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7 Most Critical Prerequisites for Getting Your MSN

NurseJournal Staff
Updated April 26, 2022
    An advanced nursing degree is an investment in your future. These seven MSN prerequisite classes are critical support for your MSN degree.

    Pursuing an advanced degree in nursing is an investment in your skills, leadership, and career development. Nurses with a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree typically are offered better positions with higher compensation.

    The curriculum in each MSN specialty program is a little different. Yet, there are critical prerequisites for every MSN program. The material from these classes can help you better prepare for your graduate program. They also help reduce the inevitable challenge of master’s-level classes.

    On this page, we discuss the seven top MSN prerequisites, what each class covers, and how your MSN program will expand on this knowledge.

    7 Top Prerequisites for an MSN

    Admission into a master’s program requires several steps. One key step is completing MSN prerequisite classes, which form the foundation of advanced nursing education.

    The following seven MSN prerequisites are critical to your success. Many programs use your GPA and grades in these classes to figure out your potential to graduate from the program.

    Anatomy and Physiology

    These classes give nursing students a firm grasp of the body’s structure and its workings. Anatomy studies the structure of the body, while physiology is the study of the function of those parts.

    The classes involve lectures and lab practicals. Some bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) students have the opportunity to do human dissection, which offers greater depth of knowledge.

    As nurses advance to an MSN program, the curriculum builds on this foundation. Registered nurses (RNs) explore how individual body systems work together to function best. The coursework includes the study of diseases, recent advances, and how systems integrate to function harmoniously.

    Human Growth and Development

    Human growth and development cover topics from conception through adulthood. They focus on normal development and not disease. At each stage of the lifespan, the focus is on biological, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Coursework gives you a foundational understanding of psychology that impacts all human behavior.

    This can help BSN students understand lifespan changes and the implication these can have on health choices. The MSN curriculum expands on this basic foundation. It includes theories and content that underlie current thinking on the process and influences that affect a person. These changes are evident in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and seniors.

    Candidates discuss ways to optimize function for independent living in the elderly. Students learn a perspective of the biological and cultural changes senior adults experience. Students also gain the skills to critically evaluate and apply evidence-based knowledge across the lifespan.


    Food and nutrition are essential for survival and proper bodily function. Many medical conditions are triggered or worsened by improper nutrition. Learning these concepts in an undergraduate nursing degree helps nurses improve their health and perform their jobs well. The BSN program offers basic insight into nutrition. MSN programs expand to address the needs and concerns of the patient population studied.

    Nutritional needs change from infancy through adulthood and in senior populations. Nurses are positioned to educate patients about the importance of good nutrition. This includes the requirements necessary to maintain strong, healthy bodies.


    Microbiology is the study of microscopic living organisms. These microbes inhabit the gut, skin, and environment. They affect digestion, infection, and disease. The study of microorganisms helps nurses develop nursing care plans. It includes understanding a patient’s immunological status and collecting and preparing specimens.

    Registered nurses surveyed said specific topics were most relevant to practice. These include infection control, disease transmission, and hospital-acquired infection.

    An MSN program enhances a nurse’s knowledge of microorganisms. This can lead to a greater understanding of infectious diseases, so nurse practitioners, for example, are more capable of ordering tests to treat patients.


    Pathology is the study of disease in humans. A BSN program lays a strong foundation in understanding the disease process to enhance patient care and treatment. Understanding pathology guides students to think more like a nurse. It helps nurses employ critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills in patient care.

    Nurses are on the front line of treating disease. Pathology gives the nurse a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of disease. This lays a strong foundation for the pathology and pathophysiology courses required to earn an MSN degree.

    The goal of the advanced courses is to expose the candidate to the practice of pathology in a clinical setting.


    Statistics is an important MSN prerequisite to more than research nurses. Staff nurses and advanced practice nurses use these skills to evaluate studies. These form the foundation of evidence-based clinical care. Nurses must have statistical skills to interpret studies and understand the impact of various risk factors.

    Advanced nursing careers require expertise in measuring variables and patient outcomes. Statistical knowledge can help clinical practitioners recognize when study results can be generalized. MSN programs continue coursework in statistics due to its importance in patient care.

    Abnormal Psychology

    This branch of psychology deals with psychopathology and abnormal behavior. BSN nursing candidates learn how various disorders affect patient compliance and outcomes. Included is the treatment of mental health disorders. These can include depression, anxiety, and personality and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

    Nurses are not qualified as psychotherapists. However, they can identify behaviors and recognize when help is needed.

    Patterns of emotion, thought, and behavior can affect patient outcomes. MSN programs continue to explore assessment and diagnosis. Practitioners use this for referral and adjustment of treatment plans.

    MSN programs also examine the legal and ethical issues related to mental health conditions.

    Additional Requirements for MSN Acceptance

    There is much value in an MSN degree, and these critical MSN prerequisites are necessary to improve your potential success in the program and beyond. They are critical whether you enroll in an online or in-person program. In addition, there are other requirements for admission into an MSN program.

    Most programs prefer students with a BSN degree since they have taken these courses. But some programs accept students with an associate degree in nursing or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. These programs can take a little longer to accommodate the necessary coursework. In either case, to be accepted into an MSN program, you must have an undergraduate degree.

    Depending on the program, there are other admission requirements candidates must meet. Volunteer experience may not be listed as a requirement but is an advantage on your application. Other requirements can include a combination of the following:

    • GRE or MAT test scores (not common)
    • Reference or recommendation letters
    • Statement of purpose, goal statement, and/or personal essay
    • Minimum number of practice hours
    • Minimum overall GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
    • Minimum course grade in statistics and GPA in science classes
    • Active and unencumbered RN license
    • Interview
    • Criminal background check
    • Advanced certifications for some MSN majors (for example, advanced cardiovascular life support)
    • Resume or curriculum vitae