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 BSN and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Most MSN programs require the BSN for admission, though there are a few RN-to-MSN bridge programs. Master’s degree in nursing candidates 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, including Advanced Practice Nurses and Nurse Practitioners. An MSN also prepares students to earn their doctorate, the terminal degree in the field.

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

A Master’s Degree in Nursing has always been a requirement for professional advancement, serving as a stepping stone to leadership roles, niche practice areas, research and nursing education. With the nursing industry moving to standardize the BSN for entry-level nursing practice, the master’s degree in nursing will become even more important for nurses wanting to take their career to the next level.

Career Available with a MSN Career Unavailable with a MSN

Nursing Career MSN Nurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *


Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nursing Career MSN + Nurse Anesthetist

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credentials

Required BSN Degree | Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nursing Career MSN + Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN in psychiatric healthcare

Required BSN Degree | Become a Psychiatric Nurse

Nursing Career MSN + Nurse Educator

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN ; DNP to teach at BSN -granting institutions

Alternative DNP Route

Nursing Career MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist

Minimum Degree Needed *


*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 the Bachelor’s and the Master’s Degree in Nursing, not least of which is the time commitment required. Take a look at the comparison between the two degree levels:


  • Many working nurses are able to 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 that focus on nursing in specialized scenarios like gerontology, anesthesia or sports medicine. Nurses interested in non-clinical 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 technique and communications 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 clinicals are designed to expose students to direct patient care, emphasizing general technique and nursing best practices.

Graduate school is often more expensive than undergraduate programs, a problem compounded by a lack of financial aid programs for graduate students.

Annually, master’s degree in nursing students leave their program with significant debt. Aspiring nurses may find this daunting, but it’s important to remember that once out of school, master’s degree in nursing graduates are positioned to earn a much higher salary than their BSN-educated peers. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for RNs is $65,470, but nurse practitioners can expect an average wage of $97,990.

You may accrue significant debt earning an master’s degree in nursing, but you could be well-positioned to pay it back.

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


PayScale, accessed October 2015

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 a MSN

What Kind of Classes Will I Take?

Advanced Care of Children & 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. Includes examination of issues within the clinical environment around care and assumption of leadership roles in multidisciplinary practices.

Resource Management in Healthcare

Examination of human and financial assets available in various organizational structures. Includes development and implementation of resource management strategies to meet the healthcare organization’s goals.

Pharmacology in Nursing Care

This course delivers an overview of pharmacologic science, the role of the nurse in the pharmacological setting, 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

An examination of the experience of wellness and illness throughout life, emphasizing acute and chronic illness. This course explores the theory behind assessment and intervention in at-risk patient populations. The class explores epidemiological, pathophysiological and medical management processes for select chronic illnesses. Nursing management technique includes patient education, health promotion and anticipatory guidance.

Online Master's Degree in Nursing Degree Programs

An online master’s degree in nursing is an advanced degree that will offers graduates the opportunity to take on more responsibility and earn a higher salary . Most MSN candidates already have a bachelor’s degree, although experienced RN’s may be interested in pursuing a bridge RN-to-MSN program. An online master’s degree in nursing is the first step toward specialized professional practice as an APRN. APRN’s often work as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and other highly specialized roles. These positions offer a higher salary and more job security than RN positions, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for APRN’s in the field is expected to soar in the coming decade.

Online MSN programs typically take two or three years to complete. For the most part, students can expect to take courses directly in their specialty, although most programs require distance learners to also take a few general classes.

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, be sure to double-check that the online associate degree in nursing program is accredited, offered online during your period of study, and all eligibility and licensing requirements meet your situation.

Before enrolling, please be sure to double-check that the master’s degree in nursing online program is accredited, offered online during your period of study, and all eligibility and licensing requirements meet your situation.

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

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

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