Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Programs

What Is a Direct-Entry Nursing Program?

A direct-entry master’s in nursing (MSN) program prepares students with non-nursing degrees to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice nurse (APRN). Whether you want to advance your existing nursing career or start a new professional path, a direct-entry MSN program can help you get there.

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This list of direct-entry MSN programs was updated in June 2020. If you know of an accredited program, reach out to us at

Is a Direct-Entry Nursing Program Right for Me?

A direct-entry MSN may be worth exploring if you want to pursue an advanced nursing position but have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject area. It’s also important to have a general interest in patient care and the ability to meet the demands of the nursing profession.

As you explore different programs, pay attention to admission requirements and program expectations. Nursing programs can be highly intensive and require a large time and energy commitment. It’s important to pick an option that works for you.

Direct-Entry MSN Admissions Requirements

MSN program requirements can vary. Some schools may offer tracks to existing registered nurses, while others may not accept applicants with a BSN degree, as these programs are tailored to students without a nursing background. 

Here are some of the requirements you may see as you browse through different options:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • A minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Successful completion of prerequisite courses
  • Letters of recommendation and/or professional references
  • RN licensure
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores
  • Written and/or phone interview with the institution
  • Personal essay and/or statement of career goals

Direct-Entry MSN Curriculum

MSN programs can include a mix of nursing theory courses, hands-on activities, simulations, and clinical rotations in a real health care setting. The exact combination will depend heavily on whether you choose an in-person or online program.

Direct-entry MSN courses cover a variety of topics which may include:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health care research
  • Health assessment
  • Fundamental nursing skills 

Your coursework will teach you how to care for a variety of populations such as women, children, older adults and/or those with mental health conditions.

Once you complete the program, you can take the nursing licensure exam (NCLEX), which you must pass to become a licensed RN. Some universities also offer post-master’s certificates for APRN careers.

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Careers for Direct-Entry MSN Graduates

Direct-entry MSN programs prepare students to become an RN or pursue advanced practice nursing certifications. As a Master of Science in Nursing, you can help improve your community’s health while advancing your career.

You may choose to work in a clinical setting as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife. Or, you may choose to focus on a particular area of nursing like gerontology, gynecology, pediatrics, or psychiatry. Careers are also available in medical research, ethics, health education, health care law, or forensics. 

Explore common career paths for individuals with their MSN degree below.

Family Nurse Practitioner

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) works with large numbers of patients throughout their lives, building a full picture of their health as they age. Similar to a primary care physician, FNPs have the knowledge and skills to perform diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and develop patient treatment plans. They may work in walk-in clinics, primary care offices, hospitals, or community health centers.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

A women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) shares many of the same responsibilities as an FNP, but with a focus on women’s care. By specializing in obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN), nurse practitioners in women’s health provide reproductive health care, health screenings, menopause education and care, preventive care, and more. They work with female or female-identifying patients in a doctor’s office or OBGYN center.

Learn about online WHNP programs and coursework needed for a career as a women’s health nurse practitioner.

Certified Nurse Midwife

A certified nurse midwife (CNM) can provide many of the same services as a WHNP, but their work focuses on pregnant women. They may provide resources around contraception, aid in birth and delivery, and arrange postpartum care. The most common work settings for CNMs include birth centers, hospitals and offices. However, more experienced midwives may choose to open their own private practice.

A graduate degree, such as one earned through a direct-entry MSN, is required to become a CNM. Learn more about on-campus and online CNM programs.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

If you’re interested in applying your master’s degree in nursing toward treating people with mental health disorders, you may want to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Common work settings include inpatient treatment facilities, hospitals, and outpatient offices.

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What is the difference between an accelerated nursing program and a direct-entry nursing program?

Both program types are designed for professionals interested in advancing their existing nursing career, or transitioning into the profession from another field. As their name suggests, accelerated programs take less time to complete than a traditional degree program. They are also suited to students with a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), rather than direct-entry programs, which are designed for students without a nursing background. Research programs carefully to understand the requirements and expectations associated with each one to find the best option for you.

What is the difference between a nursing bridge program and a direct-entry nursing program?

A nursing bridge program allows existing licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) to apply their practical experience toward a BSN or MSN. Students coming from a different industry who do not have nursing experience can gain fundamental knowledge needed to work in an advanced nursing role through a direct-entry program.

How long does it take to complete a direct-entry MSN program?

The time it takes to complete a direct-entry MSN program can vary. Some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in less than a year, while others can take upwards of four years. Most programs provide information regarding program length for interested students, which can help you decide on an option that best fits your experience and goals.

What is the typical cost of a direct-entry MSN program?

The cost of a direct-entry nursing program will vary depending on whether you’re applying from in or out of state, whether you will be attending classes in-person or online, and other factors. Nursing scholarships and financial aid can also help ease the burden for qualifying students.

What are the advantages of a direct-entry MSN program?

One of the biggest advantages of a direct-entry MSN program is that they are designed for students from non-nursing fields. They also allow students to learn in a shorter period of time than a traditional degree might, which means you can start your nursing career sooner.

Last updated: November 2023