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RN to MSN Program Information
RN to MSN Degree Programs by State
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 RN to MSN Program Information 

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Future of Nursing report calls on community colleges to make nursing students and graduates aware of academic progression pathways and on nurses to achieve higher levels of education and training.  The report applauds the RN to MSN program for the significant opportunity it provides nurses to achieve the expanded competencies required for employment in advanced practice and faculty roles.

Community colleges encourage their students and graduates to continue their education, and data demonstrate more ADN-prepared RNs earn an additional degree in nursing than do other RN graduates. However, only 5 percent of ADN-prepared RNs who earn an additional degree in nursing earn a graduate degree.

Data also demonstrate RNs—ADN-, BSN-, and Diploma-prepared alike—will typically achieve a single additional degree in nursing after earning their initial nursing degree.  Some cite persistence of this educational pattern as reason to require a BSN for entry to RN practice while the most cost effective, efficient solution to increasing nurses’ education and the nation’s supply of graduate-prepared nurses stands ready in the RN to MSN pathway.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has noted that RN to MSN programs recognize the education and experience that ADN-prepared RNs have already acquired and that more and more nurses are opting to bypass BSNs in favor of graduate degrees that open doors to leadership and specialty roles. Because RN to-MSN programs eliminate redundant coursework and deliver many or all courses online, nurses can earn the higher degree for a relatively small additional investment of time, in some cases as little as one year.

The purpose of this summary of RN to MSN programs is to increase the awareness of continuing education and academic progression opportunities available to community college nursing students and graduates.

Readers are encouraged to access RN to MSN Programs by State for the most current institutional information regarding specific admission requirements and program characteristics.

General Information

  • "RN to MSN Program" refers to a master's of science in nursing (MSN) program that enrolls registered nurses practicing with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or hospital diploma.
  • More than 166 RN to MSN programs are available nationwide.*
  • Twenty-nine new RN to MSN programs are in development.*
  • The number of RN to MSN programs has grown significantly and continues to gain momentum. Since 1994 when only 70 such programs existed, three times that are now currently available or in development.*
  • Many RN to MSN programs offer primarily online course delivery to allow students to achieve the MSN without physically being at the campus of the degree-awarding institution.
  • RN to MSN programs provide RNs the most rapid pathway to continue their education beyond the undergraduate (ADN, diploma, and BSN) level to achieve competencies to practice in specialty and primary care roles as well as to serve as faculty.
  • An increase in RN to MSN graduations aligns with the nation's need for graduate-prepared RNs who can serve as nursing faculty and primary care providers (nurse practitioners).
  • Increasing ADN- and diploma-degree prepared RN graduations from RN to MSN programs is vital to providing America with a better educated nursing workforce; research demonstrates that RNs typically earn only a single nursing degree after earning their first degree in nursing. Currently, the majority of ADN- and diploma-prepared RNs who continue their education only achieve a second undergraduate nursing degree (BSN).
  • The Institute of Medicine recognizes, "The ADN-to-MSN program, in particular, is establishing a significant pathway to advanced practice and faculty positions, especially at the community college level. Financial support to help build capacity for these programs will be important, including funding for grants and scholarships for nurses wishing to pursue these pathways." (IOM Future of Nursing, 2011, p. 175)
  • Federal and state funding aimed at alleviating nursing faculty shortages is a factor in the growing availability of RN to MSN programs, in part a result of partnerships between and/or consortia of community colleges and institutions, such as:

Degrees Granted

  • The majority of RN to MSN programs award both a bachelor's in the science of nursing (BSN) and MSN; many institutions confer the BSN upon completion of required coursework while others confer both degrees after the completion of BSN and MSN coursework.
  • Some RN to MSN programs award the BSN after fulfillment of bachelor's degree requirements.
  • Some programs award only the MSN upon completion of the overall dual-degree program coursework.
  • Most of the programs are accelerated, meaning that:
    • ADN- and hospital diploma-prepared RNs may achieve both the BSN and MSN content in less than three years whereas the traditional pathway (BSN followed by MSN) requires longer for completion.
    • RN to MSN students may enroll concurrently in BSN and MSN courses, which are sometimes referred to as "bridge courses."

Admission Requirements

  • RNs must typically hold a valid unencumbered license as a registered nurse in the U.S.
  • Some RN to MSN programs require that the RN hold a license in the state in which the college is located.
  • Upon enrollment some RN to MSN programs require RNs to have a year of clinical experience; others allow RNs to gain clinical experience while enrolled in the RN to MSN program.
  • RN to MSN programs prefer to admit students with strong GPAs. However, some programs provisionally admit students with average GPAs and grant final admission to programs after those students demonstrate performance capabilities by successfully completing coursework.

Transfer of Credits

  • Upon admission, RNs transfer up to 60 credits.
  • Some RN to MSN programs grant undergraduate (BSN) credits based on RN work experience.
  • Some institutions transfer credits for prior learning or work experience such as RN licensure.

MSN Specialty Areas

  • Most RN to MSN programs offer two or more specialty areas, sometimes referred to as "tracks."
  • The RN to MSN program specialty areas are generally the same as those offered by the college's traditional MSN (BSN to MSN) program, including: 
    • Clinical Nurse Leader or Specialist
    • Nurse Educator
    • Leadership and Management (Health Services Administration, etc.)
    • Ambulatory Care
    • Nurse Practitioner
    • Community Health
    • Nurse Midwife
    • Nurse Anesthetist (less likely to be primarily online course delivery)

Duration of Programs

  • Part- and full-time options are available in most programs.
  • Full-time completion of coursework generally takes 7 to 9 semesters (2-3 years) while part-time study extends the time to achieve the MSN.


  • RN to MSN programs are designed for the working RN:
    • RNs may continue to fulfill both personal/family and occupational responsibilities and retain earnings while achieving the MSN.
    • Most RN to MSN programs offer evening and weekend classes.
    • Nearly all RN to MSN programs offer some hybrid course delivery (i.e., a blend of traditional course delivery and courses delivered online).
    • Many RN to MSN programs are delivered solely online requiring only a few visits to the campus.
  • Out-of-state students may enroll in many of the campuses that offer online course delivery and may complete the majority of the degree requirements from their current locale.


  • An average of 60 graduate-level credit hours is required to achieve the MSN.
  • Generally, during the first semester/s of study, RN to MSN students complete undergraduate (BSN) coursework.
  • In most RN to MSN programs, students complete simultaneously both BSN and MSN courses.
  • Most RN to MSN programs offer students academic counseling on past and projected coursework to meet individual needs.
  • RN to MSN programs provide access to and encourage applicants and students to communicate with program experts to discuss coursework and other topics related to RN to MSN programs.

* American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 2011.

Last updated May 2014

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