Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree designed for nurses who hope to go into advanced practice and take their nursing career to the next level. The majority of MSN programs take two to three years to complete, and their purpose is to teach students how to lead and educate other nurses. There are many advanced practice nursing careers that require an MSN: nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, nurse instructors and nurse managers all fall under this category.
Since there are a wide variety of MSN programs available at schools across the country, it is important for students to select the ideal program for their interests and career goals. On this page, we’ll review the basic qualities of master’s-level nursing degree programs; we’ll also rank the best schools in the country for earning this degree.
Getting Started With Master's Programs in Nursing
Prospective students who would like to earn a nursing master’s degree must hold a bachelor of science in nursing, an associate in nursing, or a diploma in nursing with a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts in another field of study.
Best Schools Offering Master's Programs in Nursing
Factors such as tuition costs, acceptance rate, graduation rate and availability of distance education can all contribute to a student’s success at any given school. As such, a ranking that takes these relevant factors into consideration can help prospective students find a school that fits their education- and career-centric needs.
Because of this, we have created this list of the best schools for a master’s in nursing through the use of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Information about our ranking methodology can be found at the bottom of this page.
Overview of Nursing Master's Degree Programs
In master’s level nursing programs, students are expected not only to learn how to apply concepts of nursing science to the workplace, but also how to become critical thinkers who can lead and educate their peers. The courses in these programs are chosen to help students develop their knowledge, leadership skills and interpersonal skills so they can make a positive difference in the healthcare field. MSN students may also have the chance to focus their studies on a particular specialization, such as women’s health, pediatric care, oncology or mental health.
The following courses are examples of courses students might see in various Master of Science in Nursing programs:
- Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning
- Interprofessional Organizational and Systems Leadership
- Advanced Pharmacology in Nursing
- Essentials of Evidence-Based Practice
- Role of the Nurse Educator
If you’ve already earned your degree and your certification to be working as a registered nurse, and you’re considering earning a master’s degree — perhaps to step up your career, or perhaps to start working in a specialty like anesthesiology — then a bridge program might be worth looking into. Bridge programs are specifically designed for working RNs, in order to help them apply their previous education into a master’s program for an accelerated learning experience. To learn more, check out our Bridge Program resource page.
Bridge Programs Leading to a Master’s Degree
- MSN without BSN
Bridge Programs that Start with a Master’s Degree
Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we ranked 6,758 United States institutions on 9 criteria. Final data for the 2016-17 school year was used for these rankings. (Schools that did not provide data for all 9 criteria were disqualified from the ranking.)
Our 9 criteria were as follows:
- Number of master’s-level degree programs offered to nursing-related majors
- Number of master’s-level nursing-related degree programs offered via distance education
- Variety of master’s-level nursing-related degree programs offered
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- Credit offerings (Military, Dual, Life Experience, AP)
- Services (Career Counseling, Placement Services)
- Availability of tuition plans (Guaranteed, Prepaid, Payment, Other)
All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.
NOTE: Schools’ tuition amounts are based on 2016-17 undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed January 2018, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed June 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- Nurse Journal, Accessed June 2018, https://nursejournal.org/msn-degree/5-best-paying-msn-degree-nursing-jobs-and-careers/
- O*Net Online, Accessed June 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1171.00?redir=29-1199.03
- University of Minnesota, Accessed June 2018, https://www.nursing.umn.edu/degrees-programs/master-nursing
- Rutgers University, Accessed June 2018, http://nursing.rutgers.edu/academics/masters/index.html
- The Ohio State University, Accessed June 2018, https://nursing.osu.edu/sections/academic-programs/masters-program-overview/
- Duke University, Accessed June 2018, https://nursing.duke.edu/academics/programs/msn/master-science-nursing
- Ball State University, Accessed June 2018, https://www.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/nursing/academics/mastersdegrees