What Can I Expect from an Online MSN Program?

With an online master’s degree in nursing, students can expect the same type of professional education and attention to detail that they would receive in on-campus classes. Working nurses can take advantage of flexible attendance options, completing MSNs in off hours part-time or in accelerated programs that let them quickly enhance their careers. It’s important to consider all the options and different program offerings to find an online degree program that’s right for you.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN Degree

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Nurse Educator An online master’s concentration for nurse educators focuses on developing advanced nursing skills and the knowledge and skills necessary to pass that information on to younger generations of nurses. Nurse educator in a classroom or clinical environment, which might include with a college or as a trainer in hospital environments
Nurse Practitioner MSN programs with NP concentrations usually let nurses choose from specific niches, including pediatric, family, gerontology, psychiatric or other nurse practitioner fields. The programs prepare NPs to take certification exams that credential them for direct patient care, including prescribing medication, or to move on to earn a doctor of nursing. Nurse practitioner in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office
Nurse Midwife Online MSN programs for nurse midwifery teach RNs the skills needed to facilitate labor and delivery, including providing prenatal and postpartum care as a primary provider. Nurse midwife
Nurse Anesthetist Online nurse anesthetist programs provide clinical and classroom instruction to prepare nurses for managing anesthesiology for patients in outpatient and inpatient surgical environments. Nurse anesthetist
Nurse Administration Online MSN programs with a concentration in executive leadership or administration prepare nurses to handle entire departments or corporate structures, providing education in areas such as human resources, health care finance and technology management. Nurse administrator, hospital executive, health care department head
Clinical Nurse Specialist RNs can also earn a general masters in nursing online or take classes concentrating in a specific clinical specialty, including pediatrics, critical care or surgical. Nurse for a specific health care niche, nurse supervisor in a niche

Curriculum for an Online Master of Science In Nursing

When selecting a program for your master’s degree in nursing, remember that each school offers something unique. Nursing students should always consider their personal career goals and how those objectives align with curriculum. You’ll also want to consider how curriculum is delivered; some MSN programs deliver everything online, while others require on-campus intensives or clinical hours (which you may be able to complete locally or even at your place of employment).

Coursework depends on your specialty as well as the type of MSN program it is. RN or ASN to MSN programs may naturally require some additional core curriculum that BSN to MSN programs do not. Examples of courses you might encounter in any of these programs include:

  • Health care policy, where you’ll examine both federal and regulatory policy as well as what it takes to manage SOPs in a facility

  • Advanced pharmacology, where you’ll build on your existing education about medications

  • Health care ethics, which addresses common ethical issues in health care environments, often from higher leadership levels for nurses

  • Clinical practicums, where you apply new knowledge in a practical environment

  • Clinical practice or theory classes depending upon the specialty

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master of Science In Nursing?

Typically, online MSN degrees are meant to be completed in two years, or around nine semesters, by professional students who are taking a “full-time” course load. In such cases, full-time attendance may be around two courses at a time.

Nurses who are able to successfully complete an accelerated MSN program may be able to earn their degree in one to 1.5 years, or three to five semesters. Part-time students may only take one class at a time and take up to five years to complete their program.

Whether the degree program is offered as a cohort or individually paced also determines how long it may take you to earn an online MSN. With a cohort program, all students enter and matriculate through together. New classes usually only start once or twice a year, which means you may need to wait for the next open cohort. Individually paced programs usually have more start times (at least once a semester) and let you take as many classes as you want to complete the degree at your own pace.

Certifications and Licenses a Master of Science In Nursing Prepares For

CONCENTRATION CERTIFICATION
Nurse Practitioner An MSN program with a concentration in practical nursing may prepare you for licensure through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or American Nurses Credentialing Center. Licensed NPs can work as direct patient care providers with limited supervision from a physician, which means you can move into a private practice setting or command higher rates in a hospital.
Nurse Midwife After graduating from an online MSN program with a concentration in midwifery, you can sit for the Certified Nurse Midwife exam. CNM credentials allow you to work directly with pregnant women, providing care before, during and after birth.
Nurse Anesthetist Certified registered nurse anesthetist requirements are different in every state, but your online MSN degree may qualify you to take the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists exam for CRNA credentials. CRNAs command some of the highest nursing salaries in health care and provide immediate supervision and care for patients under anesthesia.
Clinical Nurse Specialist An online master of science in nursing may also prepare you to take an exam with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or American Nurses Credentialing Center to become an advanced practice nurse. These credentials indicate that you have advanced knowledge and skills required by patients in specific niches.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Nursing Degrees

A major consideration in your choice of nursing schools should always be whether the program is accredited. First, accreditation demonstrates that the program consistently provides high-quality education in appropriate formats. Second, in some cases, you can’t seek further education or credentialing if your degree comes from an unaccredited program.

Generally, you’ll want to look for online nursing programs that have at least one major accreditation. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing provides accreditation for schools that offer all types of nursing degrees. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education only works with programs that include master’s and baccalaureate level degrees.

If you’re considering a specialty program, consider looking for accreditation by specialist agencies such as The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs or The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation.

Employment Outlook for MSN Graduates

Job Placement: MSN Vs. BSN

In general, nurses of all levels have a very healthy job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that job growth in the nursing sector is much higher than the national average for other types of positions. But consider the difference in job growth between BSN RN jobs, which is 15 percent, and jobs that require advanced degrees, which is 31 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, advanced degrees help you earn placement in almost any nursing job you apply to, which means your online MSN degree opens doors throughout your career.

Expected Salary

In addition to growing job opportunities, an online MSN degree can boost your salary. You can see from the numbers below that an advanced nursing credential can increase your salary by 50 to 100 percent on average.

Average Salaries for MSN Degree Holders

Source: PayScale

Regardless of your specialty, the advanced credentials you can earn after getting your MSN boost your potential pay by tens of thousands of dollars on the higher end of the range. Nurse practitioners are some of the highest paid nurses in the medical field, and that higher salary may also come with increased autonomy and the ability to choose your own hours, work location or the type of patient population you work with.

You don’t have to get your NP credentials to see higher pay with an MSN degree. Where you work also plays a role in your salary. In fact, according to PayScale.com, nurses who hold an MSN degree and work in hospitals with 100 or more beds tend to make more money.

More Beds, More Pay
Salary vs. Number of Beds

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

Based on their specialization, nurses with an online master’s degree can pursue many career opportunities. An MSN may allow you to work with the patient populations you most want to serve, command better salary rates, move up in your organization or branch out to more autonomous practice.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Nurse Practitioner Nurse Practitioners are licensed to provide more diagnostic and direct patient care than other RNs. They may work in facilities or in medical offices, providing mostly autonomous patient care. Nurses may choose to become general NPs or specialize in patient populations such as pediatrics, geriatrics or psychiatric. $110,930 31%
Nurse Educator Nurse educators provide hands-on and classroom learning in hospitals or post-secondary school environments. $77,360 15%
Nurse Midwife Nurse midwives serve obstetric patients, providing direct care before, during and after birth. They may work within a facility or doctor’s office, at a birthing clinic or separately providing support for home births. $103,640 15%
Nurse Manager Nurse managers or executives work as part of the health care leadership team for an organization. They may not provide direct patient care and may spend more time creating and implementing policies and managing staff and resources. $98,350 20%

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections in the health care field and networking with other nurses can be an important part of success for RNs at every level. Organizations offer a way to learn more about what’s going on in the industry, obtain CEU credits and find out about job opportunities. Here are just some of the top organizations in the nation for MSN degree holders.

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. This is a full-service organization for nurse practitioners that includes access to a continuing education center, grants and scholarships for education and professional publications.

American Academy of Nurses. An organization to advance health care policy and support nursing professionals, it offers niche publications, community and networking opportunities, access to nursing resources and other perks for members.

American College of Nurse-Midwives. A professional organization that supports nurse midwives, the ACNM provides education and networking opportunities, resources and advocacy services.

You can find a complete list of hundreds of nursing organizations for almost every specialty at Nurse.org.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Nursing

While online programs are typically more affordable than their on-campus brethren, many nursing students still need assistance in covering the cost of school. The first step in seeking financial aid is typically completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn about many grants, loans and other financial aid options that are available from the federal government. Private grants and scholarships are also available to nurses. Check out some of the resources below to find out more.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

American Red Cross Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Award: $3000

Deadline: May

Eligibility: Undergraduate or graduate nursing students who are employees of or have contributed volunteer service to an American Red Cross unit.

Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Foundation Master’s Degree Scholarship

Award: $1000

Deadline: March 31

Eligibility: Students must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited four-year college/university for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Best Nursing Degree “Back to School” Pre-Professional Nursing Scholarship

Award: $1000

Deadline: March 31

Eligibility: Students must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited four-year college/university for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Foundation of the National Student Nurses Association (FNSNA) General Scholarship

Award: $1000 to $7500

Deadline: Mid-January

Eligibility: All U.S. nursing students currently enrolled in a state-approved undergraduate or graduate nursing program.

HRSA NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

Award: Varies

Deadline: Varies

Eligibility: All nursing students accepted to or enrolled in an accredited diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate degree nursing program.

TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship

Award: $10,000

Deadline: End of June

Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students attending an accredited nonprofit 2- or 4-year college, university, or vocational-technical school, where they are seeking a degree to actively treat patients.