If you’re looking for a way to take your nursing career to the next level, getting a master’s degree might be the solution that you seek.
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Paige Cerulli

November 02, 2021

The average starting salary for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners with their master’s degree is over $110,000 per year.

You thrive in the fast-paced world of the ER. Or you love building trust with nervous patients as they enter their primary caregiver’s office. Whatever the reason that prompted you to become a nurse, an Associate Degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in nursing will certainly get you started along this career path. But are either degrees enough? And is a master of science in nursing (MSN) worth the investment of time, energy, and money?

If you’re looking for a way to take your nursing career to the next level, pursuing a master’s degree might be the solution that you seek. Maybe you want to hold a more advanced position in the nursing field, or maybe you want to specialize in an area that you particularly enjoy. Earning your master of science in nursing creates new career opportunities, allowing you to earn a higher salary (never a bad thing!), and might even help you to enjoy your career more.

But pursuing an MSN degree needs to be the right career choice for you. Whether you’re a nursing student or a nursing professional, pursuing a master’s degree has its advantages and disadvantages. You’ll be balancing school with your other obligations, and swallowing the fact that you may need to take out student loans can be a tough mental obstacle. Nursing isn’t an easy field—and any MSN program will be challenging—but getting your master’s degree can also be a highly rewarding experience that helps advance your career.

Master of science in nursing career opportunities

If you decide to pursue a master of science in nursing, you’ll be qualified for more career opportunities than you will with only an associate degree in nursing or bachelor’s in nursing. An MSN diversifies your expertise, develops your leadership skills, and qualifies you to step into upper-level positions. In a competitive job market, having your choice of job opportunities can give you and your family peace of mind.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for nurses with their master’s degree is very good—and expected to grow 31 percent between 2016 and 2026. Not only is the job market for nurses much stronger than average, but the average starting salary for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners with their master’s degree is over $110,000 per year.

Additional career opportunities available to nurses with an MSN degree (and their average annual compensation) include:

  • Nurse consultant ($125,000)
  • Research nurse ($90,000)
  • Nurse educator ($77,000)
  • Nurse administrator ($60,000 to $200,000)
  • Advanced nurse practitioner ($60,000 to $72,000)

An MSN degree prepares you for clinical roles, as well as management and administrative positions. In some cases, those who earn their MS in nursing pursue careers in research or education. Many nursing careers require an MSN, and this degree can help you to stand out when applying to jobs.

Earning potential with an MSN

With a master of science in nursing, you’re likely to earn a higher-paying salary. Looking for financial stability for yourself and your family? According to Payscale, professionals who have a master of science in nursing degree earn a $92,000 salary on average, though salaries can range from approximately $67,000 to $118,000, depending on where you live and your level of experience.

For contrast, Payscale notes that professionals who only have a bachelor’s degree in nursing earn, on average, a lower salary of $80,000 per year.

Considering you could spend 30 or more years in your career, the increased earning potential of a master of science in nursing is a valuable benefit. While you may need to take student loans or other forms of aid to finance your MSN, landing higher-paying opportunities once you have your degree will position you to pay off those loans.

What will you learn in an MSN program?

As explained by Nursing.org, MSN candidates should expect to spend between two and three years completing this degree. While most MSN programs require a bachelor’s in nursing for admission, some programs will admit registered nurses who don’t hold a BSN. If you ultimately want to earn your doctorate degree—which is terminal in the nursing field—earning your master’s degree is the first step.

Perhaps you’ve discovered that you really enjoy a particular field in your clinical work, or maybe you have dreams of holding an administrative role in a healthcare facility. With your MSN, you can specialize in a field that you feel passionate about, including areas like:

  • Anesthesia
  • Sports medicine
  • Management
  • Nursing education

Different programs offer different areas of specialization, so if you have a particular specialization in mind before you begin your MSN, this may help you to filter your options. Keep in mind that if your heart’s set on a unique specialization that isn’t widely offered, you may need to relocate or find a school that offers a largely remote (online) program.

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Though you should expect all MSN programs to be demanding, many programs offer the flexibility needed to balance your career and family life with your master’s program. Low-residency courses, night classes, and summer or weekend intensives are just a few of the options that can help you earn your degree while managing your own schedule. Still, your MSN will require a significant amount of time—both in class and studying.

Is an MSN worth it?

You’re the only one who can decide if a master of science in nursing is worth it. To do this, consider such factors as:

  • Your career goals and what types of degrees those roles require
  • How an MSN will improve your current work (and life) environment, in both the long- and short-term
  • How much time you can realistically dedicate to an MSN program, and what sacrifices you’ll need to make to do so
  • The earning potential of having an MSN, and how important compensation is to you
  • Your level of passion for nursing, and if/how an MSN will allow you to explore those passions further

There are plenty of great nursing career opportunities available when you hold an associate's degree in nursing or bachelor’s in nursing. While earning an MSN degree isn’t the right choice for everyone, it may make sense to you if you’re looking to maximize your earning potential, qualify for more and higher-level nursing jobs, and increase your ability to help more people through direct care, education, or even an administrative role in healthcare.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com