What is an MSN Degree in Nursing?

what's an msn degree

Introduction: Unveiling the World of Advanced Nursing Education

There are a lot of reasons to pursue an MSN degree. Earning an MSN degree allows RNs to pursue higher-level roles, which means higher wages. But in addition to financial gains, an MSN also helps RNs provide better patient care.

Yet, the cost of education is stopping a lot of RNs. This post will answer what’s an MSN degree, including how to choose and finance one. 

What is an MSN Degree?: Understanding the Master of Science in Nursing

The medical MSN definition refers to a Master of Science in Nursing degree. It’s a graduate-level program designed to prepare RNs for advanced clinical practice, leadership roles, and specialized areas of nursing. 

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This degree typically requires a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as a prerequisite. However, some programs offer bridge options for RNs who have earned an associate degree or diploma in nursing.

Why Pursue an MSN Degree?: Exploring the Benefits of Advanced Nursing Education

What is an MSN degree in nursing, and why is it important in the field?

The primary MSN nursing meaning is professional RN advancement and specialization. An MSN signifies a higher level of education and expertise beyond the initial licensure as a registered nurse (RN). There are several reasons why aspiring and current RNs should pursue this degree.

  1. The MSN medical program equips RNs with advanced knowledge and skills to unlock new career opportunities.
  2. MSN-prepared nurses are known to earn significantly more than nurses without advanced degrees. 
  3. Many MSN programs offer nursing leadership and management tracks for nurses pursuing administrative roles.

Types of MSN Programs: Specializations and Focus Areas

What is a MSN specialization? An MSN specialization allows students to focus on a specific aspect of healthcare of nursing practice. Specializations are divided into two types: 

APRN Specializations: 

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner 

Non-APRN Specializations:

  • Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
  • Nursing Executive/Administrator
  • Nurse Educator
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics

Advancing Your Nursing Career: Opportunities with an MSN Degree

An MSN degree gives you access to specialized roles that pay significantly more than RN-BSN positions. For instance, the BLS says that Nurse Midwives, Nurse Anesthetists, and Nurse Practitioners make a median of $129,480 annually. On the other hand, the median yearly salary of RNs is $86,070.

RNs with MSN degrees can also negotiate for a salary increase. 

MSN graduates can also conduct clinical research, participate in evidence-based practice initiatives, or contribute to scholarly publications. They can also pursue education roles. 

The MSN Curriculum: What to Expect in Graduate Nursing Programs

What is an MSN degree curriculum? 

Several specializations within MSN programs demand different courses. However, the most common courses include statistics, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, and psychology. 

Most MSN degrees take between 1-2 years to complete. However, part-time MSN students may take up to three years to complete the curriculum. In some cases, you can petition to increase the duration of your program, but it’s not advisable unless you have significant personal or professional commitments that require a slower pace.

Choosing the Right MSN Program: Factors to Consider in Your Decision

The exact MSN degree meaning varies based on the program’s focus. So, it’s best to choose a program that best aligns with your interests, goals, and lifestyle. 

But with so many options, how can you select the right MSN program? Here are a few key factors when researching potential options.


An MSN degree needs to be accredited; otherwise, it will have no value. Check ACEN or CCNE sites to confirm the accreditation status of a program or school. Yet, you should watch out for programs with accreditation stipulations— it might be a warning sign.

Location and Learning Format

The right program format depends on your learning style, location, and responsibilities. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • On-campus programs offer easier networking and access to facilities, while virtual programs require travel and transportation costs. 
  • Hybrid programs offer in-person networking and access to physical campus facilities but still have logistics and costs associated with on-campus classes or onboarding.


Different specializations have different roles to fulfill. Are you more interested in pursuing clinical, administrative, educational, or research roles? Ensure the program you’re considering offers concentrations or tracks that align with your career aspirations. 

Clinical experience 

It’s important to prioritize programs with simulations. This training will help you reduce errors and promote interdisciplinary practice. 

Licensing and certification may also vary from state to state. Ensure that the program’s supervised clinical hours standards align with the requirements for licensure in the state where you plan to practice. 

Financing Your MSN Education: Tips for Paying for Graduate School

Now that we’ve answered, “What is an MSN degree?” It’s time for another crucial question: “How can I finance an MSN?” This is especially important given the rapidly increasing cost of education. There are many ways to get your tuition costs down. Here are a few great tips:

  • Update your FAFSA before application deadlines. 
  • Explore private funding.
  • Apply for tuition reimbursement or employer scholarship programs.
  • Inquire about graduate assistantships or teaching assistant positions.
  • Consider affordable online programs to save on daily commutes, relocation, and other fees.
  • If you’ve exhausted all gift aids, consider loans cautiously—prioritize federal loan programs with favorable terms and repayment options.

Scholarships and Financial Aid: Opportunities for MSN Students

Several scholarships and financial aid programs are made available for MSN students. Aside from the FAFSA, you can utilize search engines dedicated to scholarship opportunities. You should explore nursing-focused organizations like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the National League for Nursing.

The Health Resources and Services Administration offers some of the most popular scholarship programs. They provide one full year of tuition for every two years of full-time service after graduation.

Conclusion: Empowering Your Nursing Journey with an MSN Degree

What’s an MSN degree? These programs are designed to prepare RNs for advanced nursing roles with more responsibilities and higher pay. They typically last two years and offer different specializations and focus areas in healthcare delivery, education, administration, or technology.