Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

MSN Degree

Considering advancing your nursing education? Earning your Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) can open the door to nearly limitless possibilities in the nursing field and beyond! We’ve got information on everything from why an MSN degree is a smart choice to which specialties pay the most.

Average Program Length

1-2 years

Average Credits Required

36-60 credits

Average Annual Salary


Opportunities With an MSN

Good Job Outlook

The BLS projects that MSN positions, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners could grow by 45% from 2020-2030, significantly higher than the 8% projected for all professions.

Paths to Advance

After earning an MSN degree, nurses have the opportunity to pursue a doctor of nursing practice to become an advanced practice registered nurse.

Hands-On Experience

Nurses gain additional hands-on experience within their chosen specialty during their MSN program. Most practicum requirements vary by institution and specialty.

Skills Learned

Outside of clinical knowledge geared toward their specific specialty, nurses also gain skills in time management, communication, leadership, critical thinking, and resourcefulness.

Featured MSN Specialties

Nurses with an MSN degree benefit from various specialization options, allowing graduates to focus on an area of medicine that interests them the most. Each MSN specialty is geared toward a specific population and differs in annual salary and demand.

Certified Nurse Midwife

Nurse midwives provide women's health services at hospitals, private practices, and birthing centers. They offer assistance with reproductive health; pre-conception, labor, and delivery; postpartum care; and peri-post menopausal treatment.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide care to individuals with various mental health conditions. They focus on helping patients cope with mood disorders, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners deliver family-based health services that focus on multiple populations. Patients may include infants, adolescents, adults, and the elderly in community health centers, private practices, healthcare systems, and universities.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and other medications to patients undergoing surgery. They monitor the patient's vital signs during the procedure and while they recover.

Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN) Salary

While there are a variety of factors that influence the earning potential of a nurse, such as specialization, practice setting, and location, earning an MSN degree can greatly impact a nurse’s yearly salary. Whereas nurses with bachelor’s degrees earn $89,000 annually ($33.74 per hour), those with an MSN can earn almost 10% more at $98,000 annually.

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Admission Requirements for an MSN Program

The following list covers some of the major requirements for MSN programs, although requirements vary by school.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Many MSN programs expect incoming students to possess a BSN. However, some bridge or fast-track programs allow learners to enroll with an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in another field.


RN License

The majority of MSN programs require applicants to possess RN licensure. Some programs also prefer candidates with 1-3 years of work experience, but this is not the case at every school. Fast-track programs accept students from other disciplines, so they do not expect RN licensure.

Minimum GPA

Most graduate schools set a minimum undergraduate GPA for admission. This may range from 2.5-3.2 or even 3.5 in very competitive programs.

Test Scores

Not every MSN program requires test scores, but some request students to submit GRE or MAT scores.

Other Application Materials

These may include a personal essay or recommendation letters.

Core Concepts of an MSN Program

All accredited nursing programs must follow a curricular framework created by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). This framework outlines the essential courses and core competencies needed to successfully prepare nurses for their role after earning an advanced degree.

Although specific requirements vary by institution, accredited programs incorporate similar core concepts. Based on the AACN framework, most MSN students can anticipate courses in advanced physiology, pharmacology, policy and ethics, patient advocacy, informatics, and nurse management techniques.

While required courses teach advanced nursing skills, they also provide nurses with knowledge that can help in various practice settings. Therefore, MSN graduates become experts in competencies that include clinical judgment, communication, compassionate care, diversity, equality, inclusion, ethics, evidence-based practice, health policy, and social determinants of health.

Clinical and Lab Components in an MSN Program

MSN programs require students to complete a certain amount of clinical hours to graduate. Online MSN programs have similar requirements. Clinical hour practicum requirements vary from specialty to specialty.

500-600 hours

Nurse Practitioner

600+ hours

Clinical Nurse Specialist

1,000 hours

Nurse Midwife

2,500 hours + 

administering 800 anesthetics
Certified RN Anesthetist

What to Expect From an Online MSN Program

Many MSN students prefer to enroll in online nursing programs rather than on-campus degrees. Online programs often follow an asynchronous format, which means distance learners can log on to listen to lectures and contribute to class discussions on their own time. Online MSN programs are an especially attractive option to anyone who must attend to other responsibilities, such as caring for their families or working a full- or part-time job.

Although online programs conduct all coursework through a web-based CMS, nursing students still usually need to complete any required lab classes and supervised clinical rotations on campus or at a hospital. Students are often expected to arrange their own clinical rotations.