Best Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs in 2023

Best Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs in 2023

Graduates of non-nursing bachelor's degrees can still pursue a career in healthcare by completing direct-entry MSN programs. These programs provide a streamlined route for non-nursing majors to meet the growing demand for professionals in the healthcare industry. This allows them to transition into the nursing field, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to become advanced practice nurses.

By eliminating the need for a traditional nursing undergraduate degree, direct-entry MSN programs accelerate the process of becoming a registered nurse (RN). This makes it a great option for students who are rethinking their career paths as well as professionals who want to switch to a career with more employment opportunities. After all, the job outlook for registered nurses is projected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).

This program provides a comprehensive education that combines nursing theory, research, and clinical practice. Hence, graduates emerge with a solid foundation in advanced nursing concepts, leadership skills, and specialized clinical expertise. That said, our team of researchers gathered information to help students examine the best direct-entry MSN programs that can lead to their dream healthcare careers.

XDirect-Entry MSN Programs Table of Contents

  1. What is a direct-entry master's degree in nursing?
  2. Cost of Direct-Entry MSN Programs
  3. 2023 Best Direct-Entry Master's Degree in Nursing
  4. Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Jobs
  5. Direct-Entry MSN Programs Requirements
  6. What to Look for in Direct-Entry MSN Programs

What is a direct-entry master's degree in nursing?

Also known as a master's entry program in nursing, this degree prepares non-nursing bachelor's degree graduates to become registered nurses. Direct-entry MSN programs train students to excel in various advanced practice nursing roles. These include nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.

What can you do with a direct-entry master in nursing program?

Direct-entry MSN programs provide a fast-track route to advanced nursing professions. These programs entail a rigorous curriculum that swiftly progresses from fundamental undergraduate courses to more advanced graduate courses specifically designed for certification in an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialization.

In contrast, direct-entry masters in nursing may have limitations regarding specialization options. Some programs might not offer the necessary coursework and clinical prerequisites for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or nurse midwife. Nonetheless, some of the most in-demand concentrations for direct MSN programs are nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, and public health nurse.

DEMSN may be worth it for graduate students who want to pursue an advanced nursing position. However, they should be prepared to work hard. This is because direct-entry MSN programs may be intense and fast-paced, just like the nursing field.

Job RoleAvailable Job OpeningsMedian Pay
Nurse Anesthetists3,100$207,699
Clinical Nurse Specialists525$135,933
Nurse Practitioners45,718$120,280
Nurse Midwives3,270$107,201
Registered Nurse415,750$93,862

Source: Indeed, n.d.

Cost of Direct-Entry MSN Programs

The cost of direct-entry MSN programs can vary depending on various factors. These include whether graduate students are enrolling in an in-state or out-of-state college or university. Another factor to consider is whether students are pursuing on-campus or online nursing programs for non-nursing degree holders. If affordability is a concern, nursing scholarships and financial aid are available to assist students to finance their education.

How much does it cost to get a direct-entry master's in nursing degree?

The average tuition and fees for graduate students range from $12,400 to $28,000 per year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). A master's degree program in a public college or university may cost an average of $12,394 annually. Meanwhile, private academic institutions may charge $14,301 (for-profit) or $28,445 (non-profit) annually. Another option is to earn the program online. Online RN to MSN programs cost may vary depending on the type of institution, as well as the scope of the degree.

In-campus Learning
Private Non-profit$28,445
Private For-profit$14,301
*Average tuition per academic year

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2021

Is a degree in direct-MSN worth it?

For students who do not have a BSN but want to pursue a nursing career, completing direct-entry MSN programs is a worthy pursuit. The same goes for students with an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or who are having a hard time deciding between getting a nursing diploma vs degree.

For one, MSN direct-entry programs allow students to earn a Master of Science in Nursing in less time and at a lower cost. Second, it qualifies students for RN licensure and APRN certification. This prepares graduates for employment in higher-paying advanced nursing positions.

Lastly, direct MSN programs address the increasing demand for healthcare professionals. It is expected that at least 195,000 jobs for registered nurses will be available between 2021 and 2031 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Pursuing a career as a registered nurse will allow graduates to earn an average of $77,600 per year.

2023 Best Direct-Entry Master's Degree in Nursing's team of review experts gathered data from credible sources and came up with a list of direct-entry MSN programs from accredited colleges and universities. The schools listed below were evaluated based on their academic rating, enrollment rate, affordability, and other key metrics.

1. University of California, Los Angeles

The Master's Entry Clinical Nurse (MECN) from the University of California, Los Angeles is a two-year pre-licensure program for students with non-nursing baccalaureate degrees. It is designed to prepare them for a nursing career. Graduates of this program are granted the Master of Science in Nursing degree and are eligible to take the National Council Licensing Examination to become licensed nurses.

  • Program Length: Two years
  • Tracks/concentrations: Clinical nurse leadership
  • Cost per Credit: $221
  • Required Credits to Graduate: 106
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

2. The University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers the RN to MSN pathway. It is an alternative that allows non-nursing bachelor's degree holders to complete their pre-nursing licensure requirements. In addition to on-campus courses, this program includes clinical placements to acquire hands-on experience.

  • Program Length: One year
  • Tracks/concentrations: Fundamentals of nursing practice, advanced nursing theory, and leadership.
  • Cost per Credit: $595 (residents), $1,418 (non-residents)
  • Required Credits to Graduate: 125
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

3. Samuel Merritt University

For graduates who want to become family nurse practitioners, the Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University can be a worthy pursuit. This program trains nurses to be primary care providers in outpatient settings. Students will learn how to provide healthcare services across a patient's lifespan, including health promotion, disease prevention, and health maintenance.

  • Program Length: Three years
  • Tracks/concentrations: Health management and maintenance, disease prevention
  • Cost per Credit: $1,647
  • Required Credits to Graduate: 109
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

4. Alverno College

Alverno College's Direct-Entry Master of Science in Nursing allows students to get on an advanced nursing career path. This program will teach them advanced skills in patient care and gain hands-on training with support from experienced faculty. Ultimately, this DEMSN prepares students to take the NCLEX for registered nurses.

  • Program Length: Two years
  • Tracks/concentrations: Patient care and leadership
  • Cost per Credit: $755
  • Required Credits to Graduate: 77
  • Accreditation: Wisconsin Board of Nursing, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

5. John Hopkins University

Pursuing the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Entry into Nursing Program from John Hopkins University allows students to be top patient care nurses. With an emphasis on leadership, global impact, and evidenced-based interprofessional education, this program enables students to receive enhanced bedside nursing education and training. This lets non-nursing bachelor's degree graduates achieve a rewarding career.

  • Program Length: Two years
  • Tracks/concentrations: Public health, genetics, physical and organizational sciences
  • Cost per Credit: $1,881
  • Required Credits to Graduate: 72
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Jobs

Becoming a registered nurse allows students to enjoy the numerous benefits of a healthcare career. One of which is making a difference in the lives of others. Earning an advanced degree in nursing could also lead to a more stable and secure job. However, keep in mind that the requirements for a healthcare career can be extensive so it is best to perform due diligence before you set your heart on a specific job position.

Are direct-entry masters in nursing in high demand?

As mentioned, there is an increasing demand for healthcare professionals. This includes registered nurses and advanced practice nurses (APRN).

Before COVID-19, registered nurses represented 1% of the U.S. population (Auerbach et al., 2022). The growth in the RN workforce plateaued during the first 15 months of the pandemic. By 2021, the total supply of registered nurses decreased by at least 100,000.

Source: National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 2020

One of the reasons for the shortage of nurses in the country is the aging workforce. Approximately one million registered nurses are older than 50 (Haddad et al., 2023). This leads to a unique issue: training more nurses with fewer resources. Direct-entry masters in nursing can be one of the solutions, as it allows students who did not pursue other types of degrees in nursing to become registered nurses.

RNs and APRNs are often primary care providers and are at the forefront of providing preventive care services to patients. This also explains why working as a nurse is more expansive than just a healthcare setting. Students of direct-entry MSN programs can also work in home healthcare facilities, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, and employment services.

What jobs can you get with direct-entry masters in nursing?

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses assess the health problems and needs of patients. They also develop and implement nursing care plans, maintain medical records, and administer care. It is also a registered nurse's responsibility to help patients with disease prevention and health maintenance.

Median salary: $81,220

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners may work individually or with a healthcare team, focusing on health prevention and disease prevention. This includes diagnosing and treating acute, episodic, or chronic illness. They may also perform and interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medication.

Median salary: $121,610

Clinical Nurse Leader

A clinical nurse leader (CNL) is an advanced nursing role coordinating interdisciplinary healthcare teams. Hence, they work with other healthcare providers like physicians, pharmacists, and social workers. Included in their responsibilities are analyzing data, identifying areas of improvement in the healthcare system, and implementing evidence-based practices to enhance patient outcomes.

Median salary: $95,504

Nurse Anesthetic

Nurse anesthetics work with anesthesiologists, surgeons, physicians, or dentists. Their responsibilities include administering anesthesia before, during, and after a procedure. They can also monitor a patient's vital signs and oversee their recovery from anesthesia.

Median salary: $203,090

Nurse Midwife

Nurse midwives work under the supervision of an obstetrician/gynecologist. Part of their responsibilities is to diagnose and coordinate all aspects of the birthing process. They may also provide gynecological care, either as an individual or as part of a healthcare team.

Median salary: $120,880

What salary can I earn with direct-entry masters in nursing?

Pursuing direct-entry MSN programs or the best nurse practitioner programs allows graduates to work in the healthcare system as registered nurses. Relatively, they can earn at least $61,250 and as much as $129,400 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). How much graduates can earn will depend on their location and years of experience.

Direct-Entry MSN Programs Requirements

Students with a passion for helping others and improving the healthcare systems can pursue direct-entry MSN programs. This program teaches them to provide primary care across a patient's lifespan, general advanced practice, and nursing leadership. Most importantly, the best direct-entry MSN programs help graduates prepare for NCLEX.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for direct-entry MSN programs vary depending on the college or university. Here are the typical requirements that students must submit to enroll:

  • Education. Students who want to enter a DEMSN program must have a bachelor's degree in any field. They also need to complete prerequisite courses within the past five years.
  • Official Transcripts. Colleges and universities require incoming direct-entry MSN students to have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • Test Scores. They should also submit their Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores.
  • Reference Letters. Some colleges and universities may require students to submit two to three letters of recommendation and references.

Skills Requirements

Students who want to pursue a nursing career must complete direct-entry MSN programs to fulfill their career goals. Aside from completing the coursework, it is also essential that they develop the following skills:

  • Communication Skills. Communication is critical in the nursing profession, as a lack of communication can lead to errors in patient care. Effective communication helps nurses stay informed about patients and ensure smooth transitions.
  • Problem-Solving Skills. Nurses are likely to face challenging situations, including determining which patients will receive treatment time. This skill is also helpful in deciding the best treatment plans and how to implement them.
  • Analytical Skills. As nurses, graduates must be able to look at a situation and gather as much information as possible. That way, they can make an informed decision on how to help their patients or fellow healthcare providers. MSN MBA programs also require students to possess these skills.
  • Leadership Skills. The list of direct-entry MSN programs above prepares students to take advanced leadership roles. Hence, they need to develop leadership skills to influence patients and their team of nurses.
  • Teamwork Skills. Part of providing the best healthcare to patients is to work collaboratively. Teamwork skills allow nurses and other healthcare providers to provide specialized, well-organized, and comprehensive care.

What to Look for in Direct-Entry MSN Programs

Pursuing direct-entry MSN programs allows students who do not have a nursing degree to be part of the healthcare system. This is where enrolling for the right DEMSN degree is essential. This is because it can impact what specializations are available to the students.


Each college and university offers particular tracks for their direct-entry MSN programs. These specializations prepare students to become nurse practitioners, clinical nurse leaders, or other nursing specialties. Hence, it is vital that students are in a program that specializes in their intended advanced job role.

Program Options and Length

When selecting an MSN direct-entry program, it is crucial to look into the school's required courses and electives. Completing the proper prerequisites reduces the time students need to complete the program.

On the other hand, some schools offer an accelerated pathway to a nursing career. This allows students to complete their prerequisites and core curriculum simultaneously. Thus, they can complete the program in 15 months. Schools may also provide a bridge option, like an ADN to NP program, that speeds up the advancement of a learner's studies.

If you're preoccupied with so many questions about healthcare degree options such as, "Can you get a physical therapy assistant degree online?" you better contact your preferred school directly.

Clinical Experience

Acquiring hands-on and supervised experience is integral in direct-entry MSN programs. However, some colleges and universities provide clinical placements in pre-approved sites. Some allow students to find their placements and preceptors to supervise their clinical experiences.

Accreditation Status

Accreditation guarantees that a direct-entry MSN program adheres to academic and professional standards. It is advantageous to be aware of the accreditation status of the program a student is interested in. Moreover, pursuing programs that hold regional or national accreditation ensures that they align with the prerequisites for obtaining RN licensure and advanced care licenses.

Graduation and NCLEX Pass Rates

Graduation rates demonstrate the proportion of students who successfully finish their degree within a given timeframe. A strong graduation rate signifies a nurturing educational setting that effectively equips graduates for nursing practice.

Meanwhile, the NCLEX pass rate reveals the level of preparedness of nursing school graduates for the licensure examination. A pass rate that exceeds the average indicates higher program quality and effectiveness in teaching.

Source: National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 2023

Taking the Next Steps in Your Nursing Career

For students who wonder, "what can you do with a public health degree?" consider pursuing a direct-entry MSN program. An MSN to DNP online is also an ideal choice. It offers a unique opportunity to those who want to enter the nursing profession and significantly impact healthcare.

Direct-entry MSN programs provide a streamlined path for non-nursing bachelor's degree holders to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to become advanced practice nurses. With the growing demand for healthcare professionals and the increasing complexity of healthcare systems, these programs open doors to a range of fulfilling and influential nursing careers.

Furthermore, it offers opportunities for specialization in various advanced practice nursing roles. These specialized roles allow nurses to focus their practice and make a significant difference in specific patient populations or areas of healthcare.