Master's Degree in Nursing

What is a Master's in Nursing Degree?

A master of science in nursing (MSN) is a graduate degree sandwiched between the bachelor of nursing (BSN) and the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Most MSN programs require a BSN for admission, though there are a few RN-to-MSN bridge programs. Master's degree in nursing candidates usually focus their studies on a clinical specialty -- like women's health or oncology -- or a career path, like nursing administration or nursing education.

Typically requiring a two- to three-year commitment, master's degree in nursing programs are the professional nurse's gateway to career development. It is the first step in the credentialing process required for specialized professional practice positions, like advanced practice nurse or nurse practitioner. An MSN also prepares students to earn doctorates -- the terminal degree in the field.

What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Nursing?

Online MSN programs give nurses the opportunity to move into roles that include prescribing medicine, leading nursing teams, educating new nurses, or conducting research. Depending on the program, graduates can work as advanced practice nurses in several specialty areas. As many healthcare organizations require BSN degrees to practice nursing, MSN degrees help distinguish nursing professionals looking to advance their careers. An MSN helps them stand out from their colleagues and earn licenses for advanced practice medicine.

Career Available with a MSN Career Unavailable with a MSN

Nursing Career MSN Nurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *


Annual Median Salary


These advanced practice nurses work in specialty areas like pediatrics, emergency medicine, and family practice. They prescribe medications, make care plans, and oversee patient needs.

Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nursing Career MSN + Nurse Anesthetist

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credentials

Annual Median Salary


Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who usually work in hospitals or outpatient surgery centers. They carry out the same duties as anesthesiologists, including managing patient pain during and after surgery.

Required BSN Degree | Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nursing Career MSN + Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN in psychiatric healthcare

Annual Median Salary


These medical professionals care for patients with mental health disorders. They prescribe medications and work with counselors to ensure patients get counseling. They may work in inpatient facilities, hospitals, or private practice.

Required BSN Degree | Become a Psychiatric Nurse

Nursing Career MSN + Nurse Educator

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN ; DNP to teach at BSN -granting institutions

Annual Median Salary


Nurse educators work in healthcare organizations and universities to train nursing students. They coordinate clinical hours, give lectures, administer tests, and grade assignments. Nurse educators may also train onboarding nurses within companies.

Alternative DNP Route

Nursing Career MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist

Minimum Degree Needed *


Annual Median Salary


CNS professionals oversee clinical care in specialized units within hospitals, such as labor and delivery, emergency care, or intensive care. They manage bedside nurses on the units and set standards for care techniques.

*Key: ADN = Associate Degree in Nursing; BSN = Bachelor of Science in Nursing; MSN = Master of Science in Nursing; DNP = Doctorate of Nursing Practice

Should I Get a Master's Degree in Nursing?

As the market saturates with BSN-prepared nurses, professionals with a master's degree in nursing will enjoy greater marketability. In fact, many industry analysts believe there is no better time than now to earn an MSN. Below, we've listed the major advantages and disadvantages of earning a master's degree in nursing.

Advantages to a Master's Degree in Nursing

  • An absolute must for many careers in the nursing industry.
  • Advanced practice nurses enjoy the highest salaries in the field.
  • Top-tier MSN programs are frequently delivered online.
  • An anticipated shortage of physicians opens the door for advanced practice nurses to assume roles of greater clinical responsibility.
  • Nurse educators will also enjoy growth in the job market as most of today's nursing instructors are expected to retire soon.

Disadvantages to a Master's Degree in Nursing

  • MSN programs are expensive, and financial aid is scarce at the graduate level.
  • Most programs are highly competitive and often require a 3.0 GPA for admission.
  • Graduate study is academically rigorous; MSN candidates are held to high standards in the classroom and the clinic.

Need to Know: Graduate Education in Nursing

There are a number of differences between a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing, not least of which is the time commitment required. The chart below highlights some major differences between the degrees:


  • Many working nurses complete the master's degree in nursing in two years without leaving their full-time jobs.
  • Master's degree in nursing candidates can choose study tracks focusing on specialized nursing topics like gerontology, anesthesia, or sports medicine. Nurses interested in nonclinical roles can focus on management, informatics, or nursing education.
  • In a master's degree in nursing program, candidates are exposed to a workplace environment that correlates with their chosen specialization. Hands-on experience allows candidates to put their knowledge of advanced theory into practice.


  • The BSN is designed to educate aspiring nurses. Students must commit to four years of rigorous study and many find it difficult to work full time while in school.
  • Coursework is designed to develop critical thinking. The study of natural and social sciences, public health, research techniques, and communication teaches nurses how to make informed decisions about patient care.
  • Undergraduate programs focus on preparing nurses to work in a variety of clinical settings. Most practicums are designed to expose students to direct patient care, emphasizing general technique and nursing best practices.

How Much Will I Make With a Master's Degree in Nursing?


How Educational Level Affects Nurse Salary

Not only do online MSN programs allow graduates to work in different positions, but they can also increase their pay. As nurses gain more education, they can take on more responsibility, which means pay and degree level are directly proportional. On average, professionals with MSN degrees earn $12,000 more per year than their colleagues with BSNs. Nurses can further increase their earning potential with DNP programs.

Average Salaries for Nurses by Educational Attainment
  Annual Salary
LPN/LVN $48,239
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) $69,000
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) $84,000
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) $94,000
Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) $103,000

How Do I Get an MSN?

  • Decide Type of MSN Program

  • Find MSN Programs

  • Apply to MSN Programs

  • Secure Funding for MSN Programs

  • Attend MSN Classes

  • Graduate with an MSN

What Kind of Classes Will I Take?

Advanced Care of Children and Families

This advanced practice course explores complex and challenging healthcare issues impacting children and the families who care for them. Critical thinking, ethical practice, and data-driven evidence are used in decision making affecting patient outcomes. This course also examines issues around care and assumption of leadership roles in clinical environments.

Resource Management in Healthcare

This class examines human and financial assets available in various organizational structures. It also covers the development and implementation of resource management strategies to meet the healthcare organization's needs.

Pharmacology in Nursing Care

This course delivers an overview of pharmacologic science, the role of the nurse in pharmacological settings, and the clinical application of pharmacology as treatment. Major drug classifications and therapies are covered, as are safe administration practices and self-study of emerging drug therapies.

Health and Illness Across the Human Experience

This class is an examination of the experience of wellness and illness throughout life, emphasizing acute and chronic illness. It covers the theory behind assessment and intervention in at-risk patient populations and explores epidemiological, pathophysiological, and medical management processes for chronic illnesses.

Online Master's Degree in Nursing Programs

An online master's degree in nursing is an advanced degree that helps graduates take on more responsibility and earn higher salaries. Most MSN candidates already have a bachelor's degree, although experienced RNs without one can pursue a bridge RN-to-MSN program.

An online master's degree in nursing is the first step toward specialized professional practice as an APRN. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for APRNs in the field is projected to grow 26% from 2018-2028. APRNs often work as nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists, and they command higher salaries and more job security than RNs.

Online MSN programs typically take 2-3 years to complete. For the most part, students can expect to take courses in their specialties, but distance learners must often take a few general nursing classes, too.

If you'd like to learn more about what to expect in an online MSN program, please visit our online nursing programs page. Before enrolling, check that your online master's degree in nursing program is accredited and offered online during a convenient time frame for you, and that you meet all eligibility and licensing requirements.

If you are an accredited, nonprofit institution that offers a master's degree in nursing online that isn't listed here, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page, and proof of accreditation.

Use our customizable database below to find the best MSN programs for your needs.

total schools

Filter Program Database

Desired Career

Select a State

Select Your Degree Level


School Type

School Degree Levels State Institution Type