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6 Questions You Should Ask When Choosing an MSN Program

NurseJournal Staff
Updated April 27, 2022
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    MSN program accreditation, cost, whether it's online, financial assistance and requirements are all topics you should be asking about when picking a school.
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    For nurses looking to advance their careers, the decision to enroll in a graduate program may feel like a big commitment. Completing a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree in nursing requires significant planning, resources, and time. For these reasons, it is critical that nursing students ensure they are choosing a nursing program that will meet their individual goals and needs.

    This guide outlines some of the most important questions to ask or look up online when considering different MSN or advanced practice registered nursing programs.

    The answers provided to these questions can help you feel more confident in your decision to enroll in a specific program.

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    1. What is the attrition rate for this program?

    The attrition rate tells you what percentage of students graduated from the program. This, combined with the board certification pass rate, is an excellent indicator of whether students are satisfied and successful with the program.

    Some attrition is normal, as students change career goals or leave for reasons unrelated to the program, but a high rate is cause for concern.

    Be sure to review the program’s website for this information. Some state boards of nursing, such as California, may publish this information for programs. If the school doesn’t post the information, you can ask directly.

    2. What is the first-time board certification pass rate or job placement rate for this program?

    Board certification and job placement rates, combined with the attrition rate, are valuable measures of how well the program prepares students to become nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and nurse leaders. These are some of the most important questions to ask before applying to an MSN program.

    The American Association of Nurse Practitioners posts board certification pass rates by specialty and education category, so you can compare schools. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing posts job placement rates for bachelor’s and MSN programs.

    In a small program, one student can have a disproportionate effect on the program’s results. If a smaller program you’re interested in has a lower pass or placement rate in the most recent year, look to see what the previous year’s rates were.

    3. What kind of financial assistance is available for students?

    Financial assistance for nurses is an important factor, though choosing a lower-quality program for the sake of financial aid may backfire. While important, it should not be the only question to ask nurse practitioner programs or MSN programs.

    Learn the following on the school’s website or by asking:

    • What percentage of students receive aid
    • What the typical aid package is
    • How much is available as a scholarship or grant and how much is a loan
    • Who is eligible for financial assistance

    If the best NP program for you doesn’t offer enough financial aid, you still have other sources for MSN scholarships. If you’re willing to work in an underserved area or work for the military, you can often get a full scholarship or loan forgiveness for nurses.

    4. What accreditation is held by this school and program?

    Nursing school accreditation status is one of the most important questions to ask a nurse practitioner program or an MSN program. The school’s website should post the information on its website. If it doesn’t, that might be a warning sign.

    The two major accrediting bodies are:

    • check-circleAccreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
    • check-circleCommission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

    From your perspective as a student, there is no difference between these. The CCNE accredits bachelor’s and master’s programs, while ACEN accredits all levels of nursing programs.

    You can check the status on the ACEN or CCNE sites to confirm the accreditation status and see when the program received accreditation. If it received accreditation only recently (and is not a new program) or there are any accreditation stipulations, these may be warning signs.

    5. What is the clinical experience for this program? Is clinical placement support offered?

    Clinical experience is a requirement and one of your biggest learning and networking opportunities. Some of the most important questions to ask nurse practitioner programs and MSN programs are about clinical experience.

    Some schools provide direct placement. This means that while you have limited choices, you don’t have to worry about finding and applying for placement. Other schools require you to apply, which means you have more flexibility but also more stress.

    If you’re attending an online program, be sure to ask if you can get a clinical placement as an online nursing student in your community if the school assigns placement.

    Also, check with potential clinical placement facilities if they have a contract with the school. Some of the smaller schools do not, and this would need to be secured.

    6. What learning formats are supported for this program?

    The right program format for you depends on the kind of program you want to attend, your learning style, where you live and where your dream school is located, and your existing responsibilities.

    The pros and cons include:

    • On-campus pros: Easier to meet and network with fellow students, access to on-campus facilities such as libraries and physical offices
    • On-campus cons: Travel and transportation costs and logistics, staying home if you’re sick
    • Virtual pros: Easiest to attend, no need to pay for travel or transportation
    • Virtual cons: Can be harder to stay attentive during classes, need to have reliable internet connection, possible distractions at home, more challenging to professionally network in nursing
    • Hybrid pros: Some in-person networking and access to physical campus facilities
    • Hybrid cons: Still have some logistics and costs with attending on-campus classes or onboarding

    Finding an MSN Program That Works for You

    While these make up just some of the many important questions to ask MSN programs, choosing the right MSN/NP program also means understanding your own individual needs and goals.

    Consider talking to graduates about their experience and asking mentors and colleagues about how they perceive the schools you’re considering. This, plus thorough research, will help you find and apply for the best program for you.

    Page last reviewed March 17, 2022

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