How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Nursing?

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A smiling family nurse practitioner sitting in an office.As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, front-line health care workers are critical in keeping us healthy, often putting themselves at risk to do so. That dedication to providing quality care is all in a day’s work for the millions of registered nurses who staff hospitals and health care facilities throughout the nation.

Nurses continue to be in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country needs to fill 1.1 million RN positions to alleviate the nursing shortage. The field also needs skilled nurse leaders. Strong leadership in nursing fosters better teamwork among staff, stronger lines of communication and better organization, which all ultimately lead to higher-quality care for patients.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing helps prepare nurses to pursue a variety of advanced nursing roles. But MSN programs aren’t identical, and researching the options involves looking at prerequisites, how long it takes to get a master’s in nursing and different specializations.

Prerequisites for Enrolling in an MSN Program

While prerequisites vary by institution, many of the core requirements remain consistent.

For example, a bachelor’s degree in nursing from a Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education-accredited institution is typically required to enter an MSN program. However, some programs also are open to those with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines.

Other typical core requirements include:

  • A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, though some institutions have a GPA requirement for only the most recent two years
  • Academic or professional letters of recommendation, typically from multiple sources
  • A current and valid RN license
  • One year of work experience as an RN
  • Residency in a state where the university is approved to deliver a graduate nursing program

MSN programs may require that prospective students have completed certain courses before they can enroll, such as statistics, anatomy, nutrition, physiology and microbiology.

They may also ask applicants to provide a statement of goals, student transcripts, a professional resume, a letter of good standing from a program director, a clean background check and a drug screening.

How Long Is a Master’s in Nursing Program?

The time investment will vary depending on the nurse’s educational path, but MSN programs typically take between 18 months and three years to complete. How long a master’s in nursing program takes is predicated on the student’s current degree, the type of program they select and the program delivery format. The following are the three most common degree paths to an MSN.

Entry-Level MSN

This program is intended for those with a bachelor’s degree in a discipline other than nursing. The entry-level master’s degree takes between two and three years to complete, and the curriculum generally consists of a combination of coursework from BSN and MSN programs.

Common coursework entry-level MSN students can expect to take include pharmacology, health promotion, technology in health care and health care policy. Coursework varies by university; however, the end goal of any entry-level MSN program is to prepare the student for their licensing exam and clinicals, similar to any other MSN program. Because entry-level MSN programs are a combination of BSN and MSN programs, this is done at an accelerated pace.


This program is intended for nurses with associate degrees and takes between two and three years to complete. The content of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is built into the first portion of the RN to MSN degree program. This program will feature both core and specialization courses. Students should expect to take nursing theory and practice, health sciences, general education courses and other bachelor-level coursework as part of their curriculum in the first portion of the program.

The program also entails traditional MSN-level coursework in preparation for clinicals and certification exams. Like the entry-level MSN program, the RN to MSN program is built for those who can handle the coursework on an accelerated timeline.


Of the three educational paths to an MSN, this is considered the most traditional. Master’s coursework builds upon the foundation acquired at the bachelor’s level and allows students to choose an area of focus. These programs typically take between 18 months and two years of full-time study.

Part-time programs can take much longer, depending on the student and how aggressively they can complete coursework. Some part-time students take as long as five years to finish a program.

Compared with a traditional learning experience, online programs generally allow students to earn their degrees faster. Students can complete some online MSNs in as few as eight semesters while still fulfilling in-person clinical requirements.

Master’s in Nursing Specializations

Because the health care field is so broad, many doctors, nurses and other health care professionals elect to specialize. Choosing a specialty dictates the focus of an MSN program. For instance, a family nurse practitioner curriculum focuses on developing treatment plans for patients, educating patients on how to avoid disease, encouraging healthy habits, performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results, and managing a patient’s overall health care.

On the other hand, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner concentration focuses on making psychiatric diagnoses, conducting physical and mental health assessments, designing treatment plans (both holistic and using psychotropic medications), and providing education to patients and their relatives regarding the ways to promote mental health.

Begin Your Path to Becoming a Leader in Nursing

The field of nursing is positioned to grow aggressively in the coming years, and effective nurse leadership is critical to helping hospitals and other health care facilities run more efficiently and deliver better patient care.

The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program offers nurse leaders of tomorrow a strong educational foundation, with courses in ethics, pharmacology and health promotion. Featuring both Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentrations, UND provides students with the opportunity to specialize in two of the field’s most in-demand areas. Take the first step toward becoming a health care leader today.



American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Degree Completion Programs for Registered Nurses: RN to Master’s Degree an RN to Baccalaureate Programs

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education

The Conversation, “Amid a Raging Pandemic, the US Faces a Nursing Shortage. Can We Close the Gap?”

Houston Chronicle, “Importance of Strong Nursing Leadership”

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, About Nursing Licensure U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, or Nurse Practitioner