What Are the Requirements for a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

Summary: The requirements for a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) vary from school to school, but in general most programs look for applicants with similar characteristics. Minimum GPA, completion of prerequisites and previous degrees are all typical academic requirements, but to stand out in the applicant pool you’ll also need to demonstrate why you’d make a good nurse in your personal statement and other application materials.

MSN student smiling at camera with text: what you need for a masters degree in nursing

Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing is a wise move for your future if you’d like to pursue one of the advanced practice nursing careers. With a master’s in nursing, graduates have many options including being a leader at the bedside or continuing on to pursue advanced practice nursing careers. But before you can do that, you must first meet a set of requirements for a master’s degree in nursing at your program of choice.

You may be surprised to learn that in some cases, such as with the Marquette University Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program, you do not need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to qualify for enrollment; instead, you can apply with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing, in addition to other academic requirements, which we’ll discuss below.

Additionally, because many nursing programs are so competitive due to the demand for more nurses in the workforce, you’ll want to do all you can to make yourself stand out from other applicants who meet these academic requirements. To help you compile the most competitive possible application, we examine what nursing schools like Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program look for in applicants and offer tips for making your nursing school application stand out.

MSN Program Requirements

While master’s in nursing requirements vary based on school and program focus, most tend to seek out similar characteristics in applicants, such as a minimum GPA, completion of prerequisites and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, for example. It’s important to also keep in mind that meeting these minimum requirements doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get into any MSN program you apply to; rather, it will ensure you’re minimally qualified for admission.

Your previous educational and professional background also will determine what type of MSN program you’d need to apply for, and thus what requirements you’d need to meet in order to qualify for enrollment. For example, those interested in an RN to MSN program need to hold a registered nursing (RN) license, while those who wish to pursue a BSN to MSN program must have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program prior to applying for a master’s in nursing program.

For the purposes of this blog, however, we are going to focus on a third educational option for non-nurses looking to earn an MSN: direct-entry MSN programs.

Below, we’ll look at the minimum requirements for the Marquette University Direct-Entry MSN program as an example. In general, those who haven’t previously studied nursing school should expect to meet the following requirements:

  • Have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in your conferred Baccalaureate Degree.
  • Hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  • Complete all prerequisite courses with grades of “C” or higher.

Prior Undergraduate Degree

As mentioned above, most MSN programs require an undergraduate degree, but depending on the program type you choose, you may be eligible to enroll in an MSN program with an RN license (i.e. RN to MSN, which does not require a BSN).

Others, such as BSN to MSN programs, do require a BSN to qualify for enrollment; however, because the Marquette Direct Entry MSN curriculum is tailored to the needs of students without prior nursing education, we cannot accept BSN holders into our program.

MSN without a BSN

Learn how you can earn an MSN without a BSN through our Direct Entry MSN program.

Prerequisites for a Master’s in Nursing

Most MSN programs also require prospective students to complete a set of prerequisite courses prior to enrollment to ensure students have a strong foundation in the sciences, that nursing courses build upon. These preliminary courses set the foundation for what you need to know to begin your MSN journey, but how many you are required to take depends on your previous academic history. For example, those with a previous non-nursing Bachelor of Science degree likely will not have to take as many as someone with a Bachelor of Arts, due to their prior degree’s heavier emphasis on science courses.

Prerequisite courses for a Master of Science in Nursing degree program will vary but usually include the following:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Statistics
  • Abnormal Psychology

As for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program, you must complete the below series of prerequisite courses, earning grades of “C” or higher within the past five years before qualifying for enrollment:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology or Microbiology
  • Nutrition for Health Sciences
  • Behavioral Sciences: Psychology or Sociology
  • Statistics, including inferential analysis

It’s also important to note that for some of the accelerated MSN prerequisites, you can choose what course you want to take. If you completed a similar class as part of your baccalaureate education, ask your admissions adviser about credits that fulfill prerequisite requirements.

Steps to becoming a nurse

Take a deep dive into each of the accelerated MSN prerequisite courses and learn how they help lay the educational foundation for our Direct Entry MSN curriculum in this blog post.

GPA to Get into Master’s in Nursing Program

While GPA requirements differ from program to program, many MSN programs require a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA. That is the case for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program; to be admitted into our 19- to 21-month accelerated MSN track, you must hold a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher in your conferred Baccalaureate Degree.

Do I need to take the GRE to get into an MSN program?
Before applying to an MSN program, verify if passing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with a minimum score is a requirement, and plan to register well ahead of the school’s application deadline. Some schools waive this requirement if your GPA is above a certain threshold, so you may not have to sit for the exam.

Note: The GRE is not a requirement for applying to the Marquette Direct-Entry MSN program.

What Do Nursing Schools Look for in Applicants?

Now that we’ve addressed the academic requirements for getting into an MSN program, it’s also important to discuss the soft skills nursing programs look for in applicants. While grades and academic history are certainly important factors for weighing your aptitude for excelling within a master’s in nursing program, other general qualities can help you stand out among other applicants.

For example, Dr. Kathleen Muglia, DNP, APRN, CPNP, clinical associate professor and director of the Direct Entry MSN program, says applicants who embody the qualities of “the Marquette Nurse” are ideal candidates for the Direct-Entry MSN program.

“Marquette really looks for someone who is ready to make that transition to a nursing career and understands what nursing is,” she says. “We’re looking for applicants who are good thinkers, who are strong in the sciences, who enjoy working with people, and who are able to reflect on what their strengths are and where their challenges are.”

Below, we’ll look at four qualities of successful nursing students, explain why they’re beneficial to your nursing education and offer tips for demonstrating them in the admissions process.

infographic of the marquette nurse difference defined


Why it matters: To succeed in our five-semester Direct-Entry MSN program, you can expect to devote upwards of 60 hours a week to your education. After all, our hybrid accelerated curriculum comprises a rigorous blend of nursing theory coursework, nursing skills and simulation labs and clinical rotations in diverse practice areas.

All of this is to say that succeeding in an accelerated MSN program will require a concentrated effort; having the ability to explain why you want to pursue such a challenging academic endeavor will help bolster your application and guide discussions with your admissions adviser.

How to demonstrate it: Underscoring your passion for nursing and the personal reasons why you want to advance your education can go a long way toward illustrating your self-discipline and drive for entering the profession. Remembering your “why” can also get you far during the rigors of the program and help you stay motivated through its fast-paced structure.  

Drawing from your previous life experiences can also show your commitment to challenging pursuits that matter to you. For example, it would be worth mentioning to your admissions adviser if you were on a competitive sports team during your undergraduate years or saw a meaningful long-term project through completion as part of your previous career.


Why it matters: As mentioned above, ideal applicants for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program are those who possess the qualities of the Marquette Nurse. Among those is empathy, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Along with compassion, this type of emotional intelligence is an essential trait in nursing, as nurses must be able to connect with patients from diverse backgrounds and circumstances to excel.

As a student in our MSN program, you can expect to have direct interactions with patients beginning your first semester. Throughout the program, you’ll complete approximately 700 clinical practicum hours, working with and learning alongside registered nurses and other healthcare providers experienced in establishing empathetic connections with patients.

How to demonstrate it: While by no means a requirement for acceptance into our program, volunteer or paid work in a hospital or healthcare setting can show your experience relating to patients and their families and would be worthy of a mention in your resume or personal statement. Other types of non-healthcare related volunteer work can also demonstrate your desire and commitment to caring for others in these written portions of your nursing school application.

Communication Skills

Why it matters: Throughout the admissions process for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program you’ll be in contact with a dedicated admissions adviser. While this person does not make the final decision on whether you are accepted into the program, it’s important to demonstrate strong communication skills with them throughout the application process.

Your initial call begins with communicating why you feel you’d be a good fit for the program, with subsequent conversations centered on keeping you on task throughout the application process — from completing any prerequisite courses to submitting application materials on time for your target start date.

Strong communication skills will also take you far once you get into nursing school. As a nursing student (and eventually as a nurse), you’ll be expected to communicate with patients, family members and fellow healthcare providers during clinicals. Communication with instructors and members of your cohort during online courses and labs will also be vital.

How to demonstrate it: If you ever had to give presentations as part of your prior career or educational path, you can apply the verbal communication skills you picked up to your advantage when applying to nursing school. Knowing how to organize your thoughts and stay on message will also help guide you as you compose the written components of your application (see tips specific to making your nursing school application stand out below).

Organizational Skills

Why it matters: Even before you’re accepted into our program, you’ll need to stay on top of all the requirements and application deadlines, including those for submitting your official academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.

The organizational skills you demonstrate during the application process will also serve you well as you navigate the rigors of our program as a nursing student, when you’ll be asked to balance multiple assignment deadlines with lab and exam schedules in addition to clinical requirements.

How to demonstrate it: While your admissions adviser will be there each step of the admissions process, staying organized can help ensure the process goes smoothly. You can do this by taking notes during your conversations with your adviser, bookmarking email exchanges and storing all physical information about the program in one place (i.e. a folder or binder).

How to Make Your Nursing School Application Stand Out

While the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program can enroll more students per year than many traditional MSN programs due to our accelerated learning model and three start dates per year, it’s still important to find ways to make your application rise above the rest. As we mentioned above, many applicants to our nursing program share similar academic qualifications.

To help your application stand out, consult these tips when completing the main application components: letters of recommendation, resume and personal statement.

Nursing School Letter of Recommendation Tips

Some MSN programs require a reference letter as part of their application for enrollment. This is intended to help the admissions team learn more about your work ethic and character from the perspective of people you’ve worked with in the past.

While a former professor from your undergraduate degree program or employee or colleague can write this letter for you (it’s generally advised to skip asking family members for this piece of correspondence), there are some best practices you can follow to ensure he or she writes an effective recommendation:

  • Ask early. Consider one to three people who would be good candidates for writing your recommendation. As a courtesy, it’s best to approach them early, and in-person if you can — ideally at least a month before application deadline — so they have enough time to write an effective letter that presents you as a strong MSN program candidate.
  • Give guidance. Provide recommendation letter writers with a brief description of your educational goals, professional endeavors, and any specific directions for the letter. Doing so will help guide their writing and understand why advancing your nursing education is important to you, why you’d make a good MSN student, and what information they are expected to give.
  • Keep it concise. Length isn’t necessarily as important in a nursing recommendation letter; most institutions can get a sense for your qualifications in one page.
  • Offer examples. If your recommendation writer isn’t a natural wordsmith or is pressed for time, having a template to work from or consult can help. There are plenty of resources online for writing nursing student recommendation letters, including this article from Indeed.
marquette instructor with two nursing students

Nursing School Resume Tips

Including a compilation of your education, work experience, credentials and accomplishments, resumes give the admissions committee a snapshot of your background. Some MSN programs may also accept a Curricula Vitae (CV) in place of a resume.

This document should highlight your strengths and previous positions while emphasizing skills that are relevant to advanced nursing practice. Prior healthcare experience is certainly an asset to include in your nursing school resume, but it’s not a requirement for getting into the Marquette Direct-Entry MSN program.

If you’re stuck on where to start, it helps to think of some of the qualities mentioned above that the Marquette Nurse possess. For example, pointing out your management experience in a different field can illustrate your ability to lead a team, while your community service efforts can demonstrate your compassion and care for others.

  • Consult a template. If you don’t have an up-to-date resume, just as with examples of effective letters of recommendation, you can find various nursing school resume templates online to help you get started.
  • Pay attention to length. Your resume is intended to offer a high-level overview of your experiences.One page is generally an ideal length and more than enough space to present your qualifications.
  • Triple check your work. If you have a current resume, triple check that it has the most recent and accurate information regarding your experience. Have a trusted family member or friend proofread your resume for grammatical and typographical errors.

Nursing School Personal Statement Tips

A personal statement is a common part of the graduate nursing school application process. It is your opportunity to outline your professional goals and reasons for pursuing graduate studies, in addition to answering different questions or prompts from the admissions committee.

The best place to start for guidance on writing this piece to include in your nursing school application is your school’s website or online application. Once you know the school’s expectations for this document, you can take steps to ensure yours stands out from the others that the admissions committee will receive:

  • Share your story. The goal of the personal statement is to present yourself as a committed professional capable of caring for others — don’t sell yourself short! Specific and unique examples of why you feel you’d make a good nurse, such as past work or volunteer experience or the moment you realized you wanted to become a nurse, are always good to include and can help you stand out. If your path to nursing school took a non-traditional route, that could also be worth noting.
  • Stay on message. Before you begin writing, it can be helpful to determine your main message, or thesis, and outline your key points. Some schools may have a firm word count limit, so it’s important to get to the point using clear, concise and strong language. Once you’ve completed your essay, have someone you trust proofread your work and offer fresh perspective.

Are You Ready to Apply to an MSN Program?

As you can see, each nursing school has a unique set of admissions requirements and looks for different qualities in their applicants. When it comes to the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program, we consider your academic history as well as your commitment to nursing school and the profession.

If you’re ready to advance your nursing education and would like to know if you have what it takes to succeed in our accelerated nursing program, reach out to our admissions team today.

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