Is an MSN Worth the Investment in 2024?

A master of science in nursing (MSN) is a great option for those who want to advance their nursing career, whether that looks like becoming a nurse practitioner or managing teams of nurses. Typically, an MSN takes two years to complete, and many accredited programs are offered online or in a hybrid format.

While this is a great option for many nurses, it isn’t for everyone. Before you apply for an MSN, let’s discuss when it is and isn’t worth the financial and time commitment, as well as the ROI most nurses can expect from this graduate degree in 2024.

Cost and Time Commitment of an MSN

While an MSN can boost a nurse’s career, it’s also a significant financial commitment. Tuition costs can vary greatly, but the prices for five stand-out online programs are:

If you average these five credit hour prices, an MSN costs about $457.68 per credit, or around $18,307.20 for a 40-credit MSN. And this price includes only tuition. Depending on the program, students may also be responsible for student fees, textbooks, transportation to and from campus, and other costs.

Along with the financial commitment, an MSN also takes time. If you’re working full-time while getting a degree, MSN classes and assignments could take up hours you’d otherwise spend relaxing or hanging out with loved ones.

An online MSN can reduce this time commitment, but you should still expect to devote upwards of 20 hours per week to your degree.

Specialized Expertise

As a nurse, you already have a great skill set. But from your time on the job, you also know that certain fields, such as psychiatric or geriatric nursing, require extremely specialized skills and education.

If there is a field that you want to pursue, an MSN with NP licensure is a great way to gain the expertise to apply for more positions in that healthcare specialty.

An MSN can also help students gain expertise in a skillset that works across healthcare specialties, such as nursing education, informatics, or nursing administration. Similar to a specialty-specific MSN with NP licensure, these three degree types result in more promotion opportunities and career paths.

Higher Pay

Money talks–and it often says getting a graduate degree leads to a higher salary. This is especially true for nurses since an MSN can boost pay. MSN nurses make $78,000 to $124,000 annually on average, according to a 2023 study. Of course, this is an average, and the exact pay can differ depending on job title, employer, and location.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salaries for four positions you can get with an MSN include:

When comparing these wages to the average salary for RNs ($89,010), most of these salaries are much higher. However, if salary is a main concern, certain types of MSNs or getting an NP or DNP degree may be a better fit.

Less Likely to Burnout

Nurse burnout is reaching endemic levels. According to one 2022 study, nurses have higher levels of burnout than those in many other professions and this professional weariness often lowers their overall quality of life. It’s often characterized by mental exhaustion, a lack of motivation, and extreme fatigue, all of which are closely related to someone’s career.

While it’s widespread across the nursing field, that doesn’t mean all nurses experience burnout. A 2023 study suggests it’s higher for those who work in unhealthy workplaces and lower for those in supportive ones.

Once a healthcare facility gets a reputation for not overworking nurses or for facilitating work/life balance, the competition for open roles becomes fierce. To stand out, nurses often need an MSN. In this way, an MSN is an investment in your mental health, as well as your professional future.

More Career Opportunities

The final benefit of an MSN is that it leads to more career opportunities. This extra degree makes a nurse a more competitive job applicant and opens up new roles since some jobs are only available to MSN nurses.

Careers that either require or highly prioritize MSNs include:

  • Nurse anesthetists
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Nurse midwives
  • Nurse managers
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs)
  • Executive nurse leaders
  • Informatics nurse specialists

If you’re ready to step away from clinical work, an MSN may also make that possible, since many nurse administrative roles require candidates to have a master’s. Those interested in working on healthcare research projects may also find the job search easier with a graduate degree.

Who is an MSN Not For

While an MSN can elevate someone’s career and help prevent burnout, it’s not for everyone. As we discussed, it’s a significant commitment of your time and money. If you’re currently short on funds or are balancing work with many other obligations, such as aging parents or raising kids, you should assess if you can get enough financial aid or make time in your schedule before committing to this degree.

You should also assess your career and lifestyle goals. If you devote significant free time to a passion project, like running a marathon or writing a novel, it’s ok if you don’t want to give up that time to head back to school.

Similarly, those who are happy in their current roles and feel optimistic about their career path may not benefit from an MSN either.

Applying for an MSN is highly personal, and you want to make the right decision for your career, lifestyle, and family. The good news is whether you choose to go back to school or not, nurses of all levels are in demand and can have meaningful career paths.