Guide to Online MSN Programs

OnlineMSNprograms.com has several resources for students interested in master’s degrees in nursing. Online MSN programs are among the most popular degrees students pursue through distance learning. MSN degrees are also highly respected in the healthcare field, and with several areas of specializations to choose from, graduates are sure to possess diverse skills that make them employable and industry-ready. Midwifery, informatics, leadership, psychiatric, and neonatal are just a few of the many nursing specialties available.

If you are interested in taking your nursing career to the next level, earning a master’s degree in nursing is the way to do it. MSN graduates are in high demand, and their career opportunities can offer substantially larger salaries than the opportunities available to nurses with only bachelor’s degrees. We’ve listed featured schools below that provide online programs for MSN degrees.

Kaplan University – Kaplan University is one of the top online schools in the country and has over 70 campuses spread out in almost every state. However, the online MSN programs do not require campus visitation so you can attend class and turn in assignments from anywhere you live. Kaplan also has specializations available in a variety of fields like nurse education and informatics.
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American Sentinel University – The American Sentinel University provides several MSN options to students, allowing them to pick what field they want to specialize in whether that be informatics, education, or several other alternatives. If you do not have a bachelor degree, this Colorado-based school also has an RN bridge option available. All of these programs can be taken online.
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Sacred Heart University – Sacred Heart University is the second largest Catholic school in the New England area, located in Connecticut. SHU has added several online options to its course catalog in response to shifts in student demographics and growing interest. These include the MSN in Nursing Education and the MSN in Clinical Nurse Leadership programs.
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Grand Canyon University – Grand Canyon University has a long standing tradition of quality education and service to its students and alumni alike, founded over 120 years ago. To stay on top in an Internet-driven world, GCU has an online division that includes MSN degrees like the Nurse Educator and Health Systems Leadership programs.
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University of Cincinnati – The University of Cincinnati is an accredited school offering over 300 programs online, including an MSN in Nurse Midwifery or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. The school is an excellent choice for someone seeking an exciting student life while retaining interaction with their teachers. The school has over 42,000 students enrolled but maintains a 15 to 1 student to teacher ratio.
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Georgetown University – Georgetown University is often a top choice for students interested in MSN degrees and remains a highly-rated college. Part of its online course offering includes several practitioners programs for family nurse practitioner or women's health. GTU was founded in 1789, making it the oldest Catholic university in the U.S.
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Why Earn an MSN Degree?

A Master of Science in nursing degree (MSN) is a graduate-level credential that is required to become an advanced practice registered nurse, as well as for some health care administration and nursing education careers.

What is the Focus of an MSN Curriculum?

A Master of Science in Nursing curriculum generally covers advanced topics on nursing theory, health care policy, nursing ethics, pathophysiology, pharmacology, patient care quality and safety, health care management and research. Specific program courses vary depending on the college you attend.

The purpose of the MSN curriculum is to prepare students for an advanced career in nursing practice. Those who complete the curriculum should have deep, specialized knowledge that they can apply to a career in a niche field in nursing. Some of the possible niches that master’s level nursing student can study are:

  • Clinical Nursing Specialty: This field of nursing combines direct patient care with an emphasis on improving the system of care provision. Clinical nurses help improve the quality of care and the speed at which a facility can provide it without damaging the patient’s experience.
  • Geriatric Nursing: Nurses in this field work with aging patients who are dealing with health problems that typically afflict older adults. While acute ailments still affect the elderly, there are many normal physical changes that can make life more difficult for them if not addressed. Geriatric nurses address both the normal difficulties of aging and other illnesses and injuries.
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology Nursing: Gynecological nurses work with pregnant mothers to assure a healthy pregnancy and birth. This isn’t the same as a nurse midwife, though the two do have some similar duties. Where a nurse midwife may assist in the actual delivery of a child, most OB/GYN nurses deal with acute gynecological problems in their patients, as well as regular, non-pregnancy related checkups.
  • Pediatric Nursing: This specialty is perfect for nurses who like working with children. Pediatric nurses work with pediatrician MDs to provide regular medical services like physicals, as well as diagnostics and treatment for acute illness and injury in children.

If you are interested in becoming a nursing school educator or an advanced practice nurse, your MSN curriculum will include additional courses and training that are specific to these nursing career routes.

Can I Continue Working?

It may seem impossible, but it can be done. In fact, many nurses complete Master of Science in nursing program while working full-time. This is possible because of colleges and universities that offer their MSN curriculum through online classes, giving students the flexibility and convenience they need to continue working while attending school.

However, if you are pursuing an advanced practice nurse master’s program, most schools recommend that you either attend school part-time while working full-time or attend school full-time and stop working. There are some advanced practice programs that do not permit you to work while in school due to the intensiveness of the curriculum.

Whether you can work or not while attending graduate school really depends on your personal ability and the particular MSN specialty you are pursuing (nursing administration, advanced practice or education). It is best to discuss this possibility with your college’s admission department, as they may have statistics on how many past students were able to complete the program while working.

Do I Need Clinical Experience for Admission to an MSN Program?

Yes, prior clinical experience is necessary for admission. In order to be eligible for admission to a Master of Science in nursing program, you must have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree from an accredited college or university. All BSN students must take part in, and successfully complete, several clinical rotations before graduation. Therefore, if you have a BSN degree, you have clinical experience, and you are eligible for admission to an MSN program.

Although completion of a BSN program provides you with clinical experience, many Master of Science in Nursing programs require additional clinical work experience. This is especially true for those who are interested in becoming advanced practice nurses.

The required amount of additional clinical work experience varies depending on the program. The average time looks to be around one year but can be more. Some schools will allow you to earn that clinical experience while you complete your core curriculum requirements. To find out how much clinical experience is required to complete a specific MSN program, contact the college’s admission department.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an MSN Degree?

Those who attend the Master of Science in nursing program full-time can graduate in one to two years, depending on the specific nursing career they choose to pursue. It will take part-time MSN students anywhere from two to three years to complete the program.

If you are interested in pursuing more than one advanced nursing role (educator, health care administrator or advanced practice nursing), you will need to complete additional courses for a post-master’s certificate. These courses are taken after you have completed your master’s degree and generally take one year to complete on a part-time schedule.

Can I Get Financial Aid to Help Cover Online College Tuition?

Both federal and privately funded student aid is available to all graduate-level students. To see if you qualify for federal student loans, fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as you apply for admission to an MSN program.

If you need more assistance paying for school, seek out scholarships or fellowships to apply for. Many colleges award merit-based scholarships to their students, which often cover the full cost of tuition. Ask you school’s financial aid office about these scholarship opportunities.

For information on other available scholarships, use free scholarship search websites like fastweb.com. The U.S. Department of Education also provides a free online scholarship search.

If you are currently working as a nurse for a major hospital or health care organization, ask your human resources department about any tuition payback programs. These programs require you to sign a contract stating that you will work for the organization for a certain number of years in exchange for the organization paying your full tuition. If you break this contract, you will be required to pay back the full tuition amount.

What are the Differences Between an Advanced Practice Nurse, a Nurse Administrator and a Nurse Educator?

An advanced practice nurse has deep knowledge of a particular specialty, such as gynecology. The a gynecologic APRN will mostly see women about general health or acute issues in their reproductive systems. Nurse practitioners often have their own specialty practices (family practice, pediatrics, psychiatry, etc) and serve as their patients’ primary health care provider. They can be authorized to prescribe most medications and can order and interpret diagnostic tests. Other advanced practice nurse roles include nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives.

Nurse administrators (or nurse managers) work for any organization that employs registered nurses. A nurse administrator can be a management leader for one or all nursing units within an organization. All budgeting, staffing and directing of day-to-day operations are performed by a nurse administrator.

A nurse educator teaches nursing practices to students who are preparing to become licensed practical nurses (LPN) or registered nurses (RN). Nurse educators with master’s degrees can only tech at the associate and undergraduate level. Those educators who are interested in teaching at the graduate level must complete a doctorate degree.

Will My Salary Increase with an MSN Degree?

Probably, though a master’s degree doesn’t guarantee increased earnings. The high end of salaries for nurses is in the $90,000-100,000 range according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this depends heavily on many factors. As in most lines of work, nurses tend to get annual raises, and most nurses won’t reach the upper ten percent of salaries until putting in many years of work. Earning an MSN is a great career move, but only if you are committed to the profession and will spend many years working as a nurse.

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