If you’re a nurse looking into a BSN or MSN program, it’s important to understand the differences.. With multiple pathways into the nursing profession, different types of nursing degrees, and varying nursing roles, it can be easy to get confused.
This article will cover comparisons between the BSN and MSN degrees, the requirements and time commitments for each program, paying for graduate school, and combined BSN and MSN career pathways.
This article will cover:
- BSN and MSN comparisons
- Time commitment for each program
- Paying for graduate school
- Program requirements
- BSN career pathway + MSN career pathway
BSN and MSN comparisons
I’ve worked with many nurses over the years who question the point of getting a BSN or MSN. The most common question I hear is “I am already a nurse, what difference will it make?”
Stick with a BSN program if:
- You want to provide direct patient care. A BSN is one of the minimum requirements to care for patients as a registered nurse. While an associate degree in nursing also satisfies this requirement, many employers now require nurses to have a BSN.
- You want to teach. Nursing schools typically require clinical instructors to have a BSN to teach in the laboratory and/or clinical settings. Most acute care settings also require a BSN to function in a hospital nurse educator role.
- You want to lead. Employers, especially acute care hospitals, will most likely require a BSN to be considered for a nursing management position.
Go with an MSN program if:
- You want to provide advanced clinical care. A Master of Science in Nursing degree is one of the minimum requirements to become a nurse practitioner. Other roles for master’s prepared nurses include clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife.
- You want to be in an advanced teaching role. A BSN will allow you to be a clinical instructor, but most community colleges and universities typically require an MSN, or higher, for faculty positions.
- You want to be in an advanced leadership role. If you are interested in being a director of nursing for a particular unit, or a Chief Nursing Officer, an MSN will most likely be the minimum requirement.
Time commitment for each program
How long does it take to complete a BSN?
This all depends on the type of BSN program. If you’re not already a nurse, the longest time for BSN program completion can be four or more years. This is for a traditional BSN program that runs four semesters a year.
You can also opt for an accelerated BSN program which may take a little less time but is much more intense than a traditional program.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you may be able to shorten this time by applying previous coursework credit.
Accelerated programs created for people with a bachelor’s in another field can typically be finished in about 18 months.
If you’re already a nurse, there are both accelerated and non-accelerated RN to BSN programs that can also be finished in about 18 months. Many of these programs are also entirely online because there is typically not a clinical component to be completed.
How long does it take to complete an MSN?
MSN programs do not take as long to complete as a BSN program. But, like the BSN, it all depends on the type of program. Most traditional programs take at least 2 years.
Most MSN programs will have some sort of clinical or experiential learning component with a set number of hours. If you are pursuing an advanced practice role, such as a nurse practitioner, you typically need to complete around 500 clinical hours.
Other than completing clinical hours, which need to be in person, most MSN programs are hybrid or entirely online.
How often do I need to renew my nursing license?
Requirements to renew an RN license vary by state and range from every 1-4 years. There also might be a requirement to have a certain number of continuing education/contact hours depending on your state. Some states don’t require any, while others require up to 30 or more continuing education/contact hours.
For an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license, like a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist, most states require renewal every 2 years.
If you prescribe medications, you may also need a DEA number. Your DEA registration must be renewed every 3 years.
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Paying for graduate school
The average cost for an MSN program ranges from $35,000 to $70,000, with some schools charging up to $100,000.
However, it’s important to note that tuition varies widely for these programs due to the type of school (such as an in-state public university versus out-of-state or private university) number of required credits, and cost per credit. So, it’s best to research and compare different institutions in relation to what they charge and choose what works best for you.
In addition to checking out costs, you should also explore the opportunities different institutions may have to cover some – or even all of your tuition expenses.
Many MSN programs offer scholarships to students. These are typically advertised on the institution’s website. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing also offers multiple scholarship opportunities.
Most scholarship requirements include completing an application, a minimum grade point average, a short essay, details on academic achievements, and one or more letters of recommendation.
Employer education reimbursement
If you are a working nurse, check to see what benefits your employer offers. Many organizations offer tuition reimbursement to their nurses.
The typical range of employer education reimbursement is $2500 to $5000 per year. The amount usually depends on your employment status with full-time employees being eligible for a higher amount.
1 year of work experience
MSN programs typically require at least 1 year of nursing experience to apply. Make sure to closely review all program requirements as they may vary among different schools.
Although MSN programs only require 1 year of experience, many nurses will wait even longer to garner more experience.
Similar to applying for scholarships, when applying to a nursing program you will likely need at least 1-3 reference letters highlighting your professional and academic experience.
Reach out to your professors, managers, or peers. Anyone who can speak to your ability to perform in the program you want to apply to can be a candidate for your reference letter.
When asking someone to write you a reference letter, give them plenty of notice to write the letter (a week at minimum), instructions on where to send it, and information about the program you are applying to.
BSN career pathway + MSN career pathway
Still can’t decide? Check out some of the combination BSN and MSN pathways. Many of these programs are designed for working registered nurses with an associate degree and allow them to complete a BSN and MSN in 1 program. Or, it allows nurses to go straight through to an MSN.
There are also options available for those who are not nurses but have a bachelor’s degree in another field, to enter directly into an MSN program.
Completion of an MSN through this pathway allows many of the same opportunities as completing a traditional MSN program including advanced patient care, teaching, and leadership positions.
Questions from the Incredible Health Nurse Community
- What is your best tip for dealing with a stressful situation at work?
- How do you deal with veteran nurses and doctors who look down, and degrade new grad nurses? Some of them are a little older so it’s hard for me to defend myself.
- I’m 43 and want a new career. Recently I was accepted into a 24 month RN program. Am I too old to start a nursing career?
- What exactly is the role of a nursing union?
- How do I make myself more marketable?
- I want to become a nurse manager in the future. Are there any books or resources I can read to help me learn?
Start checking out different schools and programs. Keep in mind the information you’ve learned here and see how the programs you are interested in match up.
Other important resources to review include the Essentials of Baccalaureate and Master’s Education in Nursing. These documents can give you an even more in-depth review of the specific goals of BSN and MSN education to help decide which path is best for you.
- “Foundation Scholarships.” www.aacnnursing.org. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- “Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.” www.bls.gov. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- “Registered Nurses.” www.bls.gov. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- “The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice.” www.aacnnursing.org. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- “The Essentials of Master’s Education for Professional Nursing Practice.” www.aacnnursing.org. Accessed July 7, 2022.