MSN vs. BSN: Advantages and Disadvantages

MSN nurse with young patient
MSN nurse with young patient

Nurses working in the field are well-acquainted with the specific skills and education needed to thrive in that career. People who are compassionate, attentive, and patient often choose nursing because it offers the potential to help people in tangible ways. Eventually, almost everyone will need the care of a nurse at some point in time. A dedicated nurse can make the difference between average care and an exceptional outcome.

For nurses who intend to stay in the healthcare field for the duration of their careers, the question of higher education becomes an important one. The MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) and BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) are two potential educational pathways, both of which can lead to more options, greater stability and higher earning potential. But choosing between BSN vs. MSN options can be difficult, especially when there are a lot of moving parts at play.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of MSNs vs. BSNs for nurses that are already working in the nursing field.

Why should nurses pursue higher education?

Registered nurses are already equipped for a career that’s flexible, stable, and in demand. So why should nurses who already work in the field get an advanced education? And what is the difference between these two different types of degrees?

Higher education can mean more earning potential.

As of 2021, RNs make a mean salary of $82,750 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurses with an MSN have a higher earning potential. According to the BLS, the highest-paid ten percent of nurse practitioners was $200,540 in 2021.

Nurses with an MSN also have the opportunity to pursue teaching positions or work in higher management within a hospital or private practice. With an MSN, nurses can apply for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license in their preferred concentration, such as family nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or adult-gerontology nurse practitioner.

Higher education can lead to more opportunities.

BSN and MSN certifications both increase your employability in settings where a nurse’s work is highly valued.

Magnet hospitals, for example, have been accredited by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners as locations where nurses can take the lead in administering care. To earn this credential, 80 percent of the hospital’s nurses must hold a BSN or higher. For this reason, hospitals that have been given the “magnet” designation may require a BSN as a minimum requirement when they are hiring nurses. Gallup data shows that magnet hospitals have better employee satisfaction rates as well as better patient outcomes, so nurses might want to pursue higher education for a better shot at working at one.

Even if you don’t want to work at a magnet hospital, nurses with a BSN or MSN have more opportunities for finding work in outpatient settings. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses with an MSN have opportunities in doctor’s offices and outpatient care settings that aren’t always available for nurses with a BSN alone.

Higher education can be essential for a long-term career in healthcare.

There’s also the issue of longevity. Earning an MSN degree positions you for a healthcare career with options to move into a management role or a more self-directed position, such as a nurse practitioner. New York state has even passed legislation that requires nurses to get a BSN within ten years of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), also called a “BSN in 10” law. This law may set a precedent across other US states.

BSN nurse with elderly patient

How do you earn a BSN?

A Bachelor of Science (BSN) in nursing is an undergraduate degree that focuses on emerging medical technologies, cultural competency, and the foundations of modern patient care. Traditional BSNs are four-year programs. All BSN degrees require the completion of clinical hours.

BSN programs are offered in-person and online. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and RNs can pursue an accelerated BSN degree that gives them credit for their experience in the field. There are also bridge programs for aspiring nurses without field experience who have already earned another type of bachelor’s degree.

How do you earn an MSN?

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level nursing degree that prepares you for practice at an advanced level. An MSN degree also offers coursework in management, navigating the healthcare system, and medical ethics. These degrees are offered in-person or online.

MSN degrees require additional clinical hours to complete. If you already have a BSN, earning an MSN can take between 12 and 28 months, depending on the specialty selected.

What are the pros and cons of MSNs vs. BSNs?

Nurses with an MSN have higher earning potential, more independence in their practice, and more leadership opportunities within their chosen field of practice. That is not to say that an MSN is the right path for every nurse — but it is something that every nurse should keep in mind.

Some additional considerations for the MSN vs. BSN include:

It can take longer to earn an MSN.

If you already have an associate degree in nursing, any type of bachelor’s degree, or if you already work as an RN, it can take between 12 and 24 months to get a BSN degree. An MSN can be a greater time commitment, especially if you are starting without a bachelor’s.

If you eventually plan to get an MSN, it might make sense to choose a program that takes you through the BSN and MSN concurrently as a way to cut costs and save time over the long run.

It can cost more to get an MSN.

Earning an MSN can cost several thousand dollars more than a BSN, whether you learn in person or online. Keep in mind that these costs should be balanced against future earning potential, and MSNs earn significantly more annually.

There’s also the fact that not all of that money has to come out of your pocket. The Wilkes University program allows you to apply for financial aid to complete your MSN. If you don’t currently have a bachelor’s, completing your MSN through the Wilkes University program can save you around $10,000 overall.

Do nurses with an MSN earn more?

Nurses with an MSN can earn more than RNs with a BSN. That’s partly because a nurse with an MSN is better positioned to work in management or become licensed as a nurse practitioner. As of 2021, the average annual salary for a nurse practitioner is $120,680. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics forecasts job growth of 40 percent for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and general nurse practitioners within the next ten years.

MSN nurse in office talking to patients

What’s the best way to get an MSN?

Nurses are exceptional people who tend to thrive in healthcare environments where their contributions are valued and their talents well-compensated. It makes sense to pursue the educational pathway that will give you the best chance of being in that environment. For many nurses, that will mean earning an MSN.

The Passan School of Nursing at Wilkes University has been providing a path to higher education for nurses for over 40 years. The Wilkes University Online RN to MSN program can help you earn a master’s degree in 36 months, even if you don’t currently have a BSN.

Learn more about Wilkes University’s Online RN to MSN - Nurse Practitioner program by checking out the program brochure.