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Master’s Degree in Nursing


What is a Master's in Nursing Degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate degree sandwiched between the BSN and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Most MSN programs require the BSN for admission, though there are a few RN-to-MSN bridge programs. Master’s degree candidates focus their studies on a clinical specialty like women’s health or oncology, or a career path like nursing administration or nursing education.

Typically requiring a two to three year commitment, MSN programs are the professional nurse’s gateway to career development. It is the first step in the credentialing process required for specialized professional practice, including Advanced Practice Nurses and Nurse Practitioners. An MSN also prepares students to earn their doctorate, the terminal degree in the field.

What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Nursing?

Career Available with a MSN Career

  • Registered Nurse
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Travel Nurse
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • School Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse
  • Nurse Educator
  • Flight Nurse
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Should I Get a Master's Degree in Nursing?

A Master’s Degree in Nursing has always been a requirement for professional advancement, serving as a stepping stone to leadership roles, niche practice areas, research and nursing education. With the nursing industry moving to standardize the BSN for entry-level nursing practice, the MSN will become even more important for nurses wanting to take their career to the next level. As the market saturates with BSN-prepared nurses, professionals with a master’s degree in nursing will enjoy greater marketability. In fact, many industry analysts believe there is no better time than now to earn an MSN. Below, we’ve listed the major advantages and disadvantages of earning this degree.

Advantages to a Master’s Degree in Nursing

  • An absolute must for many careers in the nursing industry.
  • Advanced practice nurses enjoy the highest salaries in the field.
  • Top-tier MSN programs are frequently delivered online.
  • An anticipated shortage of physicians opens the door for advanced practice nurses to assume roles of greater clinical responsibility.
  • Nurse educators will also enjoy growth in the job market, as most of today’s nursing instructors are expected to retire soon.

Disadvantages to a Master’s Degree in Nursing

  • MSN programs are expensive, and financial aid is scarce at the graduate level.
  • Most programs are highly competitive, and often require a 3.0 GPA for admission.
  • Graduate study is academically rigorous; MSN candidates are held to high standards in the classroom and the clinic.

Need to Know: Graduate Education in Nursing

There are a number of differences between the Bachelor’s and the Master’s Degree in Nursing, not least of which is the time commitment required. Take a look at the comparison between the two degree levels:


  • Many working nurses are able to complete the master’s degree in nursing in two years without leaving their full-time jobs.
  • MSN candidates can choose study tracks that focus on nursing in specialized scenarios like gerontology, anesthesia or sports medicine. Nurses interested in non-clinical roles can focus on management, informatics or nursing education.
  • In a master’s degree in nursing program, candidates are exposed to a workplace environment that correlates with their chosen specialization. Hands-on experience allows candidates to put their knowledge of advanced theory into practice.


  • The BSN is designed to educate aspiring nurses. Students must commit to four years of rigorous study and many find it difficult to work full-time while in school.
  • Coursework is designed to develop critical thinking. The study of natural and social sciences, public health, research technique and communications teaches nurses how to make informed decisions about patient care.
  • Undergrad programs focus on preparing nurses to work in a variety of clinical settings. Most clinicals are designed to expose students to direct patient care, emphasizing general technique and nursing best practices.

Graduate school is often more expensive than undergraduate programs, a problem compounded by a lack of financial aid programs for graduate students.

Annually, master’s students leave their program with significant debt. Aspiring nurses may find this daunting, but it’s important to remember that once out of school, master’s degree in nursing graduates are positioned to earn a much higher salary than their BSN-educated peers. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for RNs is $65,470, but nurse practitioners can expect an average wage of $97,990.

You may accrue significant debt earning an master’s degree in nursing, but you could be well-positioned to pay it back.

How Much Will I Make With an Master's in Nursing Degree?

Hourly: $46.00

Monthly: $7,370

Annually: $88,500

PayScale, accessed October 2015

How Do I Get an MSN?

  1. Decide Type of MSN Program
  2. Find MSN Programs
  3. Apply to MSN Programs
  4. Secure Funding for MSN Programs
  5. Attend MSN Classes
  6. Graduate with a MSN

What Kind of Classes Will I Take?

  • Advanced Care of Children & Families
  • Resource Management in Healthcare
  • Pharmacology in Nursing Care
  • Health and Illness Across the Human Experience
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