Options for Pursuing an MSN Degree without a BSN

Many prospective students have expressed interest in pursuing an MSN degree without first obtaining a BSN. This article aims to explore this option in depth.
A nurse and working professional have a conversation at a desk in a classroom.

For registered nurses seeking to advance their careers, obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can be a significant step. While a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is typically a prerequisite for an MSN, there are options available for those who do not have a BSN.

Introduction to MSN without BSN

For many ambitious nursing professionals, earning an advanced nursing degree is an essential step toward professional growth and career success. Both the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are popular choices for nurses seeking to expand their skills and knowledge.

In recent years, however, many prospective students have expressed interest in pursuing an MSN degree without first obtaining a BSN. This article aims to explore this option in depth, discussing its various aspects, advantages, and how to make it happen. So let’s dive in!

Definition of MSN and BSN

The MSN is an advanced nursing degree that prepares nurses for leadership, administrative, and specialized clinical roles. It typically takes 18 months to two years of full-time study to complete and covers subjects such as advanced clinical practice, nursing research, and healthcare management. Graduates with an MSN often work as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, or nursing administrators.

Conversely, the BSN is an undergraduate nursing degree that combines nursing theory, clinical practice, and general education courses. A BSN typically takes four years of full-time study to complete and serves as the foundation for entry-level nursing positions and further graduate study. Nurses with a BSN can work as registered nurses (RNs), charge nurses, or nursing case managers, and they often have the option to pursue specialty certifications and advanced nursing degrees.

Importance of Advanced Nursing Degrees

Advancing your nursing education by earning an MSN or BSN has several benefits. Firstly, advanced nursing degrees can open up new career opportunities, allowing you to assume leadership and management roles or practice in specialized areas such as family medicine, mental health, or critical care. Moreover, more advanced knowledge and skills can improve patient outcomes, enhance the quality of care, and contribute to the overall growth of the nursing profession.

Various studies have shown that hospitals employing more nurses with advanced degrees report lower patient mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and a more positive patient experience. Therefore, investing in an advanced nursing degree could significantly impact your professional success and the well-being of your patients.

Pathways to Pursue MSN without BSN

While obtaining a BSN before moving on to an MSN has traditionally been the most common educational pathway for nurses, many higher education institutions now offer alternative programs designed for nurses seeking to earn their MSN without a BSN. The two most popular pathways include the RN-to-MSN program and the Direct Entry Master’s program. Let’s take a closer look at each option.

RN-to-MSN Program

Eligibility Requirements

RN-to-MSN programs are designed for registered nurses with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing. These programs allow RNs to earn both their BSN and MSN degrees in a condensed, streamlined format, generally taking three to four years to complete. To be eligible for an RN-to-MSN program, applicants usually need a valid RN license, a minimum cumulative GPA (often 2.5 or higher), and sufficient clinical experience.

Course Curriculum Focus

The course curriculum in an RN-to-MSN program generally begins with BSN-level coursework, focusing on nursing theory, evidence-based practice, and critical thinking. As students progress in their studies, they transition to MSN-level coursework, which covers subjects such as advanced pharmacology, health policy, leadership, and pathophysiology. These programs often culminate in a capstone project or immersive clinical practicum experience.

Direct Entry Master’s Program

Admission Prerequisites

Direct Entry, or Entry-Level Master’s, programs are designed for individuals with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree who wish to pursue a career in nursing. These accelerated programs provide rigorous nursing education within two to three years while simultaneously preparing students for their preferred nursing specialty. To be admitted, applicants typically need to have a minimum cumulative GPA (often 3.0 or higher) and complete prerequisite courses such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and nutrition.

Accelerated Coursework

Direct Entry Master’s programs are intensive and fast-paced, combining undergraduate and graduate-level nursing education into a single, continuous course of study. The curriculum covers topics like nursing fundamentals, pathophysiology, patient assessment, pharmacology, research methods, and nursing ethics. During the latter portion of the program, students focus on their chosen nursing specialty and complete the necessary clinical hours and coursework to earn their advanced nursing degree.

Comparing MSN without BSN Programs

RN-to-MSN and Direct Entry pathways cater to different backgrounds and experiences but lead to similar career opportunities for nursing professionals.

Pros and Cons of RN-to-MSN vs Direct Entry

Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of RN-to-MSN and Direct Entry programs to help you make the right choice.



  • Allows nurses with associate degrees or diplomas to pursue an MSN without earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) first.
  • Accelerated programs are available, saving time and money compared to earning a BSN and then an MSN separately.
  • The nursing work experience and skills gained as a Registered Nurse (RN) can provide insight into specific MSN specialties to pursue.


  • Not having a BSN may limit the nursing roles you can apply for since some employers prefer candidates with a BSN.
  • The pace of accelerated RN-to-MSN programs can be challenging, especially if you work or have other commitments.

Direct Entry


  • Ideal for non-nursing professionals who have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to change their career path.
  • Integrates BSN and MSN education, providing a comprehensive nursing curriculum and expertise in a specific field.
  • Graduates become eligible for RN licensure and a potential advanced nursing role.


  • Limited work experience as an RN can impact decision-making and specialist expertise.
  • Direct Entry is generally more expensive and time-consuming than RN-to-MSN programs.

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Program

Selecting the right program for you involves considering the following factors:

Program Duration

RN-to-MSN programs typically take 2-3 years to complete, while Direct Entry programs usually range from 3-4 years. Accelerated programs can shorten these durations. Considering the time commitment necessary to balance work, family, and other priorities is essential.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Consider the overall cost of each program, including tuition, fees, textbooks, and other incidental expenses. Financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, and loans can help ease the financial burden. You can explore offerings from various institutions and organizations to find the best fit for your financial situation.

Career Opportunities with an MSN Degree

An MSN degree significantly expands the scope of career opportunities in the nursing field. Let’s explore nursing specializations, job roles, and potential advancement.

Nursing Specializations and Job Roles

Nursing professionals can pursue various advanced roles with an MSN, allowing them to specialize in their chosen field.

Nurse Practitioner

As a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you’ll have increased autonomy and responsibility when providing patient care. You can diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses, prescribe medications, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop patient care plans. NPs can choose from various specialties, like Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) possess advanced clinical skills and expertise in a specific area of healthcare, such as critical care, oncology, or geriatrics. They promote best practices, implement evidence-based care, and provide staff education to improve patient outcomes. They may also affect healthcare policies.

Scope for Advancement and Salary Expectations

With an MSN degree, not only can you pursue advanced nursing roles, but you will also benefit from increased earning potential. MSN-educated nurses typically earn higher salaries than BSN-educated nurses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Nurse Practitioners was $124,680 in May 2022, significantly higher than the median annual wage of $89,010 for Registered Nurses.

Making an Informed Decision for Your Nursing Career

Deciding between an RN-to-MSN or a Direct Entry MSN program depends on your current educational background and career goals. Meet with academic and career advisors, attend open house events, and research different institutions to identify the program best suited to your personal and professional aspirations.

If you’re looking to start your new career as a leader in the nursing field, Xavier University’s accelerated second-degree direct entry MSN is designed to prepare students with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields to become registered nurses. Our campus-based, direct-entry MSN program trains students to provide expert care and patient advocacy through clinical experiences and courses in ethics, psychiatric nursing, family nursing, and so much more. Learn more about Xavier’s direct-entry MSN program and get started taking steps toward your future goals today.

Frequently Asked Questions About MSN Programs without a BSN

Can I Enroll in an MSN Program without a BSN Degree?

Yes, there are specific MSN programs known as direct-entry or accelerated MSN programs that cater to those who have non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. These programs are designed to provide individuals with a background in another field the opportunity to transition into nursing and begin their pursuit of an MSN degree.

How Long Will It Take to Complete a Direct-Entry MSN Program?

The duration of a direct-entry MSN program varies depending on the institution and the student’s individual situation. On average, it takes between two to three years of full-time study to complete an accelerated MSN program for non-nursing graduates. Factors affecting completion time include prerequisites, clinical hours, and coursework.

What Are the Differences Between Direct-Entry MSN, RN-to-MSN, and BSN-to-MSN Programs?

The primary difference lies in the educational background needed to enter each program. The three options cater to individuals with varying nursing education backgrounds.

  • Direct-entry MSN programs are for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field.
  • BSN-to-MSN options are for those who have already earned a BSN degree, allowing them to advance directly to the MSN level.
  • RN-to-MSN programs are for Registered Nurses who did not earn a BSN degree but wish to advance to the MSN level without first completing a BSN program.

What Are the Admission Requirements for Direct-Entry MSN Programs?

Admission requirements differ from one school to another. Generally, direct-entry MSN programs require:

  • Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA (typically at least a 3.0)
  • Prerequisite coursework, including basic science classes and human anatomy
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Completed application with a personal statement

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