Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Overview
An MSN can provide plenty of growth opportunities for nursing professionals. Individuals often pursue this graduate degree to go into advanced nursing roles, which offer more responsibility and independence.
Are you ready to find a school that's aligned with your interests?
Opportunities With an MSN
Good job outlook
Path to advancement
Featured Online Programs
Featured MSN Specialties
Many MSN graduates go on to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Common tracks for MSN degree-holders include:
Certified Nurse Midwife
Family Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
How Much Will I Make With a Master's Degree in Nursing?
How to Get an MSN
Decide what type of MSN Program you want
Find MSN programs
Apply to MSN programs
Secure funding for MSN programs
Attend MSN classes
Graduate with an MSN
Types of Master's Degrees in Nursing
Admission Requirements for an MSN Program
The following list covers some of the major requirements you may see for various MSN programs, although requirements vary depending on the school.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Many MSN programs expect incoming students to possess a BSN. However, some bridge or fast-track programs allow learners to enroll with an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor's degree in another field.
- RN License: The majority of MSN programs require applicants to already possess RN licensure. Some programs also prefer candidates who already possess 1-3 years of work experience, although this is not the case at every school. Fast-track programs accept students from other disciplines, so they do not expect RN licensure.
- Transcript with a minimum GPA: Most graduate schools set a minimum undergraduate GPA for admission. This may range from 2.5-3.2 or even 3.5 in very competitive programs.
- Test Scores: Not every MSN program requires test scores, but some request students to submit GRE or MAT scores.
- Other Application Materials: These may include a personal essay or recommendation letters.
Core Concepts in an MSN Program
The curriculum for MSN programs varies on each degree depending on state licensure requirements, students' concentrations, and the schools themselves. However, most MSN programs include supervised clinical courses and many of the same core courses:
- Health Assessment
- Nursing Administration
- Nursing Ethics
Nursing programs also tend to prioritize similar core concepts:
- Master's-level nursing practice or advanced clinical nursing skills
- Organizational systems and leadership skills that focus on ethical decision-making and developing good working relationships with colleagues
- Informatics and healthcare technologies, so that nurses understand how to properly use patient care databases and technology in a way that protects patient information
- Clinical prevention and population health, which involves promoting healthy habits and regular preventative doctor's visits to avoid illness and providing evidence-based care
Clinical & Lab Components in an MSN Program
MSN programs require students to complete a certain amount of clinical hours to graduate. Online MSN programs have similar requirements. Clinical hour practicum requirements vary from specialty to specialty.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
+administering of 800 anesthetics
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
What to Expect From an Online MSN Program
Many MSN students prefer to enroll in online nursing programs rather than on-campus degrees. Online programs often follow an asynchronous format, which means distance learners can log on to listen to lectures and contribute to class discussions on their own time. Online MSN programs are an especially attractive option to anyone who must attend to other responsibilities, such as caring for their families or working a full- or part-time job.
Although online programs conduct all coursework through a web-based CMS, nursing students still usually need to complete any required lab classes and supervised clinical rotations on campus or at a hospital. Students are often expected to arrange their own clinical rotations.
Earning a BSN vs. an MSN
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.
Explore MSN Programs
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master's degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.