The Complete Guide to MSN Programs: Online, Campus, and Hybrid

The Complete Guide to MSN Programs: Online, Campus, and Hybrid

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs provide registered nurses with the requisite education and clinical training to take on leadership roles within a clinical, administrative, or educational setting. The transition from working as a registered nurse to being a health care provider, administrator, or educator is a challenging one. Regardless of whether they enter advanced clinical work, research, health care administration, or nursing education, RNs must learn new skills, understand systems of care, and become adept at directing teams of medical professionals and making decisions with minimal supervision.

MSN programs prepare nursing students for this transition by teaching them the core skills, methods, and concepts necessary to enter their desired advanced nursing specialty. Students who are in an MSN program with an APRN concentration such as Family Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist learn how to develop and oversee medical care plans for patients, lead teams of medical professionals in a clinical setting, and advocate for patients across multiple levels of care. MSN programs with a nursing administration or nurse leadership concentration prepare students to manage operations at health care facilities. MSN programs with a nursing educator concentration prepare RNs to conduct research and teach nursing students in academic settings.

Thanks to advancements in course delivery technologies, an unprecedented number of options are available for RNs who wish to pursue an MSN. In addition to traditional campus-based MSN programs, online and hybrid MSN programs exist for students with scheduling or geographical limitations, or who prefer a more self-guided learning experience. This Guide to MSN Programs provides detailed information about the types of MSN programs and their specializations, admissions requirements, clinical placements, and other topics relevant to prospective graduate nursing students.

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The Structure of MSN Programs

MSN programs can typically be categorized into one of five types of programs that range from fully on-campus classes to 100% online instruction. When deciding between the different types of programs, students should take into consideration their preferred learning style, traveling limitations, and need for flexibility in their schedule. Below are brief descriptions of the main types of MSN programs that students can choose from:

  • Campus MSN Programs: Traditional campus-based MSN programs require students to attend all their academic courses in person in a classroom and/or lab setting. This type of program is ideal for students who find they benefit from frequent in-person interactions with course instructors and classmates. Campus MSN programs may also provide students with more opportunities to integrate into a student community and network with peers.
  • Online MSN Programs with 100% Online Instruction: In contrast to campus-based programs, these online MSN programs deliver their courses in a 100% online format, requiring zero campus visits to provide maximum flexibility. These programs are advantageous for RNs who have family and work obligations or geographical restrictions that make it difficult for them to travel to campus. However, they may not be ideal for students who benefit from in-person interactions with faculty, program staff, and peers.
  • Online MSN Programs with Limited Campus Visits: Some online MSN programs supplement their online courses with a limited number of required visits to campus so that students can engage in hands-on learning activities and networking events with faculty and peers. These programs are ideal for students who want to connect in person with faculty and classmates, but who want or need the flexibility of online education.
  • Hybrid Online MSN Programs: Hybrid MSN programs typically fall into one of two categories: a program with a mix of fully online classes and fully on-campus classes, or a program which includes classes that have both an on-campus and an online component. Hybrid MSN programs have the benefit of providing students with more opportunities to connect with faculty and classmates, and to consult program staff in-person for support. However, they are less flexible than fully online programs and programs that only require limited campus visits per year.

Unfortunately, there is no current standardized criteria for classifying MSN programs in terms of online versus hybrid, and universities definitely use these terms differently. It is not uncommon to see a program referred to as online MSN program that requires students to visit the campus multiple times each semester. On, we define online MSN programs as those that require three or fewer visits to the campus per year. We use this criteria so that students interested in attending a program outside of their geographical area know approximately the travel requirements before applying.

Prospective students should note that clinical practicum hours requirements for online and hybrid MSN programs are generally equivalent to those of their fully on-campus counterparts. In other words, an online MSN program with a concentration in Family Nurse Practitioner will have very similar clinical practicum requirements as an MSN FNP program at a brick and mortar institution. The only difference is that students who attend an online program typically complete their clinical practicum hours at a medical facility within their home region.

Instruction Methods for Online MSN Programs

For traditional campus-based MSN programs, course content is typically delivered through a combination of classroom lectures, in person labs, and homework that students must complete independently. Online MSN programs vary more in the way their course content is delivered to students, and can include either solely asynchronous instruction, or a combination of asynchronous and synchronous instruction.

  • Asynchronous Instruction is defined as courses that students can access at any time, such as pre-recorded lectures and online modules. Online MSN programs that employ asynchronous instruction have the benefit of providing students with a great deal of flexibility. However, they also require self-discipline and self-motivation as students must still complete assignments and take examinations on a set schedule. Students must manage their own learning schedule and work their lectures and readings around their other obligations.
  • Synchronous Instruction is defined as courses that feature live video lectures that students must attend at certain pre-set times. Synchronous instruction aims to approximate an in-person classroom setting, as students listen to course faculty as they lecture in real time, and may be called upon to complete student participation activities during these synchronous class sessions. For some programs, online students may actually attend live lectures full of campus-based students, while for other programs, students may attend live lectures of only online students in a virtual learning environment. Synchronous instruction has the benefit of allowing students to interact more directly with course instructors and classmates, typically through a webcam. However, relative to classes that use asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction is less flexible.

Online MSN programs vary in how they incorporate asynchronous and/or synchronous instruction into their curriculum. Some online MSN programs that mainly use asynchronous instruction may offer live office hours where students can interact with instructors through web conferencing tools like Skype or Google Hangouts. Other online programs may have courses that require one or two synchronous sessions per semester as opposed to one or two per week, which is typically for programs that mainly use synchronous instruction. Finally, programs that mainly use synchronous instruction also have asynchronous components in that students can typically access recorded lectures and other course materials on-demand as is used in classes with asynchronous instruction.

Independent of course delivery formats, many online MSN programs provide students with means to connect with instructors and classmates. To facilitate student-faculty interactions as well as peer-to-peer interactions, online MSN programs may incorporate video chats, live office hours, class forums, discussion boards, and other methods of encouraging students to engage with each other, course instructors, and the class material. Different online MSN programs may use different platforms and technologies to deliver course content and to facilitate communications between peers and faculty. Students who are interested in online MSN programs and the technologies they use to facilitate learning can often ask prospective schools for a demo of their learning management system to see if it works well for them.

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MSN Programs: Clinical and Administrative Specialties

MSN programs are available across all major clinical APRN concentrations as well as nursing administration and leadership specializations. When deciding between focusing on advanced practice clinical work versus nursing leadership, registered nurses should evaluate whether they wish to work closely with patients or have a more administrative role in organizing procedures of care within the hospital setting.

MSN Programs in Clinical Concentrations

Registered nurses who wish to interact with patients directly and engage in more clinical work should pursue an MSN within a clinical specialty. Examples of clinical concentrations include Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Below are more detailed explanations of the major clinical MSN concentrations that are available:

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP): MSN programs with a concentration in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner prepare RNs to work in acute care settings such as trauma departments, Emergency Rooms, intensive care units, and surgical units. AGACNPs are for adult patients suffering from acute and/or severe conditions that require intensive treatment, such as heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and traumatic injury. Students of AGPCNP programs learn advanced health assessments, pathophysiology and pharmacology, diagnosis of acute conditions, invasive and non-invasive treatments and procedures, patient education, evidence-based practice, and nursing research and leadership.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP): MSN programs with a concentration in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner train individuals to care for patients from early adulthood on through old age. Adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners work at medical centers, private practices, community health centers, and other settings that deliver primary care services to adults. AGPCNP programs focus on the health challenges and conditions that adults face at different stages in their lives, and how to prevent and manage them. Classes that comprise AGPCNP programs typically cover topics such as advanced health assessments, community health considerations, the care of vulnerable adult populations, nursing leadership concepts and practices, medical research and leadership, and patient advocacy and education.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Certified nurse midwife programs prepare registered nurses to work in settings that care for pregnant woman and manage the delivery of their children. CNMs are also trained to provide gynecological care for women across the lifespan. CNMs work in gynecological and labor and delivery departments of hospitals, freestanding birth centers, community health centers, and private practices. CNM programs are comprised of courses that train students in advanced health assessments, gynecological exams, antepartum care, intrapartum care, labor and delivery, post-partum care, and diagnosis and management of psychiatric conditions relating to pregnancy and the post-partum period.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer anesthetic services to patients during surgery, labor and delivery, trauma stabilization, dentistry, palliative care, and other medical situations in which patients require intensive pain management treatment and monitoring. CRNAs work in surgical, ob/gyn, trauma and emergency care, and palliative care departments of hospitals, as well as at specialized pain management centers and dentist offices. CRNA programs include courses that cover advanced physiology and pharmacology, principles of nurse anesthesia, and patient advocacy and education. Prospective students of MSN programs with a specialization in CRNA should note that by 2025, the National Board of Certification and Re-Certification for Nurse Anesthetists will require all CRNAs to have earned a DNP for certification. However, individuals who have earned an MSN degree and obtained their CRNA certification prior to the 2025 deadline will be grandfathered in.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): MSN programs with a concentration in Clinical Nurse Specialist prepare registered nurses for careers in advanced clinical work with patients across numerous medical environments, including both critical care and primary care settings. Clinical nurse specialists can work at hospitals, occupational health settings, community health centers, private practices, and research and educational institutions. Classes that comprise CNS programs include advanced health assessments for patients across the lifespan, health care program development and evaluation, patient education and health promotion, advanced physiology, advanced pharmacology, nursing research, and evidence-based practice. As with nurse practitioner programs, CNS programs typically offer students the option of specializing in a certain area of advanced nursing, such as adult-gerontology health, pediatrics, or public health.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): MSN programs with a concentration in Family Nurse Practitioner prepare registered nurses to provide comprehensive primary care services and care coordination to individuals across the lifespan, from infancy on through old age. FNP programs train RNs to care for patients specifically within the context of the family unit, and to understand how family dynamics affect individuals’ health and vice versa. As family nurse practitioners typically work in primary care, FNP programs tend focus on preventative care services, such as health monitoring, patient education, immunizations, and chronic condition management. Classes included in FNP programs often cover such topics as advanced health assessments of individuals at different developmental stages, diagnosis and management of both chronic and acute conditions, family nursing theories and methods, how to implement health interventions within the family unit and within the community at large, research methods, and the connection between socioeconomic conditions and individuals’ health.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): Neonatal nurse practitioners care for premature and critically to moderately ill neonates in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), well newborn nurseries, special care nurseries, and other medical settings that house and care for vulnerable infants. They can also work in medical transport settings, supporting sick neonates as they are transferred to and between medical facilities. NNPs’ typical responsibilities include conducting advanced health assessments of infants, conducting lab tests, performing critical care procedures, administering life-saving treatments in intensive care settings, overseeing the transfer of neonates from one medical facility or unit to another, and following up on their patients after their discharge from the hospital. NNP programs train RNs in advanced health evaluations, treatments and procedures specific to caring for ill neonates, care coordination in the NICU setting, and family support and education.

Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP): Pediatric acute care nurse practitioners care for children afflicted with acute or severe medical conditions and who require intensive medical care. They work in settings such as the pediatric intensive care unit, emergency departments, surgical and post-surgical units, and trauma departments. PACNP programs teach graduate nursing students advanced health assessment, pediatric development and physiology, pediatric acute and chronic pathophysiology, nutritional and pharmacological management of acute conditions, palliative and end-of-life care for pediatric patients, family dynamics, nursing research, and evidence-based practice.

Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP): Pediatric primary care nurse practitioners care for patients from infancy on through adolescence and at times young adulthood. Their daily responsibilities are similar to those of a pediatrician, in that they conduct health assessments and regularly monitor patients’ health, provide preventative care such as immunizations, and educate and support families in the ongoing care of their children. Pediatric primary care nurse practitioner programs train students in concepts such as conducting physical examinations, diagnosing and managing mild and/or chronic pediatric conditions, child development within the context of the family unit, nursing research, and evidence based practice.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs prepare RNs to provide psychiatric health assessments, medication management, and individual and group psychotherapy to patients suffering from a wide range of mental, emotional, and behavioral health conditions. PMHNPs work in inpatient settings such as emergency departments and psychiatric units of hospitals, as well as outpatient psychiatric settings such as behavioral health centers, community health centers, and private practices. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs include courses such as advanced psychiatric health assessment, psychopharmacology, neuroscience, and theoretical foundations of psychiatric mental health nursing for individuals, groups, and families.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP): Women’s health nurse practitioner programs train registered nurses to care for adolescent girls and women from their reproductive years on through old age. WHNPs typically work in primary care and gynecological settings, such as ob/gyn private practices, primary care departments of hospitals, and community health centers. Courses that comprise WHNP programs generally include advanced health assessment, female development throughout the lifespan, education of girls and women regarding their reproductive health, treatment of chronic and acute reproductive conditions for women, and advanced pharmacology.

MSN Programs in Nursing Administration, Leadership and Education

RNs who wish to engage in more administrative responsibilities should investigate MSN programs with concentrations in nursing leadership and health care administration. MSN programs with concentrations in nursing administration, nurse leadership, or a similar field can prepare RNs for this type of macro-level work. Below are descriptions of several of the main nursing administration concentrations that are available for MSN programs.

Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL): Clinical nurse leaders are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in improving systems of care at various levels through a combination of care coordination, health care program development, team leadership, nursing education, health outcomes assessments, and patient advocacy and education. CNL programs are comprised of courses that train students in health care ethics, health promotion, patient education, nurse leadership, advanced health assessments and diagnostic reasoning, contemporary issues in health care, program development and evaluation, and risk assessments.

Nursing Executive/Administrator: Nursing executives and administrators oversee health care operations and manage systems of care at the facilities and organizations at which they work. They typically work at larger medical centers and hospitals, but can also work at community health centers, educational institutions, and other organizations such as corporations that have on-site health services. MSN programs with a concentration in Nursing Administration include courses that cover organizational leadership in medical settings, human resource management, advanced nursing roles and team dynamics, nursing research, program development, risk assessments, population health, health care economics, health outcomes assessments, ethics in medicine, and evidence based practice.

Nurse Educator: Nurse educators train and mentor nursing students and professional nurses in both academic and staff development settings. Nurse educator MSN programs often combine advanced clinical classes such as advanced health assessment, advanced physiology, and clinical pharmacology with classes that concern teaching concepts and methods, nursing research practices, and macro-level nursing issues such as global health and patient advocacy at the community, state, and national levels.

Types of MSN Degree Programs

Different types of MSN programs exist for registered nurses who have completed different levels of nursing education and certification. While traditional MSN programs are typically for registered nurses who hold a BSN from a CCNE or ACEN accredited institution, other types of MSN programs exist for registered nurses who do not hold a BSN. In addition, programs exist for nurses who have their MSN and who wish to change fields or add to their credentials. Below are descriptions of several of the major types of MSN degree programs.

BSN to MSN Programs: Traditional MSN programs, also known as BSN to MSN programs, accept applicants who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from a program that has been accredited by either the CCNE or ACEN. These programs tend to have coursework that focuses on general advanced nursing concepts and methods, such as advanced health assessment, evidence-based practice, and leadership roles in nursing as well as specialized courses that vary according to the individual’s choice of specialization. For example, an MSN program with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner will include courses that cover the primary care of children, adults, and families, while an MSN program in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care will have courses that focus on the intensive care of adults suffering from severe or acute conditions.

RN to MSN Programs (ADN and/or Diploma): RN to MSN programs are for registered nurses who hold an active and unrestricted license to practice in their state, and who have some professional experience as an RN, but who do not hold a BSN. These types of programs enable students to earn their BSN and MSN through one continuous program, and can be advantageous in that they typically allow students to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees in less time than it would take to earn both degrees separately. Applicants should note that, while some of these programs allow students to stop out with their BSN without continuing on to the MSN curriculum if they choose, others only offer students the option of completing the entire program culminating in their MSN. Furthermore, some RN to MSN programs require that applicants hold an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from an institution that has been accredited by the CCNE or ACEN, while other programs allow applicants to hold a Diploma in Nursing or an ADN. RN to MSN programs typically require their students to take courses in foundational nursing concepts such as advanced health assessment, human physiology, pharmacology, and/or evidence based practice before continuing on to the advanced nursing classes. Some RN to MSN programs also require students to complete general education courses as part of their BSN curriculum.

Non-Nursing Bachelor’s to MSN Programs: Non-nursing Bachelor’s to MSN programs are for RNs who hold an active and unrestricted license in their state of residence and who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Non-Nursing Bachelor’s to MSN programs may require students to complete one to three “bridge” courses before starting on the main portion of the MSN curriculum. While these bridge courses vary from program to program, they may include classes such as evidence-based practice, medical care of at-risk populations, and leadership in nursing. In addition, students may need to meet other prerequisite course requirements. Some universities also refer to these programs as RN to MSN programs.

Post-MSN Certificate Programs: Post-MSN programs are for registered nurses and certified APRNs who already have an MSN from a CCNE or ACEN accredited institution, but would like to add to their professional qualifications or transition to a new specialization within advanced practice nursing or nursing administration. Post-MSN certificate programs typically assume that students have completed some or all of their foundational graduate nursing courses through their previous MSN coursework. As a result, post-MSN programs tend to include courses that focus primarily or exclusively on the student’s desired specialization. However, depending on their past MSN coursework and clinical experiences, students of post-MSN certificate programs may have gaps in their educational background that require them to take additional classes. For example, an RN who received his or her MSN in Nursing Administration and who would like to transition to a clinical specialization may need to take core MSN courses such as advanced health assessment and pharmacology before moving on to the clinical specialization courses. Post-MSN certificate programs typically conduct a gap analysis of incoming students’ graduate school transcripts to determine if students need to take any courses from the core MSN curriculum in addition to the classes that are specific to their desired post-MSN concentration.

Accelerated MSN, Direct Entry and Masters Entry Programs (MEP): Master’s Entry Programs are for individuals with no previous nursing experience who wish to earn both their BSN and MSN through one accelerated program. Prospective students should note that online versions of this type of program are quite rare, because of the need for students to build a foundation of clinical skills and knowledge. Master’s Entry Programs typically require students to have completed a bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited institution, and to have also fulfilled several important prerequisite courses prior to their enrollment in the program. Applicants to Master’s Entry Programs in Nursing should note that these programs generally require students to have a competitive undergraduate GPA, and to demonstrate a strong desire to enter the field of advanced practice nursing in their application. Students of MEPs and accelerated MSN programs often take the NCLEX after completing the BSN portion of their curriculum, so that they can become RNs while still in the program and complete their clinical practicums.

Length of MSN Degree Programs

MSN and post-MSN programs vary in length, depending on students’ starting level of education, their desired concentration, and whether they are completing the program through a full-time or a part-time course of study. Below is a chart illustrating the approximate number of months typically required to complete an MSN degree or post-MSN certificate, according to type of degree program and full-time versus part-time enrollment.

Degree Program TypeFull-Time EnrollmentPart-Time Enrollment
BSN to MSN15 – 25 months24 – 40 months
RN to MSN30 – 36 months36 – 48 months
Non-Nursing Bachelor’s to MSN20 – 25 months25 – 40 months
Post-MSN12 – 16 months16 – 24 months
Masters Entry MSN15 – 36 months (majority of programs are full-time)

The Clinical Component of MSN Programs

The clinical component of MSN programs ensures that students get sufficient experience in fulfilling the tasks of a health care provider in a real medical setting. While the clinical practicum hours requirements vary from program to program, MSN degree programs must abide by the minimum clinical practicum hours required to allow students to sit for the certification examination in their nursing specialty of choice, be that adult-gerontology acute care or family nursing. The number of hours for a given MSN program may range from 600 to 1000, and can also vary in terms of the number of clinical settings students must rotate through over the course of their enrollment. RN to MSN programs and Master’s Entry Programs may require more clinical practicum hours than other types of MSN degree programs for a given specialty track.

Students should check the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Certification Program websites to learn more about the clinical practicum hours and experience requirements for certification within their desired specialization. Prospective students should also note that, while online and hybrid programs provide greater flexibility with the didactic portion of their curriculum, their clinical hours requirements are typically equivalent to those of traditional campus-based programs, due to the importance of hands-on clinical experiences in nursing students’ learning. Students in online MSN programs complete their clinical hours locally in their home area.

Clinical practicums are meant to be challenging experiences that give students a realistic idea of the daily work they will need to complete as advanced practice registered nurses. Graduate nursing students fulfill actual nursing tasks for several full workdays a week while under the supervision of a preceptor. The ultimate goal of clinical practicums is for nursing students to gradually assume more responsibility as the week’s progress, so that by the end of a given clinical rotation their daily work approximates that of a working professional in their field.

Some MSN programs match their students to clinical sites and preceptors in their area, while other programs ask students to select a medical facility and supervisor on their own, with some input and guidance from program faculty and staff. Campus MSN programs may also have established relationships with several medical facilities in their area, which can be helpful for students seeking clinical placement sites and supervisors. These types of relationships may not be as common for online MSN programs depending on how long the program has been offered online, as schools needs to forge these relationships at a greater distance.

For students who are required to find their own placements, it is recommended that they begin the search at least several months in advance. For more information on the clinical component of MSN programs, check out our Graduate Nursing Student’s Guide to Clinical Placements.

Accreditation, Licensing, and Certification Considerations for MSN Students

Both online and campus MSN programs are accredited by the same bodies, specifically the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). MSN programs that are accredited by either the CCNE or ACEN prepare graduate nursing students to sit for APRN certification examinations administered by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Certification Program.

While APRN certification through the ANCC or the AANP Certification Program is national, students must also seek licensure as an APRN through their state of residence’s board of nursing. As a result, it is especially important for students who are considering an out-of-state online MSN program to check with their state board of nursing to ensure that the online program they select offers a curriculum that meets the board’s requirements for APRN licensure. Some states, such as New York, have stringent regulations around licensure and only grant APRN licensure to online MSN graduates from a small number of out-of-state programs.

Admission Requirements for MSN Programs

Admission requirements for MSN programs vary depending on the type of program and the institution. However, in general, candidates for these programs should have professional experience as a registered nurse (some programs require at least a year) and a degree in nursing from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program (unless it is a Master’s Entry program), and have an active and unrestricted license as a registered nurse in their state of residence. Applicants to MSN programs generally need to submit a personal statement expressing their interest in the advanced practice nursing profession, transcripts of all their post-secondary education, and letters of recommendation.

Other admission requirements may include a minimum overall GPA (which can range from 2.5 to 3.5 depending on the program) and a minimum span of time (typically a year, sometimes 2 years) working as a professional nurse in settings relevant to one’s desired concentration. Some but not all MSN programs may also require standardized testing scores, such as the GRE. In addition, some programs may require applicants to have completed specific courses like Statistics or Health Assessment (with a minimum grade) before applying. Finally, for some specializations, some programs may require additional certifications or work experience. For example:

  • AGACNP programs may require Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification
  • NNP programs require students to have at least two years of experience working with ill neonates and infants in critical care settings like the NICU. They may also require Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) certification and Basic Life Support (BLS) certification
  • PACNP programs may require Pediatric Advance Life Support (PALS) certification
  • PPCNP programs may require BLS certification

State Authorizations for Online MSN Programs

State authorizations are defined as permissions that a state grants to out-of-state nursing programs so that they may accept students from its jurisdiction. Students who are considering an online MSN program should contact admission staff at their programs of interest to ensure that these programs are authorized to accept students from their state of residence.

Every state has different requirements for universities to accept (and even to advertise to) students from their state. For example, some states consider schools with no physical campuses in their state exempt from state authorizations, and schools that meet this criteria can accept students from these states without having to apply to that state for authorization. Other states require out-of-state schools to apply for authorization before admitting students from their jurisdiction, and these states may review authorization applications only at specific times during the year. Students should always check with admissions staff at their programs of interest for the most up-to-date information on state authorizations.

Some states are members of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA), an organization that aims to make it easier for online and distance learning schools to obtain authorizations to accept students from participating states. While SARA does not replace the requirement for authorization in order for an out-of-state school to operate in a given state, it does simplify the authorization process. SARA members agree to hold comparable standards for interstate distance education offerings. Students can find out whether their state is a SARA member by visiting the National Council for State Reciprocity Agreements website:

About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of, and creates informational content that aims to assist students in making informed decisions about graduate programs. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.