How to Become an MSN Nurse? (Answered By a Nurse)

Written By: Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN

On average, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) prepared nurses earn more money than registered nurses (RNs) without graduate degrees. Education is critical for nurses who want to advance their careers, regardless of professional goals. MSN prepared nurses are employed as licensed independent providers, perform leadership roles, and educate future nurses about their beloved career. If any of these roles sound like an exciting career change, that’s because they are!

Beyond licensure and career goals, a graduate degree will nurture your knowledge and professionalism. MSN prepared nurses are incredible assets, with booming career prospects and provide a diverse range of employment options.

When it comes to advancing your career, many healthcare workers do not understand the difference between registered nurses with different degrees. Luckily, this article will describe what an MSN prepared nurse does, how to become one, and what else you need to know along the way. Read on to learn all about how to become an MSN nurse?

What Does an MSN Nurse Do?

Becoming an MSN nurse enables you to work in a lot of careers in health care. An MSN prepared nurse is simply a nurse with a graduate (MSN) degree that allows them to work in clinical roles and alternative health care roles. According to the American Associations of Colleges of Nursing, getting an MSN qualifies nurses to excel in administration, teaching, health informatics, and direct patient care. These nurses do everything from performing research, performing healthcare advising and consulting, managing finances, advocating for the profession, and working as an advanced practice clinician.

The possible job titles of MSN prepared nurses include the following:

● Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
● Certified nurse-midwife (CNM)
● Nurse practitioner (NP)
● Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
● Nurse administrator or executive
● Clinical nurse leader (CNL)
● Nurse educator or professor
● Informatics nurse
● Research nurse or research assistants
● Director of Nursing
● Dean of Nursing
● Chief of Nursing
● Legal nursing
● Forensic nurses
● Military nurses
● Holistic nursing
● Tutoring
● Lobbying and advocacy
● Health policy specialists
● Public health nurses
● Consulting
● Sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE)

As you can see, with such a wide variety of professions, it is hard to describe precisely what an MSN prepared nurse will do in their daily job. However, as a whole, MSN prepared nurses carry the profession forward.

Where Do MSN Nurses Work?

MSN prepared nurses can work in most settings that registered nurses work in and more. Some options include:

● Acute hospitals

○ Emergency departments
○ Nursing units
○ Interventional radiology
○ Rehabilitation hospitals

● Health departments
● Colleges and universities
● Pharmaceutical companies
● Clinics
● Medical spas
● Schools
● Summer camps
● Telehealth
● Urgent cares
● Correctional facilities
● Home health
● Hospice units or patient’s homes
● Places of worship
● Emergency vehicles (or ambulances)
● Mission trips or clinics
● Military bases, overseas, or warzones

Why Become an MSN Nurse?

The main reason to consider becoming an MSN nurse is that furthering your education helps your nursing career evolve. MSN prepared nurses are more likely to make more money and to have increased job satisfaction.

With professional organizations like the American Associations of Colleges of Nursing striving for ever more education, cognizant nurses get an early start on pursuing their graduate degrees. The Institute of Medicine has already stated that 80% of nurses should be bachelor-prepared, and the American Nurses Association issues a position statement regarding its encouragement for access to education for every nurse. However, the push is always for more and more professional knowledge. Academic progression is becoming a critical part of the nursing profession.

Becoming an MSN allows for additional job opportunities but also changes the way one practice. MSN-prepared nurses become more adept in professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes while attaining a master’s degree.

Skills and Characteristics Required to Be a Successful MSN Nurse

MSN nurse duties vary tremendously based on the specific career they choose. Even among nurse practitioner types, the required skills are substantially different. However, in order to pursue an advanced educational level in such an important profession, there are some characteristics that all MSN prepared nurses should possess.


Nurses who pursue an MSN degree are conscientious of their clients and their profession as a whole. Attending graduate school while working as a nurse is rigorous, and only the most diligent nurses are capable.


When you are in graduate school, dedication is essential to get the degree and put it to professional use.


Becoming an MSN nurse means that you must be able to plan and coordinate. Whether you are an educator, leader, or provider, you are responsible for planning for the future and coordinating others.


Nurses are always compassionate, but MSN prepared nurses must support providing empathy for patients, students, or employees.

Critical thinking:

All nurses are critical thinkers, but it improves with experience, knowledge, and additional learning. Nurses begin to identify clinical issues on their own with time and education.


Nurses understand the importance of the role that they play and take it seriously. MSN prepared nurses also put patient care as a priority.

Following is a Step-by-Step Process to Become an MSN Nurse

Becoming a graduate prepared nurse is an ideal way to bolster your professional career. The road to excelling in your career as an MSN prepared nurse may seem impossible, but this guide will break down the crucial steps for how to become an MSN nurse along the way.

1. Participate in high school activities, volunteer work, and cultivate a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

2. Graduate from high school and apply to college

○ Request professional references from trusted teachers, coaches, or advisers.
○ Write a thoughtful admission essay.
○ Make sure to include your activities, volunteer work, and any other relevant undertakings.

3. Apply to an Associate's or bachelor’s degree program in nursing and get accepted. Consider applying to a back up to ensure admission. (Please note many choose to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).)

4. Attend an accredited nursing school

○ Take courses like community health, acute care, chronic care, and maternal-child.
○ Learn about nursing theory and nursing care plans.

○ Participate in clinical rotations with hands-on experience.

5. Graduate from school, take a deep breath, and celebrate!

6. Apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) and schedule a local center testing date.

○ Study.
○ Sleep well the night before.

7. Pass your computer-based NCLEX-RN.

8. Become licensed as a registered nurse (RN) by applying to your state board. Some states are part of a nurse licensure compact, which gives them reciprocity in other states. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the regulations in each state so that you perform within your scope.

9. Gain two to three years of hands-on experience as an RN

10. Further, your education in an area that will help with your terminal career. Some RN certifications (RN-C) specifically target your subject area. However, the options vary dramatically depending on your passion, long-term goals, and area of expertise.

○ Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML): This certification is an industry-recognized resource that demonstrates your knowledge and leadership.
○ Certified Nurse Educator (CNE): This certification establishes nurse education as a nursing specialty and displays expertise. CNEs educate in a variety of settings, from technical schools to universities to hospitals.
○ Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN): The certification is for skilled professional nurses who work at the bedside in acute care to demonstrate commitment and credibility.

11. Apply to the graduate programs (MSN) of your choice. (If you don’t have your BSN, you can apply for an RN to MSN program.)

○ Send your undergraduate transcripts.
○ Find three professional resources.
○ Write a personal statement or goal essay.

12. Attend a graduate nursing program and take specialized courses

○ If you are in a program for direct-patient care like a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), you will attend one or multiple clinical rotations.

13. Graduate from the MSN program

14. Take the certification exam for your graduate program. Make sure that you study before. With computer-based testing, most of the results are available before you leave.

15. Obtain licensure in your state if you seek advanced licensure (like a nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, CRNA, or CNS.)

16. Find employment as an MSN prepared nurse or apply for a fellowship. There are many excellent job-seeking resources, depending on your specialization. Check your professional organization for the best career opportunities:

○ American College of Nurse-Midwifery (ACNM) job board
○ American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) job center

17. There are subspecialties of some areas of nursing, such as a dermatology NP. Once you meet the exam requirements, you can take that additional certification and review the results.

18. Create a unique curriculum vitae celebrating your momentous career achievements!

How Long Does It Take to Become an MSN Nurse?

The length of time to become an MSN nurse varies depending on your current educational level. It can take you anywhere from just over a year to four years to become an MSN nurse. Luckily, if you already have your BSN, just over a year can set you on your way to getting your master’s in nursing.

Pathway Full-Time Part-Time
RN to MSN 30 to 36 Months 36 to 48 Months
BSN to MSN 15 to 24 Months 24 to 48 Months
Direct Entry MSN 20 to 24 Months 24 to 48 Months

How Much Does It Cost to Become an MSN Nurse?

MSN costs are also related to the pathway, whether for education, research, leadership, and advanced practice nursing. Becoming an MSN nurse differs for those who have different experience levels. If you start as an RN with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, the cost ranges from $22,070 to $231,600. If you have a BSN, the cost is $18,810 to $185,280. For those without a nursing degree who want to become a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice nurse (APN), the direct entry MSN cost ranges from $22,570 to $222,340.

Tuition isn’t cheap. Cost may influence your path to becoming an MSN nurse. The price varies depending on whether the program is virtual or brick and mortar, public or private, or out of state. Beyond tuition, there are other costs to keep in mind like technology fees, program materials, and books.

Pathway Tuition Range
RN to MSN $22,070 - $231,600
BSN to MSN $18,810 - $185,280
Direct Entry MSN $22,570 - $222,340

How Much Does an MSN Nurse Make?

The range of money that MSN prepared nurses vary tremendously depending on the area of specialization. When reviewing the specialty options to become an MSN nurse, the pay varies as much as the job description. According to ZipRecruiter, the average earnings of all nurse practitioners is $109,025. Many factors influence your earnings with an MSN degree such as specialization, hours, environment, shift, and geographic location.

When it comes to making the most money, CRNAs make nearly $170K. Of all advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), certified nurse-midwives make the least at $96,791. Of all non-APRN specializations, clinical nurse leaders earn $102,348 annually. Public health nurses make the least of all at $60,342.

APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) $49.99 $103,984
2 Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) $52.24 $108,669
3 Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) $46.53 $96,791
4 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $80.98 $168,446
5 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) $50.29 $104,610
6 Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) $50.05 $104,109
7 Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) $52.11 $108,387
8 Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) $48.75 $101,406
9 Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP) $49.10 $102,118
10 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) $58.42 $121,519
11 Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) $49.12 $102,174
Non-APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) $49.21 $102,348
2 Nursing Executive/Administrator $34.44 $71,636
3 Nurse Educator $35.55 $73,952
4 Nurse Researcher $32.80 $68,234
5 Public Health Nursing $29.01 $60,342
6 Nursing Informatics $48.32 $100,503

Job Market for MSN Nurses

The job market for MSN prepared nurses is positive, regardless of area of interest. For advanced practice clinicians, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job market is projected to grow by 45 percent over the next decade. For nursing administration, the job outlook is positive, with about 32% growth. In addition to the clinical side, pharmaceutical companies and labs are seeking skilled nurse researchers with an advanced degree. Those looking to streamline health care seek nurse consultants.


Nurses change lives in every area that they touch. All nurses are skilled professionals who desire to both make a difference and be compensated accordingly. They implement the nursing model throughout the health system in a variety of different professions. It is more important now than ever before to advance your nursing education.

The question of “how to become an MSN nurse?” is challenging because MSN prepared nurses are skilled professionals with different experience and training, but in this article, we have given you a broad idea on how to become one.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered By Our Expert

What’s the difference between an MSN nurse versus a BSN nurse: Which One Should You Choose?

A BSN prepared nurse is ideal for working in a Magnet hospital, teaching nursing student clinical rotations, or working as an assistant manager in a nursing unit. However, MSN prepared nurses can do all of the above and more - including advanced leadership, higher education, and being an advanced practice nurse. Consider your overall career goals, talents, and interests to determine the best path for your education.

What’s the difference between an MSN prepared nurse and a DNP prepared nurse?

DNP prepared nurses have received the terminal degree. They are also likely to make more money than MSN or BSN prepared nurses. However, if you’re interested in deciding between MSN and DNP, there are many factors to consider.

How do I become an MSN prepared nurse practitioner?

MSN prepared nurse practitioners (NPs) are RNs who obtained a graduate degree in an NP specialty. This program focuses more on a specified clinical to the specific population. These programs are different from non-clinical MSN programs.

Can nursing experience earn credits towards an MSN program?

No, you cannot earn credits from nursing experience towards an MSN program. However, if you have a robust background in unit leadership, continuing education, or relevant certifications, it will help you get accepted to graduate programs.

Can you be a nurse educator without being MSN prepared?

There are many areas of education that you can work in, such as educating associate degree nurses or in the clinical space for registered nurses. However, many programs require an MSN to be hired as a nurse educator.

What clinical jobs require being MSN prepared?

Nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) all require possessing an MSN degree. However, soon CRNAS will need to have a DNP. Some RNs who work in direct patient care choose to have an MSN, but it is not a requirement.

Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN
Caitlin Goodwin is a Certified Nurse-Midwife who has been a nurse for 12 years, primarily in women’s health. She is passionate about caring for children with developmental disabilities, as her son has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant and is passionate about advocating for her patients, students, and profession.