MSN Programs

As a nurse, no two days are the same. By choosing to continue your education, you are unlocking an array of nursing career opportunities. A Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program will give you a greater understanding of medicine, healthcare policies, and patient care. Many educational institutions provide both traditional and online MSN degree programs. As a working nurse, online degree programs can be a great option because they allow you to complete coursework at your own pace.

Which MSN degree program is right for me?

A MSN is a general degree path that can educate new nurses, and teach you how to provide more involved patient care, advance nursing research, become an educator, nursing administrator, or health policy expert. A MSN is a post-graduate degree that is required for nurses who want to advance beyond practicing as a registered nurse (RN).

There are several different ways for you to obtain a MSN that are dependent upon your prior education. Many colleges and universities offer specific MSN degree programs for the following types of students:

  • Students with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – These are referred to as RN to MSN or bridge programs. They are designed for students who have an ADN and have passed the NCLEX. These programs can take between three to four years to complete and typically require prior experience working as a nurse.
  • RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – This is the most commonly offered type of MSN degree program, and it takes about two years to complete. To be considered for admission, most educational institutions will require (at minimum) a BSN, an active nursing license, and experience working as a RN.
  • Students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree – People who are looking for a career change who have earned their bachelor’s degree in a subject other than nursing would apply to this type of program. Not every educational institution offers this type of degree track, which is sometimes referred to as an entry or accelerated program. Students interested in an entry MSN program will be required to complete specific courses (frequently offered online) in subjects like anatomy, statistics, nutrition, and physiology before they can be admitted into this degree program.

It is always important to thoroughly research the admission requirements of a degree program that you are interested in prior to applying. Earning your MSN can take between two to four years to complete. How long it takes you to complete your degree varies due to the structure of the program, how your prior education transfers over to the MSN program, and how much time you are able to commit to your studies. Be sure to look through our grants and scholarships guide to learn about financial aid opportunities for FNP students.

MSN Specialized Tracks

A MSN is an umbrella degree that breaks down into a multitude of specialized tracks for students to choose from based on their career goals. We have placed these tracks into two categories, advanced practice nursing and administrative nursing.

Advanced Practice Nursing

Advanced practice nursing specialties are created to teach you how to provide in-depth, comprehensive care to their respective patient populations. Since the focus is on patient care, these tracks tend to require more practical clinical hours than time spent in a classroom.

Below is a list of the more commonly offered specialized tracks within a MSN degree program.

Your curriculum and clinical hours will vary depending on which specialty you choose. However, there are typically a set of foundational, or core, subjects that your program will cover regardless of your educational and career focus.

Core classes for advanced practice nursing tracks can include the following subjects:

  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Nursing Philosophies and Ethics
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Applying Research to Practice
  • Advanced Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Epidemiology
  • Advanced Practice Nursing Roles and Responsibilities

Administrative Nursing

Each subject listed here has less to do with patient care and focuses more so on the business, technical, educational, and/or scientific aspects of the nursing and healthcare industry. The fields listed in this category are more likely than the prior list to be offered as their own degree program, in addition to being a specialty of a MSN degree. For example, many educational institutions feature a Master’s of Science in Public Health as well as a Master’s of Science in Nursing with a focus on public health.

Unlike the advanced practice nursing tracks, these specialties tend to require more class time, online or otherwise, than clinical hours. The list below features the more commonly offered administrative nursing-type tracks and some of the courses that you may need to take for that specialization.

  • Health Informatics – This track focuses on concepts and issues related to technology in a healthcare setting, and can teach you how to analyze electronic health records and utilize technology to aid patient care. Classes that you could take in this program can include managing data and information, health care systems analysis and design, nursing informatics, and information workflow.
  • Global/Public Health – You’ll learn how to work in a variety of settings, focus on preventing illnesses and promoting health, and gain leadership skills. Several of the courses involved in this specialty track can include population-based health interventions, infection prevention methods, public health nursing theories and practice, program development and evaluation, and public health research.
  • Administrative/Executive Nursing – The nursing and business departments of colleges and universities that offer this program typically work in tandem to give you a well-rounded perspective of what it takes to be a leader in this field. You may need to take classes such as fiscal management, managerial communication, healthcare operational planning, and organizational behavior and decision making.
  • Nursing Educator – You’ll learn how to construct lessons and present teaching opportunities in a classroom and clinical setting. Typical coursework in this type of program includes curriculum development, teaching methodologies, learning styles, and assessment and evaluation techniques.

As an aspiring nurse practitioner, you have a plethora of career possibilities ahead of you. That’s why a MSN can be a rich and vast degree program, with even more specialized options than we could cover in this guide.

Online Masters of Science Degrees in Nursing


Becoming a family nurse practitioner can be an especially rewarding field because you are able to develop relationships with and help entire families improve their health throughout their lives. Check out the rest of our website to learn more about the educational and career possibilities of an FNP.

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