Masters of Science in Nursing Programs Guide - 2024


by Staff

Updated: September 8th, 2023

If you already know that you have a passion for nursing and a drive to grow your career within the nursing profession, you have probably already started to look into your options. You may have even decided that you’d like to be a nurse practitioner. The process of becoming a nurse practitioner may seem overwhelming at times, but once you have the information gathered in one place, what can potentially be seen as a daunting process can become much more manageable. This article takes a closer look at the details of applying for a high-quality MSN program. 

There are certain steps you need to take to apply for a Master of Science in Nursing program and to ultimately prepare for national certification in whichever speciality you feel the most suited for. The requirements for state licensure can vary depending on where you live, but the overall education requirements and standards are fairly consistent across the board. All MSN students will learn in the classroom and within clinical experiences, and most will specialize in a particular area of medicine.

For specific information on your state’s requirements, check out the website of your state’s authority on nursing. Click the link below to find valuable information about the application process, requirements of MSN programs, and information for licensure and practice. 

What is an MSN degree program?

An MSN program allows students who typically have prior experience and education in the field of nursing to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. In general, Master of Science in Nursing programs take between 18 months and 3 years to complete at a full time pace, and they include classroom and clinical instruction. These programs consist of a core curriculum followed by more intensive education within a particular specialty.

MSN degree programs allow nurses to gain independence, autonomy, and maximize their earning potential within the field, all while honing in on a particular speciality in which they would like to dedicate their focus and the future of their practice. There is no shortage of reasons to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Let’s take a look at some of the different tracks for becoming a nurse practitioner. 

What are the different avenues for pursuing an MSN degree program?

These programs are often tailored to the level of education previously acquired to become a nurse in the first place. BSN-MSN programs allow nursing students to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in conjunction with a Master of Science in Nursing. RN-MSN programs allow registered nurses to dive right into the masters program with the support they will need to succeed. Stand-alone MSN programs are great for anyone who has already completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and wants to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing.

Regardless of your prior nursing education and experience, there are options out there that are created for your level of knowledge and experience. Once you are accepted into the right program, you will be surrounded by other like minded students who come from a similar nursing background to yours. Once you identify a few schools that have MSN programs you are interested in, conduct research on their different tracks for graduation. There are options that can fit with essentially every situation, and there is no shortage of resources out there about what each program offers.

What are the advancements and opportunities one can expect after earning an MSN Degree?

Pursuing an MSN degree is by far one of the most rewarding steps you can take within the field of nursing. There are so many opportunities and advancements available to those who have taken the initiative to grow and develop their knowledge and skills. 

Career opportunities available to those who have successfully completed an MSN graduate degree include Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) careers, Clinical Nurse Leader (CLN) positions, Health Policy Expert (HPE) roles, and nursing administration, along with so many other opportunities. APRN careers, including becoming a nurse practitioner, provide nurses with the opportunity to help patients more through expanded knowledge, experience, and speciality in a particular area of medicine. These programs equip nurses to play a more autonomous role within medicine, and they often allow for exponential growth in terms of salary and experience. 

Aside from working in medicine as a nurse practitioner, there are several other options for those who have earned an MSN. CNLs oversee patient care coordination. CNLs often have a direct leadership role at the point of care with the patient. With an MSN, you can also pursue a career as an HPE, which is also known as a health policy expert. HPEs have the unique opportunity to help patients by taking their frontline experience and creating policy around the needs of the patients. They are often employed by hospitals and agencies and provide invaluable insight into the world of nursing for policymakers who often lack hands-on experience in the medical field. Nurse administrators help patients and nurses from a more managerial standpoint. Among other things, they are responsible for delivering care by making sure that nursing care is coordinated and practiced with high standards. 

One of the most obvious benefits of earning an MSN is the pay raise. For example, as a nurse practitioner, the lowest 10% nationally earn while the top 90th percentile earn annually. This is largely dependent upon your location within the United States. There are other things you can do to maximize your potential as a nurse practitioner, such as gaining more experience and specializing further within your area of passion. 

Yet another upside is the job security that comes along with acquiring an MSN. Nursing is an in-demand profession, but there is an immense projection of job growth on the horizon for those with a Master of Science in Nursing. 

There are also other job benefits of pursuing higher levels of nursing education, such as increased autonomy. Some states allow nurse practitioners to practice entirely autonomously, while others allow them to practice alongside physicians. Either way, becoming a nurse practitioner is one of the best ways to increase independence, autonomy, career growth, and salary potential while diving deeper into the specialty for which you are the most passionate. 

How long does it take to get an MSN degree?

The time it takes to earn an MSN degree varies depending on prior education and experience. For those with a previous degree in something other than nursing, earning an MSN can take between 2 and 3 years. The same goes for RNs seeking an MSN. Most BSN to MSN programs only take between 18 and 24 months. More specialized programs can take longer. Of course, if you only attend school part-time, it will take longer to earn an MSN.

Each of the available options have their own upsides and drawbacks, but with the plethora of options to choose from, there is sure to be one that will work well for you. If you are hesitant about which program might be the right fit for you, consider reaching out to the admissions advisors at some of your schools of interest. 

Selecting the right master of science in nursing program for you

If you are trying to decide the best Master of Science in Nursing degree program to meet your needs, you must first decide if you would rather have an online or campus-based program. It is important to note that if you choose an online-based program, you will still have clinicals in person at some point. Online programs can provide more flexibility, especially for those who are working, raising children, or anyone else who needs to be able to take the courses at their own pace. On the other hand, in-person programs can provide an unparalleled level of support and community with others who are pursuing an MSN. 

Plan to spend time researching the schools you think you might like to attend. Check out their websites and contact them to learn more about what makes their programs unique, identify how they differ, and figure out what is the most important factor for you in your decision. Look at the cost and reputation of each program. You may need to do some research, but it’s best to be informed of the good, the bad, and the ugly of each school you are applying to before you commit. 

Prior to submitting your application, you will need to learn the requirements for admissions to each program to which you are interested in applying. Requirements will vary based on a number of factors. Some MSN programs require that their applicants already possess a BSN. Others require that the application is an RN with a license in “good standing”. Most programs will require applicants to complete specific prerequisite courses. These courses usually cover anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology, and other foundational subjects. You may need to compare your previous school transcripts to see if you complete more classes before you apply. This is also a good time to reassess your willingness to put in the time and effort before you even get into the program. If you’re ready to do that, it is unlikely that anything will get in the way of your future with an MSN. 

Applying to a Master of Science in Nursing Program

There is no universally accepted number of MSN programs to which applicants should apply. The number of schools you should apply to depends largely on you; however, you should take into consideration that you’ll want to apply to at least 3 schools. Take a look at the student profiles of the admitted class, and be sure to apply to schools that align with your achievements. Although all MSN programs are competitive, some are more difficult to get into than others. It’s always a good idea to have at least one reach program and a backup program.

There are certain things you can do to help your chances of being accepted into MSN programs, such as gaining nursing experience in the workforce, participating in internships, and excelling in prerequisite courses ahead of time. Boost your chances of getting into the best MSN programs by keeping your options open, applying to several schools, and making yourself a marketable applicant on your application. 

What will I learn in an MSN program?

Once you have been accepted into an MSN program, there is a certain timeline you will follow. You will typically begin the program by taking customary common core subjects. These courses will typically build upon the foundations of nursing that you have previously learned. This is why choosing the program that is best suited for your level of experience and education is vital. Once you have passed the core courses, you will move onto classes centered around specializations.

Options of specializations for those pursuing an MSN include family, neonatal, pediatric, gerontological, psychiatric, and women’s health. Depending on your program and degree plan, specializations will look different. The primary goal is to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible within the dedicated time you have as an MSN student. This will ultimately ensure that you are in the best position for success in your future career. 

Typical clinical practicum experience requirements for nurse practitioners

While you are studying to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll be required to gain valuable clinical experiences. Requirements will vary by state, program, and speciality, but it is generally accepted that those studying to become nurse practitioners must gain at least 500 hours of clinical experience by working directly with patients.  

Accrediting agencies of MSN programs

When narrowing down MSN programs, applicants should focus primarily on schools that are accredited by the major nursing accreditation agencies. There are multiple bodies that serve as accrediting agencies of MSN programs, including Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). CCNE identifies high-performing, top nursing schools across the country. CCNE also continually promotes growth and development within the schools they accredit. ACEN is one of the leading authorities in nursing school accreditation. It provides specialized accreditation in higher education within the field of nursing.

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