Masters in Nursing FAQ
Choosing the Right Nursing Graduate School
There are several different ways to earn your Master’s Degree in Nursing. The most traditional route for earning a Master’s in Nursing is to enter a graduate program after already earning your Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Programs like this are offered across the United States, in a variety of formats including those that offer online and distance learning components.
Another common route to earning your Master’s degree in the nursing field that is popular with working nurses is the RN to MSN degree route. This type of program allows Registered Nurses to earn a Master’s degree without first completing a Bachelor’s degree. Whether you are a diploma RN or if you have your Associate’s in Nursing (ASN or ADN degree), you can enter this program and earn a graduate degree in nursing without spending a full six years in school full time, as would be traditionally required. Often called RN-MSN Bridge, RN-MSN Transition or Fast Track RN-MSN Programs, these novel educational options offer a “seamless transition” from entry-level to Master’s level nursing education.
One of the newest Master’s level nursing programs is the Direct Entry Master’s Degree option. This option was designed for those of you who hold a Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. If you know that you want to enter the field of nursing and that you will eventually want to become an Advanced Practice nurse or a high level executive or educator, this may be the best option for you. A Direct Entry MSN program allows you to complete your entry-level nursing training and prepares you to sit for the NCLEX-RN, while simultaneously setting you on a direct track to earning your Master’s in Nursing. This is a great route for increasing the number of highly educated new nurses within the profession.
Since there are several options for earning your MSN degree, you will find that admissions requirements may vary from program to program. Some of the most frequent requirements that must be met include the following:
- Valid, unrestricted RN license in the state where you plan to attend school*
- Official transcripts from all previously attended college programs
- 3-5 personal, professional and/or faculty references
- Completed application and fee
- Cumulative GPA >3.0 and/or satisfactory GRE scores
- Statement of Purpose outlining your reason for pursuing your MSN
- Clinical and/or nursing career experience of 1-3 years (program dependent)
- Completion of Statistics, A&P, Pharmacology, et. al within last 3-5 years
- Completion of Entrance Interview, if required
- Current resume and/or curriculum vitae
You will want to check with the specific school you plan to attend for detailed admissions requirements.
*Valid RN license is not required for entrance into Direct Entry Master’s programs, but successfully passing the NCLEX-RN examination and licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN) will be required at some point within the program, in order to continue on to graduate level nursing studies.
The most important thing to look for when you are choosing a school for your Master’s in Nursing studies is accreditation status. Any program that you plan to attend should be fully accredited by one of the nursing education accrediting bodies, either the National League for Nursing (CNEA accreditation) or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (CCNE accreditation).
Once you have determined accreditation status, you should look to see if the school has the program type you are interested in, and that the curriculum meets national licensing and certification criteria for that nursing specialty. For example, if you want to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you will want to find a school that offers the type of NP program you want, and that your courses will prepare you to take the national licensing and examination test for NPs.
Regardless of the type of nursing degree you plan to pursue, there are certain other aspects that you should look into before choosing a nursing school. These characteristics include:
- Program costs
- Financial aid availability including scholarships and grants
- Clinical requirements
- Availability of online coursework
- Nursing research priorities
- Faculty and peer support programs
- Thesis and/or capstone project outline
- Graduation requirements
- Reputation of the school and nursing faculty
- Matriculation rates
- Career placement statistics
With the increasing number of schools that offer nursing programs, many RNs are wary of some of the online or distance education Master’s in Nursing programs. You’d be wise to scrutinize any program you choose to ensure, first and foremost, that it is accredited. You will want to determine that either the National League for Nursing or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has accredited the program you’re interested in attending.
Once you have verified that an online MSN program is accredited, take some time to look into the faculty at the school, current nursing research priorities and any online discussion groups that may provide insights into the reputation of the program. You can also research graduation rates, job placement figures and certification pass rates for the schools you are interested in, which may reflect the quality of the educational offerings as they relate to post matriculation outcomes.
As a nurse, you know how important it is to care for yourself, especially in times of stress. Returning to school may seem daunting if you are already dealing with the responsibilities of working full time, caring for yourself and your family, making time for friends and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While returning to school for your Master’s degree can be an extremely rewarding endeavor, it is also important to make sure you are ready for this undertaking.
Some of the things you will want to consider before enrolling in a Master’s program in Nursing include the following self-assessment criteria. While it is not essential to have all of the following supports in place, they can make a significant difference in your ability to handle any stress that may come your during your graduate nursing education.
- What supports do I have in place for returning to school?
- Who are my cheerleaders, the ones who can provide encouragement?
- Who can I turn to with questions, fears, concerns, or just to talk?
- Will I have to work full time while I’m getting my Master’s?
- Do I have support from my employer and nursing peers?
- Who can I talk to that has been through the process?
- Will my family and friends be supportive of my decision?
- Will I be able to maintain my relationships with my family and friends while I’m in school?
- Do I have effective stress management practices in place?
- Will it be financially feasible to return to school?
When it comes to choosing a Master’s in Nursing program, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. It may seem like there are endless specialties and routes to choose from. As a nurse who has been through this process, my best advice to you is this: If you have any doubt in your mind about the program you are about to enroll in, take more time to decide!
There are also a few other questions to ask yourself when you are in the process of choosing a program. Take your end goals into consideration when you are selecting a program. Do you intend to continue on to your PhD or DNP degree? You may want to bypass your master’s all together and find a fast track doctoral program. Do you want to complete your program as fast as possible? Look for an RN to MSN program or an Accelerated MSN program. Do you want to take your time with your master’s degree? You might look for a part time program.
If you are unsure of the specialty you want to pursue, it may help to think of your most rewarding experiences in nursing. What types of patients, units or procedures stand out as your favorites? Do you want to work in direct patient care or take on a non-direct care roll? The best way to choose a program that will work for you is to ask yourself the hard questions and actually take the time to answer them. We also recommend getting as much program information as possible from the nursing schools you are interested in. To make the process easier, you can contact nursing schools directly from our site.
A Master of Arts Degree (MA) and a Master of Science (MS) degree in Nursing are both graduate level nursing degrees that prepare you to become a leader within the profession of nursing. Similarly, a MN (Master’s in Nursing) degree and a MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) degree are both graduate level programs in nursing that are simply called by different names, according to the focus of the program. It can help to think of the different abbreviations for Nursing Master’s Degrees as outlined below.
- Master’s in Nursing (MN) Degrees
- Master of Arts (MA) in Nursing
- Master of Science (MS) in Nursing (MSN)
Many different schools call similar degrees by different names, depending upon the type of school (Liberal Arts University, prominent Research University, etc.) it is, as well as the focus of the degree program. Regardless of what the name of the degree program is, the most important thing to consider is the quality of the education, along with accreditation of the school.
Direct Entry nursing programs are meant for those of you who hold a non-nursing Bachelor’s degree and who want to enter the profession of nursing at the Master’s degree level. A Direct Entry or Accelerated Master’s in Nursing program can take anywhere from three to five years to complete.
These nursing programs are usually created in an accelerated format, allowing you to complete your MSN in less time than if you started without a degree. In most instances, credits from your previously completed bachelor’s program will be applied to your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Direct Entry programs usually start with basic nursing courses, coupled with any non-nursing prerequisites you may not have already completed, such as Anatomy & Physiology. About two years into an Accelerated MSN program, you will be able to take the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain your license as a Registered Nurse (RN). You will then continue on with advanced nursing courses that prepare you for practice as a Master’s educated nurse.
You can find more information about Direct Entry/Accelerated nursing programs here.
RN to MSN programs allow Registered Nurses (RNs) to earn a Master’s in Nursing Degree without going through a separate Bachelor’s in Nursing program first. You essentially get to bypass earning your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and begin working directly toward your Master’s in Nursing from the start.
There are several different routes you can take in an RN-MSN program. You can find Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator and Nursing Executive & Leadership programs that accept diploma and Associate’s prepared RNs straight into the MSN program. Some programs will actually grant you both a Bachelor’s degree and your graduate degree upon completion. Others result only in a Master’s degree in Nursing.
You can plan to spend anywhere from three to six years completing an RN to MSN program, depending upon your previous education, enrollment status and the graduate nursing specialty you choose. These programs are a great way to increase the number of Master’s prepared nurses, without placing undue hardship upon the nursing workforce.
Earning Your MSN
Depending upon your enrollment status, an RN to MSN program can take as little as two to three years to complete. RN to MSN programs are an effective way to bridge working RNs to a Master’s degree, preparing you to become a leader in the nursing profession. These types of programs are often accelerated in nature, as you earn your Master’s in Nursing without completing a Bachelor’s program first.
You will likely be required to take some of the prerequisites of a BSN program such as Microbiology, Nutrition, Chemistry, & English Literature when you begin the program, as well as Baccalaureate level nursing courses. You may complete the initial graduate level coursework simultaneously, progressing toward your chosen specialty as you advance through your program.
At least 60 graduate level credits are typically required, along with any respective clinical hours, in most RN to MSN programs. You may also be able to transfer up to 60 credits from your previous nursing education toward the program. These programs are often quite flexible, and you may find a good deal of the curriculum can be completed to earn your RN to MSN online.
The amount of time that it takes to complete a Master’s degree program will depend upon a number of factors, including the type of program you attend and your enrollment status. You can plan to spend almost seven years of full time study completing a CRNA program, but you can complete a Nurse Educator Master’s degree in as little as two years of part time study if you already have a Bachelor’s degree.
Program length is not nearly as important to some students as it is to others, but if you are concerned about how quickly you can earn your MSN, speaking directly with admissions personnel and nursing faculty can give you a good idea of what to expect. Ask specific questions about when courses are offered, as many Master’s in Nursing programs alternate course offerings according to pre-requisite class scheduling. For instance, an Advanced Nursing Research course may only be offered during the Fall semester, following Graduate Statistics, which is only offered in the Spring term.
Enrollment status is the main determinant of program completion time, as all MSN programs require a certain number of credit hours for completion. This means that the more credit hours you are enrolled for each semester, the more quickly you can complete your Master’s degree. The most important thing to remember when it comes to this aspect of earning your MSN is the fact that nursing burnout can occur not only in patient care situations, but in academic situations as well. It is wise to allot yourself enough time earning for your MSN to ensure that you retain what you learn and maintain your enthusiasm for expanding your nursing education and practice.
The hours of clinical experience that may be required of your Master’s program in Nursing will depend upon which type of degree you pursue. If you plan to enter a direct patient care role after earning your MSN, you will likely need to complete between 200-800 hours of clinical hours. If you are planning on continuing in a non-direct patient care role, you can likely graduate with far fewer clinical or practicum hours required. An overview of some of the most common graduate nursing professions and average clinical requirements for each is presented below.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: an average of 2,500 clinical hours with an average of 850 administrations of anesthetics
- Nurse Practitioner: a minimum of 500 direct care patient clinical hours
- Clinical Nurse Specialist: a minimum of 500 faculty supervised clinical hours
- Certified Nurse Midwife: an average of 600-1000 hours of clinicals
- Nurse Educator: an average of 200-600 clinical hours
You will want to check with the individual nursing schools that you are interested in to determine exact clinical requirements for your program. Keep in mind that many online MSN degrees allow you to arrange clinical sites nearby, adding a degree of autonomy and flexibility to your graduate nursing studies.
As nursing schools continue to try and facilitate seamless academic progression for nurses, online Master’s in Nursing programs continue to flourish. While the amount of coursework you can complete online varies, depending upon the type of program you choose, a good deal of it may be able to be completed from your home on your own time.
Many schools of nursing have developed curricula that allow you to complete all of your didactic courses online, leaving only your clinical hours to be completed away from home. You may be able find local clinical locations, as several schools have developed strategic partnerships with healthcare facilities across the U.S. to facilitate more Master’s prepared nurses within the profession.
When you are looking for online MSN programs, be sure to investigate any on campus visits that may be required. For instance, many programs require an on campus visit for orientation, as well as a campus visit at the end or your program to facilitate a Capstone Project or Final Skills Assessment.
Nursing Graduate Tuition and Financial Aid
Tuition costs will vary widely from one school to another, based on many factors. For the most part, you can expect that your graduate education will cost more than entry level nursing programs. Graduate tuition at different nursing schools can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars per credit hour. Keep in mind that price does not always equate with quality, but the cost of education also need not prevent you from choosing the program that interests you most.
Average costs of completing a traditional Master’s in Nursing program can range anywhere from $30,000 to upwards of $150,000. It is reasonable to expect an RN to MSN program or a Direct Entry program to cost more than a traditional MSN program, as you will be taking several additional classes as you progress through your program.
Regardless of what type of program you choose, be sure to look into financial aid options to help you pay for school. At RNtoMSN.com, we believe that education should not be cost prohibitive, and we strive to provide you with information about financial resources to help you meet your professional nursing goals. For more information, visit our Financial Resources page to learn more about paying for nursing school.
Paying for graduate school is a common concern. Costs per credit hour for advanced degrees are typically higher than those for undergraduate degrees, which may pose difficulty for some of you. Luckily, there are several federal and locally based programs to help nurses like you who are pursuing a master’s degree. Some of the most commonly accessed options are scholarships, grants and loan repayment programs.
One of the first steps is to complete the Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA). After you submit your FAFSA, you will receive notification informing you if you qualify for federal funds or not. You will want to contact the financial aid office at the school you decide to enroll in for information on school based aid. It is also a good idea to do a local search for any nursing scholarships or grants that you may have access to.
We have also outlined some of the most common sources of financial aid for graduate nursing programs on this page.
As a result of the increased focus on graduate level nursing education to improve health outcomes, there are several federal, state and independent funding opportunities for nurses to receive financial assistance. There are several websites and professional nursing organizations that offer scholarships, and it is wise to research as deeply as you can prior to enrolling in a program.
The Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA) offers nursing scholarships that cover tuition and fees, as well as a living stipend, for Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife students. For each year you are awarded the scholarship, you must work in a Health Professional Shortage Area for one year.
The National League for Nursing offers nursing education research grants for graduate students conducting studies that align with current nursing research priorities.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers several programs to help defray or repay the costs of your advanced nursing education. Most of these programs accept applications annually. You can sign up for email alerts if deadlines have already passed, so you can receive updates regarding the next application cycle.
- The National Health Service Core offers up to $50,000 in loan repayment for Primary Care Certified Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives and Psychiatric Nursing Specialists that agree to a service commitment at approved Health Professional Shortage Area sites.
- The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program offers repayment of up to 85% of the balance of your nursing student loans in exchange for fulfillment of service within a Critical Shortage Facility.
- In addition, you may want to check to determine if the state you practice in has received any State Loan Repayment Program funds from the HRSA. If so, there may be healthcare facilities in your state that disperse these funds to eligible primary care providers, including nurses, based on federal grantee guidelines and requirements.
Nursing Career Options
As the world of healthcare changes in the United States, nurses are being called upon to fill more challenging roles than ever before, with the aid of fewer resources and drastic cuts in funding. Who among our profession has not been affected by increasing responsibilities in regards to patient care, documentation and reporting while at the same time having to deal with the realities that come from budget cuts and staff reductions?
The truth is, if you want to affect positive change within our healthcare system, you will need to be well versed on the intricacies of how it operates. Expanding your basic nursing education to include the concepts of advanced practice nursing, healthcare delivery and the design and diffusion of innovation is essential to widespread success. Creating positive change in the nursing profession by developing your management and leadership skills can also impact the healthcare system at large.
Positioning yourself as a primary care provider, a clinical nursing expert or as a leader within academia or research can elevate the profession of nursing to a new level of respect and influence within healthcare.
There are several different career routes in nursing that can open up after you earn your Master’s in Nursing degree. You can become a primary care provider by earning a Nurse Practitioner degree. You can work in an operating room as a Nurse Anesthetist, or deliver babies as a Nurse Midwife. You can take on a role as an expert clinician in a wide variety of settings ranging from cardiac care to home health to palliative care.
If you want to help shape the next generation of nurses, one of the most important things you can do with your MSN is to teach! Regardless of the type of Master’s in Nursing you get, you will be qualified to teach clinical courses and/or lecture classes in Nursing at the Associate’s and possibly the Bachelor’s level, depending upon your qualifications. Using your nursing knowledge to help guide and direct the next generation of nurses is one of the most meaningful and beneficial things you can do with a graduate level nursing education.
You can also find yourself in several novel roles as a Master’s educated nurse. You may be able to enter the field of research or legal nurse consulting. You could work in a global non-profit such as the Red Cross or the World Health Organization. You may find yourself as a leader within a large corporation in healthcare, insurance or the pharmaceutical industry. You could go so far as to position yourself at the forefront of healthcare reform in the U.S. by taking on policy, government or professional advocacy roles within nursing.
The career options are nearly endless, and you can undoubtedly make a significant impact on your profession by earning your MSN. Keep in mind that no matter where your graduate education eventually takes you, you will be aligning yourself with the goals of your profession and the aim of the Institute for Medicine’s vision for the Future of Nursing by doing so.
Earning your Master’s in Nursing degree can position you for a variety of different advanced nursing careers. If you are thinking about getting your Master’s degree, but are not sure of what route you want to take yet, learning a bit more about the different options for professional practice post matriculation may help. You can read about dozens of different careers and specialties in nursing by exploring RNtoMSN.com. It’s a great place to start, and you can find salary information, degree options and an explanation of the different settings for each specialty.
Some of the most common routes for graduate nursing include Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthetist and Midwifery programs. Non clinical routes that offer the potential for excellent career growth include Nursing Administration and Education. You can make an important difference in the lives of your patients and the health of your community by going back to school for a graduate nursing degree. Not only will you be increasing your own knowledge base, you will be setting a strong example for others in the nursing profession by obtaining your higher degree. We recommend you research your options thoroughly before enrolling in a Master’s program, and we are here to help you do just that.