Different Types of MSN Programs: Considering Your Options

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Reviewed by Abbie Jacobs, RN, BSN

If you are looking into getting an MSN, you have a number of options to choose from. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing provides an excellent summary of your choices in its brochure on graduate nursing programs:

Accelerated Programs

Universities and colleges offer accelerated programs for students who lack a background in nursing. Such programs are also referred to as entry-level or generic master’s degrees.

You can plan on spending 2-3 years to get your MSN in an accelerated program. The process entails studying at the baccalaureate level and getting your initial license as an RN during your first year.

Such programs serve students who have shown that they can succeed at a 4-year university or college.


If you have an associate degree, this type of MSN program is for you.

You can expect to spend 2-3 years getting your MSN. The time it will take will vary depending on the institution and your previous coursework.

You can choose between programs that take place completely in classrooms, mostly online, or in a hybrid format. The number of RN-MSN programs has increased more than two-fold during the past 20 years.


If you already have a BSN, this type of program is a logical choice for you. Your classes will vary depending on your background allowing you to concentrate on your area of focus.

The requirements and number of credits vary by institution. You can complete most programs in 18-24 months if you study full-time.

Dual Master’s Degree Programs

A dual MSN program is a good choice for you if you want to combine your master’s level nursing training with another field. Common dual master’s degrees include:

  • MSN/MPA – Public administration
  • MSN/MHA – Health administration
  • MSN/MPH – Public health
  • MSN/MBA – Business

You can choose from more than 120 such programs throughout the country.