Choosing Between RN to MSN and Traditional BSN to MSN Programs (2024)

Are you proud of your work as aregistered nurseand eager to continue building your skill set and making a difference in the healthcare sector? Then returning to nursing school and adding a new degree to your already impressive resume may be the right choice for you.

If you have already completed your associate degree in nursing (ADN), you may be thinking of taking the next step to pursue your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is a wonderful option, but it’s not theonlypath available to ADN-trained RNs.

Another approach to consider? TheRN to MSN. It is possible to go directly from completing your ADN (and getting licensed as an RN) to graduating with your master’s degree.

Below, we look at this unique path and and answer the important question:What degrees do you need to be a nurse? Keep reading to discover the available BSN andMSN nursingpathways and the role they can play in your career.

Understanding the Nursing Career Ladder

Nursing is an appealing career track, in part, because it offers many opportunities for growth and advancement. This also can make it difficult to know which degrees or positions to seek and when. Notable rungs on the nursing career ladder include:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) As an entry-level nursing role, working as a CNA means performing basic administrative or care-oriented tasks under the supervision of an RN. Examples might include bathing, grooming, or repositioning patients. Training can typically be completed in a few short months.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) Typically spanning 12 months, LPN and LVN programs allow nurses to develop basic clinical skills. LPNs and LVNs perform essential tasks such as taking vital signs or administering medications.
  • Registered Nurse(RN) RNs have a broader scope of practice than CNAs or LPNs. This level of nursing can be secured by completing one of two degrees: an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Regardless of educational achievements, passing the NCLEX-RN exam is always necessary to become an RN.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Pursued before or after becoming an RN, the BSN is a four-year degree that conveys competence with evidence-based practice, along with exceptional research skills and a nuanced understanding of the healthcare system, patient care technologies, and leadership principles necessary for managing complex clinical environments.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Building upon the foundation of the BSN, the MSN represents a rigorous graduate-level degree program that can help RNs climb the career ladder and obtain in-demand roles such as advanced practiceregistered nurse(APRN) ornurse practitioner(NP).
  • Advanced PracticeRegistered Nurse(APRN) Specialized roles in APRN nursing call for education and training above and beyond what is completed by aBSN nurse. APRNs are highly respected professionals who receive considerable autonomy in a professional capacity.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Helping high-level nurses prepare for leadership clinical and non-clinical roles, theDNP emphasizes evidence-based practice. Like the PhD in Nursing, this is a terminal degree.
  • PhD in Nursing Emphasizing high-level research methodologies and nursing’s theoretical foundations, the PhD in Nursing provides an amazing opportunity to contribute to an ever-growing body of knowledge.
  • Nurse Educator/Nurse Administrator Available to many nurses with their BSN or graduate degree, nurse education and administration roles allow experienced nurses to guide and support fellow clinical professionals.

The TraditionalBSN to MSNPathway

There are plenty of ways to advance academically while expanding clinical, leadership, or research skills. Often, this begins with becoming an RN. From there, an important decision awaits: determining whether to pursueBSN nursingor enroll in an expeditedRN to MSNprogram. The BSN approach is more conventional, but some RNs are beginning to rethink this tried-and-tested approach.

TheRN to MSNBridge Pathway

There is nothing wrong with getting a BSN before enrolling in a separate MSN program. That said, this path is not always necessary, nor is it always ideal. After all, some ambitious students recognize from the get-go that they want to work as APRNs or in other high-level nursing roles.

In this situation, the ‘typical’ BSN pathway can feel a bit disjointed, and, in some cases,MSN nursingstudents may find themselves rehashing courses or concepts they have already encountered through their previously completed BSN programs. But, a cohesive academic trajectory is still possible, moving directly from undergraduate-level coursework to graduate nursing opportunities.

6 Key Differences BetweenRN to MSNandBSN to MSN

RN to MSNandBSN to MSNprograms have a lot in common: with both, the goal is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing and to expand career opportunities. How this is achieved can vary based on several factors. We’ve highlighted a few of the most noteworthy differences between these programs below:

1. Educational Background Required

In some situations, the decision between theRN to MSNand theBSN to MSNis not a matter of choice, it may be determined based on the RN’s level of education. As its name implies, theBSN to MSNpathway calls for a bachelor’s degree. With anRN to MSNprogram, however, it is possible to enroll after securing an ADN degree. With both programs, licensure as an RN is essential.

2. Program Length

Ambitious nurses looking to advance in their careers as quickly as possible may seek accelerated programs that allow them to secure requisite degrees in a few short years. Others may seek more balance or prefer to gain more experience before proceeding with graduate-level coursework. Either approach is valid, but these priorities may be differently served byRN to MSNorBSN to MSNprograms.

The path to becoming anMSN nursewill be far shorter if a BSN has already been secured. At this point, students only need to focus on graduate-level classes. BSN nurses entering MSN programs commit to around 36 credit hours, which can take up to two years to complete.

TheRN to MSNprogram at Baker College spans 51 credit hours and approximately three years of study. With a streamlined path between RN andMSN nursing, the overall time of enrollment may be reduced — at least compared to securing a BSN degreeand thenan MSN.

3. Curriculum Focus

By the time nursing students move into graduate-level coursework, they can expect to specialize in areas of personal interest or professional relevance. At the outset of theRN to MSNprogram, coursework is more general, allowing RNs to build a stronger foundation in evidence-based practice. At Baker College, bothRN to MSNandBSN to MSNstudents can pursue specialty tracks such as Nursing Education or Nursing Administration.

4. Career Advancement Opportunities

Both theRN to MSNand theBSN to MSNprovide powerful opportunities for nurses to advance in their careers. Howandwhenthis is achieved will vary from one program to the next. Upon completing theRN to MSNprogram, nurses can promptly seek jobs as nurse educators, nurse administrators, or APRNs. Those who obtain their BSN may continue as RNs, although specialty positions at the RN level are more accessible to BSN-trained nurses than they are for ADN-trained professionals.

5. Cost and Time Commitment

As we’ve mentioned, the duration of theRN to MSNdegree is technically longer than theBSN to MSN, although the former approach still represents an expedited pathway through the various levels of nursing. Either way, program duration will play into the cost of tuition. With more credit hours come higher tuition bills, but there is a caveat.RN to MSNstudents may advance more quickly into higher-paying management or specialty roles.

6. Flexibility and Accessibility

Learning formats matter greatly to busy nursing students, who often juggle rigorous coursework with equally demanding jobs. It is easy to see, then, why so many nursing students are eager to complete their degrees online. Thankfully, both types of MSN programs are available in fully online formats.

The Impact of Your Choice on Your Nursing Career

There is no one ‘right’ choice for ambitious nurses, and the decision to seek additional training should always be commended. Still, this decision can play heavily into nursing career outcomes, determining how long you spend working in certain specialties or levels of nursing.

If you choose to obtain your BSN before moving on to your MSN, you may spend more time as an RN. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some RNs like to take their time to determine where their passion lies and which patient populations or health concerns they want to focus on. Nevertheless, if you have big plans and aren’t willing to wait, theRN to MSNis your best bet.

Other Practical Considerations When Choosing Your Nursing Career Path

Your nursing bridge program and your long-term career plans will be closely linked, so it is important to view this decision from every angle. Additional considerations worth taking into account include:

  • Current educational status Your next step in nursing may depend on what you’ve accomplished thus far. For example, if you already have your BSN, the natural progression would be anMSN nursingprogram. If you have your ADN and are currently working as an RN, you have more flexibility to either enter anRN to MSNprogram or to earn your BSN separately.
  • Financial considerations Numerous financial concerns can play into your decision, including not only the cost of tuition, but also when and how your degree is covered. Some nurses prefer to spread the cost of tuition over time, perhaps by completing a BSN and working a few additional years before resuming college at the graduate level. Scholarship and financial aid opportunities should also be examined.
  • Specializations or passion projects The BSN route may be more appealing to RNs who know they want to advance their careers but have yet to develop concrete plans. This makes it easier to test the waters as an RN in a specialty area, such as palliative care or oncology. TheRN to MSN may call for quicker decision-making, as it’s often sought as an expedited path to specific nursing roles.

Start Your Nursing Education at Baker College

No matter where you find yourself in your professional trajectory, you can look to Baker College to help you advance in your career. As a nurse, this might mean seeking your BSN or your MSN.EachBaker College nursing programprovides the support and guidance you need as you seek compelling opportunities. Reach out today to learn more about ourBSNandMSN nursingdegrees, or apply once you’ve made your decision!

Choosing Between RN to MSN and Traditional BSN to MSN Programs (2024)


Why are you choosing a MSN over a BSN? ›

Differences Between a BSN and MSN

Individuals considering earning either a BSN or MSN should consider their personal long-term career goals. The primary difference between the degrees is that an MSN provides nurses with more career options and opportunities to increase their annual salaries.

Should I skip my BSN and go straight to MSN? ›

While obtaining a BSN before moving on to an MSN has traditionally been the most common educational pathway for nurses, many higher education institutions now offer alternative programs designed for nurses seeking to earn their MSN without a BSN.

Is RN to MSN a good idea? ›

By obtaining an MSN, the RN is open to more specialized care opportunities. For example, if an RN knows they want to eventually land in an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) role an MSN is the only way to get there.

Is MSN more difficult than BSN? ›

The main reason an MSN is harder than a BSN is the curriculum is quite rigorous. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is an undergraduate program. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate degree program, which means you will cover more in-depth course content.

What can an MSN do that a BSn cannot? ›

What can an MSN do that a BSN can't? MSNs can get higher-level positions in clinical nursing and nursing practice, along with administrative roles, research, and management.

What are the benefits of getting MSN? ›

One of the key benefits of pursuing an MSN degree is that it allows nurses to specialize in a particular area of interest or expertise. This could include a focus on specific patient populations or specialized care settings, such as geriatric nursing, psychiatric mental health nursing, or clinical nurse specialists.

How many years does it take to go from BSN to MSN? ›

You may be wondering how long such a specified program might take, and it is important to know that different programs will vary based on how many units you need to take. However, pursuing a BSN to MSN will usually take you about two years to complete.

How long does it take to go from RN to MSN? ›

Students in this type of nursing degree program track could potentially complete their master's in as few as 18 months. If you're an RN with a degree other than a BSN, you could choose the RN to MSN degree track, which typically requires a minimum of two years to complete.

What is the easiest NP program to get into? ›

Family nurse practitioner programs are easier to get into, mainly because there are so many. You can attend an FNP program in person, online, or in a hybrid format and earn either an MSN or DNP degree.

Is MSN being phased out? ›

This marks a significant change from today's requirement of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). In May 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) announced that all entry-level nurse practitioner education programs would shift from the MSN to the DNP by 2025.

What percentage of nurses have a MSN degree? ›

In 2022, 17.4% of the nation's registered nurses held a master's degree and 2.7% held a doctoral degree as their highest educational preparation.

What is a good GPA for MSN? ›

While master's nursing requirements differ from program to program, many MSN programs require a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.

What is the hardest class for a nursing major? ›

It shouldn't be too surprising that many nursing students consider Pharmacology to be the hardest class in nursing school.

What is the hardest nursing major? ›

Nursing is not an easy course to take. Anatomy & Physiology, Microbiology, and Pharmacology all have a well-deserved reputation for being challenging to pass. Likewise, Medical-Surgical Nursing, Chemistry, Maternal and Child Health Nursing, or even Psychology may be particularly challenging for some students.

What is the hardest MSN course? ›

What Are The Hardest Classes In MSN Program? The hardest classes in an MSN program are typically advanced health assessment, advanced pharmacology, and advanced anatomy and physiology.

How is MSN different than BSN? ›

The main difference is that a BSN RN focuses more on hands-on patient care, while an MSN RN covers leadership, administration and educational roles, and can still work bedside patient care. That is why the skills that you gain during these programs are quite different.

What is the pay difference between BSN and MSN? ›

MSN Salary Differences. Advanced education is often accompanied by higher annual salaries. According to PayScale, as of June 2021, nurses with a BSN had a median annual salary of around $86,800, while nurses with an MSN had a median salary of around $96,300.

What are the benefits of BSN vs RN? ›

A registered nurse (RN) who holds a bachelor's degree of science in nursing has more job opportunities than a RN with only an associates degree in nursing (ADN). Since there are more job prospects for registered nurses with BSN degrees, the level of their pay also increases due to the demand for BSN graduates.

What is the difference between BSN and MSN in nursing scholarly articles? ›

Nurses with an MSN possess a skill set of advanced treatments, broad system-level thinking, and leadership skills that nurses with a BSN do not. These skills may not be directly tied to patient care but are necessary for advancement in the nursing profession.

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