollment in an accredited nursing program.
Amount: Varies

March of Dimes Graduate Nursing Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Nurses who specialize in the care of mothers and babies qualify for the graduate scholarship. Applicants must be RNs enrolled in a graduate program focused on maternal-child nursing. Candidates should also demonstrate membership in the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; the American College of Nurse-Midwives; or the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.
Amount: $5,000

Oncology Nursing Foundation Master’s Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports RNs pursuing a master’s degree in nursing to advance their career in oncology nursing. Applicants must attend an accredited school of nursing, including online RN-to-MSN programs, and complete an online application. The committee looks for applicants’ commitment to oncology nursing.
Amount: $5,000

Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The AACN offers scholarships to students admitted or enrolled in an MSN program, including accredited RN-to-MSN online programs. Applicants need a minimum 3.2 GPA and must attend an AACN member institution affiliated with CastleBranch. Alternatively, applicants who used NursingCAS to submit their application qualify.
Amount: $5,000

Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs



Danika Miller picture

Danika Miller

HIGHER EDUCATION REPORTER

Danika Miller is an education reporter at Grad School Hub who covers higher education news and trends, as well as paying for college. Her writing has also appeared in Best Value Schools, Affordable Colleges Online, and Her Campus, and her financial expertise has been featured in The Simple Dollar and CreditCards.com.

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