Moving from BSN to MSN: Is It Worth It?

Achieving a master’s in nursing degree can be a game-changer in a nurse’s career. The advanced degree opens doors to new career options. Nurses with an MSN degree often earn higher pay and might have greater autonomy and job satisfaction.

More than 17% of registered nurses in the U.S. had master’s degrees in 2018, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“The current demand for master’s- and doctorally-prepared nurses for advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching and research roles far outstrips the supply,” according to the AACN.

But going back to school to get a master’s degree isn’t easy, especially for nurses who try to work while in school. And, BSN to MSN and other master’s programs can be expensive.

So, is the move worth it?

We’ve gathered some of the latest information to help nurses decide if pursuing MSN degree options is in their best interests.

Will you make more money?

Nurses surveyed for’s 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report said salary was the most important aspect for overall job satisfaction.

By all accounts, nurses who have master’s degree in nursing or equivalent degrees make more money than RNs with a BSN. While the total average salary for BSN nurses was $73,000, it was $90,000 for MSN-prepared nurses, according to the 2020 Salary Survey.

Other credible sources also suggest the MSN nurse salary is higher. RNs with a BSN make an average annual wage of $63,000, while RNs with master’s degrees make an average $75,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a difference of $12,000 a year.

BLS data from 2018 examined salaries and hourly wages of BSN-prepared nurses to master’s-prepared nurses. The data found:

  • BSN nurses make an average of $71,730 a year and $34.48 an hour.
  • Nurse anesthetists average $174,790 annually and $84.03 hourly.
  • Nurse practitioners earn an average of $110,030 a year and $52.90 an hour.
  • Nurse-midwives average $106,910 annually and $51.40 hourly.

Do you need a master’s degree?

The answer is yes if you want to be a ertified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or certified nurse-midwife (CNM).

Master’s in nursing degrees also are required or preferred in many other nursing jobs, including administrative, leadership and faculty roles.

Other important benefits

Studies have shown that a more educated nursing workforce has the power to improve healthcare.

The U.S. is moving toward healthcare reform, introducing new models of care delivery that will emphasize nursing’s leadership roles.

“As more patients enter the system and an aging population creates the demand for transformation in healthcare, many more nurses will be needed to serve in primary care and specialty roles, as well as to lead independent practices,” according to the AACN Master’s Education web page. “With new practice opportunities emerging, and the demand for highly specialized nursing skills rising, the time is right for you to begin your graduate-level nursing education. The earlier in your career you complete your formal education, the longer your professional life and the higher your lifetime earnings will be.”

Master’s degree options, costs

AACN reports there are more than 500 nursing schools in the U.S., offering more than 2,000 graduate programs. Nurses with varying education levels, as well as non-nurses, can earn graduate nursing degrees that meet their needs.

Nurses paying for the additional years of education can request specific tuition costs from many nursing schools online.

Costs vary greatly by institution type. A review revealed 2020 tuition at a top private nursing school costs around $1,700 per credit. Meanwhile, a top state school’s master’s in nursing tuition and fees is about $11,000 for in-state and $23,500 for out-of-state students.

The average cost of graduate school in the U.S., regardless of major, was $16,435 a year in 2012-2013. Nearly half of all students in master’s degree programs paid for the graduate education with school loans, according to BLS.

Tuition reimbursement can help with costs, if not eliminate them completely. About 40% of RNs receive tuition reimbursement, according to’s 2020 Salary Research Report.

Non-nursing students

People who have bachelor’s or graduate degrees in non-nursing majors can pursue an entry-level master’s degree. Generic or accelerated programs are other names for the degree.

Accelerated programs take students from RN licensure and baccalaureate content to the master’s degree. Students usually complete the programs in two to three years. These programs are intense and time-consuming, so it’s difficult to earn an income while in these programs.

There are more than 60 entry-level master’s programs in the U.S.

RNs with associate degrees

RNs with associate degrees have the option of the RN to master’s degree. While faculty deliver most RN-to-master’s programs in the classroom, there are online and blended (classroom and online) options. Nursing students generally take about two to three years to finish the RN-to-master’s degree. Students have different requirements depending on where they’re attending school and their previous coursework.

About 219 of these programs exist in the U.S., according to AACN.

Nurses with BSN degrees

Nurses with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees often choose the BSN to MSN, or the baccalaureate to master’s degree. The BSN to MSN allows students to focus on a specific area of nursing. Areas of focus include nurse midwifery, nursing education, forensic nursing, family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, nursing informatics, nursing and healthcare leadership, and neonatal nurse practitioner.

Institutions vary on program requirements and credit load. But students generally complete the BSN-to-MSN program in 18 to 24 months

Other considerations

Wanting a BSN to MSN or other master’s degree in nursing doesn’t guarantee entry into the program of one’s choice. Faculty shortages in the U.S. have limited entry to many nursing schools.

The good news is the chances of getting into a master’s program are better than for most other nursing degree programs. U.S. nursing schools turned away only 9% of qualified master’s of nursing degree applicants in 2017-2018, but they turned away 29% of qualified baccalaureate nursing students, according to the Biennial Survey of Schools of Nursing Survey Highlights 2017-2018 by the National League for Nursing.

Nurses looking at whether an MSN degree makes financial sense should consider a few variables. It’s important to factor in the cost of the education, potential loss of income while getting the degree and long-term income potential.

The future looks bright for nurses with master’s degrees.

“Overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations,” according to BLS.

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