Direct Entry Masters in Nursing (MSN)

Direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs can help practicing registered nurses qualify for advanced positions and first-time nursing students enter the field. Direct-entry MSN programs allow nurses without a BSN and non-nurses to earn their master’s in a shorter amount of time. Many four-year colleges and universities offer these programs online.

Applicants to direct-entry MSN programs do not need a bachelor’s in nursing. These programs typically confer a BSN and MSN, and graduates can immediately pursue advanced nursing positions. Direct-entry programs simplify the process of launching a nursing career for professionals from other fields. This guide provides information about direct-entry programs, including admission requirements and common courses.

Advantages of Direct-Entry MSN Programs

Applicants to direct-entry MSN programs can hold a bachelor’s degree in any area. Students in these programs earn a BSN and MSN in about the same amount of time typically required to complete a bachelor’s program. Students with some experience in the medical field often graduate in 3-4 years while studying part time.

Direct-entry programs often cost less than a student would pay to earn their BSN and MSN separately. For individuals interested in direct-entry nurse practitioner programs for non-nurses, online options can benefit working professionals with busy schedules.

Direct-Entry MSN Requirements

Admission requirements for direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs vary by program. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Some programs require or prefer bachelor’s degrees in a field related to nursing or healthcare, while other programs accept bachelor’s degrees in any major.

Each student’s academic background impacts how many prerequisite courses they take early in the program. For example, students with no nursing background may need to complete foundational coursework in anatomy, chemistry, and biology. Some programs also require prerequisite courses in nutrition, psychology, and statistics. Many programs build these prerequisite courses into the program’s curriculum, rather than requiring them prior to admission, while others include these prerequisites in admission requirements.

Although required materials vary by program, applicants must often submit letters of recommendation, a written statement detailing their professional goals, and recent GRE scores.

Direct-Entry MSN Curriculum

Coursework in direct-entry MSN programs generally includes classes in healthcare policy and leadership, as well as fundamental topics such as nursing informatics and health assessment. Although each school has a unique curriculum, direct-entry MSN programs typically offer the courses below.

  • Health Assessment: This course can be a prerequisite foundational course, or may cover more advanced topics in health assessment. Students explore the value of detailed comprehensive physical exams and medical histories throughout the lifespan. Students also learn to assess various body systems.
  • Pathophysiology: This course examines processes involved in disease and injury diagnosis and treatment. MSN programs emphasize critical thinking and generally take an advanced generalist approach. Students consider applications of pathophysiological concepts to advanced and critical care nursing practice.
  • Pharmacology: This course emphasizes the application of research to the field of pharmacology. Students learn about pharmacokinetics (how drugs move within the body) and pharmacodynamics (how drugs function within the body). Students then discuss the implications of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics within the field.
  • Psychiatric Nursing: Students learn about methods to manage mental illnesses, including the application of pharmacology to treat symptoms. Students explore research in psychiatric nursing and analyze practical applications for that data. They also examine implications for practice across the lifespan and within communities.
  • Nursing Management: This course examines ethical, cultural, physiological, and psychological aspects of nursing case management. Students discuss and explore concepts in advanced nursing practice, including managing nursing teams and departments. The course emphasizes interdepartmental and interprofessional collaboration with other medical professionals.

Direct-Entry MSN Careers

Graduates of direct-entry MSN programs often secure advanced nursing positions. They may work in hospitals as charge nurses managing teams of nurses within a department, or they may work in private practices assisting licensed physicians. Advanced nurses often work long shifts and spend a great deal of time on their feet. Most nursing professions require continuing education to keep up with advances in practice and technology.


Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners work alongside licensed physicians, often completing many of the same tasks as the doctors they assist. These nurses can diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and conduct examinations.


Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery. They monitor patients while under anesthesia, and they care for patients before and after the operation. They must hold an MSN and pass a certification exam.


Certified Nurse Midwife

MSN holders can earn a certification in midwifery and assist in labor and delivery, as well as other female wellness procedures. These nurses often work alongside obstetricians and OB-GYN physicians.


Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

These professionals perform the functions of a typical nurse practitioner while working in the field of psychiatric care. They monitor and treat patients dealing with mental illnesses and disabilities. Students can enroll in direct-entry psychiatric nurse practitioner programs online or on campus to prepare for this career.


Nurse Educator

Practicing nurses with an MSN can also work as educators. These professionals assist in nursing preparation programs by teaching continuing education classes and other nursing courses.


Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Careers Salaries by Experience

Specialization Entry Level
(0-5 Years)
Mid-Career
(5-10 Years)
Experienced
(10-20 Years)
Late Career
(20+ years)
Nurse Practitioner $90,000 $97,000 $101,000 $105,000
Certified Registered
Nurse Anesthetist
$133,000 $149,000 $157,000 $167,000
Certified Nurse Midwife $85,000 $91,000 $100,000 $104,000
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $97,000 $106,000 $109,000 $115,000
Nurse Educator $67,000 $69,000 $75,000 $80,000

Source: PayScale

Online Direct-Entry MSN Programs


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Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing

Founded in 1889 alongside the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the School of Nursing began awarding graduate degrees in 1987. Today Johns Hopkins holds U.S. News & World Report’s number one ranking for online nursing education. In 2016, the university launched its direct-entry MSN program, allowing students from outside fields to earn an advanced nursing degree without a prerequisite BSN.

This unique program requires students to enroll full time. Applicants must complete prerequisite courses in areas like anatomy, microbiology, and physiology prior to beginning the program. For admission, applicants must also submit three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and two separate personal essays. The program requires five semesters of full-time enrollment.

Johns Hopkins University holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on HIgher Education. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education provides programmatic accreditation for the MSN.


Marquette University

Originally founded as a liberal arts college in 1881, Marquette University serves thousands of students online and on their home campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Catholic Jesuit university offers 68 doctoral and master’s degree options, including a direct-entry nurse practitioner program for non-nurses online. The accelerated MSN program, hosted in the Marquette College of Nursing, blends online courses and in-person lab experiences to prepare graduates for thriving careers in nursing.

The direct-entry nursing program at Marquette provides students with an on-campus clinical lab to practice nursing skills prior to sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam. The program requires 75 credit hours to complete, which includes over 1,000 hours of clinical practice hours. Students complete some coursework asynchronously online. Many students complete the program in 19-21 months of full-time study.

Marquette University holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. The MSN program holds programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.


Vanderbilt University

With a home campus in the heart of Nashville, the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt University opened in 1908, and launched its MSN program in 1955. Now serving more than 800 students in the School of Nursing alone, Vanderbilt boasts a student body of over 12,000, with students earning degrees online and at its sprawling downtown campus.

Vanderbilt offers students with a BSN the option to directly enter their MSN program to earn their graduate degree. Students in this MSN program may also directly enter the DNP program upon earning their master’s. Students can complete the 40-credit program in three semesters of full-time enrollment and potentially graduate within one year. Online students complete coursework both synchronously and asynchronously, which includes participation in class discussions and submitting video presentations.

Vanderbilt University holds regional accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.


University of Rochester

Founded more than 90 years ago, The University of Rochester School of Nursing now offers several graduate programs, including a direct-entry psychiatric nurse practitioner program online. The university serves students online and at its home campus in Rochester, NY. Students in the School of Nursing can complete their program fully online or as a hybrid, while graduate degrees are available in clinical nurse leadership, nursing education, and other speciality areas.

Most graduate nursing programs at the University of Rochester require a BSN prior to admission. However, the university also offers online prerequisite courses that students can complete at their own pace in order to meet admissions requirements. Admitted students may complete the core courses for the nurse practitioner programs at Rochester completely online. Rochester also offers a distance learning option for their Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

The University of Rochester is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the nursing school holds programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.


MGH Institute of Health Professions

Opened in 1977, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions now serves a student body of over 1,500 students in the greater Boston area and online. MGH Institute students have the unique opportunity of learning and working alongside licensed medical professionals in authentic healthcare settings. Available degrees include nursing, physical therapy, genetic counseling, and physician assistant studies, among others.

The Institute offers a direct-entry online nurse practitioner program for professionals from non-nursing backgrounds. The three-year program includes on-campus clinical and lab work in unique healthcare settings to give students hands-on learning opportunities. Students from backgrounds other than nursing can complete prerequisite requirements online prior to admission. This includes foundational courses in anatomy, biology, and nutrition. The MSN program also offers students seven specialization options.

MGH Institute of Health Professions holds regional accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education. The MSN program holds additional programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.