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

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two nursing students at table studying

Pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree is a wise move for your future if you’d like to pursue one of the wide range of advanced practice nursing careers. With a master’s in nursing, graduates have options from being better equipped for nursing leadership to pursuing advanced practice nursing certifications and careers. But before you move forward with the opportunity that a MSN degree affords, you must first meet a set of admissions requirements for your program of choice.

You may be surprised to learn that in some cases, such as with Marquette University’s 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 will discuss below.

Then, 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. We also offer tips for making your nursing school application stand out.

6 Common Requirements for a Master’s in Nursing

While master’s degree in nursing admission 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. 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 qualified for admission.

Your background will determine what type of MSN program you’d need to apply for, and thus what requirements you’ll need to meet in order to qualify for enrollment. For example, program types include RN to MSN, BSN to MSN and direct entry MSN.

Marquette University - Debriefing Room

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

Applicants must meet the minimum requirements for any DE-MSN program. The Marquette University Direct Entry MSN program has requirements roughly in-line with some other DE-MSN programs. 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 a competitive grade.

Now we’ll discuss six of the most common requirements for an MSN degree in more detail.

1. 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 look for students with no prior nursing degree or license. That means at Marquette, students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree are eligible for admission.

2. 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. These preliminary courses establish what you need to know to begin your MSN journey Then nursing courses build upon this foundational knowledge. How many you’ll need 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 an MSN degree program will vary but often include material covering the following topics:

  • Anatomy & physiology
  • Human growth and development
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics

As for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program, you must complete the below series of prerequisite courses*, earning competitive grades 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 have some options for the course you want to take. If you completed a similar class as part of your baccalaureate education, ask your admissions adviser whether it will fulfill prerequisite requirements.

*Reach out to an admissions adviser for more specific information on prerequisite course eligibility.

Marquette DE MSN student with manikin

3. GPA Requirement for Master’s in Nursing Program

While master’s nursing 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.

GPA requirements ensure our candidates have enough academic proficiency to succeed in the program. If you are unsure whether you meet the minimum requirement, discuss this with your admissions adviser. If you don’t quite reach 3.0, you can still potentially boost your GPA through success in your prerequisite courses.

4. Entrance Exams

Before applying to an MSN program, verify whether passing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or another entrance exam with a minimum score is a requirement. Marquette University’s DE-MSN program does not require passing the GRE exam, and many other schools do not require it either.

If it is, 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.

Many schools do not have an entrance exam requirement. That’s the case for the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program, as the GRE is not a requirement for applying.

5. Academic Transcripts

Prepare to provide your academic transcripts for all colleges you’ve attended when you apply for a Direct Entry MSN program. The admissions committee will use these to assess your eligibility for the program, your completion of prerequisites and your cumulative GPA. Submitting this documentation before the application deadline is essential to be considered.

6. Healthcare Work Experience

You may be wondering if you need prior work or volunteer experience to be eligible for an MSN program. The answer is that it depends on where you apply. Traditional MSN programs often require a BSN degree plus several years of professional nursing experience before candidates can apply.

However, Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program does not require any previous healthcare experience to be eligible. So, whether you’re transitioning from a prior career as an EMT or as a financial analyst, you can still earn your MSN degree through Marquette.

What Do Nursing Schools Look for in Applicants?

Now that we’ve addressed the academic requirements for a master’s in nursing 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.

nurse standing outside holding a backpack

Marquette looks for applicants who have critical thinking skills and strong science-oriented abilities. It’s also important that you enjoy working with people and you’re continually finding ways to grow and improve.

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.

1. Commitment

Why it matters: To succeed in our five-semester Direct Entry MSN program, you can expect to devote an amount of time commensurate with a full-time job. When choosing our program, you can choose between two separate format options, with the main difference being the ability to complete coursework either online or in-person. Students enrolled at our main Milwaukee campus will complete in-person coursework, and students at our Pleasant Prairie learning site will complete asynchronous hybrid online nursing theory coursework. All exams are proctored on-site for both programs, (Milwaukee and Pleasant Prairie).

Beyond coursework, the accelerated curriculum that all Marquette DE-MSN students will take on (regardless of their respective locations) also includes in-person labs, off-campus clinical courses, and on-campus simulations. Clinical courses range diverse practice areas at top healthcare facilities in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, southern Wisconsin, and northern Illinois.

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. For example, mention to your admissions adviser if you were the first one in your family to attend college or if you maintained a full-time job in your undergraduate years.

2. Empathy

Why it matters: Among the qualities we look for in a Marquette nurse 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. You’ll need to be able to connect with patients from diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

As a student in our MSN program, you can expect to have direct interactions with patients beginning from your second semester. Throughout the program, you will complete hundreds of clinical practicum hours, learning under the guidance of registered nurses and other healthcare professionals 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. Sharing your other non-healthcare related volunteer work can also demonstrate your desire and commitment to caring for others.

3. 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.

In your initial call, you’ll share why you’d be a good fit for the program, and subsequent conversations center 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 communicate with patients, family members and fellow healthcare providers during clinical courses. Communication with instructors and members of your cohort during in-person or online courses and on-site labs will also be vital.

Marquette MSN student Shelby standing by lockers

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.

4. Organizational Skills

Why it matters: Even before you’re accepted into our program, you’ll need to stay on top of all the master’s nursing 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 need to balance multiple assignment deadlines with lab and exam schedules in addition to clinical rotations.

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.

How to Make Your Nursing School Application Stand Out

The Marquette Direct Entry MSN program can enroll more students per year than many traditional MSN programs thanks to our accelerated learning model and three start dates per year — once per year in May at our campus-based program in Milwaukee and two per year at our Direct Entry program learning site in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, which requires coursework completion online. Even so, 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 committee 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 (avoid asking family members), 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, approach them early, and in-person if you can, ideally at least a month before the application deadline. This gives them 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. It’ll show them 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 can help. There are plenty of online resources for writing nursing student recommendation letters, including this article from Indeed.

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.

Your resume should highlight your strengths and previous positions while emphasizing skills relevant to nursing. Prior healthcare experience is certainly an asset to include in your nursing school resume, but it’s not a requirement for a master’s in nursing at Marquette.

closeup of hands writing in journal

If you’re unsure of where to start, it helps to think of some of the qualities of the best nurses. 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.

The best place to start when 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’d make a good nurse, such as past work or volunteer experience or the moment you realized you wanted to become a nurse, 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, determine your main message and outline your key points. Some schools may have a firm word count limit, so 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 a 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 for a master’s in nursing and looks for different qualities in their applicants. When it comes to the Marquette Direct Entry MSN program located in Milwaukee and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, 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.