The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2022

February 18, 2022 · 5 Min Read

If you have a non-nursing bachelor's degree and want to pursue a master's in nursing, a direct-entry MSN program could be a good fit. Find the best programs here.

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The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2022
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Direct-entry nursing master's programs allow students without a nursing background to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN). Individuals who majored in non-nursing fields for their bachelor's degree can take advantage of these programs. Students explore the foundations of nursing and graduate prepared to become advanced practice nurses or pursue another nursing specialty.

If you are interested in direct-entry MSN programs, this guide will answer your questions about how to choose a school and what to expect.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the top direct-entry master's in nursing programs, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

Keep reading to learn more about direct-entry master's in nursing programs, or go straight to our list of the top direct-entry master's in nursing programs.

What Can You Do with an MSN

Nursing professionals considering the next step in their career can earn an MSN, which allows students to advance their clinical knowledge and skills, discover strategies for providing excellent direct patient care, acquire pertinent leadership skills, and explore health policy. Graduates qualify for multiple advanced positions, including nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or nurse educator.

Nurse practitioner majors can choose specialties, such as family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, and cardiology nurse practitioner. While MSN graduates often work in physician offices or hospital settings, they also possess the credentials to create their own practice and work independently.

msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Nurse Practitioner

NPs meet with patients independently, diagnose and treat conditions, and prescribe medication (in some states independently; in other states, under a collaborative agreement with a physician).
Salary $111,680*
Job Outlook 52% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Nurse Practitioners
msn Required
High Demand

Nurse Anesthetist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia for invasive procedures, monitor patients and vital signs, and educate patients about anesthesia.
Salary $183,580*
Job Outlook 13% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Nurse Anesthetists
msn Required
High Demand

Nurse Midwife

Certified nurse midwives care for patients throughout pregnancy, perform gynecological exams, educate new parents, and deliver infants.
Salary $111,130*
Job Outlook 11% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Nurse Midwives
*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Featured Online MSN Programs

What to Look for in a Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Program

MSN programs often accommodate nontraditional learners, as students often work and attend classes full-time. Prospective students should consider the following metrics to select a program that best meets their individualized needs.

Admission requirements vary by school. For instance, programs may require students to take the GRE, which could indicate the school has higher standards for applicants. Contrastingly, students may want to consider schools that do not require this exam to begin coursework quickly. MSN applicants typically know what specialty field they want to pursue. Students should make sure the school provides quality coursework in their desired specialty. Applicants may also want to compare programs to see which schools offer the best course options. MSN programs can address clinical placement differently. Schools may completely oversee clinical placement, while others allow students to find and secure their own clinical site and preceptor. The nursing field relies heavily on licensing, reputation, and credibility. Students need to make sure they only consider regionally or nationally accredited programs to qualify for licensure after graduation. MSN programs offer multiple formats to meet student needs. While learners can often earn their degree in as little as 15 months with full-time attendance, part-time students may take up to four years to earn their degree. Examining a school's NCLEX pass rates can help students determine how well each program prepares graduates. Students should consider schools that exceed the national average pass rate, which is currently 83.75% for U.S. educated students. School graduation rates can indicate how successfully programs prepare and support their students throughout their educational journey. Students may want to conduct further research on programs that refuse to provide this information.

Applying to a Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Program

Direct-entry MSN programs provide an expedited pathway to launching a student's career in the nursing field as an advanced practitioner. These programs rely heavily on clinical experiences.

The following overview addresses common admission requirements:

Admission Materials

Students should expect to provide proof of earning a bachelor's degree from a regionally or nationally accredited school, a resume, letters of recommendation, an entrance essay, GRE scores, and possibly an interview.

GPA Requirements

MSN programs often require a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Other Requirements

Applicants who earned their bachelor's degree outside of the U.S. may need to provide additional documentation to satisfy admission requirements.

Why Is Accreditation Important for a Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Program?

Accreditation is the process of evaluating colleges and universities to make sure they offer students a quality education. Independent agencies assess higher education programs and grant — or deny — accreditation status.

Students should be wary of schools or programs that are not accredited. Graduate schools accept students with accredited undergraduate degrees. Credits earned from an unaccredited school rarely transfer to other programs.

Accreditation has many benefits, such as:

  • Helping determine how successfully programs meet or exceed minimum standards of quality
  • Qualifying students for the NCLEX exam
  • Ensuring graduates can pursue DNP programs should they want to further their education
  • Helping students receive federal financial aid, whereas an unaccredited school may not qualify
  • Providing an incentive if employers consider where students earned their degree

To further distinguish themselves from other graduates, students may also want to consider programmatic accreditation through organizations, including the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Paying for Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs

While enrolling in a direct nursing MSN program is pivotal to aspiring nurses' success, students should also consider factors that affect the overall cost and ways to pay for their education. For instance, in-state tuition typically costs less than out-of-state tuition. Similarly, schools may charge a lower rate for online programs.

Students attending an accredited direct MSN program can access financial assistance by completing a free FAFSA form. Federal financial aid offers grants and loans. Students should note that while grants do not need to be repaid, loans require repayment beginning six months after graduation. Nursing students also qualify for multiple scholarships or grants often offered by their school or external organizations.

Learn More About the Top Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs and Schools

Frequently Asked Questions About Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs


How long are direct-entry MSN programs?

Students should note that a direct-entry MSN requires 18-36 months, depending on the program and enrollment status. For instance, part-time students should plan to double the average length of a program. Learners with relevant prior coursework or transferable credits may qualify to have certain course requirements waived.

What schools offer direct-entry MSN?

Students can access direct-entry MSN programs through many schools. Prospective learners should consider what learning format works best for their schedule. For instance, entirely online programs may offer direct-entry MSN coursework, while students interested in traditional classrooms may want to narrow their search by selecting institutions with a brick-and-mortar location.

Can you get a master's in nursing without experience?

Direct-entry MSN programs target students interested in jumpstarting their nursing career or students who would like to transition out of their current profession and enter the nursing field in an expedited format. Therefore, applicants do not need experience, as direct-entry MSN programs emphasize clinical coursework to provide students with enough experience to begin their careers.

Are direct-entry MSN programs competitive?

As the nursing field continues to expand, so does the demand for more highly qualified practitioners. As more students and transitioning professionals turn to nursing, schools look for the best candidates. This makes the admission process more competitive.

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