What is a Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree for individuals in the nursing field who are looking to expand their career opportunities and seek advanced licensure. 

Nurses with an MSN degree may often take on managerial or leadership roles, including those of a health care administrator, department manager and patient safety director. Some nurses may use their MSN as a stepping-stone toward becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) or other nursing specializations.

How Do I Earn a Master’s in Nursing Degree?

Most MSN degree programs require some level of postsecondary education before admission. One of the more common routes is to first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and then apply to a master’s in nursing program

However, some MSN programs accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in another area of study. Students who apply with a non-BSN degree may need to complete prerequisite courses. These typically include science and health classes such as microbiology and human anatomy.

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MSN programs that accept non-BSN nurses are called direct-entry MSN programs. It is also possible to earn an MSN without a bachelor’s degree by applying to an RN to MSN program, if you are an associate-level trained registered nurse (RN). These programs take applicants who are licensed as a registered nurse (RN) and have two or more years of clinical experience. Some degree programs offer accelerated paths that may include earning a BSN degree while working toward a master’s in nursing.

The admissions process varies by school, so be sure to review the requirements for your chosen program. Here are the typical admissions requirements for a master’s in nursing program:

  1. Complete an application and pay any required fees.
  2. Submit transcripts from your bachelor’s program.
  3. Demonstrate you’ve taken the required prerequisite courses.
  4. Submit GRE scores, if applicable.
  5. Send letters of recommendation.
  6. Submit a copy of your RN license, if required.
  7. Complete an admissions interview and/or essay.

Although some students complete their MSN degree on campus, there are a number of online MSN programs offered from universities with on-campus counterparts. Certain components of the degree, however, may require hands-on interaction, such as the laboratory component of a science course. MSN programs also require clinical hours, and some require a capstone research project. 

Is a Master’s in Nursing Degree the Best Option for Me?

Nursing field occupations require attention to detail and quick problem-solving. Ideal candidates for an MSN degree program are passionate about patient care, excel at critical thinking and work well under pressure. Those who are seeking an MSN should be comfortable with more responsibility and working independently.

Patience, communication and familiarity with computers and technology are also important skills for an MSN program as the field is ever-changing. MSN degrees may prepare you for managerial positions. Technology in health care is always advancing, so it is also important to stay on top of continuing education and breakthroughs in the field. 

If you are an independent and critical thinker who works well in high-pressure environments and loves to care for others, an MSN may be right for you.

Benefits of a Master’s in Nursing Degree

There are many benefits to pursuing a Master’s in Nursing. Here are just a few of the advantages of an MSN degree.

Different Specializations

Graduate degrees in nursing allow students to choose an area of specialization. You might focus on becoming a family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, gerontology nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner or another area of interest.

Learn Additional Skills

An MSN program helps nursing professionals build on the skills they learned in their undergraduate education or career experience. MSN programs tend to focus on communication, attention to detail and leadership skills. Examples of courses that reinforce these skills include Leadership Competencies in Nursing and Health Care; Health Policy: Local to Global; and Advanced Leadership and Advocacy in Clinical Nurse Leader Practice.

Prepare for Advanced Licensure

Earning an MSN is a good first step toward obtaining an advanced nursing license, such as nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most master’s degree programs will prepare graduates for the required examinations and clinical hours.

Apply for Advanced Positions

It is possible to become an RN and have a long, successful career, but earning an MSN opens up even more career opportunities with a higher potential salary. A graduate degree is often required for advanced nursing positions.

Work Toward a Doctorate

Some nursing graduates may decide to further their education with a Doctorate of Nursing (DNP). According to a 2017 National Nursing Workforce study, over 41% of RNs had a bachelor’s degree, about 17% had a master’s degree and about 3% had a doctorate. A DNP degree can make you stand out among other candidates and open up even more advanced opportunities. Many doctoral programs require applicants to first earn a master’s degree, so an MSN is an essential step for those planning to pursue a DNP.

What Is the Value of a Master’s in Nursing?

Earning an MSN is an investment in a future career. Program costs vary by institution, but there are many ways to finance a degree. For example, some types of student loans fall under forgiveness or government repayment programs if the graduate works in the nursing field for a required amount of time. Additionally, an MSN may open advanced career opportunities that pay more than occupations requiring an undergraduate education. 

MSN graduates often go on to become advanced practice nurses, taking on roles as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists or nurse practitioners. Nurses in these roles have increased autonomy, and according to American Nurses Association (ANA), can diagnose illnesses, advise on public health issues, and manage chronic disease.

These occupations on average have a six-figure salary. According to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a nurse midwife is $108,810, a nurse practitioner may earn about $111,000 a year and a nurse anesthetist may earn about $181,000. By comparison, the average salary of an RN in 2019 was $73,300.

It is also important to consider the quality of the education received while earning an MSN. Many institutions provide access to state-of-the-art equipment and programs geared toward fully preparing students for entry to a professional career. Exam preparation resources and the experience gained from clinical hours may help graduates earn a professional nursing license.

Related Nursing Programs

A master’s in nursing degree is a great option for those who want to take on an advanced position in the field. An online program is often more convenient, especially for working professionals. There are also many other types of online nursing degrees to choose from; most of these can also be found online. Consider these related nursing programs:

Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2020.