The Difference Between RN to BSN & RN to MSN Programs


Many people who begin their careers as registered nurses do so because of their passion to help people. As these RNs gain experience, they may see other ways to serve in the nursing field that could also advance their careers.

The crucial first step for registered nurses who are seeking to further their careers is to find out what additional education is required. If you’ve done any initial research you’ve no doubt come across two kinds of programs–RN to BSN programs and RN to MSN programs. But what’s the difference between the two, and how might that distinction affect your potential career?

RN to BSN Programs


Registered nurses who want to earn their bachelor’s in nursing degree will need to find out more about a RN to BSN program. While there are many different schools that offer RN to BSN degrees, they all share basic commonalities. Most of these programs tend to be designed for nurses who are currently working in the field, and consequently they provide schedules that accommodate working professionals. RN to BSN programs provide students with theory, practice, and clinical lab experiences and help develop critical clinical skills, evaluation techniques and the ability to set priorities in what can often be a demanding work environment.


RN to BSN programs can be found in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats. While most program durations vary from school to school, you can generally expect to complete this degree program in two to three years, depending on your previous education and how many general education requirements you have already fulfilled when you enter a program.


According to the Best Nursing Career website, students with a BSN degree can expect to be eligible for many different management-level nursing positions, including assistant head nurse, head nurse, assistant director, director, and more. Other career options can also include research, consulting, and teaching.


RN to MSN Program


While there are many career opportunities that can be reached with just a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a RN to MSN degree program expands the possibilities. Building on the student’s experience as a registered nurse, this kind of program presents a rich curriculum in community health nursing, leadership and management.


Just like its BSN counterpart, RN to MSN degree programs vary from school to school. In general, these programs can take about two to three years to complete. Again, this duration is largely dependent on specific requirements that tend to vary on a case-by-case basis, as well as what previous course work students may have completed before entering into the program. MSN programs are available in more traditional, brick-and-mortar classroom environments; but just like the BSN, online programs (as well as hybrids between an online and on-campus education) are also available.


Students who graduate from a RN to MSN program have several career options after graduation. This master’s degree can help qualify students for a role as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist, and any other nursing position that requires a master’s degree.

The master’s in nursing degree can also serve as an excellent platform for students who want to move towards a career in education. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the MSN degree can act as an important first step for students interested in earning a doctoral degree. The doctoral degree can help qualify students for the full nurse faculty role in senior colleges and universities.

Moving Towards the Future

Education is absolutely essential for those who aspire to either enter the healthcare industry or to further their already-existing careers. And while the decision about which degree program you pursue is dependent on a variety of personal factors, it’s worth noting that as the industry continues to evolve, the need for nurses with a higher degree of education will expand.

In fact, in December 2009, Dr. Patricia Benner of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a study called Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation. This study–which stated many opinions and viewpoints shared by some of today’s leading nursing organizations–recommended preparing all entry-level registered nurses with BSNs and requiring them to earn their MSNs within a decade of initial licensure. If your goal is to maintain career longevity in nursing, find continuing opportunities for growth in the field, boost your salary, and/or become a nursing leader, then earning your MSN degree is one of the best career steps you can take.



Best Nursing Degree, “What Kinds of Career Paths Exist for Nurses?”, Nursing Careers. (accessed October 31, 2011).

American Association of Colleges in Nursing, “Degree Completion Programs for Registered Nurses: RN to Master’™s Degree and RN to Baccalaureate Programs,” RN to Master’s Degree Programs. (accessed October 31, 2011).

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, “Book Highlights from Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation,” Recommendations For Policy Change. (accessed October 30, 2011)



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2 Responses to “The Difference Between RN to BSN & RN to MSN Programs”

  1. Marcus Mack says:

    Recently received my BSN and I am working almost full time. Does USF offer online courses for BSN to MSN graduate students? If not, are the class hours flexible for working students?

    • Joshua Bedwell says:

      Hi Marcus, thanks for the comment, yes we do offer an online BSN to MSN course. If you’d like more information I would recommend contacting one of our Enrollment Advisors on 1-877-398-3146. All the best!