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.
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.
|Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)||$67,000|
|Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)||$81,000|
|Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)||$92,000|
|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.
Popular Online MSN Programs
Online master's in nursing programs are a good option for working nurses looking to advance their careers. The following pages explore the most in-demand online MSN programs:
- Online MSN Programs
- Online Adult/Gerontology Care Nurse Practitioner Programs
- Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs
- Online Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs
- Online Direct-Entry MSN Programs
- Online MSN in Health Informatics Programs
- Online MSN/MHA Dual-Degree Programs
- Online MSN MPH Dual Degree Programs
- Online CRNA Programs
- Online Master’s In Nurse Education
- Online Nurse Midwife Programs
- Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
- Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs
- Online RN to MSN Programs
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 31% from 2016-2026. 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.