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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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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
Clinical skills, how to assess and diagnose patients, pharmacology theory and practice, and patient communication skills.

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Featured Online Programs

Featured MSN Specialties

msn Required
High Demand

Certified Nurse Midwife

Certified nurse midwives provide healthcare focused on women and families, including gynecology and obstetrics, prenatal care, labor and delivery assistance, and services related to family planning and sexual health.
Salary $111,130*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Certified Nurse Midwives
msn Required
High Demand

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide advanced nursing care to patients. Depending on where they practice, FNPs conduct assessments, make diagnoses, and manage health conditions. They work closely with physicians, and most can order diagnostic tests and prescribe medication.
Salary $111,680*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners
msn Required
High Demand

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners specialize in the care and treatment of children from birth through adolescence. Often, they fill the role of primary care provider for families.
Salary $91,020*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
msn Required
High Demand

Geriatric Nurse Practitioner

Geriatric nurse practitioners provide care to elderly individuals, including conducting exams, diagnosing conditions, and developing care plans. They may operate as a primary healthcare provider, or work in home care, hospice, senior living, or hospital settings.
Salary $111,680*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Geriatric Nurse Practitioners
msn Required
High Demand

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia during a wide range of procedures, including monitoring and adjusting anesthetic doses during procedures. They also provide care before, during, and after the patient receives anesthesia.
Salary $183,580*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Family Nurse Anesthetists
msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators use their advanced experience to train current and future nurses, either in an academic or clinical setting. They help design and evaluate nursing curricula and implement new research and best practices into training programs.
Salary $76,740*
Job Outlook 9% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Nurse Educators
*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Much Can I Make With a Master's Degree in Nursing?


$43.82*
Hourly Salary

$7,970*
Monthly Salary

$95,650*
Annual Salary

*SOURCE: PayScale.com


Learn More About MSN Salaries and Careers

Steps to Completing an RN-to-MSN Program

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
Attend classes and complete the requirements as directed by your ADN program.
Obtain RN licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN.
Candidates must apply to the nursing regulatory body in the state where they wish to be licensed. After authorization, register to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Prepare and study before taking the exam.
Complete RN-to-MSN admission requirements.
Application requirements include a current RN license, 1-2 years of clinical experience, a minimum GPA, a personal essay, and personal recommendations.
Apply to an RN-to-MSN program.
Secure recommendations and request transcripts well before application deadlines. Apply according to your program’s instructions. Depending on the chosen area of specialization, application deadlines may vary. Some schools offer rolling admission.
Attend RN-to-MSN classes.
Attend classes according to your program’s requirements and specialization. You will also complete hands-on clinical hours to put your knowledge to work.
Graduate with an MSN degree.
Congratulations! You have completed your coursework and graduated with an MSN. Now you can move forward with the certification and credentialing process for advanced practice.

Types of Master's Degrees in Nursing

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
  • Psychology
  • Microbiology
  • 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
  • Pharmacology
  • 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. Explore our ranking of affordable rn-to-msn programs online.

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.

Explore MSN Programs

Reviewed by:

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.

Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.


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