Is an RN-to-MSN Worth it – (Pros VS. Cons)
Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Are you a registered nurse considering taking your career to the next level? Do you aspire to be a nurse leader, work in nursing administration or teach nursing school? If so, earning your master's degree in nursing is an excellent option to consider. Maybe you've thought about master's degree programs but wonder, "Is an RN-to-MSN worth it?" It's natural to question potential career moves. In this article, I will address that question and offer your information, including 25 reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it and 7 reasons why it may not be the right degree for you. As you continue reading, you will also find some information about RN-to-MSN programs to help determine if this is the right career move for you.
WHAT IS AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE?
An RN-to-MSN program
is a graduate-level nursing program. These programs are designed to help registered nurses transition from undergraduate nursing roles to graduate-level advanced practice nursing roles. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is one of only a few graduate nursing degrees.
HOW LONG DOES AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE TAKE?
RN-to-MSN programs typically take two to three years to complete. The number of transferrable credits you have and whether you go to school part-time or full-time are the biggest determining factors of how long it will take you to graduate.
For example, LSU Health
in New Orleans, Louisiana, offers an RN-to-MSN program available to applicants with an Associate Degree or Diploma in Nursing, possessing an active registered nurse license, and one year of work experience as a registered nurse. The program can be completed in two and a half years
of full-time study.
The University of San Francisco
features another RN-to-MSN program designed to prepare currently licensed RNs with an associate or bachelor’s degree for advanced practice with a Master of Science in Nursing. The program is designed in a two-year format
for both ADN and BSN registered nurses.
HOW MUCH DOES AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE COST?
The cost of RN-to-MSN programs varies. The number of credits you need to complete the degree and whether you take classes online or on-campus have some bearing on your total cost. The programs I researched average anywhere from $35,000 to more than $100,000.
Tuition for the RN-to-MSN program at the University of Maryland
is calculated on a per-credit basis, depending on the student's residency status. State residents pay $856 per credit and students who reside out-of-state pay $1,519 per credit. The curriculum consists of 69 credits, making the total cost range between $59,064 and $104,811.
The University of Texas at Arlington offers an RN-to-MSN program that is exclusively online. The program is designed to be completed in 36 months. Tuition averages $19,500 per academic year, making the total tuition approximately $58,500
WHAT ARE THE ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE?
Schools offering RN-to-MSN programs determine the admission criteria for their programs. So, as you research programs, you may find some variance. However, there are some general guidelines most schools follow. Typical admission criteria for RN-to-MSN programs include the following.
• Possess an Associate degree in nursing from an accredited school of nursing
• Have an active, unrestricted license to practice as a registered nurse
• Submit official transcripts from any post-secondary school you’ve attended
• Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for all college or university level coursework
• Provide letters of professional and/or academic recommendation
• Prepare a Statement of Intent
WHY IS AN RN-TO-MSN WORTH IT? – THE PROS
(The following are the 25 top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it in 2023.)
REASON #1: Increased Income Potential
One of the top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is your potential to earn a higher income. Registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing earn an average of $74,000 annually. Baccalaureate-prepared registered nurses earn approximately $80,000. Once you accomplish a Master of Science in Nursing degree, you have the potential to earn an average of $98,000 yearly.
REASON #2: You’ll Develop Higher-Level Nursing Skills
All nurses develop important skills such as communication, critical thinking, and assessment. In an RN-to-MSN program, you'll take those skills to a higher level. One of the great things about RN-to-MSN programs that make them worth the effort is the expertise you'll develop and the depth to which you'll advance your skills.
REASON #3: You Could Teach Nursing
If you like the idea of sharing your nursing knowledge and expertise with others, earning your master's in nursing can position you to do that. For nurses who want to impart their knowledge to others and help develop a strong nursing workforce for the future, the ability to teach is one of the top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
REASON #4: Increase Your Marketability
One more of the top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is your increased marketability. Employers seek nurses capable of providing strong, evidence-based nursing care and who possess solid leadership, decision-making, and critical thinking skills. An RN-to-MSN program will help you accomplish that, making you an excellent candidate for upper-level nursing jobs.
REASON #5: Excellent Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs you can get with a Master of Science in Nursing will grow 40% from 2021 to 2031. The BLS anticipates more than 30,000 jobs for advanced practice nurses yearly, on average, over the decade. The positive job outlook that comes with earning an MSN is one of the top reasons an RN-to-MSN degree is worth it.
REASON #6: You May Have Opportunities to Participate in Research
If you like the idea of participating in research projects, an MSN program can help you begin that path. Many RN-to-MSN programs require you to complete a thesis, and if you desire to explore research at any level, you can use the thesis requirement as a path to learn about research.
REASON #7: Opportunities to Advance to Leadership
Earning a Master of Science in Nursing gives you a competitive edge when it comes to applying for leadership roles in nursing. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is that the degree prepares you with both academic and clinical experiences necessary to become a strong leader in the profession.
REASON #8: More Autonomy in Your Practice
One of the top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is the ability to work more independently. Master's-prepared registered nurses have learned the skills necessary to make independent decisions about patient care leading to more independent practice.
REASON #9: You Can Choose a Concentration
Another excellent thing about a master’s in nursing and one of the biggest reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is that you can choose a specialty upon which to focus your practice. For example, you may choose to specialize in geriatrics, pediatrics, or another patient population.
REASON #10: Better Work Schedules
One of the perks and biggest reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it is that you may have a better work schedule. Granted, some nurses with an MSN may choose jobs where shift work is necessary. However, most graduate-level nurses work in leadership roles that have typical "office hours." If you have a home and family, this is one perk that could really make earning your MSN worth it.
REASON #11: You Can Be a Strong Mentor for Other Nurses
You don’t have to be a nursing instructor to mentor other nurses. With an MSN, you will have a strong foundation of nursing knowledge and skills. When you couple your skills with a desire to see improved patient care and outcomes, you can become an effective mentor for other nurses, benefiting patients, nurses, and the profession.
REASON #12: You’ll Be One Step Closer to Earning a Doctorate in Nursing
If you've dreamed of becoming a Doctor of Nursing Practice or earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing will get you closer than other degrees. This is just one more of the many reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
REASON #13: You Can Earn Your Degree Through an Online Master of Science in Nursing Program
Maybe you've tossed around the idea of earning an MSN but don't feel like you can commit to going to campus. You may want a degree but need to work. Whatever your reason, don't give up! There are lots of excellent online options which allow you to earn a degree without disrupting your work or family schedule. Online options for earning your degree are one of the biggest reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
REASON #14: You Will Expand Your Professional Network
As you continue to learn and grow professionally, your peer network will also begin to grow. Having a large network of professional peers can benefit you in several ways. Your network of peers offers a great resource to draw upon the knowledge and experience of others. Also, many nurses find resources for new career and learning opportunities from their professional networks.
REASON #15: A Sense of Personal Accomplishment
Earning your master’s degree in nursing is certainly no small feat. When you complete your degree, you will have a sense of personal accomplishment, one that is well-earned.
REASON #16: You Could Get Even Better Employee Benefits
One of the most important factors to consider when applying for jobs is whether the employer offers benefits packages. While most nursing jobs come with some type of benefits package, the higher your degree, the better your potential benefits. You can leverage your advanced knowledge and skills to negotiate a package that meets your needs. This is another of the biggest reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
REASON #17: Become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
Earning a master’s degree in nursing is one of two pathways, MSN or DNP, that allows you to pursue APRN licensure and certification. There are four advanced practice registered nurse roles: Certified Nurse Midwife, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist, and Nurse Practitioner. If you are a registered nurse interested in an advanced practice role, an RN-to-MSN degree is worth it.
REASON #18: Gain the Respect of Your Professional Peers
If healthcare professionals know anything, we know the hard work it takes to earn a degree. When you complete an RN-to-MSN degree, your professional peers will have a greater level of respect for your work and determination.
REASON #19: You Can Help Fill the Need for Healthcare Providers Created by a Nursing & Physician Shortage
There is a nationwide shortage of both nurses and physicians. When you earn a Master of Science in Nursing, you can take on advanced practice roles and relieve some of the disadvantages those shortages cause. Being able to fill critical nursing and healthcare practitioner roles is just one more of the top reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
REASON #20: Your Employer May Help Pay for Your Degree
Many healthcare employers offer incentives for nurses to earn higher degrees, such as employer-sponsored education scholarships. In most cases, the employer offers to pay some, or all the expenses related to earning your degree in exchange for your agreeing to continue working for them for a designated period. This option can benefit you in more than one way, making it a great reason why an RN-to-MSN is worth it. First, you save money while earning your master's degree in nursing. You also have job security and can continue to hone your skills in a setting that is familiar.
REASON #21: You’ll Have a Broader Scope of Practice
Whether you choose a clinical role in bedside nursing, or a nonclinical nursing role, earning a Master of Science in Nursing can help you broaden your scope of practice. The knowledge and skills you acquire and continue to grow as a master’s prepared nurse set you up for greater responsibility and a wider range of job opportunities with a broader scope of practice.
REASON #22: You Can Take Advantage of Travel Opportunities Unique to Nurses
Anyone can choose to travel, but not everyone gets paid to do it. The shortage of nurses felt nationally and internationally creates a great opportunity for nurses to travel and work. Many underserved communities and countries have a high demand for nurses with specialized skills, such as nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists. The opportunity to travel and provide patient care is another example of why an RN-to-MSN degree is worth it.
REASON #23: Challenge Your Own Perspective
RN-to-MSN programs can be intellectually challenging. If you truly desire to be an effective nurse, it requires challenging your own perspective. In this case, an RN-to-MSN is worth it, as these programs allow you to develop stronger critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making skills.
REASON #24: You Can Influence Healthcare Organizations
Earning a graduate degree in nursing, like a Master of Science in Nursing, puts you in an excellent position to let your voice be heard. With an MSN, your knowledge and clinical skills can be instrumental in developing policies and procedures related to how organizations run and how patient care is delivered.
REASON #25: You Will Be Instrumental in Improving Patient Outcomes
When you earn an MSN, you'll be equipped with the knowledge and skills set necessary to promote and improve patient healthcare outcomes. Your team, patients, and peers will rely on your clinical knowledge and advanced skills to help determine nursing interventions appropriate for patients from various backgrounds with varying degrees of illness and disease. Being part of the process of improving patient outcomes is one of the main reasons an RN-to-MSN is worth it.
WHY AN RN-TO-MSN MAY NOT BE WORTH IT FOR YOU? – THE CONS
(Now that you have gone through the 25 reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it, here are 7 top reasons why it may not be the right degree for you.)
REASON #1: RN-to-MSN Programs Are Competitive
If you’re looking for a nursing program that’s easy to get into, you may find an RN-to-MSN is not worth it. Admission to these programs is often quite competitive, which can leave some students feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with the process. Remember, though, anything worth having is worth working for!
REASON #2: Coursework is Hard!
Earning a graduate degree in nursing, like the Master of Science in Nursing, takes dedication. You have a foundation of nursing knowledge and skills, but an RN-to-MSN program will challenge you to perform and grow academically and professionally. If you are not prepared to put the work in, you may feel an RN-to-MSN degree is not worth it at this time in your life.
REASON #3: You Are Happy Working in Bedside Nursing
It takes all kinds of nurses and healthcare professionals to make up a strong interdisciplinary team. If you are satisfied with your role in bedside nursing or feel like advanced practice and leadership roles are not for you, then you may find RN-to-MSN degree is not worth it for you.
REASON #4: RN-to-MSN Programs Can Be Expensive
The total cost of an RN-to-MSN program varies from one school to another with costs ranging from $30,000 to $80,000 or more. When you consider the cost of the program, you may determine an RN-to-MSN is not worth it. Don’t be discouraged, though. If this is truly something you desire to do, consider applying for grants, loans, or scholarships. There are many opportunities for financial assistance to help make your dream of earning an MSN become reality.
REASON #5: You May Need to Change Your Work Schedule
The curriculum for your MSN program will likely incorporate at least 500 hours of clinical practicum, depending on whether you choose a certification or advanced practice specialty. If you have a full-time job, you may need to talk with your supervisor about options for changing your schedule. In some cases, you may feel it’s necessary to take time off of work to complete the program. If you can't make changes to your work schedule, you may conclude pursuing an RN-to-MSN degree is not worth it at this time.
REASON #6: Some RN-to-MSN Programs are Lengthy
While the average RN-to-MSN program takes two to three years to complete, if you choose an advanced practice concentration, it could take you longer to earn your degree. It’s important to think about what you want from an MSN program regarding long-term career goals before deciding if it’s the right choice for you.
REASON #7: It May Be Difficult to Balance Work, School, & Your Personal Life
Success in an RN-to-MSN program will require having balance in your life. Most students in these programs already have a full-time job and may have children or families. Adding a graduate nursing program in the mix can be a bit overwhelming. Before you chalk it up to being too much and say getting an RN-to-MSN is not worth it, take the time to weigh the pros and cons. Then, if you really want to earn the degree, work with your family, employer, and academic advisor to find an option that works for you.
WHAT ARE THE 3 MAIN REASONS BEHIND THE DEMAND FOR RN-TO-MSN DEGREE HOLDERS?
If you want a career with a good long-term outlook, nursing is an excellent choice. There is a demand for nurses of all levels, especially master’s-prepared nurses. The following are three main reasons for the demand for RN-to-MSN graduates.
1. Better Patient Outcomes:
Because of their in-depth knowledge of nursing and broader skills set, MSN nurses can handle a variety of patient needs. Their ability to care for patients with varying degrees of illness, injury or disease, mean better overall patient outcomes.
2. Nationwide Shortage of Nurses:
A nationwide shortage of nurses has been an ongoing problem in recent years, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some nurses experience burnout or compassion fatigue and either take extended time away from the job or change careers altogether. More nurses than ever are reaching retirement age, as well. These factors have led to the need for qualified nurses to fill those roles. Nurses, like those who complete RN-to-MSN degrees, are in a perfect position to fill a variety of nursing roles.
3. Decreased Healthcare Costs:
Employers report when there is a higher number of master’s prepared nurses providing patient care and leading nursing teams, there is decreased incidence of medication errors and patient injuries. When patient safety is high and outcomes are improved, this leads to decreased healthcare costs.
WHAT IS THE AVERAGE SALARY FOR RN-TO-MSN DEGREE HOLDERS?
The average salary for RN-to-MSN degree holders is $47.12 per hour, $1,885 weekly, or $8,170 monthly. This income is equivalent to $98,000 annually.
IS THE COST OF AN RN-TO-MSN WORTH THE RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)?
RN-to-MSN programs can cost anywhere from $30,000 to more than $100,000. The average annual income for an MSN registered nurse is $98,000. When you factor in income increases that come with continued work experience, benefits packages, and other perks, I believe the return on investment for an RN-to-MSN degree is worth it.
WHAT ARE THE 3 BEST JOBS YOU CAN GET WITH AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE?
When you earn a Master of Science in Nursing, the doors of opportunity are practically unlimited. You will be able to choose from jobs caring for specific patient populations, age groups, or various nursing roles. The following are three of the best jobs you can get with an RN-to-MSN degree.
1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist:
CRNAs have some of the highest levels of practice autonomy. As a CRNA, you will provide anesthesia care to patients before, during, and after procedures requiring anesthesia services. The perfect candidate for this job works well under pressure and independently and is not afraid to implement critical decision-making skills.
2. Adult/Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner:
If you want to provide direct patient care and prefer to work with adults or the elderly, this could be a great job for you. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners diagnose and treat health conditions, provide wellness and preventive healthcare, and prepare and implement care plans for patients based on individual needs.
3. Nurse Administrator:
If you're ready to move to more of a managerial role than a clinical one, a job as a nurse administrator may interest you. Nurse Administrators manage nursing staff for hospitals and other healthcare organizations. They supervise staff, address staff and patient complaints, create and implement budgets, and work with senior administration to ensure the smooth running of their facilities.
BONUS! 3 TIPS TO MAKE MORE MONEY WITH AN RN-TO-MSN DEGREE?
One of the great things about being a nurse is there are always ways to increase your income. Whether you choose to change jobs or take on additional work, there are endless options. Here are a few tips to help you boost your paycheck with an RN-to-MSN degree.
1. Get Certified!:
Employers love to hire MSN nurses with specialty certifications. You can become certified in medical surgical nursing
, gerontological nursing
, or cardiovascular nursing
. There are also certifications such as Informatics Nurse
and Nurse Executive
2. Take on a Side-Hustle:
Many MSN nurses love their full-time jobs but want or need to supplement their income. You can do that by taking on a side job. You may consider being an adjunct instructor during your off time from your regular job or become a nurse consultant on the side. One of the most popular side hustles for MSN nurses in recent years is freelance writing. There are endless opportunities for nurses to write informational, research-related, or entertaining articles.
3. Take a Leap of Faith and Step into Leadership:
If you haven't already considered it, leadership is an excellent way to boost your income rather quickly. Don't worry. You don't have to plunge in and go right to the top of the nursing ladder if you're not ready. There are many opportunities for nursing leadership roles. You may be interested in becoming a charge nurse, clinical nurse leader, assistant director of nursing, or director of nursing
IS AN RN-TO-MSN WORTH IT FOR YOU – MY FINAL THOUGHTS
In this article, I addressed the question, “Is an RN-to-MSN worth it?” and shared 25 reasons why an RN-to-MSN is worth it and also 7 reasons why it may not be the right degree for you. My final thoughts about whether an RN-to-MSN is worth it is, definitely! You can pursue advanced practice roles, gain specialty certifications, and make a great income. At the end of the day, though, the decision is yours to make. I encourage you to consider the information in this article and decide if this path will get you where you hope to be in your career. Remember, if you want it badly enough, no goal is impossible!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED
1. What Is The Best Age To Do An RN-To-MSN Degree?
There is no "perfect" age to pursue an RN-to-MSN degree. One thing to keep in mind is that most RN-to-MSN programs require applicants to have at least one year of full-time experience as a registered nurse.
2. How Hard Is It To Get Into An RN-To-MSN Degree Program?
Admission to RN-to-MSN programs can be quite competitive. I suggest applying to more than one school. Also, be sure you submit a complete application packet so your application is not rejected.
3. Is The GRE Required For Those Wishing To Pursue An RN-To-MSN Degree?
While some nursing schools require the GRE for RN-to-MSN programs, all do not. It is best to discuss admission requirements with each school that interests you, as admission criteria vary from one school to another.
4. Do I Need Work Experience To Get Into An RN-To-MSN Degree Program?
Most RN-to-MSN programs require applicants to have at least one year of experience as a licensed registered nurse.
5. What Is The Minimum GPA To Get Into An RN-To-MSN Degree Program?
Although the minimum GPA for admission to RN-to-MSN programs varies, most schools require at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 cumulative for all college-level coursework.
6. Can I Get Into An RN-To-MSN Degree Program With A Low GPA?
Schools determine the minimum grade point average allowed for admission to their programs. Keep in mind, though, that admission to RN-to-MSN programs is competitive. You should strive to have a GPA higher than the minimum required to improve your chances of acceptance.
7. Are Online RN-To-MSN Degree Programs Worth It?
Absolutely!! Online RN-to-MSN programs offer the same instruction as on-campus programs. They are often preferred by working nurses and those with family or other obligations.
8. Are Scholarships And Grants Available For RN-To-MSN Degree Programs?
There are many scholarships and grants available for RN-to-MSN programs. Some schools have scholarship opportunities exclusively for their student. Many employers and nursing associations offer scholarships and grants as well. Additionally, all nursing students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federally funded grants and loans.
9. Can RN-To-MSN Students Have A Life?
Of course, RN-to-MSN students can have a life. Your schedule may feel hectic from time to time, but it is possible to create a healthy school/work/life balance. One of the best ways to do this is to create a schedule you can live with and stick to it.
10. Can I Work Part-Time And Successfully Complete The RN-To-MSN Degree Program?
Yes, it is possible to work part-time and successfully complete an RN-to-MSN degree program. In fact, most MSN students keep their jobs for the duration of their programs.
11. Can I Work Full-Time And Successfully Complete The RN-To-MSN Degree Program?
Many students in RN-to-MSN degree programs continue working full-time while pursuing their MSN degree. The key is to create balance by establishing how much time you can devote to school while continuing to work. You may need input from your academic advisor and employer to make sure everyone is on the same page with planning.
12. Do Students Fail In RN-To-MSN Degree Programs?
Unfortunately, some students in RN-to-MSN degree programs fail. Any number of reasons can lead to someone being unsuccessful in the program. If this happens to you, it is not the end! Talk to your advisor and determine a plan to meet your needs and help improve your chances for success later.
13. Will I Ever Regret Getting An RN-To-MSN Degree?
Although I cannot tell you how you will feel in the future, I can tell you that studies show that registered nurses with an MSN are highly satisfied with their jobs.
14. How Much Does An RN-To-MSN Graduate Make Per Hour?
The average hourly pay for an RN-to-MSN graduate is $47.12.
15. How Much Does An RN-To-MSN Graduate Make Per Year?
RN-to-MSN graduates earn an average of $98,000 annually.
16. Will RN-To-MSN Graduates Be Paid Less In The Future?
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that projects jobs for MSN graduates to grow and the nationwide shortage of nursing, it is unlikely that RN-to-MSN graduates will be paid less in the future. In fact, data suggests earning potential could significantly increase.
17. Are All RN-To-MSN Graduates Successful In Their Careers?
Like any career, there are some RN-to-MSN graduates who may be unsuccessful in their careers. Being a nurse is hard work. It takes dedication and a strong drive to succeed.
18. Are RN-To-MSN Graduates Happy With Their Jobs?
Several surveys and data suggest RN-to-MSN graduates are happy with their jobs and career choice.
19. Can RN-To-MSN Degree Holders Become Rich?
Yes, RN-to-MSN degree holders can become rich. However, it’s important to understand that becoming rich takes more than a degree. Becoming wealthy takes careful planning and consistent financial management.
20. What Are Some RN-To-MSN Degree Alternatives?
If you want a degree in healthcare but are unsure about an RN-to-MSN degree, don't worry! You have options. Popular alternatives to RN-to-MSN degree programs are degrees in Healthcare Administration, Human Resources Management, Occupational Psychology, and Addiction Disorders.
Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).