4 Types Of Masters Degrees In Nursing

By: NurseJournal.org Staff
Last Updated: December 2019

Masters Degrees In Nursing

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses are in high demand. In fact, the BLS projects 12% job growth for RNs -- a rate much faster than average -- by 2028. However, advanced practice RNs (APRNs) can expect higher demand. The projected job growth for nurse practitioners and other APRNs currently sits at 26%. Nurse practitioners also benefit from much higher salaries. While the average RN earns under $72,000 a year, the BLS reports that APRNs earn nearly $114,000 on average.

Nurses can pursue advanced practice roles by earning an MSN degree. With specialization options for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists, an MSN program offers a variety of career options to nurses. Compared to RNs, nurses with an MSN operate with greater independence and take on more responsibility.

This page introduces the four types of nursing master's degrees -- RN-to-MSN, BSN-to-MSN, ADN-to-MSN, and ASN-to-MSN -- that help nurses advance their careers.

MSN Degree Types:

Master of Science in Nursing

An MSN helps nurses advance their careers and increase their earning potential. During an MSN program, nursing students build valuable clinical skills while completing core nursing classes and specialization coursework. Common MSN classes include advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology, and nursing research. Within a specialization, MSN students complete additional coursework and clinical hours to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or another advanced practice registered nurse.

Completion times for MSN degrees can be as short as 12 months or as long as several years, depending on each nurse's prior degrees and enrollment schedule. What can you do with a master's degree in nursing? Nurses with MSNs work in advanced practice roles, taking on increased responsibility. The degree prepares nurses for several certifications and licenses, including board certification for nurse practitioners.


During an MSN degree, nursing students can specialize in areas like midwifery, gerontology, or orthopedics. MSN students complete coursework and clinical hours in their specialization, preparing for advanced practice roles in healthcare. Learn more about nursing specializations and top online nursing programs.

  • Gerontology

    A gerontology specialization focuses on the aging process and medical conditions related to aging. Students build skills in health assessment focused on elderly patients.

  • Midwifery

    Midwifery students learn about reproductive healthcare and prenatal care. They also learn to deliver babies and provide postpartum care to new mothers.

  • Nurse Anesthetist

    The nurse anesthetist specialization trains students to administer anesthesia to patients and monitor their vital signs during a surgical procedure.

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

    The neonatal nurse practitioner specialization focuses on caring for premature newborns in the NICU and for newborns with medical conditions like congenital heart defects.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    In a family nurse practitioner specialization, students learn to provide primary care for children and adults. The specialization requires strong family care skills.

  • Orthopedics

    An orthopedics specialization focuses on muscular and bone disorders, including medical problems that require surgical treatment. Orthopedic nurse practitioners conduct physical exams and prescribe treatments.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    The psychiatric nurse practitioner specialization trains MSN students to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can prescribe medication for patients.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist

    A clinical nurse specialist track prepares students to diagnose and treat chronic and acute medical conditions. They can act as a primary care provider for patients.

Online MSN Programs

An online MSN program appeals to working nurses who want a flexible route to career advancement. In an online program, nurses arrange coursework around their professional responsibilities, meaning nurses can continue working while earning a degree.

Online programs offer flexible options like asynchronous classes with no set login times. Working nurses often struggle to attend set class times because of their varying schedules. Furthermore, rather than remaining limited to local nursing schools, as with a traditional program, online students enroll in top programs across the country without relocating.

Types of Online Master's Degrees in Nursing

Nurses considering online master's degrees in nursing can choose from several types of programs. The best MSN program depends on the nurse's current education level and desired career path. For example, RNs can choose an RN-to-MSN program to earn a master's degree without a BSN. Nurses with a BSN can enter BSN-to-MSN programs.

MSN completion times vary depending on the program. Most programs for nurses with an associate degree take around three years to complete, while a BSN-to-MSN program usually takes two years. Nurses with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field can also choose a direct entry MSN program to earn an MSN without first completing a BSN.

RN-to-MSN Programs

Nurses with an RN license can complete their MSN in two years by enrolling in an RN-to-MSN program. Designed for nurses with an associate degree or a diploma in nursing, RN-to-MSN programs provide a fast track to advanced practice nursing careers. Applicants must meet educational requirements, typically an associate degree in nursing, and meet the program's GPA minimum for admission. Many programs also ask for letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume, while some require test scores.

During an RN-to-MSN program, nursing students complete BSN-level coursework to qualify for the MSN program. After meeting the coursework requirements, nursing students choose an MSN specialization and take graduate-level classes in their field. MSN students must also meet clinical requirements, usually 200 clinical hours in their specialization, to build hands-on experience.

Nursing students often continue working while earning their RN-to-MSN online. Many programs offer flexible scheduling options designed for working nurses. Students can often choose between full-time, part-time, or accelerated enrollment options. The best online RN-to-MSN programs offer a variety of specialization and enrollment options to meet the needs of nursing students and train nurses for advanced practice roles.

BSN-to-MSN Programs

An online BSN-to-MSN appeals to nurses seeking career advancement who prefer the flexibility of an online learning format. Applicants to BSN-to-MSN programs must hold a current, valid RN license, provide proof of a bachelor of science in nursing, and meet the program's GPA minimum. Many programs also ask for letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose. After entering the MSN program, nursing students complete coursework in their specialization and meet clinical requirements.

Nursing students in a BSN-to-MSN program take classes in advanced health assessment, patient care, and evidence-based practice. Students also choose an MSN specialization, such as midwifery, anesthesiology, or gerontology. Many MSN programs also offer tracks for nurse practitioners. Most programs require at least 200 clinical hours, with some nurse practitioner programs requiring over 600 hours.

The online learning format helps working nurses complete a degree on their schedule. Nursing students choose between part- or full-time enrollment to fit their schedule, and many programs do not require set login times to complete coursework. Online nursing students can often complete clinical requirements at their current workplace. Accelerated programs let nurses with a BSN earn their MSN within 12 months.

ADN-to-MSN Programs

A growing number of nursing schools offer online ADN-to-MSN programs for nurses with an associate degree in nursing. These programs, often called RN-to-MSN programs, require a current, unencumbered RN license to gain admission. Applicants also provide proof of an ADN degree that meets the program's minimum GPA requirement. During the application process, some ADN-to-MSN programs ask for test scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

During an ADN-to-MSN program, nursing students complete curriculum and clinical requirements. Most programs begin with undergraduate-level coursework, and some grant a BSN to nursing students as they complete the MSN prerequisites. Once students enter the MSN program, they choose a specialization and complete graduate-level coursework. MSN programs also include clinical hours to build the skills required for advanced practice roles.

Students who choose an online ADN-to-MSN program often continue working as nurses while earning their degree. Online programs offer flexible options, including asynchronous classes that do not require set class meeting times, to meet the variable schedule of working nurses. Nursing students also choose between full-time, part-time, or accelerated schedules, depending on their workload and how long they want to spend in the MSN program.

ASN-to-MSN Programs

Nurses with an associate of science in nursing and an RN license qualify for ASN-to-MSN programs. Most programs that offer an RN-to-MSN program admit nurses with any type of associate degree in nursing, including the ASN. The typical admission requirements for an ASN-to-MSN program include a current, unencumbered RN license, an associate degree in nursing, and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some programs also require test scores, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, or a resume.

During an ASN-to-MSN program, nursing students often begin with BSN-level coursework. In many programs, students spend a year or more completing undergraduate prerequisite requirements for the MSN. Some programs grant a BSN along the way. After meeting the MSN requirements, students choose an MSN specialization and take graduate-level courses. Programs also incorporate clinical requirements to build professional skills.

Nurses who choose an online ASN-to-MSN program often continue working while earning their degree. Many programs offer flexible schedules, including asynchronous courses with no set login times. Nursing students can choose a full- or part-time option, depending on the program. Some programs also offer accelerated options, in which nurses with an ASN complete their MSN within two years.

What Can You Do With an MSN?

An MSN prepares nurses for several advanced practice roles, which bring higher salaries and greater responsibility. For example, nurse practitioners must hold an MSN, which qualifies them to prescribe medication and act as a primary care provider. The following jobs with a master's degree in nursing represent options for nurses who pursue a graduate degree.

  • Nurse Practitioner

    Nurse practitioners act as primary care providers. They diagnose and treat patients of all ages, often specializing in areas like family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, or acute care nurse practitioner. They work in doctor's offices, hospitals, and clinics. As APRNs, all nurse practitioners hold an MSN or higher.

  • Nurse Anesthetist

    Nurse anesthetists treat patients undergoing anesthesia for a surgical procedure or another medical procedure. They interview patients beforehand to determine the best anesthesia, monitor the vital signs of patients during a procedure, and evaluate patients after receiving anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists must hold at least a master's degree, and most work in hospitals, surgical centers, and other clinical settings.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Psychiatric nurse practitioners treat patients struggling with mental health or psychiatric disorders. They diagnose mental health conditions, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medication for patients. Psychiatric nurse practitioners complete a master's degree, and many work in hospitals or clinical settings.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    Family nurse practitioners care for patients from childhood through adulthood and old age, offering primary care services. They treat chronic and acute medical problems, provide wellness screenings, treat medical conditions, and prescribe medication. Many family nurse practitioners work in physician's offices.

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

    Acute care nurse practitioners treat medical conditions that require immediate attention. They determine the medical needs of each patient, including treatment required to stabilize the patient. Acute care nurse practitioners work in hospitals, emergency rooms, and urgent care clinics.

  • Nurse Midwife

    Nurse midwives provide women's healthcare and reproductive care to patients, including prenatal care. They train to deliver babies and assist surgeons in cesarean sections. Nurse midwives must hold a master's degree. They work in doctor's offices, private practice, or hospitals.

Master's in Nursing Careers Salaries by Experience
  Entry Level
0-12 Months
Early Career
1-4 Years
Mid Career
5-9 Years
10-19 Years
Nurse Practitioner $87,791 $91,598 $96,958 $100,724
Nurse Anesthetist $129,979 $137,637 $149,719 $161,144
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $96,843 $100,237 $106,816 $112,722
Family Nurse Practitioner $88,847 $92,510 $97,562 $98,652
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner $94,639 $98,001 $105,924 $110,017
Nurse Midwife $88,028 $90,634 $96,875 $91,451