MSN vs. NP: Which Degree Program is Right for You?

Are you an RN looking to take your career to the next level? Are you unsure of where to start or how to get there? Earning a nursing graduate degree is a great way to advance your career. In fact, there are many great educational paths that you can pursue to help you progress within the field. Two very common, advanced level degrees for ambitious nurses are a Master’s in Nursing (MSN) and a Nurse Practitioner (NP) degree. While both master’s programs can help you move up the career ladder and hone your nursing skills, there are many differences and similarities to consider when deciding between an MSN and NP degree. So, which degree program is right for you? Let’s assess these two options:

Requirements for MSN vs. NP Programs:

Both Master’s in Nursing and Nurse Practitioner programs require you to first become a registered nurse and gain hands-on experience prior to entering either program. While some MSN and NP programs may require GRE scores for admission, not all do. In fact, Goodwin College’s MSN program understands the demands of today’s nurses and will accept students who are fully licensed RNs, have real-world experience, and have a bachelor’s degree. Click here to read about our admissions requirements.

NP program requirements will vary school to school. However, if you are looking to go the NP degree route and want to specialize in a certain area of nursing, you’ll want to do your research beforehand, to make sure the NP program you are considering conversely meets “your” requirements. Do you dream of working with a certain demographic, or within a specific area of nursing, such as pediatrics? Find an NP program that offers the best education in the area of specialization that interests you. If you do not have a specialization in mind and are unsure which area of nursing you’d like to get into, you may also consider a more general MSN degree, which can also qualify you for work as a Nurse Practitioner.

Program Structure & Flexibility:

When comparing an MSN vs. NP degree program, consider the amount of time you truly have to allocate towards earning your degree. Do you need a program with more flexibility and online courses? Or can you allot more hours towards earning your degree? In your nursing school research, you might find that MSN and NP degree programs are offered in both traditional classroom formats, as well as online structures for the busy, working nurses.

If you require a lot of flexibility and prefer to go the online route, you might consider a part-time, online degree program. Goodwin College’s MSN program, for example, offers fully online courses, which allow students to complete their degree on their own schedule. We believe nurses shouldn’t have to put their lives (or careers) on hold to earn a master’s degree. The flexibility of our program allows them to work full-time while advancing their education. You may find that several NP programs are offered in online formats, as well, depending on the specialization of NP education you would like to pursue.

Career Outcomes & Responsibilities:

Perhaps the biggest differences – and the most important to consider when examining the MSN vs. NP – lie in their potential career outcomes. General MSN degree programs often prepare students for administrative careers in nursing, such as a Nurse Administrator, Nurse Executive, or Clinical Nurse Leader. These jobs all require strong leadership and managerial skills, as well as healthcare policy and business skills, so that nurses can effectively oversee patient care and the organization’s costs and resources. With an MSN degree, you can qualify for work in a variety of different settings, including hospitals, private practices, laboratories, and long-term care facilities.

While MSN graduates can also pursue advanced clinical nursing positions, a Nurse Practitioner is mainly responsible for providing expanded, and often complex, clinical care. That is the scope of an NP’s work, though there are many specializations they can pursue (pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health, and more). As a result, NP degree programs focus on teaching students how to perform specific tasks that RNs are not licensed to perform. Some of these advanced tasks can include advanced physical assessments, diagnosing and treating illnesses and infections, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and writing prescriptions. Nurse Practitioners are a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and often are considered an extension of a Physician or Physician Assistant in a specialized area. Depending on their years of experience, APRNs may practice independently.

There are many factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing between an MSN vs. NP graduate degree program. Ask yourself, ‘What requirements do I need to fulfill to enroll in a program?’ ‘What type of flexibility to I need in a program?’ and ‘Which direction do I want my nursing career to go?’ Answering those questions will help you decide which degree path is right for you and your nursing career. If you are seeking some additional advice, please reach out to Goodwin’s team of academic advisors to help you compare these two great degree paths. Call 800-889-3282 today!