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Online MSN: How Can You Be Sure About Selecting A Program?

by Lois R. Earles
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Provided that you already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, completing graduation is certainly the next step to take in your career path. Then again, can you really be sure about an online program? How will you know if the chosen MSN program is indeed a prospective course which can help your nursing career?

Professional online education has gained a lot of traction lately, especially in the field of nursing. This means there is no shortage of choices, making the task of selecting a good nursing program unnecessarily complicated. Thankfully, there are several ways to recognize and confirm a legitimate, prospective online MSN course. Read on to know how to approach the selection process methodically.

Look through their Accreditation

Online nursing programs can hold just as much value as their traditional counterparts, provided that the program in question is officially accredited. Both the university and the MSN course they are offering should have appropriate accreditations from at least one state recognized board, or preferably, a nationally recognized organization.

As of now, the only US Department of Education recognized, state/national accreditation boards for nursing courses are the following:

National Accreditation Boards for Nursing Programs

• Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
• Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
• Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME)
• Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)

State Accreditation Boards for Nursing Programs

• Kansas State Board of Nursing
• Maryland Board of Nursing
• Missouri State Board of Nursing
• New York State Board of Regents, State Education Department, Office of the Professions (Nursing Education)
• North Dakota Board of Nursing

If an online MSN program is not accredited by any of the above, there is no point in pursuing the course.

Verify their Claim

If an MSN program is accredited by a recognized authorization board, then it will be clearly mentioned on their website. Instead of just taking their word for it, verify the claim. Anyone can do so by visiting the mentioned accreditation board’s website.

Provided that the online university is not faking its legitimacy, both the nursing school and its program(s) should be listed on the accreditation board’s website. In case they are not registered with the board, take the false claim as a red flag and look elsewhere.

The Course and Your Career Goals Should Align

Any MSN program you pursue needs to align with your career goals. For example, if you wish to practice independently as a highly respected family nurse practitioner (FNP), the Marymount University Online BSN to MSN-FNP program aligns with that goal perfectly. The program is CCNE accredited, meaning that your MSN certificate will hold value across the United States.

Note that, in order to run a clinic as an independent nurse practitioner, you will need to work in one of the US states that allow it. However, family nurse practitioners earn approximately $111,500 per year on an average (nationally) and assume leadership positions irrespective of where they work. Therefore, an MSN-FNP degree is never a poor choice for graduation, even if you decide not to pursue independent practice right away.

Some of the other prospective specializations for an MSN course worth considering would be:

• Midwifery
• Psychiatric mental health nurse practitionership (PMHNP)
• Critical care nursing (CCN)
• Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Double Check for Eligibility Criteria

There are two reasons to double-check for eligibility criteria:

1. You need to be sure that your own qualifications are not lacking, as every nursing school does not have the same eligibility criteria.

2. You need to know if the eligibility criteria are too lax and not in line with the US department of Education’s directives.

As mentioned, eligibility criteria for even similar courses may differ depending on the university you are applying to. There are still a few minimum qualifications that most certified MSN programs expect their applicants to have, such as:

• An active and unencumbered RN license with (at least) one year of clinical experience
• A BSN certificate, completed from an accredited institute
• 3.0 GPA (minimum)

GRE is generally not an eligibility criterion for an online MSN course.

Check the Schedule and Flexibility

Online courses are more flexible than offline MSN programs, but you still need to check the schedule before joining. If you are a working nurse with children, look only for part-time programs, because you may not have enough time for a full-time master’s degree course. Also, online accelerated courses are ideal only when you have enough spare time to keep up with the added pace.

Overwhelming responsibilities are usually what prevents nurses from pursuing their graduation, and online programs are supposed to help nurses cope by giving them more time and flexibility. If your chosen online master’s degree course ends up overwhelming you anyway, then it would defeat the purpose of joining one in the first place.

Check the Rankings and Reviews

It should be noted first that as long as the course and the nursing school are adequately certified and accredited, your MSN certificate will hold value. However, there are several sources online to check for MSN course reviews and rankings. Use them to further inform yourself about the chosen program if you need to.

Go beyond the ranking sites and visit a few forums if you can. Former students generally share their experiences on dedicated forums, and you are more likely to get firsthand reviews on them.

Online master’s degree courses can be ideal for so many reasons, especially when you are a professional nurse with a family to take care of. They cost less than their traditional alternatives, allow enough flexibility to help nurses keep their job, and you can study from almost anywhere, and at any time of the day or night. Nevertheless, completing even an online master’s degree in nursing will require significant investments in time, money, and effort from you.

Therefore, it only makes sense to be extra careful about where you invest those resources. Hopefully, this advice will help you make the best choice and avoid some of the common mistakes that people often end up making while choosing an online program for higher, professional education.

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