BSN or MSN: Which Is Right for Me?

The nursing discipline features a full range of educational options, including baccalaureate, graduate, and terminal degrees. As they progress in their careers, nurses may ask themselves, “Should I get a BSN or MSN?” Registered nurses may be able to earn their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) without having completed a bachelor’s degree-level program, but should they? Nursing professionals must think about what a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will offer their careers, and consider how a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) expands on those opportunities.

What Is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is designed to provide aspiring nurses with the practical skills they need to build a solid foundation for their careers in health care. Some nurses choose to enter the field with either an associate degree or a nursing diploma, which is sufficient to become licensed as a registered nurse. After earning a BSN degree, nursing students can prepare to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become certified to practice. Without the undergraduate degree, however, their career advancement options can be limited, leading some to pursue their BSN as soon as possible.

What to Expect from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program

Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs offer a general outlook on the nursing profession. Rather than focusing on a specific aspect of nursing like nursing students do in an MSN program, BSN coursework prioritizes teaching students the fundamental nursing theories and practices. There are several types of BSN programs, including the following:

● Accelerated BSN: Accelerated programs are targeted at prospective students who have already earned a nonnursing bachelor’s degree. They should take approximately one year to complete.

● RN to BSN: Student nurses who are already licensed can pursue this type of BSN to earn their degree in approximately two to three years.

● Standard BSN: The standard curriculum is a four-year program suited for students with no prior degrees.

What Is a Master of Science in Nursing?

An MSN is a postgraduate degree that qualifies nurses as advanced members of their field. These programs are intended to prepare nursing professionals for more diverse job functions than what could be managed by the typical registered nurse or BSN graduate. Upon completion of their MSN programs, graduates might be able to pursue the following career paths:

● Cultivate the next generation of nurses as nurse educators

● Manage nursing departments as nurse administrators

● Contribute to clinical practice as advanced practice nurses

What to Expect from a Master of Science in Nursing Program

Earning an MSN is a smart move for licensed registered nurses who want to broaden their career horizons. A postgraduate curriculum is multifaceted, because it offers perspectives on both the clinical and nonclinical sides of nursing practice. Students might develop their clinical skills through an MSN program, allowing them to become advanced practice nurses. They might also learn about nursing leadership, health policy, nursing theory, and nursing research, which can make them desirable candidates for nonclinical careers as well.

Many students want to become qualified advanced practice nurses, so they can become certified nurse practitioners. For this reason, many MSN programs offer concentrations based on the following nurse practitioner specializations:

  • Pediatric: Pediatric nurse practitioners manage children and young adults in clinical settings. In this concentration, licensed nurses can learn how to conduct health assessments for patients at ages ranging between birth and 21 years old. In addition, these nurse practitioners conduct procedures and examinations to improve their patients’ health.
  • Family: Family nurse practitioners care for patients across their life spans, with an emphasis on promoting families’ overall health. They treat mothers during the childbearing process, teach parents how to keep their children healthy, and educate all family members about how they can live healthy lifestyles.
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health: Graduate students learn to care for patients with mental disorders. The coursework highlights topics like psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, which are standard methods for treating mental illness.
  • Women’s Health: Women deal with different health conditions than men, many of which relate to reproductive health. The women’s health curriculum teaches students the differences between men’s and women’s health, allowing them to help women cope with their health concerns, childbearing, and fertility.
  • Adult-Gerontology — Primary Care: Aging patients face higher risks of chronic disease and other health complications. Students learn to care for adult patients whose ages range from early adulthood to the end of life.
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care: Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners provide advanced care to adults with serious chronic conditions. Students learn how to diagnose and treat patients with life-threatening conditions.

Differences Between a BSN and MSN

Individuals considering earning either a BSN or MSN should consider their personal long-term career goals. The primary difference between the degrees is that an MSN provides nurses with more career options and opportunities to increase their annual salaries. While a BSN program teaches nurses how to provide quality patient care, registered nurses do not serve as primary care providers for patients. On the other hand, an MSN degree program equips nurses with the fundamental knowledge they need to provide effective care as potential primary care providers.

It may benefit a nursing student to begin an educational journey by earning a bachelor’s degree in the field and beginning their career as a registered nurse. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing: “The four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree provides the educational and experiential base not only for entry-level professional practice but also as the platform on which to build a career through graduate-level study.” Nurses with a BSN can gain hands-on experience in the field before returning to school for their MSN degree. While students who graduate with a BSN do not yet have all the skills they need to become advanced practice registered nurses, they have a solid foundation that an MSN program can build upon.

Career Outlook for Educated Nurses

Nurses have many choices for continuing their education and pursuing career options, but some might be undecided. For those, it might make sense to expand the question and instead ask, “Should I get a BSN or MSN if I want the most options for advancing my career?”

Careers with a BSN

Registered nurses are not entirely at the baseline of nursing professions. They have more education and earn a higher annual salary than licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses. Also, their options for career growth and salary potential are exceptionally high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $73,300 as of May 2019. The number of jobs in this occupation is also expected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, which means there will be many jobs available for qualified candidates.

Careers with an MSN

To maximize their earning potential, registered nurses will need to continue advancing their education and earning new credentials. With a master’s degree, nurses can qualify to become licensed to perform in advanced practice nursing positions, like the nurse practitioner role. The reward for earning this degree is significant, because advanced practice nurses had a median annual salary of $109,820 as of May 2019 and a projected job growth rate of 45% between 2019 and 2029, which is far above the average job growth rate of 5%.

By far, the MSN degree will lead to the most diverse, rewarding range of career options, but it is up to nurses to decide their own career paths and interests. For nurses who have an end goal of becoming a certified nurse practitioner, nurse supervisor, or nurse educator, pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree is a clear next step toward career success.

Learn More About Pursuing an Advanced Nursing Degree

The online Master of Science in Nursing Nurse Practitioner program at Regis College is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, and the National League for Nursing has recognized the Regis School of Nursing, Science & Health Professions as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education. If you are wondering whether you should pursue a BSN or MSN, learn how completing the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program at Regis College can prepare you for advanced practice in family medicine, pediatrics, adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health.

Recommended Readings

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Exploring the Field of Pediatric Nursing

The Online Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

5 Areas of Study for the Master of Science in Nursing Student

Sources:American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Baccalaureate Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. News & World Report,

“Boost a Career in Nursing with a Master’s Degree”