Online MSN Programs

A career as a nurse provides job stability, upward mobility, and financial security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for registered nurses are projected to grow by 16% from 2014 to 2024, well above the national average of 7%. This growth is due to an increased focus on preventative care, greater prevalence of chronic conditions, and a demand for services from an aging population living longer and more active lives.

This guide will help you find an accredited online MSN program and learn what to expect from a nursing career. Those who are already working as RNs but want to advance their educations and pursue senior-level or specialized roles can review our guide to RN to MSN online programs.

Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online MSN Program

Choosing an advanced nursing degree online program is a significant commitment. There are many questions prospective students should ask before applying to an online MSN program. Before submitting your application, review the most common questions and our expert guidance to make an informed decision.

Is an Online MSN the Right Choice for Me?

Beginning an online MSN nursing program is a big step, but the rewards include higher salaries, opportunities for leadership roles, and potential for advancement. As demonstrated by the table below, individuals with an MSN degree earn significantly higher salaries and advance quickly within the nursing profession.

Because many accredited online nursing programs offer specializations, distance learners in MSN programs gain the skills and knowledge required to pursue careers in specialty care areas, such as neonatal, psychiatric, or geriatric care. Focused and independent learners can benefit greatly from the flexibility offered by online MSN nursing programs.

Are There Prerequisites for Online MSN Programs?

There are numerous paths to entering MSN online programs. Some students may have been working in the field for years, while others may be changing careers.

  • What if I am a registered nurse? Registered nurses with a diploma or associate degree typically complete an RN to BSN to MSN program, which move from foundational to advanced concepts over about three years.
  • What if I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing? Individuals who have already completed a four-year program undertake a BSN to MSN program, which is typically completed in 18 to 24 months. Prior knowledge is expected, and coursework does not cover foundational topics.
  • What if I have a bachelor’s degree in separate field? This option takes about three years to complete. Students spend the first 18 months reviewing topics that would have been taught in a BSN program. After passing the NCLEX examination, students begin the standard MSN curriculum.

What Will I Learn in an Online MSN Program?

Coursework varies among online MSN programs, but all accredited online nursing programs provide students with biomedical skills and the social and cultural awareness needed to provide competent care. The courses below are examples of the type of classwork students can expect to complete during their online MSN program.

Nursing Across the Lifespan

Students gain nuanced understandings of common health issues, with emphasis on assessment and diagnostic tools.

Skills Gained:

  • Use advanced health assessment tools
  • Create plans of care
  • Understand developmental context in assessments

Clinical Decision-Making

Based in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or family practice, students apply theoretical knowledge to real cases.

Skills Gained:

  • Understand holistic care
  • Practice ambulatory care
  • Familiar with clinical settings

Advanced Pathophysiology

This course focuses on the fundamentals of organ systems physiology. Students review pathophysiology examples and delve into anatomical and physiological concepts.

Skills Gained:

  • Understand physiological concepts
  • Review major organ systems
  • Synthesize advanced pathophysiology concepts

Are There Clinicals in an Online MSN Program?

Each online MSN program has specific clinical requirements to ensure students gain hands-on experience before stepping into professional roles. Clinical, or practicum, requirements vary by program, but most require 400 to 700 hours.

Nursing departments help online students find suitable locations to complete clinical hours. Students may complete their hours at any qualified location that meets their program’s requirements, but the practicum setting depends on the type of nursing the student is pursuing. For example, a midwifery nurse will likely spend time in the nursery ward, while a psychiatric nurse will train in a mental healthcare facility.

What Kind of Things Do Nurses Deal With?

Nursing may sound like the ideal profession; they help people, sometimes earn six-figure salaries, and often work only three days per week. But a nurse’s unique responsibilities are not right for everyone. Below are a few pros and cons of being a nurse.

Pros

  • You have the opportunity to save lives on a daily basis.
  • Opportunities to work in varied settings and with different specialties make work interesting.
  • No two days are the same, and the work is always exciting.
  • You use your knowledge on a daily basis and are always improving your skills.

Cons

  • Not all patients live, and it can be challenging when a patient passes away.
  • Days are long, and you’re constantly on your feet.
  • Some days are truly overwhelming, and it is hard to predict when you’ll be short-staffed.
  • You work with bodily fluids and are exposed to germs, viruses, and pathogens.

How To Choose an Online MSN Program

Prospective students should gather as much information as possible before choosing an online nursing school. Consider these factors when selecting the best online MSN program for you.

  • Cost: The cost of an online MSN program depends on factors such as whether the school is public or private and whether the student previously completed a BSN. A survey of tuition and fees found that the cost of MSN programs ranges from $25,000 to $65,000.
  • Time: Most programs require 18 to 24 months to complete. Distance learners should consider whether potential programs are offered synchronously—with classes conducted at specific times—or asynchronously—with coursework available 24/7. Format does not necessarily impact completion time, but asynchronous classes can be helpful for working students.
  • Location: Because nursing is a hands-on discipline, choosing an online program with a nearby campus can be beneficial. It allows online students access to campus-based support services, and it creates options for clinical placements, as the school will have relationships with nearby hospitals and clinics.
  • Are you already a registered nurse? Individuals who already hold an RN and initial licensure may be able to graduate in less time and for less money by entering an RN to MSN program.

Concentrations Available for Online MSN Programs

The wide array of careers in the nursing profession is reflected in the number of available specialization paths. Concentrations help students focus on future goals and improve career-specific skills. The specializations below are some of the most popular options for students in online MSN programs.

Family nurse practitioner

Graduates of the family nurse practitioner track work in a variety of family practice and specialty clinics. Coursework prepares students to work with certain populations or diagnoses through focused classes such as pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, and women’s health.

Nurse midwifery

Also known as labor and delivery nurses, these professionals care for pregnant patients during delivery. Graduates with a nurse midwifery concentration work in hospitals and women’s clinics and provide at-home care. Students also work in inpatient obstetric nursing, neonatal resuscitation, and pediatric advanced life support.

Psych nurse practitioner

Graduates with a psychiatric nurse practitioner focus offer mental health services to individuals of all ages. The specialization emphasizes biopsychosocial models of care and evidence-based theories. Graduates work in hospitals, mental health clinics, inpatient facilities, and community clinics.

Nurse educator

Students in the nurse educator concentration explore teaching and learning theories, curriculum evaluation, and instructional design. Upon graduation and certification, nurse educators work at public and private universities, community colleges, and career and technical schools.

Nurse anesthetist

Graduates of the nurse anesthetist track earn advanced practice roles, after gaining Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credentials. Students learn how to administer anesthetics to specific populations, the chemistry and physics behind anesthesia, and pharmacological principles needed to make informed choices about analgesic administration. Graduates work all healthcare settings involving inpatient or outpatient procedures.

Finding Accredited Online Nursing Programs

When selecting an online MSN program, it’s important to choose a properly accredited school. For nursing programs, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing are the two main accreditation agencies. Below are a few benefits of accreditation:

  • Ensures educational standards for nursing education are regularly assessed and upheld
  • Allows students to take advantage of federal and state education funds
  • Makes graduates more competitive in the job market
  • Allows students to transfer to other programs or to enter a doctoral program
  • Ensures graduates may apply for licensure and certification

How To Enroll in an Online MSN Program

Applicants to online MSN programs must meet the individual program’s requirements. Applicants without previous nursing education are typically required to complete foundational courses before being fully admitted. Below are common requirements of online nursing programs.

  • A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college
  • An unencumbered RN license from an accredited nursing program
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose
  • GRE or MAT scores
  • A current résumé

What Can I Do With an Online MSN Degree?

Many careers in nursing require only a bachelor’s degree. However, those aspiring to managerial or leadership roles need to complete an MSN program. The table below details popular careers for graduates of online MSN programs.

Career Available with a MSN Career Unavailable with a MSN

Nursing CareerNurse Practitioner (NP)

Minimum Degree Needed *

NPs serve as a conduit between physicians and staff nurses. An NP’s responsibilities include gathering patient histories, prescribing medications, caring for minor injuries, providing patient education, and diagnosing illnesses.

Average Salary: $91,530

Nursing CareerCNSClinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Minimum Degree Needed *

CNS professionals typically specialize in specific populations, treatment methods, or illnesses. Common tasks for a CNS include creating treatment plans, educating patients and nurses, managing staff, and influencing policy decisions.

Average Salary: $86,593

Nursing CareerNursing Educator

Minimum Degree Needed *

Nursing educators help students move from the classroom to the clinic. Nursing educators prepare students for licensure and careers and often oversee specialties within the field. Nursing educators teach classes, counsel students, grade papers, and write recommendation letters.

Average Salary: $72,944

Even without an MSN degree, plenty of nursing careers are available to graduates of ADN or BSN programs. The skills and knowledge taught in these associate and bachelor’s programs qualify graduates for positions in hospitals, schools, and family practice clinics, or even traveling the world to provide care.

Career Available with a MSN Career Unavailable with a MSN

Nursing CareerRegistered Nurse (RN)

Minimum Degree Needed *

Critical members of the healthcare system, RNs oversee the daily flow of care operations and ensure that each patient receives necessary services. After gaining licensure, RNs work in various clinical settings, making rounds, performing basic procedures, reviewing lab results, administering medications, and recording patient data.

Average Salary: $61,186

Nursing Career +Travel Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

Travel nurses see the world through short-term assignments. Most positions require at least one year of clinical experience, and specialization is highly valued. Travel nurses’ duties vary daily; they may be treating patients in a helicopter one day and traveling to respond to a natural disaster the next.

Average Salary: $66,085

Nursing CareerCRNNurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Minimum Degree Needed *

Working alongside physicians, nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients to manage pain. This career requires an MSN and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist credentials. Most CRNAs work in clinical or hospital settings. They meet with patients before procedures, determine correct doses of analgesics, and administer anesthesia during procedures.

Average Salary: $129,554

Nursing CareerSchool Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

Whether serving preschoolers or high school students, school nurses treat and contain common illnesses, educate students on hygiene, and promote wellness. Duties include caring for sick students, speaking to classes about preventative measures, and updating parents on children’s health.

Average Salary: $46,922

Nursing CareerMSNPsychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *

After completing an MSN with a specialization in psychiatric healthcare, psychiatric nurse practitioners serve the mental health needs of individuals, communities, and families. They diagnose mental health issues, review patients’ medical histories, create treatment plans, and develop mental health education programs.

Average Salary: $99,343

Online MSN programs open doors to meaningful career options, but some distance learners have specialized career aspirations, which demand further education. The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree is a terminal program that prepares graduates for nursing leadership roles and postsecondary teaching positions. To learn more about the highest level of nursing education, review this DNP guide.

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