Online RN to MSN Programs

RN to MSN programs are designed for registered nurses currently working in the field that plan to seek a master’s degree. Candidates for traditional and online RN to MSN programs typically hold an ADN, or associate degree in nursing, which allows them to practice professionally but limits their advancement in the field.

RN to MSN students are focused on moving directly to graduate study in the nursing field, and are able to earn both a BSN and MSN at the same time through this unique program.

ADN students often seek an accessible, affordable associate program that can be completed in two years or less at their local community college or online. While earning an ADN enables graduates to become practicing RNs, many are still looking for a timely solution to further advance their career. Graduates of MSN programs are not only eligible for nursing jobs involving greater independence and autonomy, but are also prepared for doctorate study in the field. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that shifts in the industry over the last five years demand more highly qualified RNs, as well as those in specialized areas, for higher paying nursing jobs. The Institute of Medicine also recently issued a call to action for nurses with advanced education and qualifications to enter the field.

RN to MSN “bridge” programs were created to satisfy the national demand for highly qualified nursing professionals in the workforce. There are currently 214 RN to MSN programs in the U.S. today, more than double the number of programs available nationwide 15 years ago. For interested applicants, eligibility for RN to MSN online programs requires several key criteria, including a current, active nursing license and/or an ADN from a CNEA or ACEN accredited program or hospital, and a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam. Though RN to MSN programs are sometimes seen as subversive, bridge program coursework incorporates basic BSN concepts as well as advanced master’s-level curriculum.

Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online RN to MSN Program

Is an Online RN to MSN the Right Choice For Me?

RN to MSN programs offer an option for students looking to earn a master’s degree in nursing without first earning a separate bachelor’s degree. Because the curriculum incorporates multi-level coursework, prospective RN to MSN students should be prepared for a moderate to high level of difficulty in completing their classes. Applicants may also be unaware of the diverse and demanding nature of the work required of the MSN degree, which includes comprehensive medical coursework and intensive specialization courses in a concentration of the student’s choice. Master’s-level nursing curriculum requires stamina and endurance, not least of all for the amount of clinical hours required of the degree.

RN to MSN students should be prepared for a moderate to high level of difficulty in completing their classes.

Pros to an RN to MSN Program

  • Higher salary potential
  • Advanced career options
  • More options than BSN to focus in a specialization area

Cons to an RN to MSN Program

  • Higher tuition costs than BSN
  • Higher volume of coursework than typical master’s degree
  • Time-consuming to complete

How Much Will I Make After I Finish my RN to MSN Program?


Source: Payscale

Are There Prerequisites for Online RN to MSN Programs?

To apply to an online RN to MSN program, you must be a registered nurse. Through these RN to MSN online programs, you do not need to earn a bachelor’s degree separately before you can get your MSN. Instead, you earn a bachelor’s degree as part of the overall degree. This path usually takes less time than it would to earn your bachelor’s degree prior to beginning your master’s studies through another program. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a different field, some of your classes (such as core requirements) may be transferable, so you do not have to retake similar classes unnecessarily.

Will There be Clinicals in an Online MSN Program?

While you can complete most coursework in MSN online programs remotely., there are some requirements for in-person learning. Most people complete this program while working full-time. However, students are generally required to visit campus during the last two years of the program to demonstrate academic progress. It usually is not necessary to live near your school, but be prepared to travel there for the required on-campus sessions. Clinical hours also are required, as it is impossible to fully complete medical training without practical, hands-on experience.

Before enrolling, check with the school to learn more about specific requirements and where you must complete your clinical hours. Schools offering online RN to MSN programs can advise you on how and where your clinical hours can be completed. They also may be able to set it up so that you can complete these requirements at a location convenient to you.

Which Nursing Specialization Am I Interested In?

Some specialized careers in the nursing field require an MSN degree. Within these careers, it is necessary to have additional advanced knowledge and formal education beyond that of an RN degree. These professions make up some of the highest-paying jobs in the field, so the extra effort may be well worth it in the long run. Online MSN programs can be a very convenient way to earn your advanced degree, even if you already work full-time. The table below features some of the careers available with your RN to MSN online degree.

Average Salary for Nursing Careers

Nurse Educator

Average Salary: $72,287

A nurse educator instructs other nurses. This often means that they work with the administrators of the hospital or clinic to develop continuing education programs and evaluations for the nursing staff.

Nurse Administrator

Average Salary: $81,507

A nurse administrator oversees nurses working in a facility or the nursing team in a given department of a larger organization. They hire personnel, create staff schedules, and perform other management tasks.

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)

Average Salary: $90,979

An ARNP has more training than an RN, which allows them to perform advanced tasks, such as making diagnoses and prescribing medicine. Most ARNPs specialize in a particular area of medicine, including family medicine, maternity, or gerontology.

Clinical Research Nurse

Average Salary: $67,773

A clinical research nurse works with patients who are participants in clinical trials. They examine patients, take samples, collect data, and record the information as required by the research.

Legal Nurse Consultant

Average Salary: $74,006

A legal nurse consultant usually works for an insurance company. They are experienced nurses who can review case files to examine medical records and related information. They consult with a legal team to make judgements in cases, such as those involving medical malpractice or worker’s compensation.

Am I Aware of the Things That Nurses Deal With?

If you are considering a career in nursing, it is important to be aware of the realities of what nurses experience on a daily basis. Nursing is not for the squeamish, as you will deal with bodily fluids and other biological matter regularly. Nurses work with patients facing stressful medical situations, including the patient’s family members who may be experiencing emotional distress. Nurses spend most of their time on their feet, and the work hours are long. You may be required to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Nursing is a challenging career, but if you are physically and mentally equipped to handle those challenges, it can be extremely rewarding.

How Do I Choose an Online RN to MSN Program?

As you think about getting your MSN degree, there are several very important factors to consider, such as cost. Remember to look into your financial aid options. Fill out the FAFSA to find out if you qualify for federal aid, and browse our scholarship database for any opportunities relevant to you.

Time is another important factor. RN to MSN online bridge programs usually take about three years to complete, so be aware of the time commitment when you enroll. Some programs are asynchronous, meaning you can start your courses prior to the beginning of a standard semester. However, other programs are synchronous, starting with the scheduled semester and bringing the whole class through the program together at the same speed.

As you need access to support resources and placement opportunities for clinical requirements, location plays an important role when choosing your program. Living near the school where you are getting your master’s in nursing online is less important than living near school-approved facilities where you can complete your clinical hours.

Perhaps the most important factor is your current status. Are you a registered nurse? When enrolling in RN to MSN programs online, you must already be an RN. If you have not achieved this level in your career and education yet, you must become an RN before beginning a program designed to take an existing RN through the process of getting a bachelor’s and a master’s in nursing online.

What will I Learn in an Online RN to MSN Program?

Though course topics may vary according to nursing specializations and concentrations, foundation courses in core nursing competencies at the master’s level remain largely universal. A brief selection of typical courses found throughout national RN to MSN programs is listed below.

  • FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPTS AND APPLICATIONS: Provides a forum for critical discourse and explores core-skill-building for nurses in advanced roles within professional settings.
  • LEADERSHIP AND NURSING PRACTICE: ROLE DEVELOPMENT: Advocates leadership-skill-building and examines the role of advanced nursing professionals within their own organizations, as well as the greater healthcare community.
  • HEALTHCARE POLICY: From local to international policy, explores political, historical, and ethical components of regulations affecting nursing and healthcare systems.
  • NURSING INFORMATICS: Explores acquisition and dissemination of information, data-based computer applications, and nursing/cognitive sciences.

How Do I Enroll in an Online MSN Program?

Enrolling in an RN to MSN program is a multi-step process that requires perseverance and preparation. While a traditional RN to MSN typically takes two to three years to complete, online RN to MSN programs can offer a quicker course to graduation by eliminating up to two semesters through an accelerated format. For example, many accelerated programs will waive remaining prerequisite BSN courses once the student has met core requirements in fundamental “bridge” competencies. Such RN to MSN programs online require dedication and commitment to meeting full-time course requirements, along with clinical hours, in order to graduate faster than in a campus program. Ideal candidates for an accelerated online RN to MSN are self-disciplined and self-motivated, with excellent time-management skills.

Though much of the RN to MSN can be studied online, the clinicals required to complete the degree must be performed on-site at a location near the student’s residence. While many states offer RN to MSN programs online for nursing students, options for arranging clinical hours at a facility in the area may be limited, especially if the student lives in a rural or remote location. Others may reside in a state that does not offer the program online. For students with access to a facility at which they can complete clinical hours near their residence, they will be expected to fulfill approximately 360 hours of clinical experience at the graduate level.

Accredited Online Nursing Programs

The time and money you spend on your education are precious, so safeguard your investment by making sure you are enrolled in an accredited RN to MSN online program. When a program is accredited, that means it has been evaluated by a recognized body of experts and found to meet or exceed certain academic standards. Accreditation indicates that the program provides a good education and its graduates have an acceptable level of professional competence.

There are two main accreditation organizations for nursing programs: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). When researching online RN to MSN programs, be sure to verify that any program you consider is accredited by one of these organizations. This will ensure that your degree has value that your potential employers will recognize and will allow you to obtain any professional licenses or certifications you will need in the future.

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