RN-to-MSN Degree Overview

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated May 7, 2024
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Looking to advance your nursing career by pursuing a graduate degree? Learn about RN-to-MSN bridge programs, including common admission requirements, specialties, and career options.
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Enrolling in an RN-to-MSN degree program allows nurses to advance their education and career without first completing a BSN degree.

An RN-to-MSN can qualify you for leadership, informatics, finance, or nursing administration roles. Other MSN specializations prepare you for advanced practice nursing roles or nursing education positions. Explore what to look for in an RN-to-MSN program, how to apply, and what to expect while in school.

Average Program Length

36 months

Average Credits Required

30-40 credits

Average Earning Potential


Source: Payscale

Popular Online MSN Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Why is Accreditation Important in RN-to-MSN programs?

Program accreditation ensures your education meets national quality standards set by accrediting bodies. State boards of nursing and certifying agencies require completion of an accredited nursing program to offer licensure or certification.

Accreditation also impacts your future educational and employment opportunities. You must have graduated from an accredited BSN or MSN program to apply and be accepted to a doctor of nursing Practice (DNP) program or apply for advanced nursing licensure. Employers require applicants to graduate from an accredited program because they see it as a commitment to quality, which opens the doors for future opportunities.

Two accrediting organizations evaluate MSN programs and are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as official accrediting agencies for nursing education.

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN): This organization was formerly known as the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). The organization focuses on all levels of nursing programs, from LPN to DNP.
  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): This agency accredits baccalaureate, graduate, and nurse residency programs in nursing. CCNE accreditation supports continuous self-assessment by the nursing program and the growth and improvement of collegiate, professional education, and nurse residency programs.

What to Look for in an RN-to-MSN Program

Selecting the right RN-to-MSN program can affect your professional development and career opportunities. Consider several key factors when choosing a nursing program, including its accreditation and whether it aligns with your career goals and schedule.

  • Accreditation: This ensures the program meets national quality standards and qualifies you for licensure and certification.
  • Specialization: RN-to-MSN programs offer specialties like nursing administration, nursing education, and advanced practice nursing, impacting your future job prospects and fulfillment.
  • Flexibility and format: Assess whether the teaching format fits your schedule and learning style, such as traditional in-person, online, or hybrid teaching options. Consider programs that offer part-time study options if you plan to continue working.
  • Faculty expertise and support: Programs with faculty who are recognized leaders in their field increase your networking opportunities. Programs should have strong support for students, including mentoring and advising.
  • Finances: The total cost includes financial aid options and forgiveness programs.
  • Student outcomes: The program’s graduation rate, job placement rate, and pass rate on certification examinations indicate the program’s strength.

How to Apply to an RN-to-MSN Program

To apply to an RN-to-MSN program, you need an active and current registered nurse RN license and a degree from an accredited nursing program. RN-to-MSN program prerequisites can vary depending on the school and MSN specialization, but common admission materials include:

  • checkOfficial transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA
  • checkAn active and unencumbered RN license
  • checkLetters of recommendation from professional or academic references
  • checkA personal statement or essay
  • checkA resume or curriculum vitae
  • checkPrograms may also require interviews or specific coursework as part of the admissions process

Explore More Master’s in Nursing Leadership Programs

What to Expect in an RN-to-MSN Degree

An RN-to-MSN program allows registered nurses to earn an MSN. This advanced degree broadens their clinical skills and knowledge in specialized areas such as education, leadership, or advanced clinical practice. These bridge programs prepare RNs for roles in management and specialized practitioner fields, equipping nurses with the skills for higher-level professional responsibilities.

Courses Taken

  • Evidence-based practice: Teaches the integration of research with clinical practice to improve outcomes
  • Healthcare policy: Examines the policies that affect healthcare systems and practices
  • Pathophysiology: Explores the biological and physiological processes that lead to disease
  • Nursing research: Focuses on methods and application of research in nursing practice
  • Advanced health assessment: Enhances the students’ skills in comprehensive patient assessment
  • Clinical specialty courses: Focuses on the student’s specialty, such as family nurse practitioner, nurse Educator, or nurse administrator.

Skills Learned

  • Clinical Assessment: Perform comprehensive and systematic patient assessments to identify complex health issues.
  • Critical Thinking and Clinical Decision-Making: Analyze complex clinical data and make informed decisions regarding patient care.
  • Health Education: Communicate with patients, families, and staff to improve health outcomes
  • Implementing Evidence-Based Practice: Integrate research into clinical practice
  • Leadership and Management: Manage healthcare teams and develop policies and quality improvement initiatives within healthcare settings

How Much Does an RN-to-MSN Degree Cost?

Tuition for an RN-to-MSN program can be expensive. Nursing school costs can range from $20,000 to $100,000 for private institutions, leaving you with student loans that may take a decade or more to pay off. However, there are several options to help you pay off your education or speed up the payments on student loans.

Find out if your current employer offers tuition reimbursement, often in exchange for a service commitment. Scholarships and grants are other choices, but there are more ways to help finance your MSN degree, which can lead to higher salaries, strong job opportunities, and career growth.

Careers with an MSN in Nursing Leadership and Administration

RN-to-MSN programs allow nurses to specialize in various nursing fields, such as nursing education, nursing administration, and advanced practice nursing. MSN students can explore many responsibilities and opportunities for advancement.

Potential roles with an MSN in leadership and administration include nursing administrator, chief nursing officer, director of nursing, and nurse educator. Each role is different, but some common responsibilities include policy-setting, strategic decisions, budget management, and improving quality care and safety within the healthcare organization.

An MSN degree opens the door to advancement opportunities. For example, specializing in informatics, policy, or compliance can lead to focussed leadership roles. Nurses with an MSN can advance their education and earn a doctorate, the terminal degree in nursing, which opens doors to high-level consultancy and academic positions. Advanced certifications improve credibility, employment opportunities, and qualifications for advanced positions.

Nurse Administrator

MSN required

A nursing administrator is crucial in coordinating nursing services, managing budgets and resource allocation, implementing policies, complying with laws and regulations, and ensuring high-quality patient care. They focus on strategic planning, staff development, and operational efficiency, working as bridge-builders between clinical staff and organizational leadership to meet healthcare goals.

Average Annual Salary: $96,000 (Payscale, Jan. 2024)

Nurse Practitioner

MSN required

These advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) assess and diagnose patients, order and interpret tests, prescribe medication, and develop treatment plans. Nurse practitioners specialize in several patient care areas, including family practice, pediatrics, geriatrics, and women’s health. Nurse practitioners focus on holistic patient care, emphasizing health promotion, disease prevention, and patient education. NPs may work independently or in collaboration with healthcare teams.

Median Annual Salary: $126,260 (BLS, May 2023)

Nurse Educator

MSN required

Nurse educators design, implement, and evaluate educational programs for nursing students and practicing nurses. Nurse educators work in academic settings, focusing on developing curriculum, teaching, and mentoring. They play a pivotal role in preparing the next generation of nurses and ensuring ongoing professional development.

Median Annual Salary: $80,780 (BLS, May 2023)

Frequently Asked Questions about RN-to-MSN Programs

Yes, nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program. This bridge program allows nurses to advance their education and open doors to new career opportunities without completing a full four-year BSN program before earning an MSN.

Page last reviewed May 4, 2024

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