Direct-Entry MSN Programs for Non-Nursing Majors Online

Online direct-entry MSN programs are becoming increasingly popular, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising concerns about its toll on the healthcare system. In short, this devastating burden has outweighed the required medical care, and the world needs nurses more than ever before.

To encourage college undergraduates who may be considering this career path, online direct-entry MSN programs have stepped up to the plate in terms of flexibility and accommodation. These programs give individuals the opportunity to obtain a master’s of science in nursing – without any prior background or degree in a healthcare-related field.

The only prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, earned from an accredited institution. This accelerated program is designed to facilitate a seamless transition into the MSN coursework, allowing you to pursue a profession in nursing while obtaining an advanced, specialized degree. In addition, the online platform is significantly more flexible and convenient than traditional on-campus delivery. While some aspects of the curriculum will need to be done on or near campus (such as labs and clinicals), the content is delivered almost completely online.

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What You’ll Learn in an Online Direct-Entry MSN

This program is designed especially for individuals without any prior nursing education or experience. Thus, it will equip you with a solid foundation in the necessary concepts and practices of nursing in addition to providing specialized, graduate-level coursework and facilitating clinical training.

By the end of the program, you will have a diverse and comprehensive knowledge base that you will be able to apply to real-life scenarios through critical thinking and problem-solving strategies. You will be trained and equipped to contribute to the healthcare system in ways that are ethical, efficient, and effective. Perhaps most importantly, you will acquire strong communication and leadership skills that will greatly benefit your interpersonal interactions on the job – and help you to think on your feet.

Common courses in the direct-entry MSN program include Policy and Ethics in Healthcare Practice, Nursing Informatics and Quality Improvement, Pathophysiology, Evidence-Based Nursing Practice, and Leadership and Management in Advanced Nursing. Each of these courses teaches traditional medical and scientific knowledge while fostering relevance in the healthcare field as it relates to the government and the world as a whole.

MSN degrees offer several specialized areas of study. These options will vary based on the program, but in general, two broad categories are provided: clinical (direct medical care) and non-clinical (indirect medical care). The sub-specialties within clinical concentrations include clinical nurse leader, nurse educator, and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRN students may further specialize as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse-midwife (CNM), or nurse practitioner (CNP).

CNM coursework focuses on women’s health and neonatal care. This is different from midwife certification (CM), which does not require an RN degree and is not as widely recognized in the occupation. While earning a CNM degree, you will learn about women’s gynecological health and prenatal and postnatal care.

CRNA coursework concentrates on the lifespan, delving into the areas of advanced pharmacology and physiology. This knowledge will equip you to safely administer anesthesia and monitor patients before and after surgery. This nursing specialization is unique in that it is similar to the role of a physician.

CNP and CNS students must concentrate on at least one of the following population sectors: adulthood, family across the lifespan, gerontology (the scientific study of old age), acute care (short-term medical care), primary care (normalized, everyday healthcare), women’s health, neonatal (medical care of newborns), and pediatrics (medical care of children).

All APRN concentrations require students to pass a national certification exam and earn state licensure after graduating with an MSN degree and before entering the workforce. Certified APRN graduates may further specialize in their career by completing additional coursework in disciplines such as orthopedics, oncology, HIV/AIDS, or cardiology.

Non-clinical MSN nursing concentrations include the following occupations: public health nurse, informatics nurse, nurse administrator, clinical nurse educator, and clinical research coordinator. Depending on the program, you may be able to further specialize as a certified diabetes instructor (CDE), legal nurse consultant (LNC), or patient advocate. Students pursuing a non-clinical MSN learn about the intricacies of the healthcare system in addition to technology and computer science.

The standard time frame for direct-entry MSN programs is three years of full-time study. The first year comprises baccalaureate-level nursing courses, and the last two years typically consist of graduate coursework. Online MSN programs follow the same progression and allow clinicals to be completed locally.

In summary, what you will learn in an online direct-entry MSN depends on the program and the specialty you choose. All accredited programs and institutions will give you a solid base in traditional medical knowledge while facilitating practical training. During the first year, you will have a chance to orient yourself with the different concentrations before starting graduate study. Fortunately, these programs will typically accept the general education and science credits from your bachelor’s degree, allowing smooth entry into the MSN concentration-specific coursework.

FAQs About Online Direct-Entry MSN Programs

How much does an online direct-entry MSN program cost?

Yet again, this varies based on the program. The cost can be tricky to calculate, as the pricing figures are not always presented in the same way. However, most programs show the cost as a dollar amount per credit. The total credits for most online direct-entry MSN programs typically average between 80 to 100.

One advantage of online programs, including direct-entry MSN degrees, is that they are relatively inexpensive. You don’t need to worry about the additional costs of brick-and-mortar institutions, such as housing. While a few extra expenses are usually involved, the only dominant factor to consider is tuition.

Also, keep in mind that private institutions are generally more expensive than public ones. However, be sure to weigh both the cost and the total amount of credits to accurately compare program prices.

Will this program give me a BSN in addition to the MSN?

This also depends on the program. In general, a BSN is broader than an MSN, which provides more specific areas of study. Some programs allow you to earn a BSN simply by completing the pre-licensure components of the curriculum. Some examples are the MSN programs offered by Ameritech College of Healthcare and the University of South Alabama. However, other programs provide an MSN only, such as those offered by Ohio State University and the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Does the direct-entry MSN program provide a nursing license?

Unfortunately, an RN license is not included as part of the entry-level MSN degree. In most cases, this must be obtained through accreditation outside of the program, which is typically based on a standardized examination. For example, graduates and current students of accredited MSN programs are qualified to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam (at least upon completing the pre-licensure curriculum component). Passing this exam allows you to apply for an RN license in your chosen specialty.

This option does not usually apply to nurse practitioner (NP) certification exams. However, a few programs offer a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) specialization track that directly qualifies MSN graduates to apply for FNP certification. For example, Ohio State University’s direct-entry MSN program provides this option. Furthermore, even if a program does not directly offer an NP certification track, it may still be possible to specialize in your coursework in order to qualify for NP certification.

How long does it take to complete a direct-entry MSN program online?

This, again, varies based on the institution offering the program. However, most programs can be completed in as little as two or three years of full-time study. Some universities offer shorter or longer durations, allowing you to compress your degree into 18 months of intense full-time work or extend it to four or more years of part-time study. One of the advantages of online MSN programs is that they are generally pretty flexible, making them a great option for students who have a job or extra responsibilities outside of school.

Does the direct-entry MSN program require a bachelor’s degree in a medical-related field?

One of the distinguishing characteristics of this program is that it is designed for students with bachelor’s degrees that are not related to healthcare. (However, students who do have related degrees, including associate degrees in nursing and RN licenses, are still welcome.) Regardless of whether you have a bachelor’s of arts (BA) or a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree, you can still apply for the direct-entry MSN program. While it may be easier to transition from a BS to an MSN due to the heavier focus on science coursework, the program is designed to work with students from a variety of academic backgrounds.

Does the direct-entry MSN require any prerequisites before enrolling?

Most direct-entry MSN degrees, both online and in-person, require the completion of at least five to nine prerequisite courses before allowing students to apply for admission into the program. These prerequisites cover the basics of biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and psychology. Some programs may also require classes in English composition and math (usually statistics). These prerequisites can be completed online at the same institution offering the MSN program. However, most students will have taken many of these courses while earning their bachelor’s degrees the courses will transfer into the MSN program.

How to Check Accreditation for Direct Entry MSN Programs for Non-Nursing Majors Online

Accreditation guarantees that colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education meet the same standard of academic quality and integrity. This is especially important for online direct-entry MSN programs to ensure that graduates will obtain a regionally and nationally recognized degree – ultimately securing your eligibility to become a professional nurse.

The two categories of accreditation are institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation comes through multiple agencies, both at the national and regional levels, that are associated with the U.S. Department of Education. Programmatic accreditation is administered in the U.S. by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

It is important to confirm that the program(s) you are considering have both institutional and programmatic accreditation. To find this information, you can check the program or institution websites. Additionally, you can check the CCNE and ACEN websites for this info or visit DOE’s Database of Accredited Institutions and Programs (DAPIP).

What to Do After Earning Your Direct-Entry MSN Online

Once you’ve done the hard work of actually earning the MSN degree, there are a few more steps you must take before applying to become a nurse. In most cases, you will be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination as you progress through the program. You can complete this task before you graduate, once you’ve finished the pre-licensure components of the curriculum.

Since the NCLEX-RN exam is nationally recognized, you can take it at any location – regardless of the institution you earned your degree from or the place in which you intend to practice. However, upon passing the exam, you will need to obtain an RN license in the state where you would like to apply for a position. Keep in mind that you may need additional qualifications besides just the NCLEX-RN exam to apply for RN licensure, as each state has different requirements for obtaining this license.

Salary and Job Outlook: How much does a nurse with an MSN make a year?

Earning an MSN degree equips you with the critical thinking, interpersonal, and adaptive skills that benefit almost any career path. You will have the opportunity to shape your career and you may even discover an unconventional niche that makes the best use of your training, lifestyle, and personality. For example, family nurse practitioners and nurse educators often collaborate with government agencies or work in non-clinical facilities such as schools or community organizations.

Having an MSN degree will also boost your income, especially compared to merely having an RN license or a BSN degree. The education and training obtained through an MSN program will allow you to apply for more advanced and specialized positions – leading ultimately to a more fulfilling and lucrative career as a healthcare provider.

The MSN degree allows you to pursue additional education to earn either a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing, or a Ph.D. in Nursing. These degrees qualify nurses for the highest positions in the healthcare system, allowing them to work with institutions and policies to improve and enhance patient care.

Masters in Nursing Salary

An MSN salary depends on your specialty and a variety of other factors, including the location and job outlook for your particular position. The good news is that nurses will always be needed, so you won’t need to fear your career becoming obsolete. Rather, healthcare jobs will only continue to grow as the population increases – especially in light of unexpected health crises such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to earn from MSN jobs:

Nurse Educator Salary

Nursing educators have the unique and fulfilling opportunity to relay their knowledge and expertise to the next generation of nurses. A typical day in this position would include creating lesson plans, leading classroom discussions, grading assignments and exams, and supervising labs and clinicals. In addition to these tasks, nurse educators may continue clinical practice or pursue academic research.

The growth of this job, particularly for postsecondary nursing educators, is projected as 11 percent from 2018 to 2028. The median national salary for nursing educators is $73,490 as of May 2018. Additional training or certification may be required to hold this position.

Nurse Practitioner Salary

Nurse practitioners provide medical services such as diagnosing chronic and acute health conditions, prescribing medications, performing and analyzing diagnostic tests, and educating patients on how to prevent disease and form healthy habits. NPs will often autonomously supervise the entire scope of a patient’s care, and they may specialize in areas such as family health, neonatal health, acute care, oncology, gerontology, women’s health, and psychiatric or mental health.

NP jobs are projected to grow rapidly in the next five years and the median national salary for NPs is $107,030. This position requires specialized certification, which can typically be earned through the MSN program if you select a specialization track. You may need additional training or qualifications, depending on the position and other factors.

Registered Nurse Salary

Registered nurses (RNs) are fundamental to the healthcare system. RNs work with physicians and other nurses to facilitate and expedite patient care. Their duties include assessing the patient’s condition, documenting the patient’s symptoms and medical history, monitoring the patient during treatments or operations, administering medications, educating patients, and more.

The growth of RN positions is projected to be 12 percent from 2018 to 2028, and the median national salary for RNs is $71,730 as of May 2018. The MSN degree, along with an RN license, are typically the only requirements. However, RNs may choose to complete additional training in order to occupy more specialized positions.

Highest-Paying MSN Salaries

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Salary

Of all MSN salaries, nurse anesthetists make one of the highest. The annual average salary for this position is $174,790.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Salary

Nurse-midwives provide care for pregnant patients, working more generally in reproductive and gynecological health. The mean salary for this position is $106,000.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Salary

Clinical nurse specialists work with physicians and patients to develop treatment plans for specific health conditions. A CNS can make anywhere from $95,000 to $115,000.

Nurse Administrator Salary

Nurse administrators work with healthcare facilities and institutions to ensure the efficiency and safety of their operations. The average salary for this position, known more commonly as medical or health service management, is over $99,000.

Clinical Nurse Leader Salary

This is a relatively new role for nurses, and while the higher salaries go to the most experienced practitioners, it is possible (with time) to advance in this position and earn more. Clinical nurse leaders who have at least 10 years of experience can make around $88,000 per year.

Informatics Nurse Salary

This unique nursing position involves working with technology in a clinical setting to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare facilities and services. The average salary for an informatics nurse is around $77,000. However, this figure is expected to grow as this position becomes higher in demand.


The online direct-entry MSN degree for non-nursing majors is a relatively new program with a variety of perks and benefits – not only for a promising salary potential but for a diverse, fulfilling, and growing career. This program is short and convenient, allowing you to maintain a job on the side or support a family as you complete the curriculum and obtain your qualifications. It is a fast and seamless way to enter into the healthcare field, and it is designed especially for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated discipline but would like to pursue this option. In as little as two years, you could be a nurse – and enter into a world where the career and community-outreach possibilities are (almost) endless.

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