The most common master’s degree in nursing program is the standard two-year master’s program at a graduate university or at a teaching hospital. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is typically a 18- to 24-month program that allows a nurse to specialize in a particular area, such as healthcare administration or an area of advanced clinical training or research. In some cases, nursing students may take on joint degrees in related fields such as business administration, public health or psychology.

Prerequisites for Earning an MSN

Students typically attend MSN programs after they complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing program, obtain an RN license, can provide minimum GPA and GRE scores and document at least one or more years of experience in a clinical environment. However, there are some alternatives to this method of obtaining an MSN. Some programs allow a nurse with an ADN to earn his/her bachelor’s and master’s degrees within a single curriculum. Programs also are available that accept graduates from non-nursing backgrounds. Each school has its specific requirements, so make sure to check with those schools before applying.

How to Get an MSN

There are several ways to obtain an MSN, both online and on campus. For instance, the RN-to-MSN program is a popular choice among many nursing students. RNs who possess an associate’s degree in nursing and who want to earn an MSN immediately after earning their BSN usually can do so upon acceptance within a program. Courses then can be tailored to the nurse’s specific needs, so there is no overlap in courses from the BSN to the MSN.

One choice for non-nursing students includes the direct entry MSN programs, also known as “graduate entry” or “master’s entry” programs. These programs are design for individuals who have obtained a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Credit is given for liberal arts requirements, which allows the student to complete an abbreviated schedule of undergraduate nursing course work before moving directly into the graduate nursing program. This program, therefore, typically takes three years to complete. However, some institutions may require an RN licensure after the first year.

A variation of the direct entry MSN is the “accelerated” MSN, which allows nursing students to complete the MSN within two years. Usually a high GPA provides the student with the open door to this fast-track option.

Online Master Degrees in Nursing

  • American Sentinel University: RN to MSN
  • Benedictine University : MSN
  • Chamberlain College of Nursing: MSN
  • Grantham University: RN to MSN
  • Kaplan University: MSN
  • Keiser University: MSN
  • Ohio University: MSN
  • Spring Arbor University: MSN
  • South University: MSN
  • University of Phoenix: MSN
  • University of San Francisco: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: BSN to MSN
  • Walden University: RN to MSN

Careers Available After Obtaining an MSN

The nurse who completes the MSN degree can find a broad variety of careers waiting upon graduation. Most of these careers are not available to undergraduates, as they are specialized and often represent leading roles within a hiring institution. Often these employers will require certifications for any given specialty to prove the potential employer’s skill and expertise. In this case, many post-master’s certification programs are available to help secure your status as an expert in your field. These certifications are available only to those nurses who have completed an MSN program.

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Top 10 Online Nursing Schools

University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix — BSN, MSN, and Certificate. The University of Phoenix is the nation's largest online university and currently offers several nursing programs at three different degree levels, based on previous nursing education and experience.

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Kaplan University
Kaplan University — Bachelor's, and Master's Nursing Degrees. Kaplan's School of Nursing offers specializations for nurse administrators and nurse educators.

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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University — BS in Nursing (BSN) and MBA/MS in Nursing. Grand Canyon University offers a unique MBA/MS in nursing degree program that teaches students about the business aspect of healthcare, specifically nursing healthcare. Current nurses who want more business experience will find this may be an ideal fit.

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Liberty University
Liberty University — RN to BSN Degree and MSN Degree. The Department of Nursing at Liberty prepares students for baccalaureate level nursing, putting strong emphasis on Christian ethical standards and viewing nursing as a ministry of caring.

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Walden University
Walden University — M.S. in Nursing (RN Track), M.S in Nursing (BSN Track). Walden offers a wide variety of nursing degrees and certificates that are all accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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