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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Nursing

Editor’s Picks: Online Schools for Nursing

Value
When evaluating which online programs offer the best value, prospective students must look beyond cost alone to consider the school’s overall quality and how that degree will pay off over time. The winner of the award for best online master’s degree in nursing is Georgetown University, which had an 8.9% annual return on investment (ROI), according to PayScale.com’s 2012 ROI rankings. For students who received financial aid, this percentage went up to 11.4%. In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranked Georgetown University among the country’s 50 best value national universities.

Flexibility
The award for best online master’s degree in nursing for flexibility goes to Kaplan University, which offers an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with specializations in adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse administrator, nurse educator, or informatics, giving students a wide variety of choices, depending on the type of career they are seeking. College Prowler and CliffsNotes both give Kaplan an A+ for academic flexibility. Kaplan’s online MSN program lets students access their courses from any location with Internet access at the time of day that works best for the them, according to the program website.

Career Support
The winner of the award for best online master’s degree in nursing for career support is Johns Hopkins University, which offers online MSN specializations in clinical nurse specialist and health systems management. JHU’s Career Research Center offers a wealth of online resources, including resume and cover letter guides for nurses with relevant samples, an interview guide, and tips for getting the most out of job fairs, conducting a long-distance job search, and succeeding in a nursing internship. Students can also participate in the School of Nursing’s career day each fall, which features representatives from more than 100 healthcare organizations, and have access to a listing of nursing jobs and internships. In addition, the university encourages nursing students to take advantage of their student career binder, an online career management tool that helps them keep track of the jobs they’ve applied for, networking contacts, and more.

Financial Support
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, a private, nonprofit institution, wins the award for best online master’s degree in nursing for financial support. Even at the undergraduate level, the college provides financial aid liberally; in the 2010-2011 academic year, 100% of full-time beginning undergraduate students received some sort of financial aid, and 100% received institutional grants or scholarships, according to College Navigator. The college’s financial aid department is dedicated to helping graduate students apply for Federal Stafford loans and utilize their military benefits. Nursing students in particular can apply for multiple endowed scholarships offered through Saint Joseph’s. Finally, the college offers an installment plan for paying tuition so that students can spread out their costs over time.

Technology Support
The award for best online master’s degree in nursing for technology support goes to Norwich University, a private, nonprofit institution in Northfield, Vt., that offers an online MSN program with concentrations in administration and education. In addition to offering asynchronous online courses that allows students to log in to their courses at any time of the day or night they choose, Norwich provides 24/7 technical support should students run into any technical issues in the online classroom. This ensures that students will have the help they need to access their courses on a regular basis and submit their assignments online by the set deadline.

Student Engagement
Drexel University, which offers multiple specializations for its online MSN program, wins the award for best online master’s degree in nursing for student engagement. The university was ranked No. 2 in the nation among online graduate nursing programs in the category of student engagement and accreditation, according to U.S. News & World Report. While the programs are delivered primarily online, students in certain MSN specializations must still report to campus from time to time, which provides opportunities to talk in person with faculty and classmates, according to the program description, promoting student engagement. Student engagement is also fostered in residency requirements, where faculty provide mentorship and guidance, and in synchronous courses, in which students all log in at the same time and listen to their faculty in real-time in an interactive environment.

Disability Support
The award for best online master’s degree in nursing for disability support goes to the University of San Francisco, which assists eligible students through its Student Disability Services department. Students with documented disabilities can receive pre-admission counseling and accommodations that include priority registration and scheduling, alternative testing, auxiliary aids and services, and assistive technology, according to the SDS website. USF even offers scholarships for students with specific disabilities.

Library and Research Support
The best online master’s degree in nursing for library and research support is Georgetown University because it provides its online students with remote access to the extensive Georgetown University Libraries, which consist of 10 separate libraries. These include the Bioethics Research Library, the Dahlgren Memorial Library, the Maternal and Child Health Library, and more. Online students can get in touch with the university’s librarians through online chat, email, and phone, and have the same interlibrary and consortium loan privileges that campus-based students have. Quality e-resources include online databases, scholarly journals, and e-books.

Learning Support
Loyola University New Orleans wins the award for best online master’s degree in nursing for learning support. The university was ranked first in the nation in student services and technology among online graduate nursing programs by U.S. News & World Report. The publication cited career placement assistance, live tutoring, live streaming video, a smartphone app, and 24/7 live tech support among the reasons for such a high ranking. Other learning support features at the university include access to a live librarian, mentoring, academic advising, bookstore, financial aid services, and writing workshops, U.S. News noted.

Faculty Credentials
The best online master’s degree in nursing for faculty credentials goes to The George Washington University, which offers an online MSN program that prepares licensed nurses with associate degrees to become family nurse practitioners and nurse midwifes — in other words, GWU allows associate degree holders to earn both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in nursing in a single program. GWU was ranked No. 1 in the nation for faculty credentials and training by U.S. News & World Report in its ranking of top online graduate nursing programs. The publication reports that 95% of the university’s faculty have at least two years of online teaching experience, that faculty must complete training in online instruction before they can teach online, and that the school pays for the training of online instructors. In addition, 72% of full-time nursing faculty are working on grant-funded projects, the university website notes.

Faculty Accessibility
The award for best online master’s degree in nursing for faculty accessibility goes to Norwich University because of its commitment to small class sizes. Nursing courses include no more than 18 students at a time to ensure that faculty can provide focused attention on individual students, according to the program website. Students also get the chance to meet their professors face to face during a required week-long residency.

Alumni Engagement
Johns Hopkins University wins the award for best online master’s degree in nursing for alumni engagement because students can become free members of the Alumni Association, a vibrant network with a membership 172,000 strong and growing. Alumni can also connect locally through one of the dozens of alumni chapters and interest groups scattered across the U.S. and internationally. In addition, alumni come together periodically for reunions and annual events (such as Homecoming), participate in volunteer opportunities, and take advantage of perks (such as access to journals, periodicals, and onsite library services). Alumni may also travel to exotic locales together through the Alumni Journeys program, join in on alumni book clubs, and lifelong learners can participate in learning-intensive trips, according to the alumni website.

Prior Learning Options
The best online master’s degree in nursing for prior learning options is Norwich University, which will evaluate up to 12 transfer credits for acceptance into the university’s online MSN program. While transfer credits are accepted on a case-by-case basis at Norwich and not all previous graduate work completed at other schools may transfer, the fact that Norwich accepts such a generous amount of transfer credit may make it easier for students to count previous graduate work toward their MSN degree at Norwich.

New Online Student Orientation
The award for best online master’s degree in nursing for new online student orientation goes to Ball State University, a public university in Muncie, Ind. The university offers a comprehensive orientation for new online students via live webinar. In this webinar, students learn about student services and how to register for classes, order textbooks, get technical assistance, and more. Students can also ask academic advisors their most pressing questions during the live chat. Aside from orientation, students can also take advantage of various how-to videos that explain how to use the different features of Blackboard, the university’s course management system.

Explore a Master’s Degree in Nursing

Registered nurses looking to advance into leader positions, make more money, or specialize in a particular health care field may pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Given that demand for registered nurses was projected to see a 26% spike in growth from 2010-2020 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master’s degree holders open up their career prospects and make themselves more desirable over registered nurses without an advanced degree.

A master’s degree entails students choosing a specialization, such as in certain diseases, oncology, gynecology, acute care, and many other health areas. Customarily, full-time students will graduate in one-and-a-half to two years. However, this is not necessarily true of every student. Some students choose to take courses part-time or may already have completed required master’s course work. Upon finishing their degrees, students will be advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Class Curriculum

Courses will encompass a range of health care issues, focusing specifically on those that relate to nurses. This degree is designed for nurses to develop leadership skills; as such, nurses will come to know the structure of the health care system, common policies and procedures, as well as techniques for managing a nursing team. As you’d expect, specializing in a particular area of nursing provides students with an extensive, specialized knowledge that will serve them as a foundation for their APRN careers. Master’s nursing students may expect to take:

  • Health Care Systems. Students will study the role of nurses in the health care system. Treating the health care system as a business, students will learn the ins and outs that make the system run successfully. This can include understanding the management of finances and resources, the decision-making processes within the system, and how policies are established.
  • Research Methodology. Students will further develop their research skills and techniques in this course. They will learn various research methodologies and theories, how to evaluate and analyze research, and develop skills in which applying research findings to their careers is second-nature.
  • Ethics and Law. Students will become familiar with the ethical and legal issues that are innate to the health care system and in their management practice as nurses. They will study complicated modern ethical problems, like end-of-life care, and how they should act as leaders if presented with such situation. An advanced understanding of laws and mandated legal procedures affecting the health care system and those in management positions will also be developed.

Course work will consist largely of reading assignments. Tests, quizzes, and research papers are common means for professor’s to measure a student’s educational progress. In many programs, students must complete a practicum and/or final project in order to receive their degree. A practicum is a course where students go into the field, choosing an area related to their specialization, and apply, under supervision, the knowledge, theories, and skills they acquired during their education. Final projects, on the other hand, may include something like a portfolio that demonstrates the real-world application of newly developed skills at a student’s workplace.

Building a Career

A MSN equips students with the leadership skills and health care knowledge necessary for careers as nursing managers and midwife nurses. Nursing managers generally manage the nursing staff, assigning nurses to units within a health care facility. They’re also responsible for staying current with research relating to their practice, training nursing staff members when necessary, and overseeing budgets and patient care. Indeed.com reports that the average nurse manager earns $85,000 annually, according to current nationwide salary data.

Nurse midwifery is another common profession master’s graduates occupy. It requires that nurses continue their education and get an advanced master’s degree with a nurse-midwifery concentration (NM). Nurse midwives provide gynecologic and obstetric care to patients. They diagnose ailments, coordinate births, care for patients in labor, and conduct wellness gynecological care. Depending on the state, nurse midwives may or may not have to work under a physician’s supervision, and they may work independently or in a team environment. According to Indeed.com in mid-2012, nurse midwives are currently salaried at $77,000 yearly.

Please be mindful, however, that not all salaries are definitive. Though there is research to back up their estimates, salary is not an independent determination. It is reliant on states’ economies, one’s experience level, as well as many other situations.

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