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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.

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Opportunities With an MSN

partial online offering
clinical hours required
Good job outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statisitcs (BLS) projects the field may grow by 45% from 2019-2029.
Path to advancement
Many MSN graduates go on to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) or earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).
Hands-on experience
In an MSN, students are exposed to a workplace environment that correlates with their chosen specialization.
Skills Learned
MSN students can expect to learn clinical skills and leadership skills, case management, community participation, nursing care of children and adults, and more.

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:

msn Required

Certified Nurse Midwife

Certified nurse midwives deliver infants. In addition to assisting patients with childbirth, they offer gynecological, prenatal, postpartum, and newborn care.
Salary $105,030*
Job Outlook 26% increase from 2018-2028
Learn More About Certified Nurse Midwives

adn or bsn Required
High Demand

Clinical Nurse

Clinical nurses work in healthcare settings including hospitals, community centers, and private practices. They may work in emergency rooms or critical care departments or take on roles as primary care providers, among other specializations.
Salary $65,000-$110,000*
Job Outlook 19% growth by year 2022
Learn More About Clinical Nurses

msn Required
High Demand

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners work with patients throughout their lifespan. They meet with patients, assessing and diagnosing conditions. They also provide treatment and prescribe medication.
Salary $94,232*
Job Outlook 26% increase from 2018-2028
Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners

msn Required
High Demand

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia, or drugs that numb, paralyze, or take away sensation from patients. They administer these drugs to patients who are in pain or about to go through surgeries.
Salary $174,790*
Job Outlook 26% increase from 2018-2028
Learn More About Family Nurse Anesthetists

bsn Required
High Demand

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators teach nurses-in-training and new nurses about the profession. They might work in clinical settings like hospitals or at schools, colleges, and universities.
Salary $75,399*
Job Outlook 24% increase from 2018-2028
Learn More About Nurse Educators

adn or bsn Required
High Demand

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with individuals with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders or struggles. They may provide counseling to these patients or prescribe medication.
Salary $106,787*
Job Outlook 26% increase from 2018-2028
Learn More About Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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

$43.79

Hourly Salary

$7,919

Monthly Salary

$95,080

Annual Salary

*SOURCE: PayScale.com

Learn More About MSN Salaries and Careers

How to Get an MSN

Decide what type of MSN Program you want
Are you looking for a direct-entry program or do you already have your MSN? Figure out what type of program works best for you.

Find MSN programs
After deciding which factors are important to you in a school, use our degree finder to find programs that fit your criteria.

Apply to MSN programs
Common application requirements include a previous academic degree, GPA, personal statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, entrance exam score, and interviews.

Secure funding for MSN programs
There are many ways to finance your degree, including financial aid, grants, scholarships, loans, and employer tuition reimbursement programs.

Attend MSN classes
Complete the required courses and obtain clinical hours to get hands-on experience. Learn the best practices and research-driven skills.

Graduate with an MSN
Congrats on earning your degree! Now you can apply for an advanced practice nursing licensure, begin a career in your specialization, or take on a leadership role.

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:

  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology/Pathophysiology
  • 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.

500-600 hours

Nurse Practitioner

600+ hours

Clinical Nurse Specialist

1,000 hours

Nurse Midwife

2,500 hours

+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.

MSN

  • Many working nurses complete a 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.

BSN

  • 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.

Explore MSN Programs

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN


Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who started on a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care where she worked for almost 10 years. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. Galan currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.