Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree Programs Guide

MSN Degree Information

After successfully completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program, you can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). However, that is not the only viable pathway to obtaining this graduate-level credential. You can also earn an MSN through an RN-to-MSN bridge program.

Earning a master’s in nursing or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) provides an opportunity for registered nurses (RNs) to acquire an advanced level of education and advance their career. Nurses with an MSN can work as a nurse educator, clinical nurse leader (CLN), health policy expert (HPE), or a nurse administrator.

Additionally, a master’s in nursing allows RNs to gain the knowledge, skills, and expertise required to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) which encompasses the following specializations: nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), and certified nurse-midwife (CNM).

The sponsored program cards featured on this page were last updated in January 2022. For the most current program information, please refer to the official website of the respective school.  

Sponsored online nursing programs

Simmons University


Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Earn an MSN online from Simmons University. Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP — and prepare to raise the standard of patient care.

  • Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP
  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • Full-time and part-time tracks available

Georgetown University


Master of Science in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

St. John Fisher University


Master of Science in Nursing

Earn an M.S. in Nursing online at the Wegmans School of Nursing. Bachelor’s in nursing and RN license-required. 

  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options: PCFNP, PMHNP, AGACNP, AGPCNP


Now more than ever, there is an increasing demand for nurses with specialized education and advanced skills to deliver high-quality care at more affordable costs. This is because the availability of affordable healthcare is quickly dwindling. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare costs are projected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.4 percent from 2019 to 2028, compared to a 1.3 percent annual growth rate from 2012 to 2017. Additionally, individuals 65 and above are spending almost three times more than the working-age population.

In addition to providing affordable services to an aging population, nurses with specialized knowledge will continue to take on the very important role of educating patients about chronic conditions, among other essential tasks. 

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Admissions requirements

Many nursing master’s programs require applicants to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, though there are RN-to-MSN programs that allow RNs to earn an advanced degree without having to earn a BSN first. RN-to-MSN program applicants must have RN certification and a minimum of two years of clinical experience.

There are also entry-level MSN programs available. These types of programs are for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a discipline other than nursing. Depending on a program’s admission requirements, applicants may need to complete prerequisite courses covering topics such as microbiology, chemistry, human anatomy, and physiology.

Generally, schools will also ask MSN applicants for letters of recommendation, a résumé, a statement of purpose, and high school or GRE transcripts. Each master’s in nursing program you apply to will outline any additional requirements expected of applicants on the school’s website.

Curriculum and coursework

The coursework included in nursing master’s programs varies by specialty but is generally meant to prepare nurses for more advanced roles in administration, teaching, research, leadership, and direct patient care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) outlines potential roles for graduates with a master’s in nursing

Regardless of specialty, master’s-level nursing coursework equips students with general as well as subject-specific skills including critical thinking and decision-making for advanced practice registered nurses, criteria and justification for prescribing different medications, and conducting a head-to-toe physical examination.

Within each program, coursework can be divided into three main categories: fundamental courses, research courses, and clinical courses.

Fundamental courses typically cover:

  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Physical assessment
  • Microbiology and biology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics

Clinical courses are designed with advanced practice registered nurses in mind. These courses explore topics such as:

  • Prescribing medications, and the synthesis of various medications
  • Patient communication skills
  • Diagnosing acute and chronic illnesses
  • Developing plans and follow-ups for patients
  • Using available resources to provide the best patient care

Research courses may teach you to do the following:

  • Create a high-quality improvement proposal
  • Critically analyze existing medical literature
  • Design your own research project with institutional review board approval

Nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist (CNS) programs are often around two years in length and include content in physical assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology in addition to other coursework specific to your specialty. These courses require knowledge of basic anatomy and physiology which is typically covered in undergraduate-level nursing programs such as a BSN.

Certified nurse-midwife (CNM) programs often have the same main three coursework requirements found in nurse practitioner programs, in addition to a variety of women’s health subjects. CNM programs typically take two years to complete.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) programs focus on pharmacology, anatomy, and physiology and pathophysiology, with an added emphasis on chemistry, biochemistry, clinical research, and the technology used in the field. These programs may be completed in two years but are often available as three-year programs.

To learn more about specific coursework for different MSN career specialties, check out our advanced practice registered nursing page.

Clinical hour practicum

The clinical hour practicum gives nurses the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field through clinical placements. Practicum requirements vary from specialty to specialty. According to the 2016 Criteria for Evaluation of Nurse Practitioner Programs, 5th Edition (PDF, 727 KB), nurse practitioners may need to acquire anywhere between 500-600 hours. Alternatively, clinical nurse specialist programs may require more than 500 clinical hours, according to a 2011 guide from the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) Education Committee (PDF, 587 KB).

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Master’s in nursing specialties

Nurse practitioner

Scope of practice: Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who provide direct patient care by diagnosing and treating illness or offering preventive care and checkups. Nurse practitioners can practice independently or as part of a team. In many states, NPs have the authority to prescribe medication.

Education: NPs must complete a master’s nursing degree program. This is the minimum education requirement to become licensed.

Licensure: Nurse practitioner license requirements are set at the state level. However, RN licensure is a prerequisite for becoming an NP.

Salary: The median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $121,610 in May 2022, according to 2022 pay data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  
Job outlook: Based on job growth projections from the BLS, employment of nurse practitioners is expected to grow 45% from 2022 to 2032.

Certified nurse midwife

Scope of practice: Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) provide gynecologic and primary healthcare to women from adolescence to menopause. They assess and manage contraception, support women through pregnancy and childbirth, care for newborns, and diagnose and treat gynecological and general health issues. CNMs can prescribe medication, administer treatments, order diagnostic tests, and operate medical devices.

Education: CNMs must earn at least a master’s degree from an accredited nurse education program.

Licensure: CNMs must pass a national certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) and complete their state’s licensing requirements.

Salary: The median annual salary for nurse midwives was $120,880 in May 2022, according to 2022 pay data from the BLS.

Job outlook: Based on job growth projections from the BLS, employment of nurse midwives is expected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist

Scope of practice: Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) perform very specialized duties including administering general and local anesthesia, sedation, epidural, and spinal or peripheral nerve blocks during surgery, childbirth, and other procedures.

Education: The entire process of becoming a CRNA is often longer than that of other nursing specialties, with nurse anesthesia programs ranging from 24-51 months and graduates earning, on average, over 9,000 hours of clinical experience.

Licensure: CRNAs must pass the national certifying exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Salary: The median annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $203,090 in May 2022, according to 2022 pay data from the BLS.

Job outlook: Based job growth projections from the BLS, employment of nurse anesthetists is expected to grow 9% from 2022 to 2032.

Clinical nurse specialist

Scope of practice: Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) are registered nurses with expert knowledge and experience in a specific care setting, patient population, or medical specialty, such as critical care, geriatrics, or oncology. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care and also advise and support other nurses in caring for patients within their specialty.

Education: To become a CNS, you need a master’s degree in nursing.

Licensure: Clinical nurse specialists must pass relevant state and/or national licensing exams.

Salary: There is no salary data from the BLS for clinical nurse specialists. While salary will vary based on care setting, geographical location, and employer, clinical nurse specialists may be able to earn above-average salaries due to their additional education and experience.

Job outlook: The BLS currently does not have employment projections for clinical nurse specialists. You may refer to job outlook data for other advanced practice registered nurses.

Types of MSN degree

There are as many types of nursing degrees as there are nursing specialties. Many degrees can be completed while maintaining employment, but others require a full-time commitment to school.

ADN to MSN: Associate of Science in Nursing to Master of Science in Nursing degree programs are for individuals with an Associate of Science in Nursing. The program is designed to bridge any knowledge gaps in baccalaureate-level coursework, allowing students to earn their degree in a shorter amount of time than it would take to obtain the two degrees separately or consecutively.

RN-to-MSN: Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing degree programs are designed for registered nurses with a nursing diploma, associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. RN-to-MSN programs typically last two to three years and include baccalaureate-level content that may be missing from the curriculum of an associate’s degree program, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Specific requirements vary based on the school and the student’s previously completed coursework.

BSN to MSN: The Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Master of Science in Nursing is a post-baccalaureate program for nurses with a BSN seeking more specialized education. These programs build on baccalaureate-level competencies and can often be completed in two years or less.

MSN-WHNP: Nurses with a specific interest in women’s health may find fulfillment in pursuing a career as a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP). Master of Science in Nursing programs offering this specialty are a suitable educational choice for these individuals. Curriculum for WHNP programs include general advance practice courses as well as courses specific to women’s health and clinical practicum hours. After completing the graduate program, candidates also need to obtain or maintain their registered nursing license and successfully pass a certification exam.

MSN-FNP: Family nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses working with families in a primary care setting. FNP master’s programs may include up to 60 credit hours of classes and several supervised practicum hours and take around two years to finish. Online classes may enable candidates to continue working while in their graduate program. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center administer the certification exams for family nurse practitioners.

MSN-AGACNP: Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners work with adult and elderly patients with acute, chronic, or critical conditions. These nurse practitioners hold a Master of Science in Nursing with a specific focus on adult-gerontology acute care. Curriculum and core classes may vary slightly from program to program, but students should be prepared to complete between 40 and 50 credit hours. Required practicum hours can range from 500 to 600 hours or more depending on the program. The American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses are the certifying bodies for AG-ACNPs.

MSN-Midwife: Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) can obtain graduate degrees in nursing, midwifery, or public health. However, one of the most common options is the Master of Science in Nursing with a nurse midwifery specialization. MSN midwifery programs frequently require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After successfully completing an accredited program, nurse-midwives can become certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). You must hold a graduate degree and hold a valid license as a registered nurse to sit for the certified nurse-midwife examination.

Master’s in nursing salary

How much money can you earn with a master’s degree in nursing? The answer to that question depends on a variety of factors such as the state in which you live and the job title you have.

The table below shows the mean annual wages for different types of nurses.

Job titleMedian annual wage (2022)
Certified nurse midwife
Nurse practitioner
Certified registered nurse anesthetist

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners as of September 2023.

For more salary information, visit our Nurse Salary page.

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MSN degree FAQ

Is an MSN right for me?

If you want to specialize in a particular nursing field, are interested in nursing managerial roles, or are actively seeking out opportunities to contribute to the development of healthcare policy, consider enrolling in an MSN program. You can obtain your MSN degree online or in-person. Earning an MSN can take anywhere from one to six years depending on the program or specialty you choose, your previous educational background, and your work schedule.

What is an MSN degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is a graduate-level degree for advanced practice registered nurses. It is most often completed after a nurse obtains their bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field and registered nurse license.

What can I do with a master’s in nursing?

A master’s in nursing can open the door to a variety of career opportunities. In addition to providing high-quality direct patient care, nurses with masters’ degrees can work in nurse education, administration, or health policy.

How long does it take to get your MSN?

The time it takes to earn an MSN degree depends on how much prior nursing experience and coursework a student has already completed, and the nursing specialty they are studying. It can take as little as 18 months to get a master’s for general nurse practitioners or more than three years for certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Last updated December 2023

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