BSN vs MSN Degree Salary vs Education + Which is Best for Me?

One of the most popular healthcare professions today is nursing. This is not surprising because the need for registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses such as nurse practitioners has never been stronger.

If you are thinking about a nursing career, one of the advantages is that there is a great deal of flexibility available in terms of work and education. You can take various paths in your education to become a nurse. For many healthcare professionals who want to become a nurse, the most obvious choice is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN. A BSN provides you with the skills and knowledge to be a regular nurse at the highest level of pay.

There also some nursing specialties including neonatal critical care, hospice care and cancer care that you may qualify for with a bachelor’s degree and additional training. But many higher paid specialties may require further education.

For those advanced nursing practice roles, you will need to earn your Master of Science in Nursing or MSN. Nursing careers where the MSN is required are:

Which is best, the BSN or MSN? It all boils down to what you want to do with your career, how much money you want to make, and how long you want to be in school. To help you make this important decision, let’s take a closer look at what each degree program entails.

Education Requirements

BSN Nursing Degree

Most bachelor of science in nursing programs are four years long. Some accelerated BSN programs may be completed in less than four years, however. Some of these programs may feature courses that you can test out of, if you have sufficient education and/or work experience. This can substantially reduce the amount of time you must spend in school.

For example, Chamberlain College of Nursing offers a three year, accelerated BSN program. This type of accelerated program could be an option for an RN who holds an associate’s degree in nursing already. Students who are coming into nursing without any background in the field will usually need four years to complete their BSN.

BSN programs will provide you with a broad knowledge base in the nursing field which is appropriate for most entry level staff nursing positions. The coursework in a BSN program will review what is typically covered in an associate’s degree or diploma program and expand on what you already know.

Courses to expect in a BSN program are:

  • Anatomy and Physiology with Lab
  • Fundamentals of Patient Care
  • Health and Wellness
  • Biological Chemistry with Lab
  • Pharmacology for Nursing Practice
  • Complex Adult Health
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Applied Managerial Statistics

BSN programs also focus on the importance of developing critical thinking skills so that you can make fast, informed decisions about patient care. This is important for you to provide the best possible care to patients, and also so that you can serve as a vital member of an interdisciplinary healthcare team.

Each BSN program also includes a certain number of clinical hours that must be completed at a live healthcare site.

After completing your BSN degree, you are required to take your national certification examination to practice as a registered nurse.

MSN Nursing Degree

Professionals who wish to work as advanced practice nurses will need to earn their MSN degree. It is common for nurses to earn their BSN degree and gain a few years of valuable clinical work experience. Then they can obtain their MSN, which may be paid for in part by their employer in some situations.

There also are direct entry nursing programs where either experienced nurses or those new to the nursing field can earn their BSN and MSN in the same program. This type of program can easily save you up to two years of time in school.

Your MSN program will cover advanced nursing principles, and then will cover whichever speciality is that you choose. For example, Duke University requires the following courses to earn your NP MSN degree:

  • Nurse as Scholar: Science Development, Study Design and Statistics
  • Population Health in a Global Society
  • Advanced Physiology Across the Lifespan
  • Advanced Practice Nursing in Primary Care Adolescents and Adult Patients
  • Advanced Practice Nursing Care in Older Adult Patients
  • Clinical Pharmacology for Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Physical Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning in APN

After you have earned your MSN, you must then pass your certification examination for whichever speciality you have chosen, such as as family practitioner or certified nurse midwife.

Types of Jobs Available

Whether to earn a BSN or an MSN depends upon where you see yourself working long term. Do you think that you will be happy working for years as a regular clinical floor nurse? Many nurses choose to do so and earn a very good living, as nurses are highly respected and there is usually overtime available in many areas.

If you think you want to work at a higher and more advanced nursing level either administratively or clinically, you will likely need to earn your MSN degree. As noted before, an MSN degree is required for you to work as any type of advanced practice nurse.

One of the attractions of the nursing field is that you can choose at almost any time to continue your education and earn your MSN degree. Some nurses work for three, five or 10 years with their BSN, and then go back to school so that they can become an advanced practice nurse.

Job Demand and Salary Potential

If you earn a BSN degree, you will find that you have plenty of good jobs waiting for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for RNs will increase by 16% by 2024, and the median salary is a solid $68,450.

While those are impressive numbers, note that the job demand and salary for advanced practice nurses with an MSN are even higher. For example, jobs for nurse practitioners will soar by 35% by 2024, which is one of the fastest growth rates in any US occupation. The median salary is also high at more than $100,000.


Earning either a BSN or MSN is a fantastic career move. Whether you want to earn a BSN or MSN will just vary on how much education you want to get and the types of jobs that make you happiest for the long term in your career.

Keep in mind that earning a MSN degree will make you a highly respected nursing professional, as these types of nurses are in great demand and are in some healthcare environments as important as doctors. Nurses with an MSN also have a high level of responsibility and stress.

Nurses with a BSN have a lower level of responsibility and lower pay, but they are still respected and can earn a very good salary with overtime.