BSN to MSN programs are for students who already have their BSN and license and want to advance and earn a higher degree. Most of these programs are simply called MSN programs, but sometimes they are identified as BSN to MSN programs to distinguish between this route and the RN to MSN option. In terms of coursework, admissions and scope, however, BSN to MSN are exactly the same as the masters degree in nursing (MSN).

A traditional or online BSN to MSN degree will take you 2 to 3 years to complete and provides you with the knowledge and credentials that you need to apply for a doctorate program or to pursue a career as an advanced practice nurse.

Additionally, there are a number of accredited accelerated BSN to MSN programs for students who want to earn a graduate degree in 12 to 15 months. Accelerated BSN to MSN programs include all of the clinical and classroom requirements of a traditional bachelors to masters degree in about half the time it takes to earn a BSN.

When you finish your BSN to MSN, you will have the same education and credentials as students who complete an RN to MSN program. Both accelerated and standard programs prepare you for a number of advanced roles such as working as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or nurse administrator.

Who should enroll in a BSN to MSN program?

Students who enroll in traditional or online BSN to MSN programs should be passionate about nursing and have a clear idea about their preferred field of specialization. Many BSN to MSN students have worked as an RN for several years and have a deep interest in their specialty field. These nurses often enroll in a BSN to MSN program because they want to expand their knowledge and skills in their specialization so that they provide more advanced care to their patients.

BSN degrees provide a broad foundation in advanced scientific and theoretical approaches. BSN to MSN programs build on your BSN education and require you to gain even more knowledge of a specialty field. If you enjoyed upper-division BSN classes like community-health nursing and nursing management, you may be a good candidate for a BSN to MSN program.

Additionally, it is important to know that the majority of students who go on to get a traditional or online PhD in nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) first earn an MSN in addition to their undergraduate degree..

However, there are other ways to gain advanced knowledge in your specialty field if you do not think that graduate school is right for you. You can also look into advanced certificates in your field, which usually require much less time and a smaller financial investment than earning a masters degree. There are even numerous online certificate preparation courses that will help you get ready to pass your certificate exam.

BSN to MSN program courses

The best BSN to MSN programs offer courses that will build on the foundation of knowledge that you earn during your bachelors degree in nursing and help sharpen your critical thinking skills in clinical situations. Some typical BSN to MSN courses include the following:

Research in nursing practice

This course will teach you about the qualitative and quantitative aspects of nursing research as well as how research findings are translated into general theory. Students also learn how to conduct clinical-based research and how to use it to improve the care that they give to their patients as an advanced practice nurse. This course is particularly relevant for students who might want to pursue a DNP later in their career.

Leadership roles in advanced nursing practice

In this class you will learn about the different responsibilities of nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists. You will also discover where their clinical roles overlap and how they can work together to improve patient care. In addition to studying theories about these different roles, you may also be required to practice them in role-playing scenarios with you fellow students.

Community health nursing

Students specializing in community, public and family health come together in this course to research and discuss large-scale plans for promoting public health. The course requires you to conduct basic research and collect data in teams in order to find the best strategies for dealing with community health issues.

Gaining admission to a BSN to MSN program

If you already have your BSN and license, then you already have the core credentials that you need to gain admission to most accredited BSN to MSN online programs or campus-based programs.

However, a BSN degree and an RN license alone do not guarantee that you will get into your top choice BSN to MSN program. Only a small percentage of BSN nurses go on to get their MSN degree, and these are often the most motivated students who have a strong academic record and a resume that is full of clinical experience.

If you are currently a BSN student and you think that you might be interested in getting your masters later, you should start planning now. You can begin by doing research online to find out which universities have the top BSN to MSN programs. After you have decided on 2 or 3 schools that you like, search their websites for information about the types of students who were admitted to the program in the past. If you cannot find this data online, you can usually just call the  school and request it.

This information will allow you to create a profile for the kind of BSN students that your favorite schools admit. Important facts such as the average undergraduate GPA of students who have been admitted in the past can provide you with a concrete, practical goal to aim for in your own studies.

Holding a job during your BSN to MSN program

Many BSN to MSN programs accept students who have just finished their bachelors degree and earned their RN license but who have little or no real experience outside of their clinical practice hours. If you belong in this category, you might have to face a difficult choice.

On the 1 hand, since you have your RN license you are probably eager to start gaining experience and earning an income as an RN. Holding a job during your BSN to MSN program allows you to gain valuable hands-on clinical practice and understand the real-life challenges that professional nurses face. And since many of your BSN to MSN courses will focus on theory and research, your experiences on the job can help you connect the abstract knowledge that you gain in class with real clinical practice.

On the other hand, new RNs who have just finished their BSN degree often need months or even years on the job before they feel comfortable with their responsibilities and duties. For many nurses this orientation phase is even more challenging and stressful than nursing school.

Therefore, even if you enroll in the most flexible BSN to MSN program, you may find that the combination of studying for graduate school and starting a new career is simply too stressful. Although some students are able to manage this heavy workload, others find that both their grades and their performance at work begin to suffer.

Studying online in a BSN to MSN program

There are almost as many online BSN to MSN programs as there are on-campus options. And like other online nursing degrees, the best BSN to MSN online programs are usually offered by universities that also have a traditional brick-and-mortar program as well.

Many of the students who enroll in online BSN to MSN programs have already worked for several years and are comfortable with their role as professional RNs. For these nurses, the online BSN to MSN track provides a way for them to keep their jobs while they advance their education.

Online BSN to MSN programs are also more common for nurses who want to earn their masters in fields like nursing administration or nursing informatics. This is because these programs usually place less emphasis on patient contact and have fewer on-site clinical requirements.