Pros & Cons of Getting an MSN Degree - From a Nurse

11 Min Read Published February 26, 2024

Considering getting your MSN degree? We dig into the pros and cons of an MSN so you can decide if it's the right path for you!

Healthcare worker checking fluids in drip line

How To Get Your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

Master's degrees in nursing programs are similar to other master’s level programs in that they usually take about two years to complete (if you’re taking a full course load, that is).

What makes nursing programs unique is that there are a couple of different routes toward earning a master’s degree.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Types of MSN Degrees

1. Direct-Entry MSN

Direct-entry MSN programs are for applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and no nursing experience. This path takes you through entry-level nursing coursework first.

2. BSN-MSN

The most traditional way to go for your master’s is after already completing a bachelor’s degree program in nursing (BSN). 

To go this route, you earn your Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) first, then enroll in a master’s program. BSN to MSN programs take around two years full-time. The MSN coursework can include training to specialize as a nurse practitioner or other advanced practice role or be a general MSN without additional licensing.

3. RN-MSN

For applicants with a two-year nursing degree or a diploma RN, there are RN-to-MSN programs that help nurses who do not have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or another field. With an RN-to-MSN bridge program, you can pursue a master’s without having to earn a bachelor’s first. These programs usually take a bit longer and might be more intensive since there is more material to cover.

All MSN programs cover both general nursing topics like anatomy and pharmacology, along with coursework in a variety of nursing specializations, depending on which track you choose to pursue.

You will also have to complete a certain number of clinical rotation hours.

When choosing an MSN program as a means to earn an advanced nursing certification, make sure that it will satisfy the requirements so you can sit for the corresponding licensing exams.

>> Show Me Online MSN Programs

4. Bridge RN-to-MSN

This is for RNs with a two-year degree in nursing and a 4-year bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field.

Pros and Cons of Getting an MSN Degree

Pros

  • Career opportunities
  • Higher salary potential
  • A variety of program options
  • Knowledge and experience gained

Cons

  • Programs are expensive
  • Advanced nursing programs can be difficult
  • Coursework and clinicals are time-consuming
  • Prerequisites may be required

 

Pros

Now that you have an idea of what an MSN program entails, here are some of the biggest reasons why people choose to complete them.

1. An MSN can open up new career doors

Besides the fact that some nursing specializations require a master’s degree, certain positions at prestigious hospitals and healthcare organizations may give preference to candidates who have their MSN as well.

If you have any intentions of focusing on one type of nursing, like nursing informatics or nurse practitioner, or taking on a nursing leadership role in a hospital, completing an MSN is probably in your best interest.

Following are some advanced practice roles that require an MSN

  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Educator
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Midwife

2. You have the potential to earn a higher salary with an advanced degree

As mentioned above, some advanced nursing practices do require an MSN, but they also have significantly higher salaries than what an RN typically earns. For example, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earned a median salary of $203,090 as of May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than double an average RN’s salary.

3. There are many program options

From part-time programs to accelerated ones and even 1-year online MSN programs, there are more choices than ever for earning an advanced nursing degree. Students can choose full or part-time in some cases and customize their course schedules thanks to schools catering more to adult students and technology that allows for remote and distance learning. This is especially helpful for people who would like to continue working while they go to school.

4. You’ll gain a deeper knowledge of a specific area of nursing

Some advanced nursing practices may require learning an advanced skill set than what typical RNs are exposed to, whether it’s working exclusively with cardiac patients, in a neonatal unit, or as a forensic nurse. MSN programs often allow students to choose a specialty track so they go more in-depth with their studies and become experts in their field.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Cons

If MSN programs were simple and free, everyone would get one. But, like any other educational pursuit, there are some potential obstacles to consider.

1. MSN programs are expensive

There’s no avoiding the fact that advanced degrees are a big investment, costing in the tens of thousands of dollars. Even though they have the potential to pay for themselves in a few years, coming up with the money to pay tuition or borrowing funds is sometimes a deterrent.

Fortune.com estimates that an online master’s degree in nursing can cost somewhere between $35,000 and $70,000, and even up to $100,000.

2. Advanced degrees in nursing are tough

Master’s programs are challenging – there’s no doubt about that. But even more so for nurses who are continuing to work and juggle family responsibilities as they take classes. It can certainly be done, as thousands of students prove each year, but it’s not an endeavor to be taken lightly.

3. Coursework and clinical hours are time-consuming

Even if you decide to take your time or go the online MSN route, you should still be prepared to dedicate a significant number of hours per week to your studies and/or clinical requirements. Doing so will likely require some shuffling around of responsibilities and a strong support network at home and work.

4. You may need prerequisites

Some MSN programs have prerequisites required for enrollment, such as a recent statistics class or experience as a nurse

Is a Master of Science in Nursing Right For You?

An MSN degree is probably a good idea for those who want to pursue the following:

>> Show Me Online MSN Programs

How Much More Will I Earn With An MSN?

The exact figure will vary considerably based on your specialty, employment setting, and full- or part-time employment.

It’s not uncommon for a nurse with an MSN to earn more than $100,000 per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some advanced practice registered nurses, like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, earn an average of $123,780 annually.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Making Your Choice

Getting your MSN is certainly an option for nurses who want to change the trajectory of their careers, earn more, or specialize. But by no means do you have to feel pressure to get one right away.

Many nurses wait until they are in a good place financially or have more time to dedicate to a program of study before they head back to the classroom. If you’re considering an MSN, it is a big decision, so think through the pros and cons to decide if it’s a good professional move for you.

FAQs

  • What does an MSN degree stand for?

  • How long does it take to get an MSN?

    • Nurses who already have a BSN and clinical experience can earn an MSN degree in 15-24 months full-time. That timeline increases to around 2-4 years for part-time students. Direct-entry MSN programs (for students with non-nursing bachelor's degrees) take around 3 years, while RN to MSN programs take 3 to 4.
  • How much does a nurse with an MSN make per year?

    • According to the BLS, some advanced practice registered nurses, like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, earn $125,900 annually.
  • If I don’t have a BSN, should I get an MSN instead?

    • Nurses who earn a BSN first and then an MSN later often spend more money and time on their education overall. ADN to MSN programs usually take three years, while ADN to BSN programs take two. That extra year may be well worth it, considering that some MSN nurses earn double a BSN's salary.
  • What kind of jobs can you get with an MSN degree?

    • Some of the jobs you can get as a nurse with an MSN degree are Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Certified Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Administrator, Clinical Nurse Leader, Nurse Educator, and Informatics Nurse. 

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