The field of nursing is growing and changing. Nurses have worked hard over decades to create high professional and educational standards. Choosing to earn a graduate degree in nursing is a great choice.

The Master's of Science degree in Nursing, or MSN, creates opportunity for working registered nurses and for those who have never working in healthcare at all. MSN educated nurses are among the highest paid in the field and are in a position to influence patient care in a whole new way.

MSN Degree Programs

Across the county more than 2,000 graduate programs exist from more than 500 nursing schools. With so many options there is a good program for every student. The current trend for APRN programs is to combine the MSN and DNP programs so that graduates will earn a Doctorate degree in addition to the Master's degree. This is not true for every program and is not required at this time to begin practicing.

MSN degree programs include:

  • Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN
  • RN to MSN Bridge Program
  • BSN to MSN degree program
  • Online BSN to MSN degree program
  • Dual Master's degree
    • MSN/MBA
    • MSN/MHA
    • MSN/MPA

Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN

The Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN program is available to students with a non-nursing Bachelor's or graduate degree. These programs assume general education requirements have been met and do not require repeating those courses. This program is for those without a degree in nursing.

For APRN programs, upon completion of the first year, students will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam which allows licensure and is a requirement to begin working as a RN. However most programs are much too time-consuming to balance both work and school so working is not recommended.

This course is typically 60-75 credit hours and requires clinical hours. Clinical hours are required to become licensed as a RN by the State and consist of one-on-one healthcare experience with an instructor.

Direct Entry or Accelerated MSN Tuition

Tuition varies greatly by school but typically is about $500-1000 per credit hour. Generally the requirement is 60-75 credit hours.

RN to MSN Bridge Program

For current RNs with an Associate's degree or diploma the RN to MSN bridge program is a convenient option. These programs are less common than BSN or Bachelor's to MSN programs but some schools do offer them.

For students with an Associate's degree many schools offer programs with as little as 51 credit hours.

RN to MSN Bridge Program Tuition

Credit hour cost varies considerably. Some programs offer a difference between lower level and bridge courses while others have a flat fee for every course. Courses range from $500-1000 per credit hour.

BSN to MSN Online Degree Program

For working RNs with a Bachelor's who want to advance to a higher level of education a bridge program is popular. The BSN to MSN program is available from many schools as in-classroom, online, and a combination of both formats.

Clinical hours are required for APRN roles because these require state licensure. Preceptor hours are not necessarily required by the State for indirect patient care specialties even though most schools will require them.

Online BSN to MSN program

For many BSN to MSN programs courses are offered 100% online. Clinical hours or preceptor hours are in-person and often required. The State requires clinical hours for APRN specialties which require state licensure. Many schools require preceptor hours so the student can gain "real world" experience even if the specialty does not require state licensure to practice. Many online schools require the student to arrange clinical or preceptor hours independently in his/her hometown.

Popular online MSN programs include:

  • Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner

With a Bachelor's degree many online schools offer MSN programs with as little as 36 credit hours.

BSN to MSN degree program Tuition

Tuition for the BSN to MSN program is similar to that of the RN to MSN program which is $500-1000 per credit hour.

Dual Master's degree

For many graduate study specialties a dual Master's degree is beneficial to be competitive in today's job market.

Dual Master's degree programs in nursing include:

  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Business Administration (MSN/MBA)
  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Health Administration (MSN/MHA)
  • Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Public Administration (MSN/MPA)

MSN/MBA

This program is designed for nurses who want to be Chief Nursing Officers (CNO), Director of Nursing, nurse manager, or nurse executive. Graduates may work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, long term care facilities, outpatient settings, and others. To uphold or gain the ANCC's Magnet status nurse managers in hospitals are required to hold a MSN degree.

Grand Canyon State University has a relatively short MBA and MSN in Nursing Leadership and Healthcare Systems.

This dual Master's program is 18 credit hours and offers 5 week courses. The 6 required courses are:

  • NRS-430V: Professional Dynamics
  • NRS-434V: Health Assessment
  • HLT-362V: Applied Statistics for Health Care Professionals
  • NRS-433V: Introduction to Nursing Research
  • NRS-427V: Concepts in Community and Public Health
  • NRS-410V: Pathophysiology and Nursing Management of Clients' Health

Be sure to choose an accredited school. This ensures credits will be accepted by other schools as well as providing a quality education. Grand Canyon State University is accredited regionally by the Higher Learning Commission, Accreditation Council Business Schools and Programs, Arizona State Board of Education, Arizona Department of Education, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education.

MSN/MHA

Master's of Science in Nursing/Master of Healthcare Administration is designed for nurses who want to be a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), or other healthcare administrator. Working on the administrative side of healthcare settings such as hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, long term care facilities, and outpatient settings.

University of Phoenix offers an online program and is accredited by the CCNE which allows the graduate to take the ANCC certification exam.

Coursework includes finance, healthcare policy, and healthcare informatics. Required credit hours is based on location.

MSN/MPA

The Master's of Science in Nursing/Master's of Public Administration is designed for nurses who want to be administrators and work in leadership roles. Educational focus is around budgeting, human resources, healthcare policy, and management.

Binghampton University in New York is accredited by the CCNE which allows for ANCC certification exam eligibility. This program is a 68-credit hour program, usually 3 years full-time.

Dual Master's degree tuition

Credit hours for the dual Master's programs range from 18-60. Tuition is usually per credit hour but may be a flat rate. Financial aid is available from accredited schools.

  • Requirements for MSN Degree
  • Cumulative GPA 3.0
  • Negative drug screen
  • BLS CPR Certification
  • Negative background check
  • Completion of Bachelor's or Associate's degree from accredited school, where applicable
  • Many schools, but not all, require taking the GRE exam

MSN Degree Curriculum

MSN curriculum can be very different depending on which specialty is chosen. APRN roles provide direct patient care so they have a curriculum which teaches the nurse to be a direct patient care provider. Learn more about APRN roles.

APRN classes may include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Advanced Practice Geriatric, Pediatric, Adult, and Newborn Nursing
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Research
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Public Health

Nurse specialties which are not APRN specialties include several different classes that are part of the curriculum and vary by specialty. Classes for these specialties may include:

  • Healthcare policy
  • Technology in nursing
  • Community health applications

Exam and Licensing

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA). They are the authority on nursing certifications.

"ANCC's Certification Program enables nurses to demonstrate their specialty expertise and validate their knowledge to employers and patients. Through targeted exams that incorporate the latest nursing-practice standards, ANCC certification empowers nurses with pride and professional satisfaction."

After graduation APRN's are required to take the appropriate certification exam to be eligible for state licensure. Graduate's of non-APRN degree programs are necessarily required to take the exam but it is highly recommended to be competitive.

From the ANCC website, available certifications are (some are "retired"):

  • Nurse Practitioner Certifications
    • Acute Care NP
    • Adult Nurse NP
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP
    • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health NP
    • Family NP
    • Gerontological NP
    • Pediatric Primary Care NP
    • Psychiatric-Mental Health NP
    • School NP
    • Diabetes Management-Advanced
    • Emergency NP
    • Read more about NP specialties.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist Certifications
    • Adult Health CNS
    • Adult-Gerontology CNS
    • Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS
    • Child/Adolescent Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS
    • Gerontological CNS
    • Home Health CNS
    • Pediatric CNS
    • Public/Community Health CNS
    • CNS Core
    • Diabetes Management-Advanced
    • Read more about CNS
  • Specialty Certifications (non-APRN certifications and not necessarily MSN certifications)
    • Ambulatory Care Nursing
    • Cardiac Rehabilitation Nursing
    • Cardiac-Vascular Nursing
    • Certified Vascular Nursing
    • College Health Nursing
    • Community Health Nursing
    • Diabetes Management-Advanced
    • Faith Community Nursing
    • Forensic Nursing-Advanced
    • General Nursing Practice
    • Genetics Nursing-Advanced
    • Gerontological Nursing
    • Hemostasis Nursing
    • Home Health Nursing
    • Informatics Nursing
    • Medical-Surgical Nursing
    • Nurse Executive
    • Nurse Executive-Advanced
    • Nursing Case Management
    • Nursing Professional Development
    • Pain Management Nursing
    • Pediatric Nursing
    • Perinatal Nursing
    • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing
    • Public Health Nursing-Advanced
    • Rheumatology Nursing
    • School Nursing
    • Read more about alternative nursing careers & specialties

APRN Exams

The NP certification exam is exam is computer-based and consist of 200 questions, 25 of them unscored. The cost ranges from $270-395 depending on whether the candidate is a member of the ANCC or not.

The CNS and most other certification exams from the ANCC are computer-based and consists of 175 questions, 25 of them unscored.The cost is $270-395 depending of whether the candidate is a member of the ANCC or not.

Eligibility for APRN Certification

Eligibility for the ANCC varies by specialty but some basics are:

  • Current RN license in good standing
  • Graduate from a Master's program which has been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) (formerly NLNAC | National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission)
  • Completion of required amount of clinical hours, usually 500 clinical hours
    • State requirement may differ but the higher of the two must be satisfied
    • Completion of specific classes within Master's program
      • Listed by certification

What are the Roles of a MSN Nurse

MSN educated nurses are able to work from the top down to change healthcare policy, behind the scenes to advance research and technology, and side by side with patients as a provider, and many other roles.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Working bedside RNs are able to change to a provider role as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, or APRN. "Bedside" means working side-by-side with patients and carrying out a physician or practitioner's orders. But with a graduate degree, instead of taking orders the APRN writes them. Read more about APRN careers.

The term APRN is an umbrella term for 4 types of MSN specialties:

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing a variety of patient populations with both chronic and acute disease processes. FNPs work with patients to promote disease prevention, wellness, and longevity. This is the most popular MSN degree path and FNPs are in high demand. The student is able to specialize in neonatal, pediatric, adult, and geriatric populations.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Working with both gynecologic and obstetric patient populations the CNM largely focuses on sexually transmitted disease prevention in the community as well as health of the newborn and mother before, during, and after birth.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Provide anesthesia and related care to surgical patients, including epidurals and emergent intubation to non-surgical patients.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Emphasizing research and evidence-based practice for improvement of care the CNS focuses on the prevention and treatment of diseases.

But if direct patient care is not the ultimate goal many other roles are available for MSN educated RNs.

Nurse Researcher

On the forefront of medical research these nurse scientists are helping to test, monitor, record, and create cures for illness and disease.

Nurse Educator

Teach nursing students and professional nurses about patient care and safety through quality education. The type of working environment varies depending on the area chosen.

Public Health Nurse

These nurses help prevent diseases within the community through education and treatment.

Nurse Informaticist

Technology and information are a cornerstone of the future of healthcare and nurse informaticists create, monitor, and maintain software development and healthcare systems.

Public Policy

Creating healthcare policies within the government affects all patients and these nurses work hard to promote and create policies which will be beneficial for patients both current and future.

Nurse Administrator

Working from the top to build policy and procedures for many patients, as opposed to helping just one at a time. Administrators ensure quality of care and good work flow of bedside RNs. They may hire and fire and maintain order in a nursing unit.

Clinical Systems Leadership (CNL)

The CNL role was created to meet the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's (AACN) call for higher quality and improved safety of patient care. Working with administration, but not as a part of it, the CNL communicates and monitors patient care along with the interdisciplinary team. Nursing education, coordination of care, collect and evaluate patient safety data to improve quality of care.

MSN Jobs

As a provider, nurses with a MSN degree choose a specialty and this dictates where they will work.

A student can become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) which is an umbrella term for 4 different MSN specialties:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

These are roles which provide direct patient care and providers may work in a variety of healthcare settings.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
    • Private practice
      • Pediatrics
      • Geriatrics
      • Behavioral health
      • Women's health
    • Hospitals
      • Acute care
    • Urgent care
    • Community health
    • Long term care facility
    • Skilled nursing facility
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
    • Birthing Center
    • Hospital
      • Labor and Delivery
      • Mom/Baby
    • Private Homes
    • Community health
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
    • Hospitals
      • Operating Room
      • Trauma
      • Labor and Delivery
    • Outpatient Surgical Center
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
    • Hospital
      • Critical Care
      • Acute care
    • Community health
    • Adult health settings

Indirect Care MSN Jobs

Degree programs which are not included in the APRN umbrella are considered indirect patient care roles. Indirect patient care means the nurse does not work at the patient's bedside. These roles do not require licensure to practice and because of that many of these programs are offered 100% online with preceptor or clinical hours arranged by the student in his/her hometown.

  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Educator
  • Public Health Nurse
  • Nurse Informaticist
  • Public Policy
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Clinical Systems Leadership

Jobs for these roles include:

  • Nurse Researcher
    • Laboratory
    • Private research firm
    • Pharmaceutical company
  • Nurse Educator
    • University
    • Hospital
      • All areas
    • Community college
    • Private Colleges
  • Public Health Nurse
    • Community health
  • Nurse Informaticist
    • Hospital
    • Insurance company
    • Healthcare device company
    • Software company
  • Public Policy
    • Health services research firm
    • Public office
    • State legislature
  • Nurse Administrator
    • Hospital
      • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)
      • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
      • Nurse Executive
      • Director of Nursing
      • Healthcare Administrator
    • Skilled Nursing Facility
    • Long Term Care Facility
    • Outpatient settings
    • Public Health
  • Clinical Systems Leadership (CNL)
    • Hospital
    • Skilled Nursing Facility
    • Long Term Care Facility
    • Outpatient centers

Find an RN Job.

APRN Licensure

APRN's provide direct patient care and are therefore required to be licensed by the State in which they will be working. Once the certification exam is passed the APRN will be able to apply for licensure.

Each State has it's own eligibility criteria but generally:

  • RN license in good standing
  • Graduation from MSN program
  • National certification exam passed
    • ANCC
  • Criminal background reported and free of incidents which will affect fitness to perform role

MSN Salary

Salaries for MSN educated nurses varies by specialty and years of experience but below is the general range according to several commercial and government sources.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
$74,034 - $106,904

Nurse Practitioner (NP)
$77,000 - $111,385

Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP
$72,629 - $115,152)

Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP)
$77,633 - $118,252

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
$81,768 - $113,612

Nursing Manager
$69,105 - $118,258

Registered Nurse (RN)
$46,659 - $95,143

Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS)
$88,673-$107,398

Certified Registered Nurse Anestethist (CRNA)
$96,364 - $188,288

Certified Nurse Midwife
$62,000 - $120,500

OTHER NURSING DEGREE PROGRAMS