The time it takes to finish an MSN program depends on each student’s credentials, enrollment status, and program requirements. Learners who already possess a bachelor’s degree, a current RN license, or a number of transferable college credits tend to earn their MSN more quickly than those who do not. Most full-time learners complete their RN-to-MSN online in 30-36 months. Among the degree options detailed here, the online BSN-to-MSN programs offer the fastest track to graduation.
MSN-seekers should enroll in only those programs with accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation ensures that a program meets certain academic standards and offers its students worthwhile credentials that help them advance their careers.
Featured Online Programs (RN License Required)
MSN Degree Paths
Online MSN students choose from one of three paths toward graduation. Depending on their current credentials, students enroll in a BSN-to-MSN, RN-to-MSN, or non-nursing bachelor’s to MSN program. The length of each track varies among students and programs. Students can expect to spend approximately 18, 25, or 36 months in an MSN program, depending on the track.
Prerequisites and application requirements vary among schools. RN-to-MSN programs typically require applicants to possess an associate in nursing degree, a nursing diploma, or both. Some schools that use the RN-to-MSN degree title may require applicants to possess an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Most programs expect their MSN applicants to possess an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Applicants usually need a current RN license for consideration, although there may be exceptions for non-nursing bachelor’s degree-holders.
The BSN-to-MSN, also known as the traditional MSN program, requires applicants to possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an unencumbered RN license. These programs best serve working RN nurses who wish to further develop their skill set and earn master’s-level credentials. Incoming BSN-to-MSN learners usually only need to complete around 36 credits of nursing coursework for these programs. Students must complete clinical hours for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specialties to meet state licensure requirements.
BSN-to-MSN degree-seekers often choose a specialty track, such as case management, executive nurse leadership, or nursing administration. Required courses for this track include leadership and management in complex healthcare systems, essentials of interprofessional practice, and professional presence and influence. Full-time students often need 15-24 months to complete the online BSN-to-MSN program.
RN-to-MSN Programs (ADN or Diploma)
Online RN-to-MSN programs usually require learners to complete approximately 60 credit hours to graduate. Typically, applicants must possess an unencumbered RN license and an associate nursing degree or nursing diploma. Foundational courses for these learners include classes in informatics, evidence-based practices, nursing leadership and management, and statistics. Students often pursue a specialized track upon completion of foundational classes. Common specialities include nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and clinical nurse midwife.
Most RN-to-MSN online programs take 30-36 months to finish. Many specialty areas require learners to complete clinical hours, which can extend completion time in the program.
Non-Nursing Bachelor’s-to-MSN Programs
Non-nursing bachelor’s-to-MSN programs go by several titles. Some schools may refer to it as a direct-entry MSN option, an entry-level MSN, or an accelerated MSN. Applicants for these programs must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, albeit from a non-nursing field. These learners sit for the NCLEX-RN exam upon completion of the degree or a designated selection of classes to earn their RN credentials.
Curricula for the degree vary among schools but usually require non-nursing bachelor’s to MSN students to finish 36-70 credits of coursework. Required classes may include advanced pharmacology, assessment and intervention for families, and teaching strategies in nursing. These programs usually take non-nursing bachelor’s degree-holders approximately 1-2 years to complete.