Exploring Graduate Level Nursing Degrees

Nursing working in hospital

Are you considering pursuing a graduate degree in nursing? With the demand for highly skilled nurses escalating, there is no better time than now to further your education and specialize in advanced practice nursing. A graduate level degree can open doors to higher salaries and exciting new roles within the medical industry.

In this blog post, we will explore the degrees available, their benefits, requirements for admission, and tips for choosing the right program. Read on to learn more about taking your career to the next level with a graduate level nursing degree!

Types Of Graduate Level Nursing Degrees

Master Of Science In Nursing (MSN)

Is an advanced practice degree that prepares nurses to deliver primary care, specialize in a certain area of nursing, or become nurse educators. Nurses can choose from tracks such as Adult-Gerontology, Primary Care, pediatrics, Nursing Midwifery, and Psychiatric Mental Health. MSN programs have didactic coursework in areas such as healthcare informatics and research methods combined with clinical experiences in specialized settings. Graduates are eligible for certification examinations leading to board specialization in their field and may get licensure as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

MSN degree holders may pursue roles such as lead clinicians, consultants or administrators and health system leaders. They may teach at universities or help to change health care rules according to the most effective methods. The online modality of MSN courses allows students flexibility while allowing them to still network with peers and faculty at local clinical sites when needed to complete their practicum hours. Career paths also include executive management positions within hospitals where graduates will assess patient needs on a much larger scale for greater efficiency in the delivery of quality healthcare services.

Doctor Of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest level of nursing degree available in the US. It prepares nurses for leadership roles by providing advanced practice clinical and organizational competency, such as evidence-based practice, population health, quality improvement projects and more.

This degree also requires a comprehensive research project that reflects an individual’s area of expertise and interest. With this postgraduate degree, students can gain expertise in areas like healthcare policy, public health nursing, and medical informatics.

Doctor Of Philosophy In Nursing (PhD)

A Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) program is a postgraduate degree that focuses on furthering students’ knowledge and skills in nursing. This degree typically takes three to five years to complete, depending on the specialization chosen by the student.

PhD programs can involve theoretical courses and research-based components, as well as practical opportunities, such as internships or clinical training. Students who pursue a PhD in nursing are able to specialize in areas including healthcare policy, administration, education, advanced practice preparation, informatics/nursing systems management, or even global health science.

Nurse Anesthesia

Nurse Anesthesia is a specialized graduate degree for registered nurses. It prepares nurses to become certified nurse anesthetists and to work autonomously in providing anesthesia services across the healthcare continuum.

The program includes classroom instruction, clinical practicum, and simulations. I expect graduates of this highly advanced degree to assess patients pre-anesthetically, identify patient problems and propose interventions related to anesthesia care throughout the perioperative period. By obtaining a graduate degree in nurse anesthesia, individuals can secure employment opportunities with hospitals, medical facilities and physician offices as well as develop expertise in areas such as critical care medicine and pain management.

Benefits Of Pursuing A Graduate Degree In Nursing

Can include higher salary potential, increased career opportunities, enhanced problem-solving skills, and greater depth of knowledge. Pursue a graduate degree in nursing to unlock even more rewarding opportunities – read on.

Higher Salary Potential

Higher salary potential is one of the primary benefits of pursuing a graduate degree in nursing. As nurses get higher levels of education, they can expect to earn more money and command greater respect within their workplace.

According to PayScale, nurses holding an MSN typically earn between $64K-$103K annually, depending on their area of specialization and geographic location. Those with a DNP may increase their earning potential with salaries ranging from $94K-$122K per year. A PhD opens up the possibility for even higher salaries, which often exceed the six-figure mark.

Increased Career Opportunities

Pursuing a graduate degree in nursing can open up many new career opportunities for adult college students. With advanced training and knowledge, graduates may be eligible to pursue leadership roles such as nurse information or nurse educator, or specialized positions such as family nurse practitioner or clinical nurse leader. A higher level of education also makes nurses more competitive when applying for higher paying jobs, such as administrators or health care directors.

Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills

Gaining a graduate degree in nursing can help individuals hone their problem-solving capabilities. Nurses with advanced degrees were trained to assess situations critically and objectively, enabling them to develop creative solutions that may not be apparent from the surface. These skills allow nurses to make effective decisions regardless of the complexity of the situation at hand.

Graduate level nursing programs provide students with an understanding of how health care systems function, equipping them with foundational knowledge on which they can draw when faced with challenging problems. These degrees emphasize critical thinking and evidence-based practice, which give nurses greater insight into medical conditions and treatments for each.

With a graduate level nursing program under their belts, nurses will also have access to groundbreaking technologies such as AI-driven decision support systems, making it easier for them to deal with complex healthcare scenarios while providing quality patient care. In addition, those who pursue advanced degrees have access to exclusive professional networks which further facilitates collaboration among peers and experts within the field thus further increasing problem solving capability.

Greater Depth Of Knowledge

A graduate level nursing degree helps nurses to gain a greater depth of knowledge that is in-depth and accurate. It provides students with the opportunity to learn about evidence-based practice, data analysis, research methods, clinical procedures and professional standards. Having a deep understanding of health care policies allows advanced practice nurses to make informed decisions in healthcare settings. Graduates from such programs are better prepared for creating high quality patient care plans and providing more effective treatments.

Graduate level nursing degrees also require mastering specialties that significantly expand one’s area of expertise. Core courses like pathophysiology, pharmacology, genetics and epidemiology give nurses the ability to accurately diagnose illnesses and develop treatment protocols. Newer technologies such as telemedicine further enhance their skills by teaching them how to provide remote patient support services or manage virtual health clinics. Through these types of graduate level programs it becomes easier for nurses to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in healthcare which can help them become leaders within the profession.

Requirements For Pursuing A Graduate Degree In Nursing

Bachelor’s Degree In Nursing

A bachelor’s degree in nursing is the minimum educational requirement for pursuing a graduate-level nursing degree. Most colleges, universities and healthcare institutions do require applicants to possess either a diploma in nursing or an associate’s degree from an accredited institution before enrolling in their program. A Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) typically requires students to complete four years of study with coursework focused on medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and nutrition.

It is important that prospective students chose a BSN program that meets the required accreditation standards set forth by their chosen college/university and state board of nursing. Additionally, most schools do require applicants to have earned satisfactory scores on entrance examinations such as the SAT/ACT and possible GRE prior to admission into the undergraduate program. It should be noted that many employers are now offering preferential hiring status traits for those individuals who hold both undergraduate and graduate degrees from accredited programs due to increased competition amongst job seekers for available roles within the field.

Nursing Licensure

Nursing licensure is an important step to pursuing a graduate-level nursing degree. This is because most master’s degree in nursing require applicants to be already licensed nurses, with the exception of accelerated programs for non-nurses. To become a registered nurse, individuals must complete the appropriate state requirements and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Different states may have other requirements that must be met before one can obtain their license.

Applicants who do not meet these requirements will typically need to go back into undergraduate school and take additional courses that prepare them to pursue further education in nursing at a graduate level. It also helps if potential students research each state’s licensing laws so they understand what is needed ahead of time. Ultimately, having your RN license early on will help you apply to various graduate nursing programs sooner rather than later.

Graduate Entrance Exams

For those wishing to attain a graduate-level nursing degree, you’ll likely be required to take either the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Miller Analogy Test (MAT). The GRE measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

The MAT is a 60-minute exam that evaluates students’ knowledge of analogies and their ability to analyze information. Both exams are offered in both computer-based and paper format.

Scoring high on your entrance examination will help get into competitive programs with limited enrollment spots. It’s important to study for these exams well in advance so that you can submit your applications with confidence!

Program Cost And Length

Earning a graduate degree in nursing can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. The costs of a graduate program may vary depending on the institution, type of degree, and other factors.

An MSN or PhD may typically take two to three years to complete while a DNP usually requires four or more years of study. Financial aid is available for those who qualify and scholarships are offered by many universities and organizations.

It’s important to evaluate all available options when planning for the cost associated with pursuing a Graduate Level Nursing Degree. Additionally, due to the nature of these programs, most coursework must be completed onsite which means students should have some flexibility with their location and daily schedule in order to accommodate their studies.

Specializations And Certifications

Pursuing a graduate-level nursing degree can provide the opportunity to specialize in an area of interest. Common specializations include gerontology, oncology, informatics, women’s health and pediatrics.

Specialization courses build skills that are relevant to advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists. Many nursing schools offer specialty certifications in addition to completing the degree requirements.

These certifications demonstrate advanced knowledge and clinical competency in specialized areas such as critical care, cardiology or emergency medicine. Obtaining certification requires successful completion of both didactic and practicum experiences under the guidance of faculty members within the specialty field.


When exploring graduate level nursing degrees, it is important to think about where the program is located. There are many programs available online or near a student’s existing home location. Online programs provide the flexibility of studying from home and may not require relocation. However campus based programs can provide an advantage for those looking for more hands-on training and support networks with professors and other students. Additionally, nurses may want to consider state laws when selecting a school, as different states have different licensure requirements that may impact their career path in the future.

For those looking to pursue an advanced degree in nursing while still attending classes near their current residence, there are options like universities and hospitals offering specialized courses relevant to nurse practitioners or nurse educators, ensuring they gain the right skill set without having to relocate elsewhere. Aspiring nurses should research all their choices thoroughly before making their decision on which type of school best fits their needs and lifestyle.

Tips For Choosing The Right Graduate Level Nursing Degree Program

Pursuing a graduate degree in nursing can be a rewarding experience, but it is important to take time to research and find the right program for your professional goals and interests. Read on to learn more about tips for choosing the perfect graduate level nursing degree program!

Research Available Degree Programs

Researching graduate level nursing programs is important for college students who are interested in taking their career to the next level. Knowing what type of program best fits individual needs can be overwhelming, but there are a variety of resources available to help narrow the search.

Websites like Graduate Programs and American Association of Colleges of Nursing enable individuals to compare degree types, specializations, locations, tuition costs and length of courses. Taking advantage of free webinars or virtual college tours can also give potential students greater insight into which program is right for them. Additionally, talking with current students or other nurses in the healthcare field may provide valuable insights on individual experiences with different academic programs.

Compare Tuition Costs

Comparing tuition costs can be one of the most important factors when choosing a graduate level nursing degree program. Most programs list their tuition online, so it’s easy to compare prices between schools and find the best fit for your budget. Additionally, scholarships and grants may be available from individual schools or professional organizations that could drastically reduce the overall cost of attending a particular school.

Consider Professional Goals

Professionals seeking to advance their nursing career should consider their goals before choosing the right graduate level program. Knowing what type of role they aspire to and what fields within nursing they are most interested in will help narrow down options and find courses that best fit those goals.

Students should also take into account whether they want an online or on-site degree, as these can vary considerably depending on location. Researching available programs is the best way to ensure the chosen course meets all aspirations and expectations.

Review The Time Commitments

Time commitment is an important factor to consider when selecting a graduate level nursing degree program. Listed below are the approximate lengths of each type of degree: MSN, two years; DNP, three years; and PhD, four to five years.

It is important to remember that programs vary in length and can be full or part-time. Additionally, some students opt for an accelerated track which allows them to complete the program in a shorter period than expected. It is essential that you fully understand the requirements before enrolling in any graduate level nursing program.

Consider The Specialization Options

It is important to think about the available specializations when exploring graduate level nursing degree programs. Most MSN and DNP programs offer a variety of specialty tracks, such as family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, executive leader and more. Students should research their specialization options to determine which best fits their interests and career goals.

Some master’s in nursing online programs also offer dual degree programs or post-master’s certificates that allow students to earn two degrees or certifications simultaneously. Keeping this in mind can help enhance your list of qualifications as you pursue a rewarding career in the field of nursing. Additionally, some specialized certification organizations require nurses to complete certain prerequisites prior to becoming certified.

Examine The Job Opportunities

Finding job opportunities after graduating with a graduate degree in nursing is one of the biggest deciding factors in choosing a program and specialization. Many graduate programs offer resources to help you find work such as job postings, resume reviews, and interviews with employers.

Researching potential job openings before selecting a program can provide insight into what jobs are available after receiving your degree. Additionally, looking up potential salaries for different types of positions can help you determine if the time and cost investment will be worthwhile. Being aware of these details prior to enrolling in a graduate nursing program can save students from future disappointment should it not meet their expectations or needs.

Consider The Location Of The Program

For adult college students considering a graduate level nursing degree, the location of their program is an important factor to consider. Many programs offer online classes or even hybrid courses where some of the lectures are executed in-person and the rest are taken remotely. This allows students who have other obligations to pursue their studies without compromising too much on them. Additionally, if a student wants to get hands-on experience with an internship or residency program, they would need to make sure that they can travel back and forth between those locations and school easily if necessary.

Students should also take into consideration any specific clinical requirements for completing their degree when picking out a location for their graduate studies. Some states may require more training hours than others, which could alter what sort of opportunities may be available within certain miles from either home or campus. It’s also important for students to keep in mind any licensing restrictions outside of one’s state as many will prefer employers that hold valid national certifications instead of simply local ones.

Ask For Advice From Current Students/experienced Nurses

When considering a graduate level nursing program, it’s essential to seek out advice from current students and experienced nurses. These individuals can provide important insights on course workloads, potential for career advancement within a particular specialty, and more.

They may also be able to recommend other helpful resources such as job postings or internship opportunities, which can be invaluable when seeking the right opportunity after graduation. Additionally, connecting with established professionals in the field often opens up doors to mentorships and networking opportunities that will pay off in the future.

Check The Credibility Of The Program

When researching graduate level nursing degree programs, it is important to ensure that the program is accredited by a reputable accrediting agency, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission. It also helps to read reviews and learn more about faculty members in order to know what type of instruction and guidance one can expect to receive during their studies.

Speak with current students and alumni for their first-hand accounts about the quality of the program. Doing thorough research can help adult college students make an informed decision when choosing a graduate level nursing degree program.


Graduate level nursing degrees offer a wealth of benefits, from higher salary potential and increased career opportunities to enhanced problem solving skills. To make sure you choose the right graduate-level program for your needs and goals, it’s important to consider tuition costs, time commitments, specialization options, job opportunities in the field, location of the school and credibility of the program as well as get advice from current students or experienced nurses. With careful research and planning anyone can find an excellent graduate degree program that will help them reach their professional aspirations!

Diane Swanson

Diane has been a professional blogger for more than a decade and has always loved the field of nursing. The information provided in her articles are not medical or legal advice.

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