Entry level Master of Science in Nursing degree programs are designed for students who have already completed a non-nursing bachelor's degree or higher and wish to obtain registered nurse licensure. Students complete these programs in about three years, leaving with an active RN license as well as advanced leadership and clinical training. Students will earn their RN license during the first half of the program, then move on to more advanced nursing practice, including specialty options such as Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education and Nurse Executive Leadership.

Admission Requirements

Entry-level master's nursing programs require students to have a bachelor's degree in any non-nursing discipline, generally requiring a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Scores from the Graduate Record Examination, transcripts from all post-secondary educational institutions and letters of recommendation are also required as part of the application packet, in addition to a goal statement. A number of undergraduate prerequisites must also be completed before admission. For example, at the University of California San Francisco, students must have college-level course credits in statistics, psychology, microbiology, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology.


The traditional MSN is a two-year program, while entry-level programs generally take about three years to complete. The first year is designed to prepare students to take the National Council Licensure Examination and receive RN licensure. During their remaining time in the program, students progress through clinical residency and graduate specialty to become an advanced practice nurse. Most schools offer three academic semesters rather than the traditional two semesters to reduce the number of years required for graduation.


Entry-level students receive a general nursing foundation, so the first year coursework is intensive and usually only offered for full-time study. For example, the University of California San Francisco program requires 30 to 37 weekly clock hours of class and clinical work. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, students spend a large portion of their first year completing clinical practica in various community and healthcare environments. Courses include Pathophysiology, Professionalism in Nursing, Health Assessment and Lab, Bio-behavioral Health and Clinical Immersion to Nursing Practice. At the end of this year, students sit for the NCLEX to receive their RN license.

Post-Licensure and Specialty

Once students receive their RN license, they continue on to complete courses in the traditional MSN program, which focus on leadership and healthcare management. The remaining requirements of the program depend on the student's area of emphasis. Some schools offer a single post-licensure program. Students at the University of San Diego graduate with an MSN as a Clinical Nurse Leader and Advanced Nurse Generalist. However, at Western University of Health Sciences, students choose between an emphasis in Health Systems Leadership as an Administrative Nurse Leader or Clinical Nurse Leader or an emphasis in Ambulatory Care Nursing. Azusa Pacific University students may choose between two Clinical Nurse Specialist specialties, Adult Clinical Nurse Specialist and Parent-Child Clinical Nurse Specialist.

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