The Difference Between a BSN and an MSN


The first step on the ladder of nursing qualifications is becoming a registered nurse (RN). Almost all of those who become registered nurses will plan on developing their career and rising through the ranks. Doing so requires that nurses study for a new qualification each time that they wish to advance to the next level. For the RN, their choices are the bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) and the masters of science in nursing (MSN). To make matters worse, many nurses receive conflicting advice about what direction to take at this critical juncture in their career.

It is worth understanding the difference between these two qualifications and why some nurses might choose to study one over the other so that you can make an informed decision about your future.


A BSN degree program usually lasts around four years, although accelerated versions are available which are typically completed in 12-18 months. Some of these accelerated courses require a certain level of prior experience or education.

The objective of a BSN program is to prepare nursing students with a broad knowledge base on which to build while developing the skills they learned while obtaining their RN qualification. Anyone hoping to work in an administrative or management position within a nursing team will need to have at least a BSN. The BSN will also give students a grounding in areas such as research and public health that will have been missing from most RN courses.


The MSN program is one level above the BSN and requires two years of study on top of the four years required for a BSN. Most students studying for an MSN degree will already have their BSN. However, some universities, such as Bradley University, allow those with only an RN qualification to study for an MSN degree. Some MSN programs will also accept students with a bachelor’s level qualification in another healthcare related field.

The biggest difference between the BSN and MSN is that those studying an MSN will focus on a particular area of specialty such as nursing administration or training to become a clinical nurse leader. Those who have obtained an MSN are able to take on senior nurse roles and to supervise junior nurses in certain tasks.

Which is Best for Me?

Nursing continues to offer an attractive long term career path for people from all kinds of different backgrounds and both the BSN and MSN will allow already registered nurses to advance through the ranks and take their nursing skills to the next level. Either degree is an excellent choice for career progression, and the one that is best for any individual will depend on their individual circumstances and goals. Some people will prefer to advance slowly studying for a BSN and then obtaining their MSN further down the line. For those who want to advance more rapidly, however, then going straight for an MSN degree is the way to go. By studying an online MSN degree you can study while continuing to work in clinical practice.

Both the BSN and MSN are excellent degree choices for nurses looking to advance their careers. One of the best things about nursing is the level of flexibility it offers; some nurses are on a constant upwards trajectory and choose to study for consecutive qualifications, others prefer to take their time. Whichever category you fall in to, both the BSN and MSN represent a solid investment in your future.

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