10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an MSN Program (2024)

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Nurses are the lifeblood of our healthcare system, and the decision to further your education is a beneficial choice both for your career and your patients.

To help you narrow down the many MSN program options that are available, we’ve compiled a list of 10 questions to ask before selecting the one that’s right for you.

1. What programs and specializations are offered?

What’s motivating you to pursue your MSN? Nursing is a broad field with many specialties to choose from, so your first step should be selecting a focus. A few of the most popular MSN degree specialties include:

  • Nurse-Midwifery
  • Nursing Administrator
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Occupational Health Nurse
  • Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

For more information on the different types of nursing specialties, check out our article 12 Nursing Specialties [And the Value of Earning Your MSN].

2. What are the program’s admission and graduation requirements?

Every university will have their own set of admission and graduation requirements, and you can see these by visiting the website or requesting information from the nursing department.

However, there are a few common admission requirements, including:

  • An active and unrestricted current RN license
  • A minimum of one year of RN experience
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA (usually a 3.0)
  • Application materials including transcripts, a resume, GRE scores, references and a personal goal statement

Note: The GRE is not required to apply to the University of Cincinnati’s online MSN program, which helps students save time and money.

And to graduate with your MSN degree, you’ll most likely need:

  • A certain number of completed credit hours, usually between 44 and 48
  • A certain number of clinical hours, which will depend on your specialty
  • A certain GPA (usually a 3.0)
  • An active and unrestricted current RN license

3. Are the nursing program and university accredited?

One of the most important things to check off your list as you’re vetting programs is accreditation.

Accreditation is a crucial step every program and university must complete in order to prove that it meets or exceeds a certain standard of quality. Attending an accredited program will make you eligible for financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education, while also ensuring that you’re receiving an education that is on the same level as other nursing programs.

For MSN programs, the accrediting bodies approved by the U.S. Department of Education are:

To check on accreditation status, you can visit the websites above and search for programs. The baccalaureate, Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing are accredited by theCommission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), 655 K Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20001. Contact CCNE at 202-887-6791. CCNE is the accrediting arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

4. How long will it take to complete the program?

Balancing a job, personal life and school work is a top concern in any type of higher education program. If you know you need to work or take care of family matters while going to school, make sure the program you select offers part-time options so you can continue your education while still maintaining your normal lifestyle.

Even if you are able to enter a program as a full-time student, a part-time program could still be appealing in the future. Depending on your course load, financial aid and lifestyle, you may want the option to switch to a part-time schedule down the line.

At the University of Cincinnati, each Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program can be done in as little as two years. There are additional options available for several programs that allow students to take these programs at a slower pace. Although these options extend the length of the selected program, they often make it a more feasible option for the student.

5. Is the program highly ranked?

Once you’ve found an accredited program, you can do some online investigating to get an idea of its reputation. A reliable source is U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of the best graduate schools and programs, broken down by specialty. U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Cincinnati in the Top 40 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs and Top 20 for Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs for Veterans.

You can browse lists of the top nursing programs below:

6. Are there financial aid or scholarship opportunities available?

The cost of higher education can deter many people from pursuing an advanced degree, but there are resources available to help offset high tuition costs.

First, check if the program you’re interested in has different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. If you’re applying to an online program, there will likely be one tuition rate regardless of where you live.

You can find information about aid packages through the following websites.

The program’s website should also list resources and information about scholarships, grants and financial aid options. You can also contact a financial aid advisor to learn about any options that may not be listed online.

7. What learning formats are offered?

Are you more comfortable taking notes in a face-to-face classroom or does the flexibility of online learning work better for your schedule? Your answer will help you narrow down your program options.

Make sure to verify the learning format for the entirety of your program. There may be on-site clinicals or other in-person learning requirements in order to graduate.

The University of Cincinnati’s online MSN Nurse-Midwifery program requires one on-site clinical-skills intensives. This visit is generally viewed as opportunities for hands-on-practice, networking with other students and direct contact with the program director and other members of the faculty. Students may also work with professional actors who are serving as sample patients, and may work in a state-of-the-art birthing simulation lab to rehearse birthing techniques.

The remainder of UC’s online MSN programs are 100% online and do not require any site visits.

8. How do graduates perform on national certification exams?

Passing rates for certification exams will tell you a lot about the quality of an MSN program, including how well the instructors are able to prepare their students for exams and working in the field.

Both the passing rates for first-time and repeat test takers should be prominently listed on an institution’s website, along with the national averages. If you’re not able to find this information, you can request it from the designated contact for the program. In 2022, UC’s pass rates were consistently above 95% across all online MSN programs.

9. What is the faculty’s experience?

Who will be teaching your courses and what are their credentials? The quality of your educational experience in an MSN program will heavily depend on the faculty.

Check that the instructors in your program have real-world experience that’s aligned with your chosen specialty. The program’s website should list all faculty members, as well as their education, certifications, publications, professional experience and other relevant credentials. A quick Google search of an instructor’s name will also give you insights from other sources.

If you’re selecting an online program, check to see how many years the instructors have been teaching online, as this learning format can differ from in-person instruction. You can also reach out to the program director or individual faculty members with any questions before you make your final program selection.

The University of Cincinnati’s online MSN programs are all taught by doctorally prepared, clinically active advanced practice nurses.

10. Does the university offer support services?

Support is a broad term that includes everything from advising and tutoring to mentoring and IT services. Graduate programs are demanding, and you’ll need a reliable support system in order to succeed.

The program’s faculty and other staff members are there for a reason: to help you succeed! You should be encouraged to reach out before, during and even after your time in the program. Supervised clinicals, one-on-one check ins with your advisor and career support services should be assumed and easily accessible.

If you’re in an online program, 24/7 technical support is an absolute must. Since you’ll be accessing course materials at times that are most convenient for you, having an IT expert on standby will provide much-needed peace of mind throughout your studies.

The University of Cincinnati offers Student Success Coordinators and Clinical Site Coordinators to help students succeed. All MSN students are also assigned their own faculty advisor.

Online MSN Degree Options

The University of Cincinnati offers a flexible, robust online Master of Science in Nursing program with a wide selection of specialties. Ranked in the Top 40 of Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs by U.S. News and World Report, 100% of our faculty is certified in the APRN specialty that they teach.

You can see our online nursing program options, or contact an enrollment advisor to get started!

10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an MSN Program (2024)


What to look for in an MSN program? ›

How to Choose the Right Master's Nursing Program
  • Go To The Program's Website And Look At Its Curriculum. ...
  • Ask The Program's Admissions Team Questions. ...
  • Consider The Location Of The School. ...
  • Find Out What Type Of Financial Aid Is Available. ...
  • Consider Your Future Goals After Graduation. ...
  • Make Sure That You Have Time For Schoolwork.

Does it matter where you get your MSN? ›

The institution you select influences the quality of education, clinical experiences, faculty support, and networking opportunities you receive. A reputable school often offers a robust curriculum, access to advanced technology, and partnerships with healthcare facilities, enriching your learning experience.

Is there a test for MSN? ›

Besides the NCLEX, Master of Nursing schools may require other entrance exams, such as the Test of Essential Academic Skills. open_in_new Check with the MSN degree programs you're applying to for more information.

Are MSN programs hard to get into? ›

Most MSN degrees require a minimum of two years of relevant experience before applying to a program. For that reason, most nurses complete their MSN program when they are slightly older. This can in turn make obtaining an MSN degree even harder.

What is the criteria for MSN? ›

Master in Nursing MSN ( 02 year Degree Program). 10 Years of schooling (Matric/FA/F.Sc.) 01 Year Diploma in Midwifery or any Post Basic Specialty diploma registered with PNMC. 01-year experience as RN for admission in Post RN BSN/BSM Degree.

What is the best MSN to get? ›

The Best MSNs for Nurses
  • Nursing Research. ...
  • Nursing Informatics. ...
  • Nurse Anesthetist. ...
  • Nurse Midwife. ...
  • Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Holistic Nurse Practitioner. ...
  • Public Health. ...
  • Gerontology Nurse Practitioner. The aging population is increasing, and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

Is MSN being phased out? ›

You should be all set if you've already earned your MSN. The coming degree changes won't affect the license you already have. Even current MSN-level educated CRNAs will be able to keep practicing, but all CRNAs who apply for licensure in 2025 or later will need a doctorate.

What percentage of nurses have a MSN degree? ›

In 2022, 17.4% of the nation's registered nurses held a master's degree and 2.7% held a doctoral degree as their highest educational preparation. The current demand for master's- and doctorally prepared nurses for advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching, and research roles far outstrips the supply.

Is an entry level MSN worth it? ›

This degree program is a great way to become involved in the nursing profession at an advanced level after graduation. Having a master's degree may lead to higher income and the chance to take on leadership roles within an organization, which can allow you to make a big difference for both organizations and patients.

What is a nurse with a MSN called? ›

MSN graduates often go on to become advanced practice nurses, taking on roles as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists or nurse practitioners.

How many years is a MSN degree? ›

The length of most master's in nursing programs is two to three years, but completion times vary based on a student's schedule and preferences. For example, many who pursue a master's degree in nursing already are healthcare professionals, so they may choose to take classes part time while they work.

Is MSN higher than NP? ›

In order to practice as a nurse practitioner, you need to earn both a BSN and a graduate degree. One of the most common graduate degrees pursued by aspiring nurse practitioners is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which is really going to be the lowest level of education you can complete and work as an NP.

What is the hardest MSN course? ›

Let's look at some classes that learners often consider the hardest course on their path to becoming a registered nurse.
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing. ...
  • Microbiology. ...
  • Pathophysiology. ...
  • Managing Adult Disease Processes. ...
  • Anatomy and Physiology. ...
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Organic Chemistry.

What is the salary difference between BSN and MSN? ›

Salary differences can be pretty significant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for registered nurses totals $75,330 per year, while master's degree-prepared advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) earn a median annual salary of $117,760.

Does a MSN make money? ›

Although salaries vary, nurses with an MSN generally earn a higher salary than nurses with a BSN. In 2022, the median annual salary for a registered nurse was $81,220, while the average salary for nurse anesthetists, midwives, and practitioners (roles that usually require an MSN) was $125,900.

What does an MSN program look like? ›

In a typical MSN program, you can expect to take courses around nurse team supervision, health systems, and healthcare ethics. You'll also learn how to manage quality improvement, health policy, and leadership.

Are MSN degrees worth it? ›

An MSN is a valuable degree that can open doors to leadership positions, advanced practice roles, and countless other fulfilling career options in the healthcare industry. It can offer you the chance to specialize in a particular area of nursing and gain expertise in your chosen field.

Do MSN programs care about GPA? ›

MSN GPA Requirement: 2.75 or 3.0 GPA (Varies by Program)

What is the typical curriculum for MSN? ›

MSN Curriculum

Core curriculum typically includes advanced classes in physiology/pathophysiology, health assessment, pharmacology, principles in nursing management, and healthcare policy and ethics. Specialized curriculum includes content specific to the role and population that each degree offers.


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