How Long Does it Take to get a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)?

June 10, 2021

A typical master’s degree in nursing (MSN) can range from a year to three years to complete. Factors that can alter the timeline for a student include previous education and experience, prerequisite courses, and whether a registered nurse (RN) licensure has been completed, to name a few. There are traditional paths to get a master’s in nursing that often take two to three years to finish while alternative paths have been able to offer students the option to finish an MSN program in as few as 12 months. Some alternative MSN programs include RN to MSN, BSN to MSN, and direct entry MSN. For more information, keep reading to learn how long an MSN program takes and the different types of paths to get a master’s in nursing and start the next step in your career.

Traditional Path to Earning an MSN Degree

The traditional path to earning a master’s degree in nursing is by completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and earning your RN licensure. A student considering earning a master’s in nursing in a traditional format would likely be starting the program right after completion of their BSN or after gaining a few years of work experience as a nurse.

How Long Does the Traditional MSN Degree Take?

A traditional MSN degree can take from 16 months to two years. Students who include a specialty focus in their coursework will increase their overall MSN program length. Many programs also offer full-time and part-time study for a master’s in nursing degree, which can impact how long an MSN program will take to finish.

Traditional MSN Path Requirements

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Registered nurse (RN) license
  • GPA and GRE scores (varies)
  • Clinical experience (varies)
  • Completed prerequisite courses (varies)

Alternative Paths to an MSN Degree

A traditional path to an MSN is not the only way to get to your dream career in nursing. There are now many quality alternative paths to getting a master’s in nursing. Direct entry/entry-level MSN programs are great options to earn a master’s degree in nursing if you already have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and want to switch careers. RN to MSN degrees build a path for nurses with work experience who already earned an associate degree. BSN to MSN pathway programs are designed for students who completed a BSN, hold a valid RN license and want to continue to advance directly into a specialty or leadership role.

Direct Entry MSN (DEMSN) or Entry-Level MSN (ELMSN) Program

What is a DEMSN/ELMSN?

A Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (DEMSN) program is a graduate MSN degree for non-nurses who want to start a new career as a registered nurse (RN). This program can often be called an Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN). Regardless of the programs naming conventions, direct entry MSN’s and entry-level MSN’s, are the same degree program. Both programs are offered to students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, allowing for completion time to be accelerated. Once students earn their master’s degree in nursing, they will be prepared to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and become an RN. Learn more about direct entry master’s in nursing programs in our complete DEMSN guide.

How long does it take?

Direct entry MSN programs can range from 16 months to two years. Some factors that will affect how long it takes to get a master’s in nursing include the modality, coursework, and if concentration options are added to the program. Direct entry MSN program curriculum focuses on developing clinical assessment skills, leadership in nursing and advanced concepts in health care to prepare students to be an RN with master’s degree expertise and take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. These MSN program lengths are typically shorter than other MSN programs with specialty concentrations built into their curriculum.

RN to MSN Program

What is an RN to MSN?

An RN to MSN program is designed to create an efficient path that lets current RNs advance their education and their career by earning a master’s in nursing degree. An MSN offers new possibilities for RNs to build off their work experience and strive for upward mobility and satisfaction in their roles. Some RN to MSN programs are better suited for students who hold an associate’s degree and little to no work experience, while other programs might be designed specifically for RNs who have been in the workforce for years already.

How long does it take?

An RN to MSN program typically takes between 16 months and three years to complete. How long an RN to MSN program can take depends on the type of program you choose. Some full-time MSN programs can be completed in 16 months and prepare RNs to get back to work with a higher-quality education in health sciences and leadership. For students who already have an associate’s degree in nursing, RN to MSN programs that include a specialty focus can typically take three years to complete.

BSN to MSN Program

What is a BSN to MSN? 

A BSN to MSN program is for nurses who already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and hold a valid RN license. The program is designed for RN’s seeking career advancement. Students who prefer working as an RN while they earn their MSN may select this this path due to the flexibility of the program. Many of the MSN courses can be offered online, providing working nurses the ability to complete a degree on their schedule.

How long does it take?

A BSN to MSN program can take anywhere from 12 months to two years to complete. How long it takes to earn an MSN through can vary. An individual who is simply looking to advance their degree and nursing assessments without a specialization can complete their MSN in an online format in 12 months. While students who are looking to select a specialization or become a nurse practitioner have more classes and clinical hours to complete which increases the program length to two years. The decision to be a part-time or full-time student can also impact the length of your program.

Explore Our DEMSN Programs

Finding the right program to start a new career in nursing can be difficult so we did the hard part for you! You can learn more about what a DEMSN program is, how long it takes to get a master’s degree in nursing, and more at You can also find featured direct entry nursing programs that might be right for you. We have the information you’ll need to know when choosing the right DEMSN program for your future. Read more about the reputable DEMSN programs here.

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