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Quick Guide to Online MSN Programs for Full-Time Nurses

Quick Guide to Online MSN Programs for Full-Time Nurses

Are you a real go-getter? If you are a full-time nurse/all-the-time overachiever, then this post is for you. Because chances are, you have thought about pursuing an online master’s degree. Taking that big step in your career can mean more money, options, and room for advancement. So what are you waiting for? Here’s your quick guide to online MSN Programs for full-time nurses. 

Online MSN Program Choices

There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees online. Before settling on a program, consider what will work best for your schedule, budget, and learning style. MSN programs vary in terms of:

  • Program Length
  • Clinical hour requirements
  • Affordability
  • Student support programs

Time for nurses already working full-time is valuable. Before making a big commitment to this educational goal, it’s important to weigh the options. Spend time asking questions and thinking things through before settling on a program. Here are some other important points to keep in mind.

online MSN programs

MSN Program Entrance Requirements

The minimum requirements vary by school. Some programs require previous college credits, a bachelor’s degree, or a current nursing license. If pre-requisite courses are required, it may be possible to enroll and take additional courses simultaneously. 

Other requirements could include:

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores
  • Application essay 
  • Letters of recommendation

Most master’s programs require a bachelor’s degree with a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.75 or greater when it comes to previous coursework. 

MSN Program Accreditation

Not all online degree programs are accredited. Programs that are not accredited may not:

  • be recognized by some state boards of nursing
  • allow students to transfer credits to other programs
  • qualify for financial aid

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Committee for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are the most common accrediting bodies for nursing programs. Choose a program that these organizations recognize. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DECA) also provides national accreditation for online programs but may not be recognized for nursing. 

Some nurses may wonder, is an online program as good as an in-person experience? The short answer is – yes. Online MSN programs from accredited schools prepare nurses with the clinical skills and knowledge to advance their careers. In some cases, they are more difficult than in-person instruction. For full-time, busy, working nurses, online MSN programs are the best choice. They are economical in terms of time and travel and accommodate their schedules for better work-life balance.

Online MSN Program Class Format

One common misconception is that Master of Science (MSN) in Nursing online degree programs are 100% remote. All master’s level nursing degrees require clinical hours that have to be earned on-site. That means students will spend between 500 and 1000 hours working alongside a clinical preceptor in a facility, clinic, or office. Get familiar with the clinical requirements before committing to a program. 

There are two main types of programs including:

  • RN to MSN – for registered nurses who do not have a bachelor’s yet
  • BSN to MSN – for bachelor’s degree nurses 

The fastest programs are those for BSN to MSN enrolled full-time for 12 months. But most programs average 18-24 months. Be realistic when estimating how many hours per week will be spent in class, on homework, and on outside projects.

Schools may charge tuition at a flat rate or by semester. And that means the longer it takes a nurse to complete, the more expensive the degree will be. The average annual price for MSN programs is $22,000 per year. 

Remember Why You Started

If this post gives you a case of decision fatigue, stop and take a breath. Finding the right online MSN program can be stressful. But remember why you started. There are some important reasons to consider an MSN degree. 

The job outlook is strong. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for masters-prepared nurses will grow 45 percent over the next decade. This growth is way faster than in other fields. The “graying of America,” physician shortages, and focus on preventative care all point to a greater need for nurse practitioners in America. 

Job options are plenty. MSN nurses can get jobs as Advanced Nurse Practitioners, Legal Nurse Consultants, Nurse Educators, Nurse Researchers, and Nursing Informatics Specialists. Or they can find work as consultants, nurse executives, or experts working in healthcare policymaking. The sky’s the limit with advanced education.

In Conclusion

Full-time working nurses choosing an online MSN degree have to think about work-life balance. Time and money commitment are critical factors in deciding on a program. An online MSN degree will take some sacrifice. But it will propel your career forward. 

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Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN


Sarah S. Falcone BSN, RN is a dedicated nurse based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. Her first nursing gig, was night-shift floor nurse in women's services (PP, L&D, nursery). Through a series of fortunate events, she found home health and a passion for helping seniors age in place. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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