Master of Science in Nursing

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs prepare current nurses for a career as an advanced practice nurse or increase their expertise in an area of specialization. Find out about online and on-campus MSN programs, and learn about common course topics, admission requirements and specialization areas. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Master of Science in Nursing Program Entail?

There are numerous requirements for admission to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, but only one is universal - you must have a bachelor's degree in nursing or a related area. Most institutions require Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, but some will admit selected students with bachelor's degrees in related health science areas. If your bachelor's degree is not a BSN, however, you may have to take pre-master's courses in areas like anatomy, nutrition and biology.

Most MSN programs also mandate that you are a Registered Nurse (RN) prior to admission; this requires you to pass a national licensure examination. A few institutions offer MSN programs to those without RN licenses. However, such programs generally have additional course requirements, which vary by school.

After gaining admission to a MSN program, you can often declare a concentration in the area of nursing most closely matching your professional goals. Options include adult nurse practitioner, neonatal nursing, clinical nursing, nurse anesthesia, nurse education, gerontology and nurse informatics. A chunk of the credits required for graduation, which vary from one program to the next, will be based around your concentration.

Virtually all programs require you to complete numerous supervised clinical hours in your area of interest at an on-campus or nearby medical facility. You'll also generally need to complete a thesis in your specialization area; however, some schools may let you do a capstone project or take a comprehensive examination instead.

Prerequisites Bachelor's degree is required; most programs also require applicants to be Registered Nurses
Common Courses Clinical healthcare, nursing research, advanced practice nursing, health assessments, community health
Learning Environment Traditional classroom, fully online and hybrid programs are available for enrollment
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 31% growth (for Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners)*
Median Salary (2018)$113,930 (for Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Classes Will I Take?

Regardless of your area of concentration, you'll begin your MSN studies by taking several core nursing courses. These generally cover foundational topics like theories of nursing, current issues in healthcare, nursing research, advanced practice nursing and clinical healthcare. Additionally, several of the credit hours required to earn your degree will come in the form of the required clinical practice explained above. The rest of your plan of study will typically be comprised of courses required for your concentration, or if you don't have one, topics of interest in advanced practice nursing. The following are examples of topics commonly covered in MSN programs:

  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Human pathophysiology
  • Health assessments
  • Symptom management
  • Acute and chronic disease control
  • Community health
  • Epidemiology
  • Patient and family stress management

How Do I Participate in Online Courses?

As a student in a distance-learning MSN program, you generally complete all your theoretical coursework online, using nothing more than an Internet-connected computer and perhaps some basic software programs. You need not even visit your school's campus to complete your clinical practicum. Clinical requirements can be fulfilled at a hospital, health clinic or other medical facility near you; you'll just need to have your work site approved in advance by your school.

Required courses in online MSN programs are transmitted through interactive teaching and learning platforms, such as Blackboard Vista or WebCT. These course delivery systems allow you to access all of your work for a given course, including readings, lecture notes or videos, assigned homework or projects, and exams. You can also use the course website to submit your completed assignments and communicate with professors and fellow students via the included e-mail, message board or chat functions.

In addition to the fully online MSN programs described above, hybrid programs are available through some universities, generally in RN-to-MSN format. Exact program structure and guidelines differ from one school to the next. In most cases, you can complete your theoretical courses online, but must make limited campus visits to take certain courses, often those that require applied study or hands-on lab work. Mandatory campus visits are generally scheduled in sporadic blocks of time - for example, two four-day periods per academic year - which may make travel easier for students with busy schedules.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools