Should I Get My Master's in Nursing? The Factors to Consider
Maybe you’ve seen peers from your nursing school cohort go back to school for their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Or maybe you’ve observed nurses with graduate degrees at work and wondered if earning an MSN is the right move for you. No matter what’s sparked your interest, you’re seriously considering a graduate degree.
That said, you think through everything you do—whether you’re at work planning for your next shift of patients or at home picking out a recipe for dinner. Big decisions like returning to school are no exception. You want to know the potential pros and cons of pursuing a graduate degree before diving in.
Rasmussen University Vice President of Nursing Dr. Joan Rich is no stranger to this deliberation—that’s why we asked her to help identify some of the potential benefits of earning an MSN and the factors you should consider before making a decision.
Why earn an MSN degree?
There are several reasons for pursuing a master’s degree in nursing, though the primary motivators often boil down to three categories: opportunities, earning potential and personal growth.
A big part of earning any degree is that it can help you meet the requirements for new career opportunities. An MSN can help unlock opportunities in nursing education, informatics, administration, management and, depending on the program, advanced practice positions like psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner or family nurse practitioner.
Potential job titles can include:
- Nurse manager
- Nurse educators
- Chief nursing officer
- Director of nursing
- Director of education
- Nursing informatics specialist
- Simulation coordinator
- Clinical analyst
- Nurse practitioner
The Rasmussen University Master of Science in Nursing program prepares students for roles in nursing leadership, administration or nursing education—many of which typically prefer candidates with an advanced education. Additionally, the MSN Nurse Practitioner program prepares graduates to take on an expanded scope of practice in a specialized focus area like Psychiatric-Mental Health, Adult Gerontology Primary Care or Pediatric Primary Care, or as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
Rich says the combination of bedside nursing experience and formal education is critical, particularly for leadership roles. “You really have to have more knowledge to move up the ladder,” Rich says.
2. Earning potential
Regardless of the field, earning a master’s degree is often tied to a pursuit of higher earning potential—and that’s no different for nursing careers.
“Life is not cheap,” Dr. Rich says. “Nurses are coming back to school not only because they love the profession, but they also want greater earning power.”
As we mentioned, a master’s degree can help nurses become more competitive for leadership and management roles—which typically come with higher earning potential. Dr. Rich says that nurse educators are also often able to increase their pay by combining part-time teaching with a three-quarter to full-time registered nursing position. Additionally, nurse practitioner roles will also typically provide an avenue for additional earning potential—in fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the 2021 median annual salary for nurse practitioners was $120,680.1
While the potential to earn more can certainly be an appealing motivator, Dr. Rich warns against making this decision based solely on the possibility of higher earnings.
“To go on and invest in your master’s degree means you’re investing in the profession,” Dr. Rich says. “If you’re going into nursing only because you think the pay is great, you’ve picked the wrong profession.”.
3. Personal and professional growth
Growing personally and professionally isn’t an easily quantifiable process, but it can be a big motivator for earning an MSN degree. Not only will you feel accomplished having earned a challenging degree, an MSN can help demonstrate to your peers that you’re dedicated to the field and have a depth of knowledge. Not only does furthering your education expand your knowledge base, but it also can present opportunities to have an influence on a larger scale.
If earning an MSN results in moving up the ladder in your career to nursing administration, education, informatics or leadership roles, your actions can potentially have a wider reach. In these positions you’d have a larger influence on the care people in your community receive—particularly if you’re in a position to guide policy and patient care standards.
Those who choose to pursue nursing education roles with an MSN can also have an outsized impact by teaching the current and next generation of nurses. The BLS projects employment of registered nurses to grow by 276,800 from 2020-2030—and we’ll need educators to help train these new nurses.1 By earning a higher credential and pursuing a nursing education position, you’ll be playing an even larger role in helping relieve the nursing shortage.
This shortage doesn’t just include RNs. Nursing faculty shortages are also an issue. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that, in 2019, U.S. nursing programs turned away over 80,407 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate programs due to insufficient resources including faculty, clinical sites and clinical preceptors.2
Factors to consider before earning an MSN
Before you get started on the path to earning an MSN, there are several factors you’ll want to weigh.
What’s driving you?
Why are you considering an MSN? Do you have an itch for formal learning? Do you have a goal that this extra credential can help you accomplish? Are you hoping to advance into a new position?
“There’s a million reasons why,” says Dr. Rich. “But if you’re not passionate about it, it’s not the right time for you.” Earning an advanced degree while still working certainly isn’t a walk in the park and waiting until you’re truly motivated to put in that hard work will make the process much easier to manage. Additionally, programs that offer online courses and the added flexibility of a competency-based education format can help you find ways to strike a balance between career, family and education.
How will I pay for this?
Obviously, this isn’t your first experience with attending college, so use that hindsight to your advantage. You know earning a degree is a significant financial decision, so it’s important to consider how you’ll pay for it. Take some time to explore ways to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses. You may be able to work with your employer to receive education benefits, which can be a big help. Additionally, it can help to seek out local scholarships and grants.
Will this fit into my life?
One of the hardest parts of going back to school is the way it’ll change your daily and weekly routines. Chances are your life has changed a lot since your first round of nursing school. Whether you have kids, a partner or different friends, it’s important to prepare them for how your life will change while you’re back in school.
Dr. Rich encourages you to tell them your plan, including how long you plan to be in school, what your end goal is and what that all will mean for them. Whether that means telling your friends you probably can’t go out as often, or making a plan with your family for childcare and minimal distractions during specific times of the week, setting clear expectations will help you avoid distractions. Be firm and let them know what your new priorities are—your friends and family will want you to succeed and should understand.
Without the pressure to say “yes” to every social event or favor asked of you, you’ll be better able to focus on studying. Scheduling your study time can be helpful as well, especially for online courses that may have flexible lecture times and less rigid structures.
“You’ve got to set up designated study and learning times and stick to them as much as possible,” advises Dr. Rich.
Ready to learn more?
Deciding whether or not to go back to school is never easy. Whether you’re ready to dive into a program as soon as possible or you’re still weighing your options, it doesn’t hurt to keep talking to coworkers, friends and family, writing down your thoughts and doing your research.
If you’re interested to know more about what the Master of Science in Nursing program at Rasmussen University has to offer, check out our article “8 Things You Didn’t Know About The Rasmussen University MSN Program.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed May, 2022] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Fact Sheets: Nursing Faculty Shortage, [accessed May, 2022] https://www.aacnnursing.org/news-information/fact-sheets/nursing-faculty-shortage
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2020. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022.