RN-to-MSN Degree Overview
Licensed registered nurses (RNs) who do not hold a bachelor's degree can earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) by completing an RN-to-MSN program. Bridge programs build on skills cultivated in the field, allowing RNs to earn an advanced degree more quickly than traditional bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or MSN programs. An advanced nursing degree provides significant career growth opportunities, including access to advanced nursing roles that offer increased responsibility, independence, and earning potential.
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Steps to Completing an RN-to-MSN Program
Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
Obtain RN licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN.
Complete RN-to-MSN admission requirements.
Apply to an RN-to-MSN program.
Attend RN-to-MSN classes.
Graduate with an MSN degree.
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Admission Requirements for an RN-to-MSN Program
Admission requirements for RN-to-MSN programs vary by school and each applicant's previous educational experience. However, common requirements typically include the following:
- Degree: RN-to-MSN programs require an ADN or diploma in nursing.
- Licensure: Applicants need an active RN license and 1-2 years of clinical nursing experience.
- Transcript with a minimum GPA: Most schools require a minimum GPA ranging from 2.75 to 3.25.
- Test scores: Some programs require applicants to submit GRE scores.
- Other application materials: Expect to submit 2-3 personal recommendations, a resume or CV, and a personal statement tailored to the specific program.
- Additional requirements: Some schools require an interview.
Once admitted, completing an RN-to-MSN degree takes about three years for most nurses.
Core Concepts of an RN-to-MSN Program
RN-to-MSN programs often include undergraduate general education courses, core coursework at both the BSN and MSN levels, and hands-on clinical hours. At the undergraduate level, prepare to take general education courses in various areas including:
- Academic writing/composition
- Anatomy and physiology
Core requirements may vary based on the coursework already completed at the associate level, and some programs may also accept transfer credits for core classes. Bachelor's level nursing coursework for the RN-to-MSN may include:
- Clinical theory and study
- Community health
- Leadership and management
- Health assessment
Upon completion of BSN-level courses, students move on to specialized master's level coursework. In addition to advanced coursework in leadership, ethics, pharmacology, health assessment, and research, MSN coursework will focus on specific issues and practices in the student's chosen specialization.
Clinical and Lab Components in an RN-to-MSN Program
Accredited RN-to-MSN programs that prepare nurses for advanced practice roles must include a clinical component that meets or exceeds the required hours for national certification organizations and state licensing boards. Both the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board require at least 500 hours of supervised clinical experience to qualify for the certification exam. MSN degrees in leadership and education also require clinical hours.
What to Expect From an Online RN-to-MSN Program
Online RN-to-MSN programs offer flexible schedules for busy nurses balancing their work, family, and educational responsibilities. Students complete most of the didactic components of the coursework, such as lectures and discussions, online. Labs and clinical experiences take place on campus or at a local healthcare facility. Most nurses complete their clinical rotations at the hospital where they already work, with a colleague serving as a preceptor.
Courses are often offered asynchronously, allowing nurses to complete their education on their own schedules. Online students have access to many of the same resources as on-campus students, including counseling, tutoring, and advising.
Is an RN-to-MSN Right for Me?
As with any degree program, there are pros and cons to seeking an RN-to-MSN. Although most employers prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree, holding an MSN can benefit a nursing career by improving an RN's skill set and increasing eligibility for high-paying positions.
Advantages of an RN-to-MSN Program
- Prepares nurses for a range of career options
- Support often provided by employers for bridge programs, including financial incentives
- Provides specialized knowledge for those who wish to focus on a specific track
Disadvantages of an RN-to-MSN Program
- Takes longer to complete than an RN-to-BSN program
- More expensive than an RN-to-BSN program
- Will need to complete additional training if interests and goals change
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an RN and MSN?An RN is an entry-level license that allows one to practice nursing. An MSN is a master of science in nursing. Although it is possible to become an RN with an associate degree or diploma in nursing, employers are shifting toward a preference for BSN-holders, and in some cases, for nursing professionals with graduate education. Advanced practice nursing, for instance, requires an MSN.
Is it better to complete an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program?RN-to-BSN programs help develop clinical experience, while RN-to-MSN programs offer a research-based focus on leadership skills and best practices. Because they are specialized, if the goal is to become an NP or APRN, an RN-to-MSN may be the better choice as it presents a faster route to those opportunities. If an individual is unclear about where to focus or specialize, a BSN program may be the right choice since RN-to-MSN programs take longer and are more expensive than RN-to-BSN programs.
Does an RN-to-MSN program award graduates with a BSN?Some RN-to-MSN programs award graduates with both a BSN and MSN. RN-to-MSN programs are designed for nurses with an RN license who hold either an associate degree in nursing or a diploma in nursing. The curriculum is front-loaded with bachelor's level coursework not included in associate degree programs, which a nurse who holds a BSN will likely have already completed.
Do MSN graduates receive higher salaries than BSN graduates?Earning an MSN can significantly increase earning potential. According to the BLS, the median salary for an RN is $75,330. A nurse practitioner earns a median of $111,680 with some specialties earning even higher pay.
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Brandy Gleason is a nursing professional with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.
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