10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an MSN Program

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Nurses are the lifeblood of our healthcare system, and the decision to further your education is a beneficial choice both for your career and your patients.

To help you narrow down the many MSN program options that are available, we’ve compiled a list of 10 questions to ask before selecting the one that’s right for you.

1. What programs and specializations are offered?

What’s motivating you to pursue your MSN? Nursing is a broad field with many specialties to choose from, so your first step should be selecting a focus. A few of the most popular MSN degree specialties include:

For more information on the different types of nursing specialties, check out our article 12 Nursing Specialties [And the Value of Earning Your MSN].

2. What are the program’s admission and graduation requirements?

Every university will have their own set of admission and graduation requirements, and you can see these by visiting the website or requesting information from the nursing department.

However, there are a few common admission requirements, including:

  • An active and unrestricted current RN license
  • A minimum of one year of RN experience
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA (usually a 3.0)
  • Application materials including transcripts, a resume, GRE scores, references and a personal goal statement

Note: The GRE is not required to apply to the University of Cincinnati’s online MSN program, which helps students save time and money.

And to graduate with your MSN degree, you’ll most likely need:

  • A certain number of completed credit hours, usually between 44 and 48
  • A certain number of clinical hours, which will depend on your specialty
  • A certain GPA (usually a 3.0)
  • An active and unrestricted current RN license

3. Are the nursing program and university accredited?

One of the most important things to check off your list as you’re vetting programs is accreditation.

Accreditation is a crucial step every program and university must complete in order to prove that it meets or exceeds a certain standard of quality. Attending an accredited program will make you eligible for financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education, while also ensuring that you’re receiving an education that is on the same level as other nursing programs.

For MSN programs, the accrediting bodies approved by the U.S. Department of Education are:

To check on accreditation status, you can visit the websites above and search for programs. The baccalaureate, Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), 655 K Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20001. Contact CCNE at 202-887-6791. CCNE is the accrediting arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

4. How long will it take to complete the program?

Balancing a job, personal life and school work is a top concern in any type of higher education program. If you know you need to work or take care of family matters while going to school, make sure the program you select offers part-time options so you can continue your education while still maintaining your normal lifestyle.

Even if you are able to enter a program as a full-time student, a part-time program could still be appealing in the future. Depending on your course load, financial aid and lifestyle, you may want the option to switch to a part-time schedule down the line.

At the University of Cincinnati, each Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program can be done in as little as two years. There are additional options available for several programs that allow students to take these programs at a slower pace. Although these options extend the length of the selected program, they often make it a more feasible option for the student.

5. Is the program highly ranked?

Once you’ve found an accredited program, you can do some online investigating to get an idea of its reputation. A reliable source is U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of the best graduate schools and programs, broken down by specialty. U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Cincinnati in the Top 40 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs and Top 20 for Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs for Veterans.

You can browse lists of the top nursing programs below:

6. Are there financial aid or scholarship opportunities available?

The cost of higher education can deter many people from pursuing an advanced degree, but there are resources available to help offset high tuition costs.

First, check if the program you’re interested in has different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. If you’re applying to an online program, there will likely be one tuition rate regardless of where you live.

You can find information about aid packages through the following websites.

The program’s website should also list resources and information about scholarships, grants and financial aid options. You can also contact a financial aid advisor to learn about any options that may not be listed online.

7. What learning formats are offered?

Are you more comfortable taking notes in a face-to-face classroom or does the flexibility of online learning work better for your schedule? Your answer will help you narrow down your program options.

Make sure to verify the learning format for the entirety of your program. There may be on-site clinicals or other in-person learning requirements in order to graduate.

The University of Cincinnati’s online MSN Nurse-Midwifery program requires one on-site clinical-skills intensives. This visit is generally viewed as opportunities for hands-on-practice, networking with other students and direct contact with the program director and other members of the faculty. Students may also work with professional actors who are serving as sample patients, and may work in a state-of-the-art birthing simulation lab to rehearse birthing techniques.

The remainder of UC’s online MSN programs are 100% online and do not require any site visits.

8. How do graduates perform on national certification exams?

Passing rates for certification exams will tell you a lot about the quality of an MSN program, including how well the instructors are able to prepare their students for exams and working in the field.

Both the passing rates for first-time and repeat test takers should be prominently listed on an institution’s website, along with the national averages. If you’re not able to find this information, you can request it from the designated contact for the program. In 2022, UC’s pass rates were consistently above 95% across all online MSN programs.

9. What is the faculty’s experience?

Who will be teaching your courses and what are their credentials? The quality of your educational experience in an MSN program will heavily depend on the faculty.

Check that the instructors in your program have real-world experience that’s aligned with your chosen specialty. The program’s website should list all faculty members, as well as their education, certifications, publications, professional experience and other relevant credentials. A quick Google search of an instructor’s name will also give you insights from other sources.

If you’re selecting an online program, check to see how many years the instructors have been teaching online, as this learning format can differ from in-person instruction. You can also reach out to the program director or individual faculty members with any questions before you make your final program selection.

The University of Cincinnati’s online MSN programs are all taught by doctorally prepared, clinically active advanced practice nurses.

10. Does the university offer support services?

Support is a broad term that includes everything from advising and tutoring to mentoring and IT services. Graduate programs are demanding, and you’ll need a reliable support system in order to succeed.

The program’s faculty and other staff members are there for a reason: to help you succeed! You should be encouraged to reach out before, during and even after your time in the program. Supervised clinicals, one-on-one check ins with your advisor and career support services should be assumed and easily accessible.

If you’re in an online program, 24/7 technical support is an absolute must. Since you’ll be accessing course materials at times that are most convenient for you, having an IT expert on standby will provide much-needed peace of mind throughout your studies.

The University of Cincinnati offers Student Success Coordinators and Clinical Site Coordinators to help students succeed. All MSN students are also assigned their own faculty advisor.

Online MSN Degree Options

The University of Cincinnati offers a flexible, robust online Master of Science in Nursing program with a wide selection of specialties. Ranked in the Top 40 of Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs by U.S. News and World Report, 100% of our faculty is certified in the APRN specialty that they teach.

You can see our online nursing program options, or contact an enrollment advisor to get started!

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