RN to BSN Program or RN to MSN Program?

By: Joseph Poole Jr. MSN, RN, CNE

RN to BSN? RN-MSN? These questions face Associate Degree (ADN) RNs throughout the US when deciding to return to school. Whether it is job stress, a desire for change, career advancement or personal growth and enrichment, RNs with an ADN must choose. There are many factors to consider when preparing to return to school. First, you must answer the inevitable, why? Have you “burned out?” Have you reached your career goal? Have you set new career and financial goals? Do you just want to finish that bachelor’s degree? What are the benefits of the BSN? More pay? Prestige? Wanting to obtain a certification that requires a BSN? Or do you desire a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) to meet your career goals?

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Not easy questions to answer. The underlying theme, however, is the desire to further your education. You stand at the proverbial fork in the road: RN to BSN program or RN to MSN program. The educational paths are very similar. But the choice is usually determined by career and salary goals. If the career goal is specialty certification or additional salary through the employer’s clinical ladder program, then a BSN may be a better choice. Check with your employer because some hospitals and clinics do not pay more for the BSN degree. If the goal is advance practice, such as a Certified Nurse Specialist (CNS) or Nurse Practitioner (NP), then an MSN is a must.

After choosing your career goal, there are a few additional items for consideration such as financial aid, on campus versus online/distance learning, clinical requirements and salary. Each plays a vital role in the decision- making process.

First, do you qualify for financial aid? This depends upon a few factors. How many credits have you completed? This is especially important if choosing the BSN option. Many ADN programs may exceed 72 credits hours. With the addition of the BSN core and nursing courses, you may exceed the 120 credit hour maximum for financial aid for a BSN. Therefore there may be little or no financial aid available the closer you get to graduating. However, completed credits are less of a factor when pursuing the MSN option because there is frequently additional financial aid available for graduate school. You will need to check with the financial aid office of your chosen institution.

The next item to consider is on campus versus online/distance learning. Many colleges and universities offer online or distance learning completion degrees. Choosing the right school is determined by career goal, location, and personal finances. Since the RN has to be currently licensed, there is no need for a clinical component in most of the BSN options, making distance learning more convenient. Although more convenient, a consideration for distance learning is the availability of high speed internet. Professors may upload videos and voice over presentations that will not play on older dial-up connections. However, pursuing an MSN, you have to consider that the chosen MSN path, such as a nurse practitioner (NP) or a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), will have an extensive classroom and clinical component. For this reason, distance learning may not be an option. On the other hand, the online RN to MSN – NP and related advanced practice degree programs have made significant headway and many of these programs have staff to help students arrange to complete their clinical time in the student’s geographical region. There will be required immersion visits to the campus that occur two or three times a semester.

If the MSN path does not have an advanced practice clinical role, as in the case of a generic MSN or the MSN-Nursing Education, there is still a minimal amount of clinical time that is required. This clinical time can be arranged near your home or through your employer.

The third item to consider is “will you make more money?” Nursing pay usually depends on multiple factors: level of nursing degree and education, years of experience in a chosen specialty, location and cost of living, and work role (manager versus staff nurse). For example, according to www.salary.com, an acute care staff nurse (ADN/BSN), depending on the type of hospital, has a median salary range of $54 to 73,000, whereas an ICU nurse has a salary range of $55 to 85,000 depending upon the specialty. However, an MSN does not guarantee a higher salary. A nurse educator with an MSN, may make as little as $40,000 dollars (based on the author’s experience) and as high as $83,000. Nurses with an MSN in an advance practice role have a higher salary range of between $75 and $175,000 depending on the specialty, with CRNAs making closer to the $175,000 figure.

As you can see, the decision to return to school may be easy, but choosing the degree option is not. It takes self evaluation. You must ask yourself, “What career do I want? How will I obtain this degree and how will this decision impact my finances?”

Learn more about the available online RN to BSN programs and online RN to MSN programs offered throughout the country. Contacting these programs can help you make a more informed decision.