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MSN Degrees: Frequently Asked Questions

Opportunities for registered nurses in today's health care environment are rapidly expanding. An MSN degree (master of science in nursing) opens the door to many new career options.

What is the difference between an RN degree and an MSN degree?

An MSN degree is an academic degree indicating master's degree level preparation in the nursing field. An RN on the other hand is actually a license, issued by the state board of nursing, that is obtained following completion of an accredited nursing program and a passing score on the NCLEX test. Nursing programs leading to an RN may be either at the associate's degree level (ADN), typically a two-year program or may be four-year baccalaureate degrees (BSN). There are also RN to MSN degrees that bridge the gap, inclusively.

What is the range of cost for MSN degrees?

The primary factor affecting the cost of MSN degree programs is whether the university offering the program is privately funded or is state supported. Tuition at private colleges and universities is typically significantly higher than state schools, as is tuition for out-of-state students attending public universities. While MSN degree program costs vary, there is a push to increase the numbers of nurses with advanced degrees, so funding may well be available.

What are some of the options open to someone looking to earn an MSN degree--both online and off?

The option of attending school on a part-time basis is popular since many nurses continue to be employed while pursuing an MSN degree. Combining online learning with clinical experience and leadership seminars is another option. More schools of nursing are also offering online MSN programs that allow students to complete many of their requirements without being on campus.

What are popular majors within MSN degree programs?

MSN degree programs tend to divide into advanced practice clinical tracks, nursing education, and nursing administration. All of these MSN degree majors may also be pursued at the doctorate level, which is becoming increasingly common. Clinical majors may be further divided by an emphasis on primary care or on acute care specialties. Primary care options are women's health, midwifery, anesthesia, adult and family practice, pediatrics, and geriatrics.

What does an MSN degree do for my nursing career?

An MSN degree allows you to be more specialized and to have greater autonomy in your chosen work area. It prepares you to be involved in nursing education or administration, which allows you to have greater influence in contributing to the best possible nursing care outcomes. Depending on the MSN degree that you choose, you can prepare to sit for certification exams for advanced practice license as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. Your MSN program also gives you experience with the nursing research process.

What is my earning power after earning an MSN degree?

Again, this varies among specialties and among geographic areas. The highest earnings are typically for nurse anesthetists, which may be in the six-figure range. Nurse practitioners in primary care are likely to earn upwards of $80,000 annually. Nurse administrators in large hospital systems and deans of nursing schools in large universities also are typically paid comparably to other administrators and deans in those institutions.


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