Differences Between BSN and MSN Degrees

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Many future nurses often ask for guidance in deciding upon a nursing degree. How should you decide which degree to obtain, a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) or master's of science in nursing (MSN)?

BSN Degree

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree prepares you for a job as a registered nurse. While you can work as an RN with an associate's degree, nurses with a BSN are typically given more responsibility, supervisory roles, and higher salaries.

A BSN program, which typically takes four years, will include both liberal arts courses which fulfill general education requirements and classes specific to your major in nursing.

Completing your schooling generally takes the following amount of time:

  • Bachelor's degree: Three to four years
  • If you already have received certification as an RN, an RN-BSN can be completed in about two years. 

MSN Degree

A master's in nursing program will equip you with the skills and advanced training you need to give high-quality nursing care in a specialized role, such as a nurse practitioner. Earning your MSN qualifies you to deliver many of the same health care services that physicians are qualified to do, which is particularly important in today's healthcare field. Physicians may have packed schedules or cost too much for some patients making advanced practice nurses a great alternative.

Typically, nurses who are pursuing an MSN will focus on one of four advanced practice areas:

Which Degree Is Better?

Deciding on the best degree for your nursing career is an individual decision and should be based on your circumstances. While you can become a nurse with only an associate's degree, many recent grads have reported that finding a good job in a competitive area (major metro market, etc.) with an associate's degree has proven challenging. However, this may improve as the economy gets stronger, and as health reform is implemented and demand increases.

If you are trying to decide between an MSN and a BSN, an MSN will make you more marketable and open up even more jobs to you. That being said, if the additional years and tuition are not feasible for you, you will still most likely be able to find solid nursing employment opportunities with your BSN. Plus, you can always go back and complete your MSN later. In sum, the main factors you need to consider when you are making the decision for yourself as to which degree you should obtain include:

  • Time: Will you have more time now or later to work towards the MSN, if ever?
  • Money: Will the extra years of school bust your budget?
  • Type of nursing job you will be seeking
  • Competition in the area where you will be working

If you're going to be working in an extremely competitive market, you may want to go for the MSN if you can afford it. Also, if you are going to want a more advanced practice nursing career, you will need to get your MSN at some point in order to qualify for those higher-paying nursing jobs.

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