Nursing is one of the most challenging fields in the world, so we see it as something of a duty to help make the path a little easier for anyone with the fortitude and dedication it takes to make their way in the profession. Sorting through the hundreds of MSN programs out there is a good place to start, but not very realistic for working RNs or anybody with other responsibilities for that matter. That’s where the editors here at BestMasterofScienceinNursing.com come in. Our carefully curated lists of accredited MSN programs allow you to browse some top quality options, each one hand selected based on the things we’ve come to know mean the most to prospective nursing graduate students.
We don’t believe the most important elements of a program can be fully summed up by a cold distillation of numbers cooked up by algorithms; instead, we take a human-focused approach, exercising editorial discretion so that all the unquantifiable elements that make an advanced degree program exceptional get the attention they deserve. It’s a process that produces the kind of carefully weighed selections you can’t get from data alone.
We comb through university websites, consider faculty credentials and publication and research contributions. We look at tuition and fee schedules, curriculum syllabi, and instructor bios, and consider the kind of partnerships the school maintains with the healthcare community to ensure nursing students have access to diverse fieldwork opportunities. We try to get a feel for each school’s culture and note the kinds of clubs and organizations students can get involved with. We look at student support services, including everything from academic counseling to internship and job placement assistance. We even give third-party ranking and reviews from reputable sources a glance to see what others have found in their analyses. It all comes together to give us a pretty full perspective on everything a school offers and allows us to pin down all the things nursing students would look for when considering their options … if they had the time to do the research themselves.
General Criteria for Master of Science in Nursing Degrees
There are certain parts of a solid nursing education that just don’t change no matter the degree level of area of nursing… things like good instructors, experiential learning opportunities, and superb academic counseling and support services. So we apply certain standards to every nursing degree we look at, regardless of the format or specialization.
Establishing Academic Excellence Through General and Specialty Accreditation
The first of those standards is accreditation. Every school that deserves a second look in any assessment needs to hold accreditation from one of the seven regional accreditation agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and U.S. Department of Education.
Those agencies evaluate colleges by looking at standards as they relate to the entire institution and whether or not it’s qualified to grant degrees, but don’t necessarily drill down to the individual programs the school offers. An institutional level assessment involves painstakingly examining everything from general curriculum standards to faculty hiring and review policies, to student resources and facilities, to administrative policies and student appeals processes.
Through regular reviews and even on-site visits, the accrediting agencies ensure that schools are meeting the basic standards and continuing to improve.
Any school operating in the U.S. is expected to meet these kinds of basic standards just to ensure students have access to Title IV federal student loans and grants. Any school worth so much as a second glance will hold this kind of basic accreditation, so we considered it little more than a starting point for our assessments.
When it comes to verifying the quality and rigor of nursing programs specifically, it’s the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) (the accrediting arm of theAmerican Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) that we check with.
To get our attention and be worthy of any real consideration for one of our lists, a program has to have gone through the intensive process of qualifying for either CCNE or ACEN accreditation. These agencies perform their evaluations with a narrow focus on the healthcare and nursing aspects of education, with an eye specifically on academic rigor and experiential learning opportunities. The programmatic accreditation process ensures programs meet the highest standards in everything from governance and institutional resources to curriculum and teaching practices to assessments to see how well students are achieving the program’s stated goals.
These accreditors review the procedures, processes, and outcomes of each candidate school, first remotely, and then again on-site. It’s the pinnacle of nursing program evaluations, and we don’t select any schools that don’t attain it.
Exposure to Respected and Effective Instructors
Your instructors will shape your MSN experience more than any other single factor, so there is no compromise on this point: they have to be uniformly excellent. We look for programs that employ instructors with decades of experience in their field out in real-world positions as well as with sparkling academic credentials. Prestigious articles published in major scientific and medical journals, such as the American Journal of Nursing or the Journal of Nursing Education, also don’t hurt.
Equally importantly, we look for schools where you have adequate interaction with those instructors. Mentorship opportunities and one-to-one instruction time is critical in a complex field like nursing and our top picks definitely provide it with small class sizes and adequate student-to-faculty ratios across the board.
Hospital and Healthcare Organization Affiliation
Although many MSN candidates come in with significant clinical experience under their belt already, it’s still crucial for schools offering these programs to have strong ties to teaching hospitals or healthcare organizations to offer solid internship and research opportunities.
Relationships with a broad network of healthcare systems, community clinics and even international health systems and universities means more networking opportunities, more interesting case studies, and more internship positions in more specialties – all of which makes for a richer student experience and better preparation for the career ahead.
Concentration Opportunities to Meet Student and Industry Demands
Healthcare and medicine are becoming increasingly specialized all the time, with the depth of knowledge needed to specialize in different practice areas is growing constantly. Nowhere is this truer than with advanced practice nursing, where role and population focus is baked into the graduate-level education and sets the stage for a career that involves serving a specific role and a particular type of patient.
Whether you’re looking at a nurse practitioner program in adult/gerontology or a program in nurse anesthesia, staying on top of the latest research and incorporating it into your practice can practically be a full-time job by itself. This is why we like to see schools that offer MSN concentrations that are both well-staffed with subject-matter experts, and closely aligned with the newest knowledge and state-of-the-art technology used in the healthcare industry.
Advising and Job Placement Assistance for Nursing Graduates
It’s no secret that you don’t have to hunt very hard for a job in the nursing field today, and especially not if you have a master’s degree under your belt. But you don’t just want a job; you want the job.
A motivated and well-staffed academic and career counseling department that can offer job search, resume building, and networking assistance can be invaluable in setting you up with meaningful internships, and ultimately helping you attain the position of your dreams. We search out universities that can offer those sorts of services to MSN students and grads.
Additional Criteria when Looking at Online MSN Programs
A program that offers a great student experience and an effective path to career preparation can be difficult to execute well in any field. That’s even more true in a hands-on, human-focused field like nursing.
In order to ensure that the online programs we recommend meet the high bar of offering an education that is every bit the equal of their on-campus counterparts, we use additional criteria to establish the effectiveness of online delivery, remote student engagement, and how the program partners with facilities around the country for the purpose of student practicums.
Cutting-edge Technology and Course Delivery Systems
For an online program to really shine, it has to have superior technology behind it, the kind of course management systems that are so intuitive and seamless that you hardly even notice them.
Whether it’s through Blackboard or Moodle or some custom, in-house application, we look carefully at the technology that online programs use to deliver their course content, connect students and instructors, and enable discussion and debate just as if you were in the same room.
Schedule and Format That Align with Student Requirements
If you’re interested in online programs, it’s almost certainly because you don’t have the ability to relocate or the time carve out a chunk of your day for traditional, on-campus courses. Flexibility and ease of access are important objectives that every good online program has to meet.
We look for programs that offer both full- and part-time options, and how courses are scheduled (for synchronous programs) or otherwise arranged (with asynchronous programs) to ensure that remote students can fully participate without sacrificing their other obligations.
Full Resource, Reference, and Research Access
One other advantage on-campus programs usually have is access to on-campus resources such as libraries, labs, and research facilities. It takes real effort for online programs to translate the resources found on-campus to online-accessible formats, and, sadly, not all of them do it well.
We look for programs with full and effective online library access, with trained librarians available for assistance, complete research archives accessible remotely, and genuine, participatory research options for remote students.
Partnerships with Hospital Systems Around the Country for Student Practicum
The big question most nursing students looking at online programs find themselves asking is, ‘Where is the program going to place me for field rotations to meet practicum requirements?’ When you’re dealing with a good online program, the answer is immediate and complete: Almost anywhere.
A university that has been offering quality online MSN programs for years has had the time to get way out in front of the dilemma, forging relationships with healthcare systems all over the country. Healthcare facilities are eager to work with students from schools with a strong reputation for producing skilled nurses since it offers them an opportunity to recruit talented nurse practitioners and other APRNs.
Schools with the largest network of connections make it easy. Many MSN students satisfy their practicum requirements for graduation and national advanced practice certification right at their current place of employment.