BSN vs. MSN: Which Nursing Program is Right for You?
When you’re new to the nursing field, it can be challenging to determine the best educational path forward, especially if you’re just starting out or wanting to switch careers. Yet in both scenarios, you’ll find that a quality education will be a critical component for your success—and the more you have of it will directly correspond to the advancement opportunities and earning potential available to you in your future nursing career.
For this reason, many career starters and job changers are choosing to pursue Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Nursing as the next step forward in their education and professional development. While either degree option can equip you the knowledge and training you need to succeed and advance within the nursing profession, there are some key differences that you should consider before selecting the program that’s best for you. Determining the right path forward will also depend on your unique background, personal circumstances, and career goals, but luckily, we’re here to walk you through the process!
To help you make an informed decision regarding your nursing education, we’ve compiled a list of the key differences between BSN vs. MSN programs and what you should consider before you enroll. Read on for our helpful tips.
1) Program Length & Degree Type
A BSN program means that you will earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree upon graduating. Increasingly considered to be the recommended entry-level education for professional nurses, BSN degree programs come in a couple of different types:
- Standard four year Bachelor’s degree programs
- Accelerated BSN programs, like Ameritech’s pre-licensure BSN program, which can be completed in around nine semesters—with no prior education or nursing experience required.
- RN-BSN degree completion programs, which enable working registered nurses to complete a Bachelor’s degree on a faster timeline. For example, Ameritech RN-BSN program can be completed online in as little as one year—allowing you to continue working while you pursue your undergraduate degree.
An MSN program will award you with a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree upon graduating. Similar to BSN programs, MSN programs come in a couple of different types:
- Standard MSN programs, which require you to earn a 4 year BSN degree first and then, complete an additional 3 years of post-graduate study.
- Accelerated direct-entry MSN programs, like Ameritech’s direct-entry MSN program which can be completed in under 8 semesters. Designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in non-nursing field, this program type is ideal for those looking to change careers and pursue a leadership role in nursing.
- RN-MSN programs, which are designed to help working RNs earn a Master’s degree in 2-4 years, depending on if you will be a full- or part-time student.
Related Resource: Developing a Work-Life Balance at Ameritech
Regardless of whether you choose an accelerated or non-accelerated format, BSN programs are designed to provide a comprehensive foundation for working in a wide range of nursing roles, focusing on the study of anatomy and physiology, biology, pharmacology, and psychology. In addition, BSN programs will also include coursework that teaches technical skills like data gathering and statistics, as well as more holistic skill-building in critical thinking, leadership, communication, and problem-solving. A BSN program will often conclude with a capstone project that synthesizes research and analysis on a topic of your choosing, as well as a prep course for the NCLEX-RN (the exam you must pass in order to become licensed as a registered nurse).
Compared to a BSN program, the MSN curriculum is designed to provide prospective and current nurses with more advanced training and specialization—equipping graduates with a higher level of nursing expertise. While a BSN program focuses on more generalized patient care, MSN programs build on that knowledge by combining hands-on treatment with critical thinking skills, experience with evidence-based practice, and a deeper exploration into the needs and characteristics of different patient populations. This comprehensive approach can help better prepare nurses to lead, teach, and excel in more focused areas of patient care.
For example, in Ameritech’s accelerated, direct entry MSN program, we place an emphasis on global population health and case management—empowering our graduates to make a greater impact on diverse communities, improving patients’ management of chronic diseases, and helping reduce the overall need for acute care and hospitalizations.
Related Resource: How the NCLEX works
3) Your Educational & Professional Background
One of the most important factors to consider when looking at BSN vs. MSN programs is your individual background. That’s because your previous experience (e.g. having completed certain undergraduate coursework or having an RN license) can help determine which degree programs you qualify for.
To make it easier for you to find the best program type for your unique background, here’s a quick comparison chart:
|Educational Background||Professional Background||Available Degree Paths|
|High School Diploma or equivalent||Career starter with no prior nursing experience and no RN license|
|Pre-Licensure BSN, ASN|
|Bachelor’s Degree in a non-nursing field||Career changer with no prior nursing experience and no RN license|
|Direct Entry MSN|
|Associate’s Degree in Nursing||Working nurse with RN license|
|Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing|
Working nurse with RN license
Your educational background can also affect how much prerequisite coursework you’ll need to do in order to enroll a particular program. For example, admission to our direct entry MSN program requires a Bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited institution, but has no prerequisites beyond that. However, MSN programs at other schools may require up to 21 credits of prerequisites that can include introductory-level anatomy, chemistry, statistics, and more. Depending on your previous education and where you plan to apply, you may be expected to complete this prerequisite coursework before enrolling and should factor in the extra time and cost of doing so before making your final decision.
4) Career Opportunities
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is predicted to grow by 12% between 2018-2028, compared to just 5% growth for all other occupations. That means that regardless of the nursing degree you choose to pursue, you can expect a solid baseline when it comes to job security and growth. However, career opportunities in the nursing field increase substantially in relation to your level of education.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has predicted that there will be a massive shortage of doctors, anywhere from 46,900-121,900 by the year 2032. This translates to an increased demand for nurses who can help bridge the gap with advanced and specialized skillsets, like those with MSN degrees. In addition, numerous studies aggregated by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) have shown that better educated nurses can improve overall clinical outcomes, which is why nurses with a BSN degree or higher are often considered better equipped to tackle the evolving demands of the nursing profession.
Beyond serving in basic clinical settings, BSN-prepared nurses are also qualified to work in ICUs, palliative care, medical and pharmaceutical sales, as nursing administrators and educators, and many more roles. MSN-prepared nurses can pursue high-paying specializations like anesthesia, midwifery, and with additional training, can even become a certified Nurse Practitioner—fulfilling almost all of the roles traditionally served by a family doctor.
5) Earning Potential
Unsurprisingly, your earning potential as a nurse also increases with your education level. That’s because more advanced degrees can qualify you for higher paying nursing positions and specialties. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in nursing can also enable you to advance in your career faster compared to degrees at the Associate’s level.
According to AACN statistics from 2014, nurses with BSN degrees earn an average salary of $75,484, while nurses with an MSN and a high degree of specialization like nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists can bring home average salaries of well over $100,000 a year. Even if you have already invested in some previous education, taking the time to pursue a more advanced degree can, in some cases, nearly double your earning potential—making it well worth your time and effort.
6) Tuition Costs
Many circumstances can influence the total cost of achieving a nursing degree, including how much of the program is campus-based vs. online, whether or not it can be totally or partially completed while working in the field, and a student’s current level of nursing experience and education.
Costs can also vary greatly depending on which institution you choose. At Ameritech, you can expect to pay $57,750 for our pre-licensure BSN program and $59,280 for our direct entry MSN program—with all books and fees included in the cost of both programs.
Related Resource: Financial Aid Options for Healthcare Students
Learn More About Ameritech’s BSN and MSN Programs
At Ameritech, we’re proud to offer multiple nursing degree paths in order to serve students with a wide range of educational backgrounds, experience levels, and career goals. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to change careers, Ameritech is here to provide the high-quality education needed to help you achieve your goals.
For those new to the healthcare field, our pre-licensure BSN and direct entry MSN programs offer an accelerated path towards a successful nursing career. With both programs, you’ll be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam in just 20 months and upon passing, can start working in the field as registered nurse. Then, you can complete the remainder of your degree online, on your own schedule, while you continue to earn an income as an RN.
|Degree Type||Program Length||Prerequisites||Costs||Median Annual Salary||Career Opportunities|
Ameritech’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
(5 semesters in-classroom, 4 semesters online)
|High School Diploma or Equivalent||$57,750, including all books and fees|
(BSN nursing salaries can rise to well over $100k/year, depending on your job title and the state you plan to practice in.)
|ICU Nurse, Medical Device and Pharmaceutical Sales, Nurse Educator, Hospice/Palliative Care, Nurse Administrator, and many more.|
|Ameritech’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program|
(4 semesters in-classroom, 3 semesters online)
Bachelor’s Degree in a Non-Nursing Field with a Minimum 3.0 GPA
|$59,280, including all books and fees|
(MSN nursing salaries can rise to well over $200k, depending on your specialty and the state you plan to practice in.)
|Nurse Consultant, Research Nurse, Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Anesthetist, Clinical Nurse Specialist, and many more.|
For licensed RNs looking to advance their career, improve their skillsets, and increase their earning potential, Ameritech also offers an RN-to-BSN degree completion program that can be completed 100% online. You can choose to complete it in one year or take up for three for the same affordable, fixed cost.