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

What is a Direct-Entry Nursing Program?

A direct-entry master’s in nursing (MSN) program is for students with a non-nursing degree who would like to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice nurse (APRN). APRNs are nurses that have earned their master’s degree. APRNs include nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and clinical nurse specialists.

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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 it if you know you want to pursue an advanced nursing position. However, students should be prepared to work hard. Programs may be intense and fast-paced, just like the field of nursing.

The ideal APRN candidate has strong leadership skills, a passion for helping others and a firm foundation in health care knowledge. At minimum, direct-entry MSN students will usually need to complete prerequisite courses if they do not have nursing experience.

 Direct-Entry MSN Admissions Requirements

It’s important to note that programs can vary in requirements, depending on how they are designed. Some schools’ direct-entry MSN programs have tracks for registered nurses who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while some programs may not accept students who have their BSN degree since the curriculum is tailored to students without a background in nursing. Some requirements may include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing or an unrelated field
  • A minimum GPA, often 3.0 or higher
  • Completion of prerequisite courses, often within the past five years
  • Letters of recommendation and/or professional references
  • RN licensure
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores
  • Written and/or phone interview with the school
  • Completed application that may include a statement of career goals

Direct-Entry MSN Curriculum

The curriculum for a direct-entry MSN program includes a mix of nursing theory courses, hands-on activities and simulations, and clinical rotations in a real health care setting. While nursing courses can be completed online, you may have to travel to campus to complete any on-campus activities or coursework. Online programs may work with you to find clinical rotations close to your home.

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.

Most direct-entry MSN programs will also prepare you to take the nursing licensure exam (NCLEX). You must pass this exam to become licensed as an RN. Some universities may also offer post-master’s certificates for APRN careers.

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Careers Direct-Entry MSN Graduates Pursue 

A Master of Science in Nursing can open up a variety of advanced practice registered nursing positions. Direct-entry MSN programs typically prepare non-nursing educated students to become an RN, but you may also pursue advanced practice nursing certifications. You could become a nurse practitioner and work in a particular area like gerontology, gynecology, pediatrics and psychiatry. Alternatively, you could pursue a career in medical research, ethics, health education, health care law or forensics. 

An MSN can open up a lot of opportunities, but many graduates choose to work in a clinical setting as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife. These careers are growing fast, and the BLS data for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners reports a 2020 median salary of $117,670 for these professionals. 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) predicts increasing demand for APRNsBLS data for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners says employment is expected to grow 45% from 2020-2030. Becoming an APRN is an opportunity to help improve your community’s health and advance your own career.

Family Nurse Practitioner

A family nurse practitioner (FNP) provides primary or specialty care to patients of all ages, similar to the care you might receive from a primary care physician. FNPs have the knowledge and skills to diagnose and prescribe medications. However, prescriptive authority varies by state, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. They may work in walk-in clinics, primary care offices, hospitals or community health centers.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) has similar responsibilities to a FNP, but they provide primary care to women. Their youngest patients are usually women who are in adolescence. WHNPs specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. Nurse practitioners in women’s health provide reproductive health care, health screenings, menopause care, preventive care and more. They usually work in a doctor’s office to provide women’s health care services throughout their lifespan.

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

Certified Nurse Midwife

certified nurse midwife (CNM) can provide many of the same services as a WHNP, but typically they often work with pregnant women. They may help with contraception, delivery and postpartum care. Again, they can provide other women’s health services aside from prenatal and postpartum care. The most common work settings for CNMs include birth centers, hospitals and offices. 

A graduate degree is required to become a certified nurse midwife. There are on-campus and online CNM programs available for students with a background in nursing.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Some students choose to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) after they earn their master’s degree in nursing. In this role, nurse practitioners diagnose and treat people with mental health disorders. They can also prescribe psychotropic drugs that are used to treat these disorders. Common work settings include inpatient treatment facilities, hospitals and outpatient offices.

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Accelerated Nursing Program vs. Direct Entry

While researching MSN programs, you may come across accelerated and direct-entry MSN programs. Both are designed for professionals looking to change or advance their nursing career. Accelerated programs may award a BSN and MSN to graduates, or they may just award an MSN. It’s important to research programs carefully and find one tailored to your educational background.
Typically, those pursuing a direct-entry nursing program do not have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field. Those pursuing an accelerated MSN may already have their BSN.

Nursing Bridge Program vs. Direct Entry

A nursing bridge program refers to a type of program for people who want to switch to a nursing career or pursue further education. Many students who enroll in a nursing bridge program may already work as a nurse, such as licensed nurse practitioners. In nursing bridge programs, students will earn their BSN or MSN. A direct-entry MSN is a type of nursing bridge program. 

How long are direct-entry MSN programs?

The time to complete a direct-entry MSN program can range from about 15 months to three years. Some schools may have accelerated programs that take less time to complete. Be sure to check program length as you research schools.

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

The typical cost of a direct-entry nursing program will vary. Factors such as in-state vs. out-of-state tuition and online vs. on-campus programming will impact the cost of your education. For students who are concerned about cost, there are nursing scholarships and financial aid

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

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of a direct-entry MSN program is that it’s for students who studied a non-nursing field and want to become a registered nurse. Some schools may offer accelerated direct-entry programs. Those who want to earn their degree in less time may like this type of program. Like many nursing degrees, a direct-entry MSN provides many career opportunities following graduation. There are also many program options, including online programs.

Information on this page was last retrieved in January 2022.