Understanding the Value of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

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Wondering if it’s worth it to earn an MSN to start your nursing career? Today, there are more paths to a nursing career than ever before. People who want to make the change to a nursing career (like you), can choose from a variety of different program options, including associate degree programs, accelerated bachelor degree programs, and now, direct-entry master of science in nursing (DEMSN) programs.

Direct-entry MSN programs go by other names, including:

Entry-level MSN
Alternative-entry MSN
Accelerated MSN

However, they all have the same purpose: to offer career changers with a bachelor’s degree in another field the opportunity to enter the nursing profession with advanced skills for patient care, research, and leadership.

There are many benefits to entering the nursing profession with a master’s-level qualification. Here are a few to consider as you research your options.

What Is an MSN Degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree that offers advanced preparation in:

Direct patient care, including care for specific populations of patients

Nursing research, patient advocacy and nursing ethics

Administrative and leadership skills

By earning a DEMSN to start your career, you can enter nursing knowing you are set up to provide quality care to patients—and to benefit the profession in other ways, including as an administrator, in research, or many other ways.

How to Get an MSN Degree

An MSN is a graduate program, so students need an undergraduate degree to earn one. Traditionally, students would have to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and then move up to the MSN. With a DEMSN, students who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field of study (and who meet other requirements) can apply to earn an MSN.

Pros and Cons of Earning Your MSN

You may know you want to become a nurse, but you may be wondering if earning an MSN is worth it. There are different factors to consider when deciding whether or not to enter the profession with an MSN.

Benefits of Earning an MSN

The benefits of earning a DEMSN to start your career include:

  • Gaining advanced clinical skills that can benefit the patients you care for
  • Gaining advanced research skills that can equip you to contribute to new knowledge in the nursing profession
  • Potentially boosting your earning power with a graduate degree (see below for more information about the salary differences between a BSN, MSN, and MSN with a specialty certification)
  • Standing out in the job market—many other new nurses will only hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and your MSN may make employers take notice
  • Finally, many DEMSN programs only take a few months longer to complete than a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

Drawbacks to Earning an MSN

There may be a few reasons you might not want to start your nursing career with an MSN degree. They may include:

  • The need to take prerequisite courses, extending your time to complete your program and adding to your costs.
  • The significant academic commitment—graduate-level study is intensive, and graduate-level study in nursing requires you to assimilate advanced material in science, mathematics and more.
  • Slightly longer time to completion, which can mean spending more time out of employment earning a salary.
  • Graduate degree programs can cost more per credit than an undergraduate degree program, meaning you spend about as much money even though you are only in school for about two years.

How Much Can You Earn with an MSN Degree?

Nursing salaries vary by location, employer, and qualification. However, average salaries reported to Payscale.com suggest that MSN-qualified nurses have the potential to earn more than BSN-qualified nurses. In August 2022, the average reported salaries for each degree were:

$89,000

$89,000 for Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates [1]

$98,000

$98,000 for Master of Science in Nursing graduates [2]

While salaries vary greatly, MSN graduates may enjoy enhanced earning potential compared to BSN graduates. This is especially true for MSN graduates who go on to obtain certification in a specialty area. Salaries for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse educators can be excellent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual salaries in May 2021 for MSN-qualified specialty nurses were as follows:

$120,680
Nurse practitioners [3]
$195,610
Nurse anesthetists [4]
$112,830
Nurse midwives[5]
$77,440
Nursing educators[6]

Your MSN degree sets you up to pursue additional training that can enhance your earning prospects significantly. That’s part of the value it can offer you.

How Much Does an MSN Degree Cost?

The entry-level MSN programs on directentrymsn.com have tuition costs between $50,000 and $65,000 (not including fees, books and materials).

Average costs for MSN programs nationwide are difficult to calculate because tuition costs and program lengths can vary so much from school to school. One rule of thumb is to expect an MSN to cost about as much as a bachelor’s degree—even though the program is shorter, the material is more advanced and technical.

However, remember that financial aid is available to you if you qualify, and the fact that an MSN is a graduate degree means you may have more room to borrow compared to earning a BSN degree.

This is because if you have student loans from the U.S. government, earning a BSN as a second bachelor’s degree can put you at risk of running into federal borrowing limits for undergraduate programs.

MSN Degree Prerequisites and Courses

While our entry-level MSN programs are available to qualifying students who earned a bachelor’s degree in any field, you will need to have some background knowledge in science, math and statistics in order to succeed in your program.

MSN Degree Prerequisites

Many DEMSN programs require you to have taken prerequisite courses. These vary from program to program, but usually include bachelor’s-level courses in:

Biology, chemistry, and human anatomy

Psychology and/or human development

Statistics

Some DEMSN programs will allow you to complete prerequisite courses online after you enroll and before your MSN classes start.

MSN Degree Courses

The courses you take in an entry-level MSN program cover nursing theory, clinical skills, research and nursing leadership. The exact sequence of courses will vary from degree to degree. Common courses you may take include:

  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Nursing Research and Scholarship
  • Population-Based Health
  • Advanced Health and Physical Assessment
  • Advanced Nursing Theory

MSN Degree FAQs

What is the average salary for an MSN degree?

MSN salaries vary depending on location, experience and specialty area. According to Payscale.com, the average salary for an MSN graduate in the U.S. was $98,000 as of August 2022.[7]

What is the average cost of an MSN degree?

It’s difficult to give a national average because tuition varies so much from school to school. The programs on directentrymsn.com range between $50,000-$65,000.

Is an MSN degree worth it?

Yes! Earning your MSN degree can help you gain advanced skills, set you up for advancement into specialty practice faster and help you stand out in the job market.

Does an MSN earn more than a BSN?

Yes. According to Payscale.com, MSN graduates earned $98,000[8] in August 2022 compared to $89,000 for BSN graduates.[9]