February 21, 2024

One reason why nursing has attracted a lot of fresh talent in recent years (the pandemic notwithstanding) is these jobs tend to pay fairly well, with some nurses fetching salaries in excess of $100,000. What’s more, nursing also presents a plethora of opportunities for people looking for a stable, in-demand, and relatively recession-proof career. And some job classifications in nursing are expected to see job growth of nearly 50% between now and 2031.
But of course there are barriers to entry. The biggest and most expensive, naturally, is education. To become a nurse, you need to go to school and earn a degree. To specialize in a certain area of nursing, and potentially increase your job prospects and earning potential, you’ll probably need a master’s degree, like a master’s of science degree in nursing (MSN)—which can be quite expensive. However, a look at Fortune’s ranking of the best online MSN programs reveals numerous affordable programs for prospective students. 
Affordability may be a key qualifier for some prospective students, but not all, says Deven Richardson, the enrollment coordinator at UNLV’s School of Nursing—the top-ranking school on Fortune’s list. “It depends on the applicant,” he says. “We have a lot of graduate students who are already working and have families, so money may or may not be a factor. But we also have brand-new nurses where money plays much more of a factor” in regards to choosing an MSN program, he adds. 
Though UNLV has one of the most affordable MSN programs in the country (see below), Richardson warns prospective students that tuition prices alone don’t relay the full cost of a program. “You need to take fees into account,” he says, which could include student health fees, technology fees, and more.
All told, Richardson says that fees, along with tuition, can swell a program’s cost considerably. UNLV charges $314 per credit hour, for example. With the fees included, “I tell them to expect to pay around $800 per credit hour,” he says. Also, schools change fee schedules and tuition rates, so it can be difficult to know exactly how much an MSN program will ultimately cost.
Even so, some programs are much more affordable than others, and likely to attract cost-conscious students. Here are five of the most affordable online MSN programs from Fortune’s list:
As Richardson warns, extra fee may bring the total price tag higher than the “sticker price” that’s advertised. Counting tuition charges only, however, UNLV’s program could cost between $10,362 and $14,444, depending on the specific program students choose. UNLV doesn’t require GRE scores from applicants, but the school will need three letters of recommendation. In 2021, the average undergraduate GPA among accepted students was 3.62, and the retention rate for the program was 89.4%.
East Carolina University’s tuition charges for its online MSN program amount to $15,520—again, not including additional costs and fees. The program has an acceptance rate of 57.5% and doesn’t require applicants to submit GRE scores. Applicants are, however, required to submit three letters of recommendation, and in 2021, the average undergraduate GPA of accepted students was 3.4. The program had a retention rate of 93%.
Baker University’s online MSN program costs $480 per credit, for a total of $15,360. Like the other programs preceding it on this list, GRE scores aren’t required, and there are two potential MSN tracks that students can take: education or administration. Applicants need two letters of recommendation, and the average undergraduate GPA of accepted students last year was 3.63.
The total tuition charges for FAU’s online MSN program range from $12,270 to $13,757, depending on the specific concentration students choose. FAU’s program is a bit pickier than others on this list, with an acceptance rate of 43.4%, and prospective students need to submit one letter of recommendation, though GRE scores aren’t required. Last year’s incoming class had an average GPA of 3.4, and the graduation rate for students within three years of entering the program, as of 2021, was 70%.
At a rate of $365.79 per credit hour, the University of Louisiana–Monroe’s 38-credit online MSN program totals roughly $13,900. The program doesn’t require applicants to submit GRE scores unless their GPA is lower than 2.8, and no letters of recommendation are needed either. The program has a 64% acceptance rate, and in 2021 incoming students had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.07.
See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and business analytics, as well as the doctorate in education programs MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).


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