A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) not only sharpens and expands the expertise of a nurse, but it also creates more opportunities related to delivering specialized treatment within the field. Graduates become qualified to apply for positions that touch upon a greater range of areas within nursing, management, and administration. Nurses with an interest in becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, clinical instructor, or manager should pursue an MSN program of his or her choice.

An MSN also makes it possible for nurses to pursue advanced work, and in some circles, they can teach and perform (or assist) in medical research.

Education Prerequisites

Nurses may follow a handful of educational paths towards pursuing an MSN, which depend on their previous education and experience. Individuals eligible to apply to an MSN program must fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • Be a registered nurse (RN) without a BSN. Registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing can apply for an MSN, but they must complete an accelerated undergraduate program, which typically involves 75 semester-hour credits in both nursing and non-nursing courses. Exact requirements vary between schools and are necessary to complete before entering graduate course work.
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing or related field. Students must take additional courses (including philosophy, English, and statistics) before starting on primary graduate program studies. Some courses are mandatory, while others are up to the student.
  • Non-nurses with a bachelor’s degree in another subject. Non-nurses who possess a bachelor’s degree in another subject may pursue a direct-entry MSN. This program usually takes a minimum of three years to complete. Undergraduate nurse courses are mandatory, and typically during the last two years, students will experience advanced training in a specialty area to prepare for RN licensure.

Only nurses with a BSN can immediately enter an MSN program since they do not need to complete any additional requirements before working towards an advanced degree.

When applying to an MSN program, prospective students must fill out an application, furnish letters of recommendation, write a letter of intent, and pay applicable admission fees. If his or her transcript of records does not show that necessary courses for admission are complete, a nurse needs to fulfill pre-requisite course requirements before applying to an MSN degree program.

Program Coursework

When choosing an MSN program, consider the coursework requirements a particular school expects their students to satisfy. Initially, students need to complete a range of nursing courses, which include perquisites that enhance basic skills such as anatomy and math. Concentration courses allow nurses to gain specialized skills necessary to become a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, or nurse administrator. An MSN program is often where students choose to dive deep into a nursing specialty, as many programs allow students to target a special focus or type of nursing, such as forensic nursing.

Factors to Consider

One of the most important factors to consider when researching MSN programs is whether a school best fits the academic preferences and specialties that are of most interest. Before choosing an MSN program that fits his or her needs, addressing the following issues and factors is essential for prospective students:

  • Location of school
  • Tuition cost and fees
  • Availability of financial aid
  • Coursework offered in specialties of interest
  • State licensing requirements
  • How to transfer credits, if necessary

Options for Continuing Education

Some nurses may choose an MSN program to pursue a specialized master’s to become a mid-level provider, such as a nurse practitioner (NP) or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). When employed as a nurse, this type of degree takes about 1-2 years to complete. Nurses with an interest in teaching at a university or conducting research may pursue a PhD in nursing to further their education.

When choosing an MSN program, prospective students can start researching potential options by considering the following schools and programs: