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How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing Online?

Those with an MSN degree are increasingly helping patients and families decide which is right.

If you’ve ever thought about earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree online, there is one question that has almost certainly crossed your mind: “How long will it take?” After all, getting an advanced college degree requires a big commitment of both time and energy. As a busy working nurse with a schedule already full of career, family, and life responsibilities, you want to know what to expect.


So, how long does it take? Well, it depends—on a lot of things. The length of time required to complete an MSN degree program varies widely. Here are some of the factors that can affect the amount of time needed to earn a master’s degree in nursing online.

The Track You Choose: RN to MSN, BSN to MSN, or RN to BSN to MSN

Some online colleges and universities offer multiple pathways to an MSN degree, all with varying required credit hours and completion times—ranging from 18 months to several years. The path that is right for you depends on where you are in your career, your completed level of college education, and the undergraduate nursing degree that you hold.

For example, if you are a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN), you would enter a BSN to MSN pathway. Students in this type of nursing degree program track could potentially complete their master’s in as few as 18 months.

If you’re an RN with a degree other than a BSN, you could choose the RN to MSN degree track, which typically requires a minimum of two years to complete. Or, if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree and want to earn both a BSN and an MSN, you could choose an RN to BSN to MSN online program track and potentially earn both nursing degrees in as few as 30 months.1

Full-Time or Part-Time Nursing School Student

The more online courses you can take in one term, the faster you can earn your MSN degree. But if you are like many busy working professionals trying to balance a career with earning a degree, devoting yourself full time to a master’s program may be unrealistic.

Enrolling part time in an online program is a good way to advance your college education while continuing to work, but it will naturally take longer to complete a master’s degree than if you were able to take a full load of online classes. Ultimately, your decision to be a full-time or part-time nursing school student depends on your education goals and personal circumstances.

Course-Based vs. Competency-Based Learning Formats

If you want maximum flexibility in the time it takes to complete your master’s degree, look for an online MSN program that offers a competency-based learning format. With this type of nursing education model, instead of moving through an online program course by course, you work toward your MSN degree by completing a series of professional competencies.

What’s great about competency-based learning is that you progress through the online nursing degree program at your own pace—not according to a set schedule. That means the time it takes to complete your MSN is essentially up to you. You can speed up and potentially complete your master’s degree online faster, or you can slow your pace of learning to adjust to the fluctuating demands of your career and life.

Transfer Credits

If you have already taken master’s-level nursing courses at another school, you may be able to transfer credits and save on the amount of time it takes to earn an MSN degree. Additionally, if you earned your BSN through a bachelor’s program that allowed you to simultaneously take graduate-level courses, there is a chance you could apply those credits toward your master’s degree.

Don’t worry if you’re not certain which credits will transfer and which will not. Most colleges and universities have admissions specialists who will review the credits you previously earned and determine if they are transferrable to the nursing degree program you choose.

Life Circumstances

Life happens. Even if you intend to commit full time to a master’s in nursing degree program, the unexpected can sometimes put a kink in your original plan.

Whether it be a job change, a family event, or a health challenge, you may encounter difficulties along the way that could steer you off course and limit the time you can spend on your online degree program. You might have to cut back on classes or even take a temporary break from nursing school.

Online learning offers great flexibility, but it’s important to stay adaptable and do what’s best for you and your changing schedule and life circumstances. Remember: Choose a program that allows you to change to a part-time or full-time course load, depending on your needs for a particular term. For instance, if you know you have a big event coming up that requires more of your attention, you can switch to part time for a term and then move back to full time afterward. Walden offers this type of flexibility. Each credit you earn can put you one step closer to an MSN degree—regardless of how fast or slow you go.

Get Started on Your Online MSN Degree

An MSN degree can be a great way to take your nursing career to a new level. An advanced college education not only builds your nursing skills and credentials, but it also can position you for leadership and nursing management roles—and potentially a higher salary.

One great option is the online MSN degree program at Walden University. This accredited master’s nursing degree program offers a competency-based learning option in three specializations, a flexible online learning format, and three pathways to your degree—BSN to MSN, RN to MSN, and an RN to BSN Accelerate Into Master’s (AIM). And with eight specializations to choose from, you can tailor your MSN degree and online learning experience to your career goals—whether you want to become a nurse practitioner, work in nursing education, or aspire to be a nurse manager.

By earning a master’s degree in nursing, you can elevate your impact and nursing career.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,