Graduate Nursing Schools

There are many factors to consider when selecting a graduate nursing school. Different people will have different priorities so you want to make sure that you choose a program that will best meet your career goals.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A master of science degree in nursing (MSN) qualifies you to start a career in variety of advanced practice nursing roles, as well as becoming involved in clinical research, nursing administration, and nursing education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

To be eligible for admission to a standard masters in nursing program, you will generally need to possess a bachelor of nursing degree (BSN) and be a registered nurse (RN). Most graduate programs will also require that you pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). However, registered nurses who apply through an accelerated RN-to-MSN “Bridge Program” will not need to submit GRE scores.

Many nurses who participate in master’s level study are practicing nurses so have a clear idea of the area in which they wish to specialize. Specialization areas include family nursing, pediatric nursing, adult nursing, geriatric nursing, oncology nursing, public health nursing, clinical nurse wife,  clinical nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist. Those who enter a master’s program with a bachelor’s in a non-nursing area may need to satisfy certain undergraduate preparatory coursework before they may be formally admitted to masters level nursing study.

It will typically take about two years to complete a master’s program if you attend on a full time basis and three to four years if you attend part time.

Considerations when choosing a graduate nursing school:

  • Choose the program then the school. The first step is to take an inventory of your career strengths and interests so you may decide on an area of specialization. Only when you have decided on a specialization should you begin to research schools that have a strong reputation in that area.
  • Type of setting. You also need to decide on the type of college setting you prefer to study. Do you prefer an urban campus or would you prefer to attend a nursing school that is located in a small community? You may also choose to pursue your education via an online nursing program, although you will need to possess a great deal of self-discipline, motivation, and initiative to complete this type of program successfully.
  • Research the backgrounds of faculty members in your area of interest. What are the professional and academic backgrounds of the nursing faculty? How long have they been teaching? Have they been published in recognized nursing journals? Many graduate nursing schools focus on only one or two areas of practice so are able to attract faculty who are particularly strong in those specialties. For example, a nursing school may be rated “average” overall but have an outstanding faculty and learning resources within the areas of family nursing and pediatrics. If either is your chosen specialty, you would do well to select such a school.
  • Ensure that the program is accredited. This is an especially important point for those who enter a master’s degree with a bachelor’s in a non-nursing area. You will need to have attended an accredited nursing school in order to be eligible to take the National Certification Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and to obtain licensure from your State Board of Nursing.

Employers greatly prefer to hire nurse clinicians who have graduated from accredited schools since these programs have met strict standards for nursing education in terms of quality of quality of coursework, facilities, faculty, and clinical training.

There are two national organizations that accredit nursing programs:1) The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) which accredits all levels of nursing education programs including associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degree; 2) The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) that accredits only bachelor’s and master’s programs.

  • Cost Considerations: Research what the full costs are to attend the school. Include not only direct tuition costs but the cost of books, commuting, and food. Inquire about such financial aid opportunities as grants and scholarships, which do not have to repaid, and government loans which do need to be repaid but come with relatively low interest rates. If you are a working in the healthcare field either as a nurse or other professional, ask your employer about tuition reimbursement programs. Keep in mind that there will likely be a stipulation that you remain with your employer for a certain period of time upon graduation, usually one year for each year of aid you receive.
  • Nursing School Class Size. As about the faculty to student ratio for both the classroom and clinical training component parts of the program. Smaller class size for clinical rotations and course work can be more important than when taking prerequisite courses.
  • Research the clinical requirements. You want to ensure that your clinical rotations provide you with substantive experience within your area of specialty. The clinical rotation should be based on real-world skills and knowledge that provide you with sufficient preparation so you will graduate with a solid foundation on which to build a career in your specialty area.  .
  • Scheduling Flexibility: If you wish to continue working while pursing your graduate degree, does the school offer an option for part-time study or may some of the coursework be completed online?
  • Contact the school of interest: After you have narrowed possible schools to between three and five, call the admissions office of each to arrange a campus visit (or a telephone interview if applying to an online nursing school). The admission staff generally welcomes inquiries and happy to explain their programs in detail. As you make the appointment be sure to ask for a tour of the campus and whether you may sit in on a class (this can be done with a distance learning program as well). During your visit, study the school culture to determine whether this is a setting where you will comfortable attending nursing school. Try to speak with other nursing students to obtain their feedback o both the school and program.

If you are interested in an online nursing school, try to evaluate the quality of the program by perusing the school Web site and noting the style of writing and content posted. Is the site professional and easy to navigate and provide easy access to all needed information? Does the school value transparency with respect to tuition costs and admission requirements?

As you research nursing schools, keep in mind that the better quality programs value transparency and will be only too happy to answer all your questions regarding admission policies, program requirements, tuition and ancillary costs, and culture.