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How do I choose a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program?

You’re ready to advance your career in nursing with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)—but with so many programs out there, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. Some MSN programs only admit those who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), while others are open to RNs with a hospital diploma or associate degree, so start your search by narrowing your choices to the programs that align with your academic background.

Then, consider whether you prefer to pursue your education on a university campus or remotely. Online MSN programs offer added flexibility for working professionals, and some include state-of-the-art tools such as patient simulation software that can enhance learning experiences. Once you have a short list of possible programs, consider these few key areas to help you make a final decision:



Many MSN programs allow students to choose from a variety of specializations, depending on their nursing career plans. Students who are passionate about direct patient care may choose a nurse practitioner track, which prepares them to pursue certification as a nurse practitioner (CNP). Within this track, you could choose to focus on specific patient populations. Options might include psychiatric and mental health, pediatric care, family practice, or adult-gerontology primary or acute care.

If specialty practice (indirect patient care) is a better fit for you, find a program with specializations that will prepare you for advanced leadership or educator roles within the healthcare sector. Some options might include nurse executive, public health nursing, nursing education, and nursing informatics.


The cost of higher education can quickly become a burden, so pay attention to projected tuition costs and be sure to ask about financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Some universities have partnerships with healthcare organizations that can lower your tuition costs. If you’re currently employed as a nurse, check with your organization to see if you are eligible to earn your MSN at a reduced rate. Some universities may also offer competency-based learning program, which may also lower the price of earning a degree.


Look for a program whose faculty members hold advanced degrees in the field—preferably doctorates—to ensure you’re receiving the best possible mentorship. And ask about their on-the-ground experience working with patient populations. The more practical experience they’ve had with the topics and concepts they are teaching, the better.


Ultimately, the MSN program you choose should resonate with you on a personal level. Heretha Hankins, a graduate of Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, says identifying a program’s mission is key. “Their vision statement is going to tell you what they feel they are trying to put into their students,” Hankins says. “If you can align your life with what that mission statement is—if it speaks to you—then that’s the program for you.”


An accredited institution with a mission centered on social change, Walden University offers an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with nine specializations, allowing you to earn a degree in a convenient, flexible format without interrupting your nursing career. No other school graduates more MSN students than Walden University.1

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

1Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using CIP code family 51.38 “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing” for Master’s degrees (Award level 7). Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)