15 Tips to Get into Top MSN Programs

Written By: Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN

Are you a registered nurse interested in earning a Master of Science in Nursing? Have you been searching for the right MSN program but do not know where to begin? Maybe you know of some programs but find yourself wondering, “can someone tell me how to get into a top MSN program?” If this sounds familiar, this article is for you!

As you continue reading, you will find information about top MSN programs, including what schools look for in applicants, things to avoid that could hinder your chances of admission, and answers to frequently asked questions. I will also share 15 tips to get into top MSN programs you can follow to help increase your chances of getting into the program you want.


Some MSN programs are harder to get into than others. Although it takes some effort to get into a top MSN program, it is not as difficult as admission to doctoral nursing programs. If you do your research to ensure you meet the criteria and follow through on the application process, you can increase your chances of being admitted.


As you search for the perfect master's nursing program, program faculty are searching for the perfect candidates. If you know what schools look for in prospective students, you can take measures to make yourself more favorable throughout the application process. The following are five main things top MSN programs look for in applicants that can help improve your chances of getting into top MSN programs.

1. Excellent Communication Skills:

One of the most important skills we develop as nurses is effective communication. If you want to get into a top MSN program and pursue a graduate nursing degree, you must demonstrate the ability to communicate well. Most top graduate nursing programs require applicants to submit written essays or a Statement of Intent and participate in an admission interview with program faculty. These requirements make it possible for faculty to determine how well you communicate verbally and nonverbally.

2. Exceptional Letters of Recommendation:

Having strong reference letters from credible sources such as previous instructors, nurse managers, or MSN degree holders you have worked with can go a long way. Programs are looking for impressive candidates and there is no better way to prove yourself than with written recommendations.

3. A history of academic success:

Meeting the minimum GPA requirement, which is usually a 3.0 is great, but if you want to stand out from other applicants, shoot for at least a 3.5 undergraduate grade point average. or above will make you stand out. Top MSN programs are looking for potential applicants with strong academic skills and your GPA speaks for itself when it is higher than the minimum requirement.

4. Completion of all prerequisite classes:

MSN admission faculty will review your transcripts and make sure you have completed all prerequisite classes. You can make sure there are no surprises by double-checking that the classes you completed meet the admission requirements before applying.

5. A current RN license:

If you want to get into a top MSN program, you must have an RN license that is active and unrestricted. MSN programs will verify the status of your license as it is required to complete clinical rotations. Additionally, you will be required to maintain licensure throughout the program.


(The following 15 tips will help you in your pursuit of getting into one of the top MSN programs in the nation.)

TIP #1: The first step in getting into a top MSN program is ensuring you meet the admission criteria.

Every nursing school determines the criteria for admitting students to its MSN program. Although some admission requirements vary from school to school, the general guidelines for admission are similar. Once you find schools that interest you, verify the admission requirements for their programs to make sure you meet them. If you hope to get into a top MSN program but do not yet meet the requirements, develop an action plan to get it done. Candidates seeking admission to a top MSN program should have a current, unrestricted RN license, be a graduate of an accredited associate or bachelor's nursing program and have a minimum college GPA of at least a 3.0.

TIP #2: Gain Clinical Nursing Experience.

Graduate nursing programs, like top MSN programs, typically require candidates to have one year or more of clinical nursing experience before the program starts. If you are already working in a field that you love and want to earn your MSN to get ahead in your career, you are off to a great start. If this is not the case, consider looking for a job or volunteer opportunity that will help you gain experience in the area where you want to focus your MSN degree.

If you want to earn your MSN to become a nursing instructor, work, or volunteer in an undergraduate nursing school simulation lab, sign up to be a nurse preceptor at work, or volunteer coaching high school students who want to pursue health care degrees. By tailoring your work or volunteer experience you can show you are serious about earning your MSN.

TIP #3: Get involved in activities that help you develop strong leadership skills.

Master's-prepared nurses work in roles that require the ability to lead. MSN program faculty understand the importance of strong leadership and look for candidates who demonstrate that quality. Even if you do not have a position in nursing that allows you to take on a designated leadership job, you can still demonstrate leadership qualities. Consider volunteering to lead a project or join a committee at work. Volunteer to organize a charity event. Anything you do to demonstrate your willingness to work with others and be an effective leader is a plus when it comes to gaining admission into a top MSN program.

TIP #4: Attend nursing seminars, webinars, or conferences in the field you want to apply for.

Once you have decided on your career goals and the MSN specialty you want to apply for, take the next step and attend a seminar or conference. This is a great place to learn more information about your desired career field and network with other like-minded nurses or health care professionals. Here are a few of my recommendations for applicable seminars, webinars, and conferences you can check out.

American Organization for Nursing Leadership Conference
Nursing World Conference
Nursing Leadership Webinars
Webinar on Balancing School, Work, and Life for Your First Year as a Graduate Student

TIP #5: Network with Master’s-Level Nurses

Who has the best insider tips for getting into a good MSN program? Nurses who have already completed an MSN program of course! Good ways to connect with MSN graduates are through your current job. Networking is not only a great way to develop professional relationships, but some of the nurses you network with may have connections with the schools you are interested in attending. If they do, they could be great sources for writing a letter of recommendation.

TIP #6: Write an Exceptional Admission Essay/Statement of Intent

Getting into a top MSN program can come down to your determination and career goals. Use either your interview or admissions essay as a place to thoroughly explain what you want to accomplish by earning your MSN degree. Do explain your goals and give specific examples to help the admissions committee create a picture in their mind of the kind of master's prepared nurse you are striving to be. If they can understand your goals and believe you can achieve them, it can improve your chances of being selected for admission.

TIP #7: Consider applying to both online and in-person programs.

Nursing schools limit the number of students accepted into each class. The number of available spots in a class could vary significantly between online and in-person course offerings. If you want to attend classes in person, but no spots are available, you may have a better chance of getting into top MSN programs by opting for online learning. Both have pros and cons, so carefully consider both options before applying. A part-time online program can be an excellent choice if you want to earn your MSN degree from home and continue working. If you need the motivation and structure of in-person classes, choose a top MSN program offered on a college campus.

TIP #8: Apply to schools that offer multiple starts during the year.

The number of students admitted to MSN programs on each start date varies depending on faculty availability, classroom space, clinical sites, and preceptors. When any of these resources are limited, it makes securing a spot in upcoming classes a more competitive process. Because multiple start dates mean more available spots, you can increase your chance of getting into top MSN programs by applying to schools that offer two or more start dates each year.

TIP #9: Be prepared for your interview with program-specific answers.

One of the most important things you can do to help increase your chance of admission into a top MSN program is to prepare for your admission interview. Prepare for your interview by role-playing with a friend or family member. Make your answers unique and exciting to stand out as a memorable candidate. Remember, program faculty interview hundreds of candidates each year. For them, questions become repetitive. Your answers need to break away from the "norm" and give them something to remember you. MSN graduates are leaders and positively impact change in their field, so make sure you use your interview to explain how you will accomplish these goals and why doing so is important to you.

TIP #10: Make sure you have excellent letters of recommendation.

Another way to improve your chances of getting into a good MSN program is to have great letters of reference. Select people to write your reference letters who are relevant to the degree program, such as master's or doctoral-level prepared nurse managers or faculty from your previous nursing program. These people know what it takes to be an advanced practice registered nurse and can speak to your ability to meet the requirements. Spend time talking to your references and explaining your educational and career goals so they mention some of those things in their letters. Be sure the writer follows a good format and includes relevant information.

TIP #11: Complete all prerequisite coursework and take the GRE

Depending on your previous nursing degree, you probably have most, if not all, the prerequisite classes needed to get into top MSN programs. Most programs require applicants to have classes in Human Anatomy & Physiology with Lab, Microbiology, Chemistry, Statistics, and Research. As soon as you find a school that interests you, verify the prerequisites you need so you can take any missing classes.

The GRE measures your quantitative and verbal reasoning, analytical writing skills, and critical thinking and is used by many colleges and universities to determine which candidates are likely to succeed in graduate studies. Not all nursing schools require candidates to take the GRE. However, if you have taken the exam and scored well, it could look good on your application.

TIP #12: Leverage any awards, accomplishments, or special recognitions you have achieved

Admissions faculty look for applicants who stand out. Highlighting previous accomplishments is a great way to show your ability to work hard. Be sure to mention any awards, accomplishments, or special recognitions earned during your undergraduate degree or nursing career. These can be things as simple as making the honor roll, dean’s list, or more prestigious awards like nurse of the year. Service excellence recognitions awarded through your workplace are another example of what to include on your resume or speak about in your interview. Leveraging your prior accomplishments is an excellent way to increase your chance of getting into top MSN programs.

TIP #13: Get to know the admissions counselors

It takes little effort to fill out an application or email documents. However, getting to know the people responsible for making admissions offers does. Take the time to visit the school and talk to an admissions counselor in person. Find out if an admissions advisor is assigned to you and meet them. Verify what documents you need to submit and follow up with them. This step is really important because admissions counselors are the first people to review your application and determine whether it moves along in the process for review by program directors. If you get to know the admissions counselors, you can express how much getting into the program means to you. When you make a good impression on them, they are more likely to let you know if something is missing so you can submit appropriate documentation instead of passing you over for another candidate.

TIP #14: Pick a Specialty or Career Focus

There are endless opportunities to focus your studies and career path when you pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. You can choose a clinical role as an advanced practice nurse or a non-clinical role. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are four types of advanced practice registered nurses: clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, and registered nurse anesthetist. Non-clinical roles include research, academia, or legal nurse consultant, to name a few. Consider which professional avenue you want to follow and look for schools that offer training in those areas. To help choose a specialty or non-clinical role, think about where you want to work, who you want to work with, your long-term professional goals, and the type of practice that interests you (clinical or non-clinical). When you write your Statement of Intent or participate in your admissions interview, discuss what interests you about the career path and how you believe the school can help you achieve your goals. Admissions faculty and program directors like to know that you’ve done your research, are familiar with their program goals, and that your goals align with theirs. Therefore, choosing a specialty or career focus and being able to articulate why can make you a more favorable candidate for admission.

TIP #15: Find a School with Program Goals that Align with Your Professional Goals

Each nursing school publishes an outline of the goals for its nursing programs. Finding a school where program goals align with what you want to accomplish professionally is essential. For example, if you hope to work in an underserved or rural community, you can look for programs that offer particular emphasis and clinical opportunities for underserved populations. Finding a program that has goals like yours can be helpful as you prepare your statement of intent, which is something admission faculty considers carefully. When your professional goals align with the program's goal, you look like an attractive candidate, making it easier to get into a top MSN program.


You can do everything I mentioned in the section above to improve your chances of getting into top MSN programs but miss your chance by making some common mistakes. The following are some common mistakes to avoid that could ruin your chances of admission.

MISTAKE #1: Rushing through the application process

Admissions faculty want MSN students who are detail-oriented and know how to manage their time. Submitting a late application or rushing through the process because you need more time is a common mistake. One of the biggest problems of rushing at the last minute is that you almost always leave something out. An incomplete application gives off a vibe of being unconcerned or nonchalant, which can hinder your chance to get into top MSN programs.

MISTAKE #2: Thinking undergraduate grades do not matter

The process of getting into a top MSN program is competitive. Most schools require candidates to have an undergraduate nursing grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 3.0 scale. Make no mistake, there will be applicants who exceed the minimum GPA, and their applications will get the attention of the admission faculty. Your undergraduate GPA says a lot about your commitment to school and the likelihood of succeeding in graduate school. If your grade point average is lower than you would like, consider taking some classes between now and the time you apply to try and improve.

MISTAKE #3: Not utilizing the full potential of your written statement

Your personal statement or letter of intent is a chance to explain why you want to earn your MSN degree. Refrain from wasting your words repeating information the admissions faculty can find in other parts of your application. Your statement should be easy to read and engaging. It should tell a story about who you are, why you want to earn a master's degree in nursing, and what you hope to accomplish personally and professionally through the program. Consider having someone else read the statement and get their feedback. Last but certainly not least, check your statement for grammar and punctuation errors.

MISTAKE #4: Not being truthful

Honesty is one of the most critical characteristics of nurses. Patients trust us to do the right thing and provide care based on the knowledge we have. Nursing faculty expect no less and look for trustworthiness in candidates. Not being truthful during any part of your application process, even if it is a slight exaggeration, could block your opportunity to get into top MSN programs. Remember, it is easier to explain previous mistakes or failures than to explain why you choose dishonesty.

MISTAKE #5: Being unprepared for your interview

The nursing school interview is your chance to make a great first impression and increase your chance to get into top MSN programs. You want to earn a master’s degree and become an advanced practice nurse. So, present yourself in that light. Dress professionally and portray the persona of an MSN degree holder before you even start the program. Be prepared to ask a few questions about the program when given the opportunity.


I know it can be stressful to apply for admission to an MSN program. It is natural to wonder, “can anyone tell me how to get into a top MSN program? If you use these 15 tips to get into top MSN programs and avoid the common mistakes applicants make, you have a great chance of being accepted. Remember to stay focused and highlight what makes you unique. Although the journey can seem overwhelming, you have already made it this far as a nurse. So, I know you can take this next step as well!


1. When Is The Application Deadline For Top MSN Programs?

Application deadlines for top MSN programs are different for each school. Start checking 6-12 months before you want to start an MSN program to ensure you do not miss out. If you cannot plan this far ahead, look into rolling admissions as they allow you to apply at any time.

2. What Are The Admission Requirements For Top MSN Programs?

Admission to top MSN programs usually requires at least a 3.0 GPA, a BSN degree, an RN license, and completion of the prerequisite courses.

3. What Is The Average GPA Of Students Who Get Into Top MSN Programs?

The minimum GPA requirement is usually 3.0. However, applicants with a GPA of 3.5 or higher are more likely to get into a top MSN school.

4. Can I Get Into A Top MSN Program With A Low GPA?

You should still apply if you have a low GPA, as some top MSN schools are willing to offer admission based on your whole application, including GRE scores and other supplemental information.

5. How Important Is Experience When Trying To Get Into A Top MSN Program?

It depends on what type of program you are applying for. Experience is more important when applying to a top MSN program that leads to a clinical role, like a nurse practitioner.

6. Can I Get Into A Top MSN Program Without Extracurriculars?

Yes, extracurriculars can help your top MSN school application, but they are not always required.

7. Is There An Interview For Admission Into Top MSN Programs?

Most top MSN programs do require an admissions interview.

8. What Is The Admission Rate For Top MSN Programs?

I wish I had a specific answer for you, but since there are so many different MSN degrees to choose from and a large number of programs, there is no consolidated data source to generate an average admission rate. Keep in mind, you are applying to top MSN programs, so admission will be competitive.

9. Is There A Waiting List For Top MSN Programs?

Yes, most, if not all top MSN programs have waitlists. So, if you do not initially receive admission but are waitlisted there is still hope that you might get in!

10. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances Of Admission Into Top MSN Programs?

It can! If the top MSN program you want to apply for has a priority admission deadline, it means they will review your application before the ones that are submitted by the final deadline.

Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN
Brooke Schmidt is a registered nurse with 10 years of clinical experience. She is currently living in Oregon and enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family. Brooke graduated from The University of Portland with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. During her time in school, Brooke developed a passion for geriatrics and chose a specialized practicum to gain further experience with this population.