An MSN degree is a graduate degree, and short for Master of Science in Nursing. Nurses pursue this degree to further specialize their skills and education in preparation for more advanced roles. Earning an MSN also allows them to seek out leadership or teaching positions within the nursing field. They might work as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse educator.
Some of the most common coursework for include advanced pharmacology, nursing research, and advanced health assessment.
Most MSN degree programs take up to three years to complete. However, the total time needed depends on your prior degrees and your enrollment schedule.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- Admissions requirements
- Types of MSN degrees
- MSN specializations
- Nursing career options with an MSN programs
- MSN salary
- Should you get a MSN?
- MSN degree FAQs
Criteria for admission at MSN programs vary. But they’ll likely have a combination of the following:
- A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree although students without one can try the RN-to-MSN route.
- Minimum GPA (typically 3.0 but some programs start at 2.5).
- At least a year of work and clinical experience as a registered nurse for the RN-to-MSN route.
- Relevant coursework, including statistics.
Tuition can vary widely, depending on your choice of school. State schools are likely the most affordable, costing you the least amount per credit. Private universities, on the other hand, will cost more.
The price tag for your new degree could run anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000 although tuition at some schools could well exceed $100,000, even $200,000, depending on the course of study. Scholarship and grants can help alleviate any financial burden. There are also nursing student loan forgiveness options once you do graduate.
Types of MSN programs
If you have decided to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree, the next step is choosing a specific degree program. If you’ve decided to pursue an MSN degree, the next step is choosing a specific degree program. Your decision hinges on what experience you have up to this point. There are four different types of MSN degree programs organized by experience.
This program is perfect if you have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than nursing. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Generally, you’ll only have to take a few undergraduate courses to bring you up to par with this program’s requirements. Applicants with higher GPAs have an upper leg on the competition. It takes most students about three years to complete this program, as the first year is dedicated to learning clinical skills.
A BSN-to-MSN program is geared toward nurses who have already received a BSN. Students can complete this online or in-person, though they must receive in-person clinical hours. The program accounts for the student’s clinical experience, so it usually only takes 18 to 24 months to complete the degree.
An RN-to-MSN program is for a nurse who has a nursing diploma, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s degree in a major other than nursing. It creates a way for them to obtain a master’s degree. Sometimes, students can receive a bachelor’s degree while they are pursuing their master’s. You can get your degree in this kind of program in 2 to 3 years.
Dual MSN program
This program helps a student pair their graduate-level nursing education with another degree field, such as business and health administration. That way, when the nurse graduates, they will have a master’s degree in two different fields.
Get job matches in your area + answers to all your nursing career questions
Many students choose an MSN specialty to focus on while getting their degree. Getting an MSN specialization has a lot of benefits. You’ll be better equipped to get higher-paying jobs in leadership positions. And employers will look on you more favorably because they know you have the skills and education to be successful in a specialized field.
As an MSN student, you can specialize in a certain type of healthcare. Or you can get a Master of Science in Nursing degree with the goal of working in administrative and education roles.
Some common MSN degree specialties include:
- Informatics Nurse
- Nurse Educator
- Nursing Administrator
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- General Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Pain Management Nurse Practitioner
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
- Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Gastroenterology Nurse Practitioner
- Adult Nurse Practitioner
- Emergency Room Nurse Practitioner (ERNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
- Cardiovascular Advanced Nurse Practitioner
- Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
No matter what field of medicine you’re interested in, you can find an MSN degree specialization that’s a good fit for you.
Nursing careers you can pursue with an MSN degree
Some of the most common positions that nurses with Master of Science in Nursing degrees take are:
- Nurse practitioner
- Clinical nurse specialist.
- Certified nurse-midwife.
- Nurse educator.
- Certified nurse anesthetist.
These are leadership positions that are different from working on the floor as a nurse. Some incorporate more administrative tasks. Others, such as nurse educators, are based on teaching others. Either way, you have a higher role than RNs. These are all roles you can get with an MSN degree.
Nurse practitioners (NP)
A nurse practitioner typically serves as a primary care provider. Similar to RNs, they focus on taking care of patients. However, NPs have the responsibility to diagnose patients and prescribe treatments. In 2021, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $118,040, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
Clinical nurse specialists are responsible for treating patients, advising other nurses, and doing research. Nurses in a CNS role do a lot of work coordinating with other medical professionals to improve patient care. In 2022, clinical nurse specialists had a median salary of $110,760.
Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
Certified nurse midwives take care of pregnant women through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum. They are also qualified to provide more general gynecological care for women. In 2021, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $114,210, according to the BLS.
A nurse educator works at colleges and universities, teaching nursing curriculum. Their duties include creating curriculum; supervising clinicals and research; and giving lectures. In 2021, nurse educators averaged $82,040, according to the BLS.
Certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
A certified nurse anesthetist keeps an eye on patients during surgery. They are responsible for administering anesthesia and monitoring the patient throughout the procedure. In 2021, nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $205,770, according to the BLS.
Nurses with an Master of Science in Nursing degree are eligible for higher-paying jobs. For example, nurse practitioners earn an average salary of $118,040 per year.
What’s more, this job field is growing. The BLS states that overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 40% from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the average for all occupations. About 29,400 new job openings are projected each year.
MSN salary by state can also vary. Washington, New York, and California as the highest-paying states for nurses with MSN degrees according to ZipRecruiter. The average annual MSN salary in Washington is $133,938. Your salary may vary based on where you are trying to get a job.
Nursing graduates with an MSN are in high demand all over the country. Once you’ve graduated and you’re ready to work, you can earn a lucrative MSN salary.
Should you get a MSN?
Pros of an MSN
One of the basic benefits of having an Master of Science in Nursing degree is the ability to specialize and gain expertise. Specialization helps provide a nurse with more opportunities than other nurses.
In some settings, nurses are replacing doctors — meaning those nurses need more expertise. Being able to step into those roles requires expert knowledge that you learn through your degree.
Another advantage to having an MSN degree is access to more jobs and better pay. Nurses work long hours. The more education you have, the more compensation you can receive. And the higher your job satisfaction is likely to be.
Receiving an MSN degree puts you in a position for a pay raise. Most nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) make an average of $118,040. Some employers will even pay for tuition because they need specialized nurses. Other employers offer a bonus.
Finally, obtaining an MSN allows nurses to work independently. Many doctors have started outsourcing roles to nurses who have the specifications to help them out. By specializing, you can become your own boss and maybe even operate a clinic on your own.
Cons of an MSN
Like all degrees, this option isn’t for everybody. While earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree has a lot of benefits, there are also things you should consider before jumping into this degree path.
First, MSN tuition is expensive — more so than other nursing degree options. US News states that an online master’s of science in nursing can cost between $35,000 and $60,000. And in some cases, you may only get a salary increase of $10,000. Finding the funds to cover MSN degree tuition can be difficult for many students.
MSN degree programs are advanced. If you register for an MSN program, be prepared to commit to the coursework and invest a lot of time. The curriculum will likely be more challenging than other nursing programs.
You should also consider your past education and experience when deciding whether to pursue an MSN degree. Each MSN program has different requirements. Some may ask that nurses have a few years of experience or complete certain prerequisites.
MSN programs have both pros and cons. At the end of the day, the decision on whether an MSN is right for you will be different for everyone.
MSN degree FAQs
If you are an RN, you have either an ADN or a BSN degree. MSNs take things a step further by providing a master’s level education in nursing. RNs primarily work hands-on taking care of patients. MSNs are qualified to step into leadership roles that may give them the ability to diagnose patients or prescribe treatments. Because nurses with an MSN degree have additional education, they generally earn more money than RNs.
If you want to work in a higher-paying leadership or education role, an MSN degree can be worth it. An MSN boosts your earning potential and allows you to work independently. However, MSN programs are also challenging and expensive. Whether an MSN degree is worth it depends on your current situation and where you want your career to go.
If you have an MSN degree, you will be qualified to work in leadership and/or education-based positions. Some of the most common job roles for master’s degree graduates are nurse practitioner; clinical nurse specialist; certified nurse-midwife; nurse educator; and certified nurse anesthetist.
For many students, an MSN program can take up to three years to complete. However, this can vary greatly based on your situation. If you don’t have a BSN, an entry level MSN program will take about three years. But if you already have a nursing degree, you could finish your MSN in as little as 18 months with a BSN-to-MSN program.
If you’ve decided an MSN degree is the right step for you, research MSN programs to learn the requirements. Most programs require that you have spent at least a year as a registered nurse. If you qualify, you can begin the program whenever you’re ready.
An MSN degree is certainly an investment. It requires both time and money. But having an advanced degree can pave the way to your success as a nurse.
Get job matches in your area + answers to all your nursing career questions
“Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.” bls.gov. Accessed June 13, 2022.
“What Is The Average MSN Salary by State.” ziprecruiter.com. Accessed June 13, 2022.
“Weighing Costs of an Online Master’s in Nursing.” usnews.com. Accessed June 13, 2022.
“MSN vs RN: Preparing For A Career in Nursing.” online.regiscollege.edu. Accessed June 13, 2022.