BSN Vs. MSN: How To Choose As An RN | (2023)

If you have an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and are working as a registered nurse (RN), you can further your career with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN). But which is the right choice? Deciding between the BSN vs. MSN can be difficult.

This guide breaks down MSN degree outcomes, outlines RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program pros and cons, and gives you other valuable information to make your decision.

RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN Programs Compared

An MSN is a master's degree that can prepare you to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse midwife or a nurse practitioner. A BSN is a bachelor's degree that can lead to promotion or prepare you to earn an MSN, but does not give you a scope of practice beyond your RN license.

RN-to-BSN vs. RN-to-MSN
Who is it for?RNs who have not earned a BSNRNs who have not earned a BSN
Program Length1-2 years2-4 years
Degree ConferredBSN degreeMSN degree
Average Salary$91,000 according to Payscale, February 2023$100,000 according to Payscale, February 2023

Featured Online MSN Programs

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RN-to-BSN Overview

If you already have an ADN, you may wonder why you should consider enrolling in an RN-to-BSN or an RN-to-MSN program. Many employers prefer or require a BSN for higher-level positions, and applying for any position, a BSN candidate may have a strong advantage. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends that all RNs hold a BSN, and some states are even considering, or are currently passing legislation, that requires RNs to have a BSN in the future.

A BSN also prepares you to enter a graduate program directly. Almost half (48.1%) of RNs have a BSN, and these numbers continue to rise. A nurse with an ADN only may face more competition from BSN-holders in the job market.

Time to Complete

RN-to-BSN programs typically take 1-2 years to complete, depending on the pace of the program, whether you plan to work while you study, and whether you attend as a full- or part-time student. The right pace for you depends on your responsibilities and preferred time frame.


Most RN-to-BSN programs require or prefer a 3.0 GPA, at least two references, and a current RN license for admission. Many require at least one year of nursing experience. If your ADN GPA does not reflect your abilities as a nurse, exceptional experience or other factors, such as being multilingual or experience with medically underserved populations, may outweigh a borderline GPA.

What can you do with a BSN?

A BSN gives you a competitive advantage for many nursing positions. Some employers, especially more prestigious employers, require a BSN for leadership positions. If you want an MSN later in your career, having a BSN will give you more program options.

There are many incentives for employers to hire BSN-educated nurses. For a hospital to achieve Magnet status, a certain percentage of staffed RNs must have their BSN. For this reason, some employers may include a clause in their hiring contract stating that RNs with their ADN must complete their BSN after a certain number of years.

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Currently, New York requires RNs to complete a BSN program within 10 years of receiving their RN license.

RN-to-MSN Overview

An MSN degree means even more career opportunities, including a six-figure income. While most MSN students become APRNs, you can also become a nurse educator or nurse administrator with an MSN. In 2020, 14.9% of RNs reported having an MSN as their highest degree.

APRNs also enjoy more professional autonomy. In states with full practice authority, APRNs can work without physician supervision. Even in the states with limited authority, APRNs still have a much broader scope of practice and can exercise more independent judgment. Whether you want a higher salary, more independence, or a license that lets you assess, diagnose, and prescribe treatments, these are the most important BSN vs. MSN distinctions.

Time to Complete

As you would expect, an RN-to-MSN program takes more time, typically between two and four years to complete, depending on the pace and the number of credits required. Many programs meet the needs of working students, but earning an MSN takes a great deal of commitment and effort.

At the end of an APRN program, you must pass the relevant board exam for your specialty. Make sure you can take time to study and prepare before the examination. Just like you had in your ADN program, you need to participate in clinical experiences and arrange your schedule accordingly.


RN-to-MSN programs often have more rigorous admission requirements. Most require or strongly prefer a 3.0 GPA. You must also have at least two references and a current and unencumbered RN license, as well as a current resume or CV. Most applications also require a personal essay or statement that explains why you want to earn an MSN and what the MSN degree means to you. You should also have at least some nursing experience in the population you plan to specialize in, if you want to enter an APRN program.


What can you do with an MSN?

One of the BSN vs. MSN major distinctions is that a BSN is generalized, while an MSN is specialized. Each MSN program prepares students for a different type of career, such as a nurse midwife, nurse educator, acute pediatric care provider, or family nurse practitioner. If these careers sound more appealing than work as an RN, that may help you decide between the two degree options.

Some of the most common APRN specialties are:

  • Family nurse practitioner (the most common)
  • Adult-gerontology nurse practitioner
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Certified nurse midwife

You can also be a nurse administrator or a nurse educator with an MSN. You do not have to earn certification to practice in these areas, but certification gives you a distinct advantage in the job market.

Benefits and Drawbacks of RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN

Whether an RN-to-BSN or an RN-to-MSN program is right for you depends on your career goals and resources, such as time and finances. An RN-to-BSN program takes less time to complete and is also academically less demanding. If work and other responsibilities already have you pressed for time, an RN-to-BSN program will be less demanding.

MSN programs are usually more difficult to get into than BSN programs, and more prestigious MSN programs are especially competitive. Applying to an MSN program also requires nursing experience. If your GPA from your ADN degree doesn't reflect your abilities, the RN-to-BSN program will give you a chance to earn a higher GPA to help you when you apply for an MSN.

Financially, an RN-to-MSN program offers considerably higher income opportunities. If you are early in your career, an RN-to-MSN program will give you more years earning a higher income.

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There are many financial aid options for nurses for both types of bridge programs. Some employers help pay for a degree program in exchange for a commitment to work for them for a certain period. Still, higher education is expensive, and an MSN program generally costs more per credit hour than a BSN.

Many MSN programs require you to specialize, while BSN programs allow you to explore more possibilities. If you're newer to nursing, this can be an advantage.

The choice between a BSN vs. MSN bridge program depends on your goals and how much time and money you have to spend on earning a degree.

How to Choose Between an RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN Program

To make the right choice between an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program, talk to a trusted mentor. You may be able to shadow an APRN or other MSN program graduate to see if the work interests you more than work as an RN.

A degree from an RN-to-BSN program can prepare you to enter an MSN program later. If you have serious doubts about whether an MSN is right for you, earning a BSN can help you decide. If you thrive in the higher-level classes, an MSN might be right for you, but if you do not find them engaging, a BSN may be the better option.

Once you decide on your degree, there are other decisions, such as specializations (in an MSN program), program format, a part- or full-time schedule, to name a few. A trusted advisor can help you make these options and help you decide which best suits your future.

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Is it better to have a BSN or MSN? ›

Nurses with an MSN can earn more than RNs with a BSN. That's partly because a nurse with an MSN is better positioned to work in management or become licensed as a nurse practitioner. As of 2021, the average annual salary for a nurse practitioner is $120,680.

Is BSN or MSN harder? ›

Benefits and Drawbacks of RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN

MSN programs are usually more difficult to get into than BSN programs, and more prestigious MSN programs are especially competitive.

Should you list BSN and MSN? ›

Start by listing the highest education degree, followed by the other degrees. So, a doctorate would be put before a master's degree, and so on (for example, Susan Smith, MSN, BSN). The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) suggests that you only use one degree - the highest one (for example, Susan Smith, MSN).

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. MSNs can also complete their doctoral degrees in shorter timeframes and earn advanced certifications in specialty areas.

What percentage of nurses have a MSN degree? ›

Approximately 18% of nurses hold a graduate level degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Is getting MSN nursing worth it? ›

An MSN degree helps you earn a higher salary

Some advanced positions, such as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, have a high-paying salary, with an average of $183,580 or even more. Aside from a higher base salary, you can increase your annual salary as you gain experience and expertise over time as an MSN nurse.

What is the hardest nursing major? ›

Pharmacology, or the study of medication, can seem scary because of the sheer scope of the course. "It becomes one of the hardest classes for nursing students due to the depth and amount of knowledge needed," says Megan Lynch, RN and instructor at Pima Community College.

What is the hardest nursing degree? ›

"According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing is the toughest degree to receive, and with good reason. The program is full of impossibly hard exams, countless clinical hours, and being covered in things that must not be named.

Can you start MSN right after BSN? ›

Typically a BSN is earned first and then an MSN is pursued. Online MSN programs. Online degrees are typically the most popular route for RNs who have earned a BSN to earn their MSN. Whether nurses work day or night shifts, an online degree offers around-the-clock options that can work into their busy schedules.

Can you do anything with just a BSN? ›

Graduates with a BSN can work as bedside nurses in medical settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and physicians' offices. They can also pursue careers as nurse educators, health policy nurses, nurse recruiters, nurse informaticists, forensic nurses, clinical research nurses, or nurse health coaches.

Can you skip BSN and go to MSN? ›

Can You Get Your MSN without a BSN? The short answer is yes. The most common path to earning an MSN degree is to earn a BSN degree first. However, some nursing programs allow non-nursing degree-holding students to earn an MSN without a BSN through a Direct Entry MSN program.

Do I really need my BSN? ›

A BSN is not required to become a Registered Nurse; however, it is an accelerator of your career and skills as a nurse. Students who want a shorter path to becoming an RN can get an Associate of Science in Nursing. However, the degree doesn't guarantee progress in their nursing career over the years.

What is the difference between RN to MSN and BSN to MSN? ›

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.

Is MSN required for DNP? ›

To enroll in a DNP program, you must have completed a BSN or MSN degree. If you don't have a BSN degree, you can't take a direct path from RN to DNP.

What can someone do with an MSN? ›

There are a lot of career options available for nurses with an MSN degree. Some career paths may include nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist and nurse administrator.

What is a good GPA for MSN? ›

MSN GPA Requirement: 2.75 or 3.0 GPA (Varies by Program)

Is MSN nursing hard? ›

Nursing requires more dedication than many other careers. However, it's one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. Nursing school is notoriously difficult—and it's not for everyone. Graduate school is challenging as well.

Is it hard to get your MSN? ›

MSN programs are highly completive when it comes to their admission standards. Not everyone will be accepted into their chosen MSN program. Most MSN programs require that their students have a minimum GPA of 3.0 even to be considered for admissions.

Does GPA matter for MSN? ›

Many schools will require a 3.0 GPA to get into nurse practitioner school. Based on the type of NP program you are applying for (MSN or DNP), your GPA will be calculated from your bachelorly or master's degree coursework.

What is a nurse with a master's degree called? ›

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who is educated at the master's level or higher, and represents a step up in responsibilities and autonomy compared to registered nurses.

What is the easiest nursing major? ›

For the easiest nursing degrees, your best options include shorter programs like licensed practical nurse and licensed vocational nurse programs, associate's degree programs, bridge programs for registered nurses seeking bachelor's degrees and hybrid nursing programs.

What is the average IQ of a registered nurse? ›

Pharmacists average around 120 and nurses in the high 110's.

What is the easiest branch of nursing? ›

Occupational Health

One of the easiest nursing jobs to get into is in the field of occupational health. Occupational health nurses work in large industries, HMOs, and factories to treat work-related injuries and onsite illnesses. This type of nurse is employed to keep the workers on the job.

What is the highest GPA for nursing? ›

A GPA above 3.0 would be a good GPA for nursing school. That's the requirement for some programs. If you have aspirations for graduate school, you might need a GPA closer to a 4.0, depending on the school or degree you want.

Is nursing school mostly memorization? ›

Memorization is a major component of nursing school, but there's much more to a nursing education than remembering facts. While you'll definitely need to recall a wide range of information at the drop of a hat, memorization will only take you so far.

What is the toughest bachelors degree? ›

What are the hardest degree subjects?
  • Aerospace Engineering. Aerospace Engineers study the design, manufacturing and testing of aircrafts. ...
  • Architecture. Architecture is one of those degrees that we wish was easy. ...
  • Pharmacy. ...
  • Psychology. ...
  • Statistics. ...
  • Nursing. ...
  • Physics. ...
  • Astrophysics.

How long does it take to bridge 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 do you write RN BSN MSN after name? ›

For example, a nurse executive might choose Nancy Gordon, MBA, MSN, RN. Note that the highest non- nursing degree is listed first followed by the highest nursing degree. A nurse who has a master's in a non- nursing field might choose Anne Peterson, MEd, BSN, RN.

Should RN come before BSN? ›

Nurses in clinical practice tend to list their licensure first followed by degrees and then certifications. For example: RN, BSN, CCRN. Nurses who are academic educators list their academic degrees first followed by licensure and then certifications. For example: DNP, RN, CNE.

Who are the highest paid nurses? ›

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn a median salary of $195,610 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it the top paying nursing specialty. CRNAs typically work 40 hours per week, making the hourly wage average out to approximately $94.04 per hour.

What is a nurse that does Botox called? ›

Aesthetic/cosmetic nurses are registered nurses who provide a variety of services. These can include, Injections of dermal fillers and Botox neurotoxin.

How do I get out of nursing career? ›

  1. Making the Decision. ...
  2. Consider alternatives to your career. ...
  3. Do not tell coworkers you are planning to leave before talking to your supervisor/employer. ...
  4. Prepare a letter of resignation. ...
  5. Schedule a time to visit with your employer and discuss your decision.

Can you skip MSN to DNP? ›

Although you might think that you have to earn your Master's degree first in order to enroll in a DNP program, most do not require an MSN as a prerequisite; instead, the DNP program is an expanded program that is similar to the MSN degree. As such, a DNP program typically requires: A Bachelor's degree in Nursing.

How much do nurses make in the States? ›

In the United States overall, the average registered nurse salary is $82,750 and the median (50th percentile) is $77,600. California, with RN salaries averaging $124,000, is the highest-paying state for nurses as of May 2021 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Is there an alternate way to enter the nursing career field other than a BSN degree? ›

Entry-level Master of Science in Nursing degrees are designed for students who already possess a bachelor's degree or higher in a discipline other than nursing. Alternate names for Entry-level Masters include Direct-Entry MSN, Accelerated MSN, and Masters Entry to Nursing Practice (MENP).

Why do hospitals prefer BSN nurses? ›

Many hospitals favor hiring nurses with a BSN because they can reach the IOM's recommendation without losing ADNs who are close to retirement age. If hospitals do hire nurses with an associate degree, they may require them to complete a BSN program within two to five years.

Why more BSN nurses are needed? ›

Better Patient Outcomes

Patient care continues to become more and more complex, leading nursing leaders to push for more baccalaureate-educated nurses in clinical settings. That's because research supports the idea of education correlating with the quality of patient outcomes.

What is the advantage of having a BSN? ›

What are the advantages of having a BSN? The advantages of having a BSN include bigger paychecks and increased employment opportunities. BSN nurses can enjoy career advancement, a greater knowledge of nursing, and readiness for graduate study or advanced practice nursing.

Is MSN equal to NP? ›

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

One of the most common graduate degrees pursued by aspiring nurse practitioners is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which is really going to be the lowest level of education you can complete and work as an NP.

Can BSN do more than RN? ›

As a BSN, you have more opportunities than your RN counterparts. You can step up to a leadership position, move into nursing education, work in public health and focus on health education within the community, or even go on to pursue a nurse practitioner or nurse administrator degree,” Christman said.

What does Phd stand for in nursing? ›

A Ph. D. nurse is one who has completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing degree. A Ph. D., or doctoral degree, is the highest level of education a nurse can achieve.

Does DNP pay more than MSN? ›

More broadly, the difference between MSN and DNP salary is evident. According to, individuals with a DNP earn a higher average income than those with the MSN: DNP: $102,000 average salary. MSN: $93,000 average salary.

Why to do DNP instead of MSN? ›

While an MSN requires a two- to three-year commitment beyond BSN preparedness, the DNP adds additional year(s) of education, preparing nurses for leadership positions. DNP curriculum builds on traditional master-level programs by including evidence-based practice, systems leadership, and quality improvement coursework.

Is DNP harder than BSN? ›

Courses and content are more challenging. The level of knowledge you're required to have as a Nurse Practitioner is a huge step up from a RN. You'll take a lot of the same courses as you did with your BSN, but will go into each topic with a lot more depth because you'll be diagnosing and treating health problems soon.

Do you still work bedside with a MSN? ›

Additionally, nurses with MSN have higher levels of patients advocacy. Even though MSN degree is a ticket for higher-level positions, an MSN-prepared nurse can stay in bedside nursing. However, employers can have their policies about the hiring process and staff preferences.

What is the benefit of having a MSN? ›

Pursuing an MSN can increase your chances of securing a role, as an advanced degree can legitimize your skills and show your credibility to prospective employers. Often, an MSN may allow nurses to practice independently and offer a higher level of medical aptitude to patients compared to RNs and BSN graduates.

How long does it take to go from a BSN to an 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.

What's the benefit of an MSN? ›

An MSN also puts you closer to a career as a nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, or nurse anesthetist — on average the highest paying advanced practice nurse role. You can do many things with this degree. You can become a teacher. You can become a midwife, a certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Why get MSN after BSN? ›

The average BSN nurse makes approximately $73,000 vs. an MSN-prepared nurse who makes $90,000 or more, depending on specialty. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that NP's, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists make $117,670 per year. Higher pay is one of the biggest reasons why an MSN degree is worth it!

How hard is it to get a MSN? ›

While the answer to that question depends on which school you attend, you should expect master degree coursework to be more difficult than any undergraduate coursework you have completed. Many schools require MSN candidates to complete advanced science and anatomy courses.

Can I be an no directly after BSN? ›

Can you go straight from RN to NP? To go from RN to NP, you must earn an MSN degree from an accredited program, and then pass the board certification examination in your chosen field of practice. The path from BSN to NP will take at least two years and longer for ADN to NP.

Do you have to have MSN before DNP? ›

To enroll in a DNP program, you must have completed a BSN or MSN degree. If you don't have a BSN degree, you can't take a direct path from RN to DNP. However, unlike many other advanced degrees, Franklin's BSN to DNP program allows those holding a BSN to advance directly to a DNP without completing a master's degree.

What type of nurse is most in demand? ›

What type of RN is most in demand? All RNs are in demand more than other occupations. The BLS projects 6% job growth for all RNs between 2021 and2031, compared to 5% job growth for all occupations. Some specialties that are in especially high demand are neonatal nursing, surgical nursing, and critical care nursing.

How long are most RN to BSN programs? ›

Most RN to BSN programs take approximately two years to complete. Fortunately, it is possible to advance from an ADN to a BSN much faster if you enroll in an online RN to BSN program since undergraduate credits from your associate degree may transfer to your BSN program.

Is MSN or MBA better? ›

Both degrees can lead to a management position and higher compensation, but if you want to remain in clinical practice but with a greater degree of expertise, autonomy, and responsibility, or if you want to teach other nurses about the clinical side of the career, then an MSN is most appropriate.

How do I write my MSN RN credentials? ›

List the highest education degree first, for example, Michael Anderson, PhD, MSN. In most cases, one degree is enough, but if your second degree is in another relevant field, you may choose to list it. For example, a nurse executive might choose Nancy Gordon, MBA, MSN, RN.


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