So you want to become a nurse – good for you! Nursing is an exciting and honorable profession. But if you’re considering a BSN vs. an MSN degree, you aren’t alone.
This article explains the difference between BSN degrees and MSN degrees and what each can offer you in your nursing career. We will discuss job titles, salary information, career opportunities, specialties, the pros and cons of BSN and MSN degrees, and everything else you should know!
What Is a BSN?
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, or BSN, is a 4-year undergraduate degree. The first two years of education generally include elective and prerequisite science courses to prepare you for your core nursing classes.
After completing your BSN, nursing students can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX- RN). A passing score earns the student licensure as a registered nurse (RN).
As a BSN is becoming the standard for entry-level nursing positions, most hospitals and medical facilities will only hire BSN-trained nurses – not those with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Many BSN-trained nurses begin working as bedside nurses in various settings:
- Emergency room
- Outpatient care
- Operating room
- Surgical centers
- Outpatient clinics
However, there are many non-bedside or non-traditional roles in which you can start your career as a BSN-trained nurse. In addition, nurses with a BSN have an opportunity to explore various specialties within the hospital setting:
- Neurology and stroke care
- Emergency medicine
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Plastic surgery
- Family medicine
- Mental health
Many BSN-prepared nurses work for years before deciding to get an MSN. It is never too late to advance your career as a BSN-trained RN. Many MSN students return to school in their 50s, 60s, or older!
What Is an MSN?
A Master of Science in Nursing degree, or MSN, is a post-graduate-level nursing education. To obtain an MSN, you must first complete a BSN. Depending on the type of MSN degree you choose, full-time hours will take anywhere from 2 to 4 years of additional education.
A master’s degree is a standard for entry-level employment as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), hospital administrator, or nurse educator. Many MSN students continue to work in their nursing jobs throughout their MSN education. The continuity puts them in a great position to apply for higher-level nursing roles within the facility they work in upon graduation if they desire.
With an MSN, you can advance your career as an advanced practice nurse in a clinical setting, take on higher-level administrative roles, or become a nurse leader working in various parts of the healthcare system.
BSN Job Opportunities
Most hospitals and medical facilities around the country prefer nurses with a BSN vs an ADN, and many will only hire BSN-trained nurses. The American Nurses Association (ANA) also urges nurses to complete a minimum of a BSN because studies show that bachelor’s trained nurses are more prepared and allow for safer patient care. In addition, hospitals may receive higher reimbursement based on having more BSN-trained nurses.
Having a BSN allows you to move into entry-level nursing hospital positions and offers many primary care job opportunities:
Though some hospitals may hire BSN-trained administrators or educators, most prefer MSN nurses.
Outside of the hospital setting, there are many career paths for BSN-trained nurses, such as:
>> Related: Highest Paying Jobs for Nurses With a BSN
MSN Job Opportunities
Nurses must have an MSN to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), nurse administrator, or nurse educator.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Careers
Non-Bedside MSN Careers
One aspect of the nursing profession is the number of available nursing administration opportunities. To obtain a nurse leadership position, nurses must have a minimum of an MSN, preferably emphasizing nurse administration.
Some exciting leadership opportunities for MSN-trained nurses include:
>> Related: Highest Paying Jobs for MSN Nurses
As for any career within the nursing profession, a more advanced degree will directly affect the amount of money you can make every year. However, salary is also dependent on a wide range of factors, including years of experience, type of business, geographic location, and certifications earned.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2022, registered nurses earned a median income of $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour. The BLS also projects a six percent job growth and a need for an additional 177,400 registered nurses over the next ten years.
They do not differentiate wage differences between ADN and BSN-trained nurses. However, the BLS states that the typical entry-level education for an RN is a bachelor’s degree. Also, most hospitals and medical facilities in the country now require a BSN for employment consideration.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, APRNs such as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives earned a median annual income of $125,900, or $60.53 per hour.
The BLS also projects a 38% growth in the professions between 2022-2032, opening up an additional 123,600 than there are now.
Salary.com states that Chief Nursing Officers (CFOs) earn an average of $255,950 as of November 2023. CFOs make anywhere between $218,800 and $297,660.
The BLS includes many MSN-required careers in the “medical and health services managers” group, including nurse administrators, unit directors, and higher-level administrative positions. According to the BLS, in 2022, professionals in this group made a median salary of $ 104,830 or $50.40 an hour.
They also predict a 28% increase in the number of jobs needed between 2022-2032.
No matter which BSN or MSN program you choose to pursue, it is essential to make sure that your program is accredited by:
- The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
A traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a 4-year undergraduate academic degree. The first two years consist of science prerequisites and general studies, and the last two years include nursing school coursework and clinical rotations.
Students can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam upon graduation. This exam is a competency test to ensure that it is safe for students to begin practicing in the field. Passing the NCLEX exam allows students to become licensed as a registered nurse (RN).
Courses that BSN students take include:
- Health Assessment
- Nursing Fundamentals
- Nursing Theory
- Nursing Leadership
- Nursing Research
- Community Health
- Nursing Leadership and Management
- Pediatric Care
- Labor and Delivery
BSN students also must complete hands-on clinical experience in a hospital in several specialties:
- ICU and emergency care
- Labor and delivery
- Community healthcare
RN to BSN Programs
An RN to BSN program is a great path for RNs who have a 2-year Associate Degree in Nursing and want to earn a BSN. These programs are quicker for ADN-trained nurses to earn a BSN than going to a four-year university.
RN to BSN programs are often referred to as “bridge programs” and can be completed in one to two years, depending on how quickly they complete the coursework and clinical rotations. Many ADNs complete this education while working part-time or full-time in the profession.
Accelerated BSN Programs
An accelerated BSN is a nursing program for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field but want to achieve a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. This route is common for professionals from other careers who want to complete a BSN as quickly as possible since accelerated BSN programs “fast-track” BSN programs.
Accelerated BSN programs require that students take heavier course loads in a shorter amount of time than a traditional 4-year BSN. Since students usually have already completed the freshman and sophomore studies requirements, they still need to complete the required science prerequisites such as chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and biomedical statistics. However, they would be eligible to start their fast-track BSN program upon completion.
An MSN is a graduate-level nursing degree for RNs who wish to advance their education and careers. There are many types of MSN programs to choose from, including:
RN to MSN Programs
RN to MSN programs are “bridge programs” similar to an RN to BSN degree. Students must complete BSN and MSN coursework to graduate. RN to MSN programs are an excellent option for nurses working with an ADN who know that they want the education of an MSN to pursue higher-level administrative positions and become an APRN or NP.
RN to MSN programs take about three years or longer to complete, depending on the type of MSN you are getting and whether you take classes part-time or full-time.
Accelerated MSN Programs
An accelerated MSN program is also called a direct-entry MSN program. These programs are for students who have not completed any nursing education but already have a bachelor’s degree in another field.
Students who go into an accelerated MSN program are often candidates with years of career experience outside of the nursing profession who know that they want to work in higher-level administrative or advanced practice nursing roles.
Accelerated MSN programs are full-time and rigorously paced. Most students do not work or work very little during their programs due to the fast pace. Accelerated MSN programs usually take about two to three years to complete.
BSN to MSN Programs
A BSN to MSN program is a standard route that many BSN-prepared nurses take to achieve more opportunities in the profession. It is an excellent option for BSN-trained nurses who have a minimum of two years of experience in the field and want to achieve advanced education to obtain higher-level nursing positions.
A BSN to MSN program usually takes about two years to complete, depending on your specialty field and how quickly you complete your coursework. Many students in these programs continue to work until they graduate and take on higher-level positions.
Deciding between a BSN and an MSN can be a challenging decision. There are pros and cons to both degrees. But what matters most is what’s important to you. A few essential questions to ask yourself include:
- How quickly do you want to complete your education?
- Do you want to work while you get your education, or can you take time off for your studies?
- Do you want to be an advanced practice nurse, a nurse educator, or work in higher-level administrative positions?
- How much debt are you comfortable with accruing?
- What are your overall career goals?
Many nurses choose the BSN route because they love working at the bedside, feel more secure in their abilities with a BSN than ADN, and will be more eligible for nursing positions with a BSN.
Many nurses say they chose to get an MSN because they didn’t want to work at the bedside anymore, wanted to keep learning, or desired more money than they could earn as a BSN. But the number one reason is that they want to become APRNs, nurse educators, or hospital administrators.
Whether you earn a BSN or MSN, you are working in an admirable profession filled with opportunities. It’s a good idea to consider all your options before deciding. Many nurses decide to advance their education well into their second or third decades working in the field. Best of luck to you in your nursing career!