BSN vs. MSN Guide: Which One is Better for You?

BSN vs. MSN Guide: Which One is Better for You?

If you want to become a professional Registered Nurse (RN), then getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a great first step in that direction. Although you could work as an RN without the degree, a BSN will help you get more responsibility and even a higher pay. Graduates from a BSN program can expect to be prepared for entry-level positions in hospitals, clinics, and several other health care settings. The following is our BSN vs. MSN guide.


If you’re looking to further your nursing career, then a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) might be just what you’re looking for. In order to start your MSN career path, you need to have a BSN degree before applying. An MSN degree will train you to be in a specialized nursing role such as nursing administration or nurse practitioner. If you’re looking for more responsibilities and higher pay, then an MSN degree might be for you.

How is a BSN different than an MSN?

The main difference is that a BSN is a bachelor’s degree and an MSN is a master’s degree. Depending on which career path you want to take will decide if you go for a BSN or if you also aim for an MSN degree after that.

BSN programs will teach you a broad knowledge base, allowing you to work in a variety of nursing roles. MSN programs, on the other hand, will focus on specific skills and help you to take on a specialized nursing role which includes administration, leadership, and teaching skills.

Consider these factors when choosing which program works for you:

  • Time: MSN degrees take longer to obtain. Accelerated programs exist, but they might still take longer than BSN programs and the workload will be much heavier.
  • Type of jobs: While MSN degrees will give you some advanced knowledge and skills, your dream job may not require it. Figure out what your dream job is and what degrees are necessary to reach it.
  • Job perspective: An MSN degree can open up more job opportunities for you if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Finances: MSN programs cost more money than BSN programs.

Skills Developed in a BSN Program

Students in BSN programs will learn about a variety of subjects, including public health, chemistry, pharmacology, emergency care, anatomy physiology, and microbiology. Graduates will know the ins and outs of patient care and gain skills in the following areas:

  • Problem-solving
  • Mathematical solutions
  • Memory enhancement
  • Professional judgment

Graduates will know how to effectively communicate with patients, develop relationships and rapport with both patients and other staff, and learn how to engage with others in order to create a safe environment as well as be able to respond appropriately to stressful situations.

The nursing world is often surrounded by unpleasant smells, disease, noise, distractions, chemicals, and unpredictable behavior from others. BSN graduates will know how to function effectively in these environments and be physically able to provide the care patients need.

Skills Developed in an MSN Program

As mentioned before, MSN programs will help you become specialized in certain nursing roles. Graduates can expect to be ready for nursing administration, nurse leadership positions, or clinical nurse education. The skills you learn in an MSN program will develop your management and educational capabilities. Students can go into non-clinical roles like nurse informaticists, teachers, or administrators.

MSN programs will further enhance the skills you learned in a BSN program. Students can also expect to develop the following skills:

  • Policy and advocacy
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Improving patient outcomes
  • Informatics
  • Quality and safety
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Organizational leadership

Educational Path: RN to BSN to MSN

The following are the pre-requisite requirements for applying to an MSN program:

  • A registered nurse (RN) license
  • A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

Depending on the program, you may also be required to have a certain amount of clinical experience, as well as a minimum GPA and GRE score.

Most people will get their RN license after completing an Associate Degree in Nursing program (ADN) or through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program (BSN). There are also a number of options when it comes to online learning for both BSN and MSN programs. Some online programs are offered fully online, while some are a hybrid – part online, part in-classroom. Online programs can add some flexibility, allowing students to work while they complete their studies.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain a BSN vs. an MSN Degree?

The length of a program depends on a number of factors, including the specific program, its background requirements, etc. On average, an RN to BSN bridge program can take from eight months to a year to complete. A full BSN program can take anywhere from three to four years to complete. Those who have a BSN degree can expect to spend another two years in school in order to get their MSN degree.

There are also accelerated MSN programs and direct entry MSN programs available. They usually take three years to complete. The first year, students complete entry-level nursing coursework. The second and third years are spent focusing on advanced coursework and training, as well as preparing for the National Council Licensure Examination test (NCLEX-RN exam).

Job Prospects for BSN vs. MSN Degrees

RNs with BSN degrees can take on more responsibilities than nurses who don’t have a BSN. RNs with BSN degrees can expect to work in the following types of jobs (although, they’re not limited to):

  • Pediatric Nurse
  • Obstetric and Gynecological Nurse
  • Surgical Nurse
  • ICU Nurse
  • Hospice Nurse

If you’re interested in obtaining an MSN degree, the following positions might be available for you after completing an MSN program:

  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist
  • Certified Nurse Mid-Wife
  • Clinical Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Educator
  • Advanced Nurse Practitioner
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nurse Manager

Salaries for Nurses with a BSN degree vs. an MSN degree

Since an MSN degree is an advanced degree, it should come as no surprise that nurses with an MSN degree have a higher salary than nurses who only have a BSN degree. Another perk of having an MSN degree is that graduates can take management and education positions, which come with a higher salary.

However, the difference in salary might not be as big as you might think. Nurses with a BSN degree are in the top 25% of their field regarding earnings. Your actual salary largely depends on your location, years of experience, specialization in the field, and several other factors.

Salaries for Nurses with BSN Degrees

Nurses with an MSN degree have higher salaries than those with just BSN degrees, but the difference is not that big. Nurses with BSN degrees have higher salaries than regular registered nurses and can sometimes make almost as much as a nurse with an MSN degree.

The following are job positions typically available for nurses with a BSN degree and how much they can expect to earn on average:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife: Certified nurse midwives can expect to earn an average salary of $91,998 per year. Their salary is also expected to grow in the future.
  • Pediatric Nurse: Pediatric nurses can expect to earn anywhere from $48,000 to $68,000 a year on average. Type of facility, experience, location, and level of education are all factors in earning power.
  • Charge Nurse: Charge nurses can expect to earn an average salary of $71,597 per year. The middle fifty percent of charge nurses earn somewhere between $65,216 and $80,611 annually.
  • Geriatric Nurse: Geriatric nurses can expect to earn anywhere between $62,850 and $70,590 annually on average.

Nurses with a BSN degree can generally expect to earn anywhere between $60,000 and $120,000 annually on average. As mentioned, geographical location, experience, and level of education and specialization are all factors in how much you can expect to earn.

Salaries for Nurses with MSN Degrees

MSN salaries are higher than BSN salaries. As a nurse with an MSN degree, you can work as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or nurse midwife – all of which had a median salary of $110,930 annually in the year 2017. The following are considered top specialties for nurses with MSN degrees and what you can expect to earn:

  • Nursing Administration: Nurse Administrators with an MSN degree can expect to earn anywhere between $60,000 and $200,000 annually on average.
  • Consulting: Nurse consultants are among the highest paid nursing careers and can expect to earn around $125,000 annually on average.
  • Direct Care Nursing: Direct care nurses can expect to earn anywhere between $60,000 to $72,000 a year on average. Nurse anesthetists who are highly trained can expect to earn around $100,000 annually on average. Direct care nurses are usually employed in home and school settings, the community, general or specialty hospitals, public health clinics, and doctor’s offices.
  • Education: Nursing instructors can expect to earn up to $100,000 a year and those who focus on research can expect to earn anywhere between $75,000 to $100,00 with a median salary of $90,000.

Whether you decide to earn a BSN degree or go further with an MSN degree, it’s important to choose a career path that will satisfy your needs and fit your economic situation.

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