Your Complete RN to MSN Guide

Deborah Chiaravalloti - 06/10/19

Nurses who want to prepare themselves for career growth and future professional opportunities continually improve their skills, education and credentials. Advanced skills give them the flexibility to move from bedside to nursing leadership and to pursue different types of specialized patient care. For registered nurses or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) prepared nurses, the next step in education and training is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It’s a credential that will open opportunities to practice as a mid-level practitioner.

There are many benefits to pursuing an MSN, among them are higher salaries, career growth and flexibility, and the opportunity to move into academic medicine.

Increased earnings

An MSN can immediately increase an RNs salary. The average salary for RNs across the country is$65,470.  U.S. News & World Report reports that an MSN can increase that median salary by more than $20,000. Pursuing an MSN is an investment that pays off immediately after graduation.

Nurse Journal reports that the earning potential of an MSN continues to increase over the years. For example, “Nurse practitioners with over 10 years of experience earn $101,000 per year, while nurse practitioners with more than 20 years in the field take home $105,000 on average.”

Expanded career options

Nurses can pursue an MSN as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, or certified nurse midwife. The MSN credential may also open doors to jobs in research or academic medicine. Often those jobs require a doctorate as well.

Nurse Journal reports the Top Ten MSN specialties are as follows:

#1 – Certified Nurse Midwife

  • Demand expected to increase by 31 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $79,000

#2 – Critical Care Nurse

  • Demand expected to increase by 16 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $61,000

#3 – Family Nurse Practitioner

  • Demand expected to increase by 25 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $94,000

#4 – Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

  • Demand expected to increase by 25 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $94,000

#5 – Nurse Anesthetist

  • Demand expected to increase by 22 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $154,300

#6 – Nurse Educator

  • Demand expected to increase by 19 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $65,000, although this varies by a wide range depending on where you work.

#7 – Nurse Researcher

  • Demand expected to increase by 26 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $90,000

#8 – Pain Management Nurse

  • Demand expected to increase by 19 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $67,000

#9 – Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Demand expected to increase by 25 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $94,000

#10 – Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Demand expected to increase by 25 percent in 2022
  • Average salary of $94,000

Job Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that job growth for registered nurses will increase by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. Job growth for advanced practice nurses is projected to be even larger, at 31 percent over the same decade.

Education options

If you decide that you want to pursue an MSN, there are different types of educational programs in which you can enroll. They include:

Getting the degree

There are three different programs that RNs can utilize to achieve their MSN degree:  

  1. Direct entry MSN: These programs are meant for those with a bachelor’s degree in a field outside of nursing.
    1. Basic requirements: You must have a bachelor’s degree. Some programs require it to be in a field related to healthcare, others do not have that requirement. Students with a non-nursing BS may be required to take additional science classes as a prerequisite to admission, but that requirement varies by program.
  2. RN-BSN-MSN: This path takes you through separate training programs to earn your RN, BSN and MSN. First you earn your RN, then enter a bachelor’s degree program. Once you have earned your BSN, you apply to study for an MSN
    1. Basic requirements: Applicants must possess an RN or nursing diploma and active nursing license. 
  3. RN/BSN-MSN: If you already hold a joint RN/BSN degree, then you can pursue your MSN degree.
    1. Basic requirements: Applicants must either possess a BSN currently, or are enrolled in the BSN as a full-time student.

All MSN programs have basic requirements that can include, but not be limited to, the following:  

  • BSN degree or an associate degree in Nursing/Nursing Diploma 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field
  • GPA of at least 3.0
  • Completion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Recommendations from colleagues or professors 
  • Statement of Purpose 
  • CV/Resume 
  • Proof of nursing license 
  • Criminal background check upon acceptance
  • Some schools may also require a certain amount of time working as an RN, such as one to two years, while others with an RN-MSN track may allow you to proceed directly into the program without any RN work experience. Some schools, for instance, allow RN or BSN students to apply for the MSN program while they are still in school. 

MSN programs are offered in many different colleges and universities. They are also offered online. Pursuing a degree online can make it easier to work and study. Classes are taken online while clinical studies are conducted in person. If you select an online MSN course there are several things you should be aware of. recommends that you choose only accredited and credentialed programs.

  • Accreditation ensures that the program you are choosing meets the current highest-quality standards for the degree
  • It certifies that the school is regularly assessing and meeting accreditation standards and guidelines
  • It means the school may offer you qualification for federal financial aid
  • If you want to pursue a doctorate after an MSN, you must graduate from an accredited MSN program

The two main accreditations you should look for are as follows:

  1. Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  2. Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

An advanced degree is an essential tool for future job growth and flexibility. Once you have it you may choose to pursue advanced practice, nursing education, or leadership. However, you may choose to remain at the bedside. In fact, many nurses do, even after obtaining an MSN. An opinion piece in American Nursing Today explained why:

“Higher education can only enhance the bedside experience for the individual nurse rather than repel her or him from it. For starters, I personally know and regularly encounter hospital (and alternate care setting) nurses providing direct care who have BSNs, MSNs and yes, even some with doctoral degrees. Most love what they do and have no current or future aspirations to move on.”

Pursing advanced degrees will only expand your options and give you the lifelong career growth you sought when you entered the field of nursing.