Direct-Entry Programs

Direct-Entry Programs

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

June 23, 2022

There are some people who grow up wanting to become nurses and others who find their way to nursing during or after college. Colleges that have recognized that there can be nursing potential in those who have completed non-nursing bachelor’s degrees offer what is called a direct-entry Master’s in Nursing (MSN) program.

What is a direct-entry MSN program?

A direct-entry MSN program is for individuals with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree who would like to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) or even as an advanced practice nurse (APRN). APRNs are RNs who have earned their master’s degree. They include Nurse Practitioners, nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.

How does it differ from a regular MSN program?

Direct-entry programs specifically cater to non-traditional students. Programs are designed to provide generalist-level nursing courses before moving on to more advanced and specialized material. Because there is more to cover, these programs are longer and/or more intensive to get you up to the same level as those who have a BSN.

What are the prerequisites?

Direct-entry MSN programs may sound all inclusive, but you still need to have satisfied several prerequisites to apply. All quality programs will require that you have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a recognized college or university and averaged a 3.0 GPA or better.

Each program will also require that you have taken a specific set of subjects, for which they expect a minimum grade of C. For example, UCLA’s Master’s Entry Clinical Nurse (MECN) program is one of the country’s top direct-entry programs. They require completion of approved prerequisite courses in the following subjects: chemistry, epidemiology, human anatomy, human physiology, microbiology, nutrition, intro to psychology, lifespan development psychology and statistics, along with English composition or writing (2 courses) and group and/or verbal communication.

It is worth pointing out that subject requirements will likely vary by program. For example, the Vanderbilt School of Nursing PreSpecialty Master’s Entry program, requires 6 subjects compared to UCLA’s 11 subjects. Vanderbilt requires: human anatomy, human physiology, microbiology, lifespan development/developmental psychology (course that covers lifespan from birth to death), statistics and nutrition. That’s not to say Vanderbilt requires less – they require many semester hours per subject – but they do have a more focused set of prerequisites.

These differences should highlight that there will be programs that will be a better (or worse) fit for your existing transcript. It will also highlight coursework that you will need to complete during or after your bachelor’s to get into the program of your choice.

Will my degree mean less than a ‘true’ MSN?

By the time you have completed your program (or in some cases during your program), you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX) to be licensed as a registered nurse (RN). Depending on the program, you may also be eligible for additional certification exams. For example, graduates from UCLA’s program are also qualified to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam given by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and, if they desire, they may also apply for a Public Health Nursing Certificate from the California Board of Registered Nursing. In short, you should have all the same opportunities as those who went the traditional nursing route.


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