Best Online Master’s of Science Program in Nursing: Guide to Online Programs for 2021

Best Online Master’s of Science Program in Nursing: Guide to Online Programs for 2021
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The need for quality healthcare professionals cannot be understated, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak made nursing one of the most in-demand professions today. This is especially true with nursing jobs that typically require a master’s degree in nursing for an entry-level position. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS (2021) forecast these jobs to grow at a 45% rate in the 2019 to 2029 period.

There simply are too many posts to be filled, and graduate nursing degree programs are in high demand. Primarily because of the outbreak, however, fewer nursing professionals are able to enroll in traditional in-person programs. For many, that makes an online Master of Science in Nursing Degree the only game in town.

In this article, we will look into how you can go about earning an MSN degree online. This includes typical costs and requirements for enrollment. In this way, you will be able to prepare better for the next chapter of your academic and professional life.

Can you get a degree completely online?

Typically, Online Master’s of Science in Nursing degree programs are hybrid programs. While most courses are offered completely online, student practice experience hours are also required because nursing, in essence, is a practical field.  This is especially true for those in specialty tracks that lead to a certification or licensure on patient care.

In-person time is also required for non-clinical tracks. But, generally, the hours required are far less than clinical tracks. Most courses, though, can be completed fully online. This makes an online route to a Master’s of Science in Nursing Degree more attractive for working professionals who need flexibility the most.

The greatest advantage, however, in taking an online-based program over a traditional one is flexibility. This is without compromising on the quality of course materials, difficulty of requirements, and the quality of faculty. Online degree programs, in general, have everything that traditional in-person programs offer, including support from faculty and student services. Some would even argue that academic support from the faculty is better in online programs, as there are scheduled 1-on-1 sessions with instructors—something that in-person programs lack.

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Online degree programs are already mainstream. Gallagher (2018) reports that 61% of HR leaders in the United States believed that online credentials are of equal quality, in general, to those completed in-person. Moreover, the value of educational credentials has either stayed the same (29%) or increased (48%) as reported by Gallagher (2018). Only 23% of HR leaders in her study agreed that the value of educational credentials for hiring has decreased over time.

And, often, in many progressive academic and professional fields, lifelong learning is not only preferred but is also required. And, completing a degree remains an important signal of the perseverance and self-direction of an individual—as believed by 76% of HR leaders (Gallagher, 2018). Even with 76% of HR leaders believing that experience can substitute for institutionally conferred credentials (Gallagher, 2018), many required skills can only be learned when a student spends time in an educational setting and with the right guidance.

Thus, lifelong education can never go out of value. And, for many employees and employers, the only way to achieve this is through online-based (pure or hybrid) programs that offer a better chance for work, study, and life balance. So, it is highly unlikely that employers will not take online degrees seriously. This is especially true for accredited online versions of reputable programs.

It is good to note, though, that when a degree is being awarded by an institution, the diploma for it does not indicate which type of program you earned it from. Diplomas do not say whether you took the traditional in-person route or an online route. So, employers will not know how you earned your degree unless they take a deep dive or they directly ask you.

However, there are people from educational institutions or employers who prefer degrees earned on-campus. This is understandable, especially for positions or jobs that require a good deal of people skills. While completing a degree—whether on-campus or online—shows employers the perseverance, industry, and self-direction of an individual, only the success through an on-campus route better exhibits the potential of an individual in working together with and for others.

online education and continuous lifelong learning

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Yes. If your online degree program is accredited by a recognized regional body or something equivalent, then it is recognized all over the world. Also, the higher the reputation of your school or program, the more likely it is that your degree will be recognized and you’ll be hired by foreign companies. In fact, all the top universities are offering pure online degree programs.

The list of prestigious universities offering online degrees and courses include (Pop, 2021):

  • University College London – 20 fully online programs
  • Johns Hopkins University – 88 fully online programs
  • The University of Manchester – 32 fully online programs
  • University of Texas at Austin – 10 fully online programs
  • University of California, Los Angeles – 10 fully online programs

And, many more degrees are being offered online. When it comes to popularity, the best online degrees include those in the fields of finance, computer science, communication, marketing, and business administration. And, in the future, more and more employers are going to see that the quality of online education is, more or less, equal to traditional on-campus one.

Online vs. Traditional Master’s of Science in Nursing

A Master’s of Science in Nursing degree has many specializations. In general, however, MSN programs offer more in-depth education and training in a wide variety of nursing practices, including clinical and non-clinical areas. These range from advanced practice specialties like pediatric primary care to nursing education. So, when taking your MSN degree, it is best to have an idea of which specialty or areas you wish to be an expert of. It is also prudent to weigh your options by looking at the employment outlook as a consideration.

It is good to note, however, that entry-level MSN jobs like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are projected to grow at a 45% rate. This is 35 percentage points higher than healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners and 41 percentage points higher than all occupations combined.

Many schools offer these specializations in both their on-campus and online/hybrid programs. The main difference lies in course delivery and flexibility.

The Key Difference: Flexibility and Attention

Traditional in-person classroom graduate nursing education is best suited to people who can, more or less, attend to their education full-time. On the other hand, online education is best for working professionals who cannot be present in on-campus classes without dropping professional and personal commitments.

As it is, many nurses with BSN degrees or similar belong to the latter class of graduate students. Going online can be the only choice. Online education, as mentioned, offers far greater flexibility than on-campus education. Students can choose to take courses at their own pace and at the comfort of their own homes.

What is also advantageous, for some people, is that faculty administrating online programs tend to give them more attention than their on-campus counterparts. This is because, in general, 1-on-1 consultation sessions are scheduled like clockwork. They get to virtually meet with their instructors on a regular basis.

This is thanks to the use of learning management systems (LMS). If the school or program has set up the LMS properly, then push notifications for automatically scheduled appointments will prompt both teachers and learners about upcoming sessions. The program could also automatically flag incomplete sessions and send reminders to both parties to complete.

This mechanism is not set up for on-campus classes held in classrooms and auditoriums. Teachers would not have the time to cater to each individual according to their academic needs because of their own schedules. Moreover, students typically have a hard time getting personalized attention and instruction because of the sheer size of the class.

Is an online degree cheaper?

Usually, choosing an online degree option will be cheaper. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, online students will not be using much of the school’s facilities and resources. So, institutions charge lower tuition fees for online programs. Secondly, there are no added costs for accommodation, transportation, and meals. However, there are also other things to spend on. Because of the online nature of education, it is ideal that one should invest in a fast and stable internet connection and a good PC. Also, for programs like Master’s of Science in Nursing, you should also expect to spend on in-person activities like training, practicum, and research.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Generally, yes. As mentioned, online degree programs have the same level of difficulty as their on-campus versions. Moreover, they also have the same requirements and use the same faculty as those in offline programs. Thus, the quality of education is usually equal to that of traditional brick-and-mortar degree offerings. Also, as discussed, employers have been warming up to online education as well. So, an online education, in the sense of employment, can be as good as a regular degree. This is especially true if you are a product of reputable programs.

Job Outlook for Entry-Level MSN Graduates

(2019 to 2029)

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Source: BLS, 2021

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How much does an Online Master’s of Science Program in Nursing Costs?

Among the top 25 most affordable online MSN programs, annual tuitions can cost from $4,048 to $6,755 (OnlineU, 2020). These are the least expensive yet quality programs in the United States. Moreover, these programs offer different specializations. There are those that focus on nursing informatics and others on a family nurse practitioner track. Of course, these are only for the tuition fees. There are other expenses for hands-on training, clinical hours requirement, and research. So, graduate students need to be aware of these moving forward.

Is an online Master’s of Science Degree in Nursing worth it?

When talking about job prospects, the answer is yes. For nursing jobs that require a master’s degree for entry-level positions, the median annual wage is $117,670 as of May 2020. These are particularly for nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwife jobs. The median annual salary for these occupations is 178.12% higher than the median salary of all occupations recorded (BLS, 2021).

Moreover, experts project a 45% growth in jobs from 2019 to 2029 with an employment change of +117,700. Top industries for these jobs include hospitals ($124,660), outpatient care centers ($122,840), and physician offices ($114,570).

Sans the pay and job outlook, the nursing profession is considered by many to be noble. Indeed, many feel that it is their calling to help with the health issues that plague society. It was found by Turan and colleagues (2021) in their study called “Analysis of anxiety levels and attitudes of nursing students toward the nursing profession during the COVID-19 pandemic,” in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, that even with the COVID-19 outbreak, 88.6% of nursing students did not consider quitting the profession. This is even with 43.2% of the participants having anxiety symptoms because of the pandemic.

So, if you are resolute and would like to serve with more capacity as a  healthcare professional, then an MSN degree could be worth it in terms of personal and career satisfaction.

School SystemStateEnrollment
New York CityNew York995,192
Los Angeles UnitesCalifornia646,683
ChicagoIllinois392,558
Miami-Dade CountyFlorida392,558
Clark CountyNevada324,093
Broward CountyFlorida266,265
HoustonTexas215,225
Hillsborough CountyFlorida207,469
Orange CountyFlorida191,648
Palm Beach CountyFlorida186,605

What are the requirements for an Online Master’s of Science Degree in Nursing?

Usually, an MSN degree can be completed in two years (Giorgi & Poindexter, 2021). The time to complete varies depending on the program and specialization. Non-clinical and generalist degrees take the shortest time to complete. Also, some schools require applicants to have a minimum amount of work experience to be admitted to their MSN programs. There are, however, the typical admission and general requirements that apply (Giorgi & Poindexter, 2021).

Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • A Registered Nurse (RN) License
  • Clinical Experience (depends on the program)
  • Minimum GPA or GRE scores (depends on the program)
  • Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree for Direct-Entry MSN Program

General Requirements

  • Application and Processing Fees
  • Recommendation Letters (varies how many)
  • Statement of Purpose
  • CV/Resume
  • TOEFL and/or IELTS for International Students

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

It is best for students to invest in a stable high-speed internet connection and a decent PC  with good audio, video, and camera. Other times, students would choose to invest in audio and video accessories to make communications smoother with instructors and peers. Moreover, they can also invest in digital tools or advanced nursing courses like informatics themselves if they want to specialize in this practice.

Attitudinal Considerations

Being a nurse is already difficult in normal times. It is even more so during the worst of times. Nurses are at the frontlines in the battle against health crises, natural disasters, and human-caused accidents. So, nurses should, in part, be resolute in seeing to their jobs and make good on the Hippocratic Oath they took. However, this can be very difficult.

Shengxiao and colleagues (2021), in their study in the Journal of Nursing Research, called “The Professional Identity of Nursing Students and Their Intention to Leave the Nursing Profession During the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic,” showed that the pandemic can leave nurses doubting their vocation. A share of 9.3% of participants “reported intending to leave the nursing profession earned lower scores for professional identity than their peers who reported to remain.” They also found that nurses who believed clinical nursing work to be “too dangerous to engage in” earned the lowest scores.

So, it is best to consider your commitment to the field before pushing on with further education.

impact of COVID-19 on nurses leaving the profession

Courses to Expect in Online Master’s of Science in Nursing

Master’s of Science in Nursing programs have many specializations. However, there are general courses that are required for completion. These are advanced courses that provide students with a deeper dive into important aspects of nursing practice and research. In some sense, they serve as supporting theoretical scaffolding for degree concentrations. They include (Kent State University, 2021):

Theoretical Basis for Nursing Practice. This focuses on the theories and concepts that are applicable to all nursing specialty areas. This helps students in having a strong grasp of the basis of advanced clinical nursing practice. Moreover, the progress in theory development is also being tackled.

Methods of Inquiry. The course is a survey on the types of research methods and designs that help generate evidence that can contribute to desirable patient outcomes. Students will learn the essential elements, criteria for rigor, and the appropriate use of each design covered.

Health Policy and Advanced Nursing Practice. Students are introduced to the fundamental and advanced concepts of health policy. The course primarily concentrates on the concepts of access, cost, and quality of care. They will be taught how to analyze both the current and historical policies that have sway over health care delivery and funding. Of course, this is with consideration to the role of organizations, influential individuals, the government, health care leaders, and the nursing discipline in creating health policy. And, they will get to explore the outcomes of these policies and examine how advocacy is being performed from the point of view of the discipline.

Advanced Nursing Informatics. This demonstrates the important role of informatics in state-of-the-art nursing practice. Students are taught both theories and applications in generating, storing, retrieving, and the analysis of health information. They will also get to know current trends and policies in the practice. Furthermore, they will learn the necessary skills to put data structures, processes, and digital technologies into use in decision-making.

Global Universities Offering Fully Online Degrees

UNIVERSITYNUMBER OF FULLY ONLINE PROGRAMMES
University College London20
Columbia University12
University of Edinburgh66
Johns Hopkins University 88
The University of Manchester32
Northwestern University12
King’s College London 25
University of California, Los Angeles10
University of Sydney 28
Monash University33
University of Texas at Austin 10
University of Glasgow 22
Georgia Institute of Technology 21
University of Sheffield 24
University of Birmingham 67
University of Leeds12
University of Southampton 12
Boston University39

Things to Look for in an Online Master’s of Science in Nursing Program

There are many important things that one should look into before choosing an online MSN program. These include availability, accreditation, available specializations, cost, and on-site requirements. Keeping these in mind will help you plan how you will go about getting your online MSN education.

Availability and Accreditation

The first thing that you have to look into is the availability of an accredited degree program in your location. This is very important as online MSN programs are usually hybrid programs as mentioned. There will be on-site requirements and, usually, minimum clinical hours in order to finish. This is both for clinical and non-clinical specializations. So, location is pretty important in picking the right online MSN program for you. Also, you need to double-check for accreditation. But you can rest assured that the MSN programs of reputable universities are regionally accredited and recognized all over the world.

Availability of Specializations and Reputation 

If you have access to multiple online degree programs in your location, then it is best to weigh them by the reputation of your target specialization. There are programs that specialize in clinical practice and others in non-clinical practice. This also depends on the expertise of the faculty members. So, before picking a program, make sure to take into consideration the faculty, the quality of the graduates, and the quality of your specialization of choice.

Support Services

Another important consideration when choosing a degree program is the quality of support services. This does not only include access to library and academic resources, but also the quality of your chosen school’s network. It is best to choose a program with a well-connected faculty in terms of both research and practice. It is also recommended that you choose a school with career placement programs.

Nursing Is a Good Career, Especially for MSN Graduates

The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated the need for quality nurses. In fact, the average job offer rates for new BSN and entry-level MSN graduates are 76% and 74% respectively (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2020). These are significantly higher than the 58.7% job offer rates for new graduates in all disciplines at the time of graduation in 2018.

Also, the job offer rates for MSN graduates are even higher when taking into account by region of the country: South (70%), Midwest (81%), North Atlantic (70%), and the West (50%). And, with respect to average job placement within four to six months of graduation, MSN graduates have higher average job placement rates, at 92%, compared to all graduates with a figure of only 63.5%.

Given these data, one can conclude that the demand for qualified nurses has been really high. They are simply more in demand than other graduates of other disciplines. So, there are more job vacancies to be filled as nations try to curb the current pandemic and global health risks in the future.

 

References:

  1. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2020). Employment of new nurse graduates and employer preferences for baccalaureate-prepared nurses. AACN.
  2. Bahçecioğlu Turan, G., Özer, Z., & Çiftçi, B. (2021). Analysis of anxiety levels and attitudes of nursing students toward the nursing profession during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. Wiley.
  3. Gallagher, S. R. (2018). Educational credentials come of age: A survey on the use and value of educational credentials in hiring. Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy. North Eastern University.
  4. Kent State University. (2021). Nursing – M.S.N. Retrieved July 14, 2021, Kent State University.
  5. OnlineU. (2021). 2020 Most affordable online MSN programs. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from OnlineU.
  6. Pop, A. (2021, May 11). Best universities in the world offering online degrees in 2021.  Retrieved July 14, 2021, from MastersPortal.com.
  7. Shengxiao, N. I. E., Chao, S. U. N., Lei, W. A. N. G., & Xia, W. A. N. G. (2021). The Professional Identity of Nursing Students and Their Intention to Leave the Nursing Profession During the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. Journal of Nursing Research, 29(2), e139. JNR.
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, June 2). Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from BLS.
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, June 2). Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from BLS.

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