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Should I Do RN To BSN or RN To MSN?

There are a number of ways to grow your nursing career. Experience and certifications are valued and important but they will only take you so far. If you want to move up the career ladder or expand your opportunities for patient care, you’ll need to increase your education and build your degree portfolio.

As an RN (registered nurse) that means either pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Which is the right way to go? It depends on what you want to do with your career.

This article will look at both RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN degree tracks and consider the pros (and cons) of each.

Is It Better For An RN to Have a BSN or MSN?

According to Jennifer Van Winkle, DNP candidate, MSN, ACNP-BC, FNP-BC and chair of the Family Nurse Practitioner and MSN-Nurse Generalist and Nurse Administrator programs at Franklin University, there are many factors for nurses to consider when choosing a BSN or MSN.

"The RN-BSN and RN-MSN degree options allow students to build upon an associate degree or nursing diploma. The decision to earn a B.S. in Nursing (BSN) on the way to an MSN depends on each person’s unique situation and ultimate career goals," she says. "While the MSN is the necessary credential for teaching or leadership positions, students may need the BSN to obtain an initial nursing position while working toward the next level.”

The choice an RN makes as to whether to pursue a BSN or an MSN comes down to where they want to take their career. For example, if they want to be in clinical work long term, a BSN may be ideal. But if they aspire to grow into leadership and managerial roles, an MSN may be ideal. 


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BSN or MSN: Earning Potential Comparison 

The average annual salary of an RN who has earned a BSN is about $82,000. Nurses with this degree working in government positions are some of the highest earners with annual salaries over $85,000.

The average annual salary of an RN with an MSN is $92,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of their ability to specialize in a practice area, many RNs with an MSN make over $100,000 annually. One example are nurse administrators who have an average annual salary of $130,000.

BSN or MSN: Time To Complete 

On average, an RN-to-BSN program can be completed in under 12 months. The 
MSN track will take a little longer. Van Winkle said “Timeframes for degree 
completion depends on the specific degree program and previous experience. 

Non-clinical MSN degree paths at Franklin can be completed in 16-18 months. 
Most clinical degree plans, like the MSN-FNP, take about 2 years to complete. A 
post-master's degree or certificate can be completed in shorter time frames, as 
some of the coursework completed during the first master's degree can be 

BSN or MSN: Critical Skills Developed 

When earning a BSN, you will pick up a number of new skills including:

  • Nursing leadership and management: Learn key leadership skills in the areas of strategic planning, quality improvement, patient safety and change theory.
  • Health assessment and promotion: Health promotion will be tied to prevention knowledge and skills to provide you with the ability to take a holistic approach to patient care.
  • Nursing research and evidence-based practice: As new research technologies come online, it's important that your research skills including methodology, design and interpretation keep pace.
  • Community health nursing: It’s important to not only have care and treatment abilities, but promotion and health management practice skills as well.
  • Health informatics: You should have not just theoretical healthcare knowledge but also practical experience with a healthcare informatics infrastructure that includes HIPAA legislation and electronic health records.

The skills that can be learned while pursuing an MSN include:

  • Advanced nursing theory, practice and research: Building on your current knowledge to increase your capacity to help prevent illness and treat chronic diseases. 
  • Practice administration: With the new range of job opportunities that will become available with an MSN degree, it will be helpful to have developed practice administration and critical thinking skills.
  • Educational techniques: Be able to regularly evaluate research to improve clinical practice within your practice location. Also learn how to design educational programs and provide training to aspiring nurses or licensed staff. 
  • Leadership skills and strategies: Learn essential tactics, theories and leadership techniques to move beyond the clinical setting and focus on managing teams and providing strategic planning.
  • Health informatics: In order to deliver quality health care you will need to know how to collect, manage, analyze and interpret data. With these skills you can support the goals of your healthcare practice organization.

BSN or MSN: Degree Popularity

In 2012, 197,531 people graduated from an RN program. In 2020, that number ballooned to 260,318 according to Lightcast™. Only 7% of those 2020 graduates went after their MSN while 58.3% pursued a BSN.

BSN or MSN: Job Comparison

With an MSN, you could choose to work in a number of roles. Four of the most popular are:

1. Nurse Consultant | Average Annual Salary: $88,688
Nurse consultants are independent contractors who identify problems and develop solutions for healthcare clients.

2. Research Nurse | Average Annual Salary: $90,059 
Research nurses can use their clinical and data-collection skills to manage protocols in a clinical trial, while also making sure that patients understand their treatment options. 

3. Nurse Educator | Average Annual Salary: $103,500
Nurse educators work at community colleges, hospitals, or four-year institutions developing curriculum, teaching courses and observing students in clinical environments.

4. Nurse Administrator | Average Annual Salary: $97,564
Nurse administrators lead teams of nurses, as well as oversee operational aspects for a department including budgeting, staffing and ensuring that regulatory requirements are met.

An RN with a BSN could find themselves working in similar areas to what they were doing, but in a different capacity. Four of the most popular positions for an RN with a BSN are:

1. Critical Care Nurse | Average Annual Salary: $80,400
These nurses need to be fast-thinkers and strong multi-taskers as they will be providing care to patients in hospitals, nursing facilities and critical care centers.The Association of Critical Care Nurses (ACCN) estimates that just under 40% of nurses working in hospitals are critical care nurses.

2. Nursing Case Managers | Average Annual Salary: $88,028
A case manager is involved at patient care from a high level as they will oversee the patient care plan from their initial admission to a facility to their eventual discharge.

3. Pediatric Nurse | Average Annual Salary: $75,400
This is an important role not just for the patients but their families as an RN in this position will not just provide care but be a counselor as they listen to parents concerns, and an educator helping parents to develop care plans.

4. Charge Nurse | Average Annual Salary: $93,205
The charge nurse is the floor supervisor for all nurses working in a particular area. They are responsible for ensuring that all of the nurses on their floor have everything they need (from tactical supplies to support) to meet the needs of their patients.

RN-to-BSN: Pros & Cons to Help You Decide

Pros for enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program:

  • According to Lightcast™ data, a BSN is the most prevalent degree called for in job postings for RNs. 
  • A BSN is becoming the minimum required degree that an RN is expected to hold in order to advance within an organization. For example many ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) Magnet-designated hospitals now require a BSN to practice.
  • Perhaps you’d like to work in public health or as a nurse educator? With a BSN you can branch out into patient education. 

Cons for pursuing a RN-to-BSN

  • A BSN can be time-consuming and daunting, especially for a working nurse with other life obligations.
  • A BSN will open up career opportunities, but if you want to get into education, management, or research you are going to need an MSN.
  • Earning a BSN can be an investment in money, effort and emotion. If you are not prepared to make this investment or feel it will compromise your current role as a nurse, it may not be the right choice for your unique situation.
  • If an RN knows they want to eventually land in an APRN role, this isn't possible at the BSN level and they should pursue an MSN.

RN-to-MSN: Pros & Cons to Help You Decide

Pros for enrolling in an RN-to-MSN

  • There is, and will continue to be, a need for RNs who hold an MSN. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be a 45% increase in the number of nurses with an MSN who will be needed in 2030 compared to the number of active RN-MSN nurses in 2020.
  • By obtaining an MSN, the RN is open to more specialized care opportunities. For example, if an RN knows they want to eventually land in an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) role an MSN is the only way to get there.
  • An MSN will provide an RN with the opportunity to achieve a higher base salary.

Cons for pursuing a RN-to-MSN

  • Van Winkle said one of the “cons” to consider is the cost of an advanced degree. “Some programs allow students to continue working while others do not. Working students earn an income; some healthcare facilities provide tuition assistance/reimbursement. Students may need to apply for student loans to help pay tuition and living costs. While there are some student loan repayment programs options, this is not a guarantee.”
  • Specialized studies take time, meaning it will take longer to earn an MSN than it would a BSN.
  • MSN programs are typically harder to get into. Most require some practical nursing experience and a certain GPA.

Still Not Sure? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

1. Would you like to teach others how to be competent, compassionate nurses?
If the answer is yes, an MSN is the necessary credential for teaching positions.

2. Is time a factor in your decision?
If the answer is yes, pursuing a BSN may be a better option as it typically takes less time to achieve than an MSN.

3. Are you at the very beginning of your nursing career?
If the answer is yes, then you may want to obtain a BSN first. You can gain needed experience and still obtain an MSN in the future if that fits with your career plans.

4. Have you started and stopped a BSN program in the past?
If the answer is yes, you could return to a BSN program and build on your previous coursework to complete your degree. Or an accelerated MSN program may accept some of those course hour credits which would help you fast-track your way to an MSN degree.

5. Can you see yourself moving away from being a daily care provider and into a position where you could affect patient care from a “higher level?”
If the answer is yes, an MSN with a focus on administration will give you skills in strategic planning and leadership. If you are considering a career as an APRN, you will need an MSN degree at a minimum.

The Right Decision is Yours

The RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN are two very different paths but each can be highly rewarding and open new job opportunities. The first decision to make is which degree will help you achieve your goals. Then you will need to decide which degree program will fit you and your life.

Franklin University offers an RN-BSN, as well as an RN-MSN pathway. Franklin understands that for many RNs, the decision to go back to school can be a stressful one as students create a new work/life/school balance so the class schedules have been created with working nurses in mind. As students learn, they can benefit from the experience of healthcare professionals and from a curriculum that has been informed by leading professional standards.

Are you ready to elevate your patient care while you accelerate your career with the RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN degree pathways that Franklin offers?

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