How do I get into a master’s in nursing program?

Creating a formal application is the first step toward a master’s in nursing program. This entails compiling documentation of your work and academic experience, your professional readiness to complete the program and your motives for pursuing an advanced degree. Typical requirements include the following:


Programs will vary in this requirement, but nearly all demand some clinical experience.

Undergraduate information

A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited school is mandatory. Transcripts must be provided. Some bridge MSN programs are designed for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in other fields, but these are not standard and have different requirements.

Prerequisite course information

Many nursing schools require certain undergraduate-level courses prior to admission. Ensure that you have taken them and earned a C or better before you apply.

Tests or Certifications

Satisfactory GRE scores are expected, particularly if your cumulative GPA is lower than 3.2. Current RN licensure is a must.

Letters of Reference

Recommendation letters from nursing professionals are essential to a successful application. These endorsements demonstrate your ability to succeed and your work ethic.

Other materials

A resume or curriculum vitae is commonly requested, as is a personal statement detailing your career aspirations.

What can I do to improve my chances of getting accepted into a master’s of nursing program?

  • Know your focus. MSN programs are carefully designed to train nurses for leadership in a discrete specialty, therefore schools want applicants with a clear sense of direction.
  • Gain experience in your concentration, whether on the job or through volunteering.
  • Join professional networks affiliated with your field of interest. Subscribe to their publications so you’re able to intelligently discuss relevant topics.
  • Pay special attention to your personal statement, and consider having a mentor help you develop it. This document not only displays your strengths, but discusses your weaknesses and how you plan to overcome them.
  • Submit your application on time in its complete form.

Application Process Timeline

  • Review program requirements.
  • Take standardized tests, as required.
  • Address outstanding prerequisites, as required.
  • Order undergraduate transcripts.
  • Request recommendation letters.
  • Develop personal statement.
  • Gather all supporting documentation.
  • Submit a completed application by the program’s posted deadline.

Note: Admission to any MSN program will be competitive, and even more so in some specialties. Pay close attention to deadlines and be aware of special circumstances relevant to your concentration. Many top-notch schools interview potential master’s candidates, so be sure to do a couple practice interviews with friends or family in case you are invited to speak with admissions.

What are the learning options available at the master’s level?

Online vs Campus Based

Most MSN candidates are actively employed as nurses, meaning they need an option that offers them the flexibility to continue working while pursuing their education. Campus based programs have strict scheduling requirements that can be difficult to manage. With an online curriculum, students are given the flexibility to plan their learning around their work commitments, making it easy to earn a degree while employed.

Program Length

Because an MSN is designed to prepare a nurse for credentialing in a specialty area, credit requirements vary depending on the certification needed. Generally, a full-time student should expect between 35 to 50 credit hours of study over two years.

Program Goals

Graduates of an MSN program are trained in advanced practice and fully prepared for immediate professional credentialing. Regardless of speciality, all candidates are equipped for workplace leadership.

Degree Tracks

Each school offers its own selection of programs. Some of the more popular concentrations include Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) training for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists or clinical nurse specialists. Other non-clinical options include nursing education, nursing research, nursing administration and nursing informatics. Within these categories, some MSN programs allow further specialization; for example, in pediatrics or oncology.

What do the major concepts and coursework look like?

Every MSN program tailors its curriculum to a particular emphasis in nursing, with highly specialized advanced practice training and rigorous clinical experience supplementing a core framework of courses.


Core courses build on a BSN’s foundations and provide broad knowledge and practice expertise. Common course subjects include:

  • Issues and Trends in Nursing and Healthcare
  • Theory and Practice of Advanced Nursing Care
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Nursing Research and Practice Applications
  • Legal and Ethical Nursing
  • Global Health
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacologic Therapy

Beyond the program core, MSN candidates focus on their specialty track. While there are more specializations than can be listed here, classes in a few of the more common ones might look as follows:

Nurse Practitioner, Family Medicine

  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • Nursing Older Adult Patients
  • Perinatal Care
  • Nursing Adolescent and Young Adult Patients

Certified Nurse-Midwife

  • Primary Care of Women
  • Health Assessments and Gynecology
  • Pregnancy Care
  • Labor, Birth, Postpartum and the Newborn

Clinical Nurse Specialist, Critical Care

  • Acute Care Nursing
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Evidenced-based Practice
  • The Critically Ill Patient
  • Healthcare Economics, Ethics and Policy


Clinical MSN programs culminate in a one-semester clinical practicum experience, often 180 clock hours in length and overseen by a mentor. Non-clinical MSN candidates may be asked to prepare a capstone project such as a literature review or research analysis.

What about program costs?

Getting In

The graduate admissions process typically includes costs related to:

  • Application: Each application requires a non-refundable fee; this number can be from $50 to $250 or higher.
  • Standardized tests: The GRE test administration fee is $195; additional fees apply for subject tests, special handling and preparation courses.
  • Deposit: Many schools request a cash deposit to hold a student’s place until classes begin; this deposit is credited toward tuition. The amount can range from $250 to $1,000 or more.

Tuition and Fees

Schools have complete autonomy in setting tuition rates, no standard is enforced. Private schools generally cost more than public ones, and residency requirements can drastically impact public school rates. Given these factors, it can be difficult to price-compare between programs. For a grasp of the bigger picture, keep the following benchmarks in mind as you research:

  • Total cost: The amount paid to complete all courses and program requirements.
  • Annual tuition: This is usually calculated based on full-time enrollment for one academic year. In-state or out-of-state residency requirements may apply.
  • Cost per credit: Programs require different numbers of courses and credits; the program with fewer credits isn’t necessarily cheaper.
  • Online vs. on-campus classes: Many schools charge different rates for online programs or classes. As distance education becomes more popular this trend is changing, but many online-only degree programs still market their affordability over traditional schools.

U.S. News and World Report estimates that a master’s in nursing costs between $35,000 and $60,000. Ultimately, remember that the sticker price on an MSN program is not necessarily what you pay out of pocket. Review our informative guide on scholarships, grants and financial aid advice for more information.

How does accreditation work?

What accreditations should I be aware of?

Accreditation is critical in nursing school programs. Without an accredited degree from a recognized organization, it may be impossible to obtain licensure of to find work in a hospital. The following are the primary accrediting bodies for graduate degrees in nursing:

NLNAC: Recently rebranded as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, this organization accredits nursing programs at all levels. Its mission is to encourage a core criteria for all nursing curricula, assist in educational quality where possible, promote peer review and administer Title IV-HEA programs through the U.S. Department of Education.

CCNE: This arm of the AACN evaluates academic nursing programs at the baccalaureate and graduate levels, as well as rates nursing residency programs. It seeks to hold nursing programs to a superior standard in the interest of its professionals, educators, employers, students and patients.

How do I go about evaluating and selecting a program?

Each program has its strengths and weaknesses. As you evaluate individual schools, consider the AACN’s official guidelines for degree programs.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully, and keep these tips in mind:

  • Focus on your end goals. By the time you apply to a Master’s program, you should know where you want to specialize. Examine the curricula related to your specialization to ensure that the program will take you where you want to go.
  • How successful is the program in your area of interest? Find the percentage of students who successfully obtained professional credentials after graduating.
  • Research the faculty. Faculty qualifications are an important component of an academic program, even more so when a subject is highly specific. Investigate how many degrees your faculty members possess, and determine how often and how successfully they publish. Is there groundbreaking research being conducted in your area of interest? Are faculty in active practice?
  • Looks for other indicators that your specialty area may be a standout within a program. Has the university recently endowed a new research lab? Are the instructors frequently invited to guest lecture at conferences or other schools? Does its affiliated medical facility have an award-winning department?
  • Consider how much flexibility your situation requires. If you plan to continue working, can you accommodate your schedule without conflicts? Are the practicum requirements feasible for you? Do you have both full-time and part-time options? Can you change your educational plans without penalty?
  • Take further educational goals into account. If applicable, question whether the program is set up to help you transition successfully into doctoral-level study. Research the number of graduates who are accepted into grad programs.

    What are the keys to success once I’ve begun my program?

    • Participate fully in class. Graduate students have more autonomy than undergraduates, but they are also expected to do substantially more work. Your instructors won’t babysit you. Attend lectures, complete the assigned reading and turn in projects on time.
    • Collaborate with your classmates. Whether a regular study group or meeting prior to exams, input from your classmates can be invaluable. Online students can form relationships with peers via their virtual classroom. Not only will this improve your grasp of the content, but it’s a useful networking opportunity.
    • Be a professional in the clinic. Throughout your graduate school experience you will be expected to complete assignments and perform tasks in a clinical environment. Treat these experiences as you would a job. Show up on time, wear the proper uniform and treat supervisors and patients respectfully.
    • Organize your time. Nursing school is demanding, even more so on a graduate level. Use tools that facilitate organization, like calendar apps with reminders about important due dates. Schedule study time in blocks, and hold those blocks of time sacred.
    • Connect with influential instructors. If your research has led you to a program with stellar faculty in your specialty, take advantage of the opportunity to form relationships with these individuals. You may find them to be a helpful resource both during and after your program.