Designed for students with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields, direct-entry master of nursing (MSN) programs prepare graduates for careers as advanced practice nurses (APRNs). Working as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, APRNs play an increasingly important role in a variety of healthcare settings, providing primary, acute and specialized patient care.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nurse practitioner (NP) positions to increase by 52% over the next decade — a much faster rate than the other APRN specialties and significantly faster than the mean for all U.S. occupations.
Direct-entry MSN programs help meet the growing demand for highly skilled nurses by admitting students with a strong interest in nursing but without relevant training. Degree-seekers usually complete bachelor’s-level nursing courses in their first year, followed by two years of graduate study.
Use this guide to compare schools offering direct-entry MSN programs for non-nursing majors online and on campus.
Read about our ranking methodology here.
Top Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs
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Founded in 1889 alongside the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the School of Nursing began awarding graduate degrees in 1987. Today Johns Hopkins holds U.S. News & World Report’s number one ranking for online nursing education. In 2016, the university launched its direct-entry MSN program, allowing students from outside fields to earn an advanced nursing degree without a prerequisite BSN.
This unique program requires students to enroll full time. Applicants must complete prerequisite courses in areas like anatomy, microbiology, and physiology prior to beginning the program. For admission, applicants must also submit three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and two separate personal essays. The program requires five semesters of full-time enrollment.
Originally founded as a liberal arts college in 1881, Marquette University serves thousands of students online and on their home campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Catholic Jesuit university offers 68 doctoral and master’s degree options, including a direct-entry nurse practitioner program for non-nurses online. The accelerated MSN program, hosted in the Marquette College of Nursing, blends online courses and in-person lab experiences to prepare graduates for thriving careers in nursing.
The direct-entry nursing program at Marquette provides students with an on-campus clinical lab to practice nursing skills prior to sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam. The program requires 75 credit hours to complete, which includes over 1,000 hours of clinical practice hours. Students complete some coursework asynchronously online. Many students complete the program in 19-21 months of full-time study.
With a home campus in the heart of Nashville, the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt University opened in 1908, and launched its MSN program in 1955. Now serving more than 800 students in the School of Nursing alone, Vanderbilt boasts a student body of over 12,000, with students earning degrees online and at its sprawling downtown campus.
Vanderbilt offers students with a BSN the option to directly enter their MSN program to earn their graduate degree. Students in this MSN program may also directly enter the DNP program upon earning their master’s. Students can complete the 40-credit program in three semesters of full-time enrollment and potentially graduate within one year. Online students complete coursework both synchronously and asynchronously, which includes participation in class discussions and submitting video presentations.
Founded more than 90 years ago, The University of Rochester School of Nursing now offers several graduate programs, including a direct-entry psychiatric nurse practitioner program online. The university serves students online and at its home campus in Rochester, NY. Students in the School of Nursing can complete their program fully online or as a hybrid, while graduate degrees are available in clinical nurse leadership, nursing education, and other speciality areas.
Most graduate nursing programs at the University of Rochester require a BSN prior to admission. However, the university also offers online prerequisite courses that students can complete at their own pace in order to meet admissions requirements. Admitted students may complete the core courses for the nurse practitioner programs at Rochester completely online. Rochester also offers a distance learning option for their Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.
MGH Institute of Health Professions
Opened in 1977, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions now serves a student body of over 1,500 students in the greater Boston area and online. MGH Institute students have the unique opportunity of learning and working alongside licensed medical professionals in authentic healthcare settings. Available degrees include nursing, physical therapy, genetic counseling, and physician assistant studies, among others.
The Institute offers a direct-entry online nurse practitioner program for professionals from non-nursing backgrounds. The three-year program includes on-campus clinical and lab work in unique healthcare settings to give students hands-on learning opportunities. Students from backgrounds other than nursing can complete prerequisite requirements online prior to admission. This includes foundational courses in anatomy, biology, and nutrition. The MSN program also offers students seven specialization options.
Applying to a Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs
While eligibility requirements vary by school, direct-entry MSN programs admit students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major from an accredited institution. Most schools require an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Generally, applicants must submit official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a statement explaining their interest in the nursing field. Some MSN programs require an in-person or phone interview. Applicants may offset less competitive test scores or GPAs by documenting volunteer service or work experience in a healthcare setting.
While the direct-entry MSN does not require a BSN degree, students typically need to complete certain prerequisites before enrolling, including courses such as anatomy and human physiology, human growth and development, microbiology, nutrition, and statistics.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to complete a direct-entry MSN program?
The length of time needed to complete a direct-entry MSN depends on the program format. While full-time students may take up to three years, accelerated programs lead to a degree in less than two years. Students usually complete nursing requirements for the NCLEX-RN exam in the first 12-18 months before taking their master’s-level advanced nursing courses.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Accreditation ensures that MSN programs meet nationally recognized quality standards established for the nursing profession. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education are the two main accrediting organizations for MSN degrees. Graduates of unaccredited programs cannot obtain state licenses and face limited employment options.
What is a direct-entry master’s program?
Designed for students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees, the direct-entry MSN provides a pathway to a nursing career. This type of master of science degree allows prospective nurses to move directly into graduate studies without completing a second undergraduate degree. A direct-entry MSN leads to licensure and rewarding opportunities in advanced practice nursing.
What can I do with an MSN?
As more states grant APRNS wider practice authority, allowing them to provide the same services as physicians, career opportunities should continue to expand for MSN graduates. An MSN degree provides the skills needed for roles as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists, in addition to nonclinical, indirect roles in public health, informatics, and administration.