Guide to Transitioning RN to MSN Programs

Nurses in any capacity are responsible for caring for others. While you may be able to kickstart your career by completing an undergraduate degree in nursing and becoming a registered nurse in your state, earning an MSN may present you with greater autonomy in the workplace and a deep understanding of complex conditions in patients across the lifespan.

A number of accredited universities offer online MSN programs to those looking to advance from an RN to MSN. On this page, we’ll break down some of the factors to consider when deciding whether the RN to MSN transition is for you.

Explore Online MSN Programs

Georgetown University’s Online Master’s in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice


Earn Your MSN Online from Simmons University

Earn an MSN online from Simmons University. Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP — and prepare to raise the standard of patient care.

  • Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP
  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • Full-time and part-time tracks available


Reasons to Transition from a Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing 

As you think about your future, you may be wondering which nursing degree is right for you? Or is it worthwhile to go from a registered nurse to a nurse practitioner? There are a number of benefits to obtaining an MSN. New job prospects, potential pay increases, and expanding your knowledge base or specializing. These are a few reasons why you may want to commit to this path, but of course there are others. Maybe you’re inspired by a personal experience or you’re craving a change in work setting. Whatever the case, remember to keep your personal goals and circumstances at the forefront of your decision and as you do, look out for differences between roles like the registered nurse vs. nurse practitioner

The journey may be costly. Tuition costs vary widely by program. While the cost of additional schooling may be viewed as a deterrent, there are ways you can save money. Going to school in-state may help you save you some money and there are also scholarships available to help ease the cost. Some online and on-campus programs may give you the option to enroll as a part-time student, allowing you to spread out costs overtime. 

Common Steps to Transition from an RN to an MSN

Transitioning from a registered nurse to a Master of Nursing will not look the same for everyone. There are different types of nursing degrees and certifications that an RN may hold and the path to obtaining an MSN may vary depending on that. Having said that, a typical bridge program like the RN to MSN one takes between 24 and 36 months to complete. Certain programs may take less time to complete.

To learn about how to get into nursing school and the specifics of an MSN program, you may visit your desired program’s homepage.  

RN to BSN Overview

Before enrolling in an MSN program, you may consider earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing first. But what are the learning outcomes?  A BSN can provide you with relevant knowledge and experience that prepares you to treat and educate your patients. Your BSN may also help you to tackle growing issues in the health care industry, alongside other health care degree professionals. 

The length of time it will take you to obtain a BSN varies. If you’ve graduated high school and are looking to get a BSN, it can take up to four years. If you’ve completed an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program or are in the process of becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), it can take one to two years. 

If you receive a BSN and decide that you want to advance to an MSN, there are a few different ways to make that happen, including online study. Online MSN programs may allow practicing RNs to continue working while completing their coursework. 

RN to MSN Overview

If you’ve made up your mind to become an MSN-trained nurse, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of attending nursing school and be fully aware of the learning outcomes of various online MSN programs

An MSN is designed for those who want to provide direct patient care at an advanced level. MSN nurses are committed to improving patient outcomes and may even be presented with the opportunity to impact the overall design and implementation of care.

Getting your master’s degree in nursing online may allow you to continue working and juggle personal obligations while you’re in school—and once you have the degree, you might decide to apply for a new role in your current workplace or elsewhere.

RN to BSN to MSN Overview

Before becoming an RN, you will need to complete some undergraduate studies. Options include a non-degree nursing program, an associate degree in nursing, or a BSN program. Everyone’s journey is different. If you’re unsure about pursuing an MSN, obtaining a BSN could be a start, giving you time to think through the decision. 

Universities across the country offer online MSN programs for nurses with varying experience and education levels. As previously stated, programs vary in length. And some allow candidates to earn their BSN and MSN simultaneously. Depending on the program, online MSN students can expect to join interactive, real-time classes from the comfort of their home or review asynchronous course content.

Is it Better to do RN to BSN or RN to MSN?

There’s no right answer to this question. Depending on the programs you find and get accepted to, as well as your own personal career goals, either one could potentially be more beneficial for you.

BSN programs are geared toward students with a GED or high school diploma who don’t have any prior experience but are looking to enter the field. They combine liberal arts education with nursing courses and clinical experience. 

MSN programs are aimed toward people who are looking to build a career in advanced practice nursing. This degree also allows you to specialize in a certain area. You can also target administrative positions and roles in education if you wish.  

Does an MSN Pay More than a BSN?

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when comparing RN salary, BSN salary, and MSN salary. They include location, work setting, employer, specialty, number of years of experience, and more.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019 the median annual salary for a registered nurse was $71,730, while that of a nurse practitioner, which requires an MSN, was $109,820. That’s more than a $37,000 difference. Note, there isn’t specific salary data for a RN with a BSN, but some jobs may require RNs to have this qualification over an ADN. Some nurse practitioners can make even more than that, depending on the factors listed above. For example, nurse practitioners in California earned an annual mean wage of $138,660 in 2019, according to BLS data. By contrast, the mean annual wage for nurse practitioners in Tennessee was $96,510.

The highest 10% of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists (also MSN-trained nurses) earn median annual wages of more than $184,1801. Additionally, nurse anesthetists were among the highest-paid U.S. occupations in 2019, with an average annual salary of $174,790.

To learn more about earning potential and how it varies by state, refer to our nursing salary guide.

RN to MSN Career Outlook

Perhaps you are wondering about nursing career outlook, are curious about what job security looks like for those with a career as an RN, or want to know what industries you can launch an RN career in. Doing some research around what is the best nursing degree for you may help you determine that.

The demand for nurses is rising. The BLS projects that between 2019 and 2029, employment of registered nurses will increase by 7%. That exceeds the average growth rate of all occupations which is 4%.

While the BLS doesn’t provide job growth information for all MSN careers, taking a look at its projections for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists may be helpful to you. Those occupations are expected to experience a 45% growth rate from 2019 to 2029.

The country’s large aging population is fueling the demand for nursing professionals. The baby boom generation is estimated to be 73 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Advanced practice registered nurses are responsible for treating chronic conditions in elderly patients and providing preventative care and are expected to continue doing so. 

Find the Best Online RN to MSN Program for You

An MSN may allow you to expand your nursing skills and prepare you to enter the field as an experienced, compassionate nurse ready to take care of patients across the lifespan. When it comes to finding the best online MSN program for you, the choice is yours. After you’ve decided what you want out of your nursing career, you can begin looking at which universities and programs fit your goals. Each university has its own courses, schedules, and costs. You’ll have to examine which one is the most affordable and the most flexible for you and your lifestyle. 

With numerous options available, you may feel overwhelmed. But there are also several resources and guides online to assist you in finding the right RN to MSN online program for you.

1Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners Pay – BLS, 2019. arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

Last Updated October 2020