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Post-Master's Certificate vs. MSN

Ready to Level Up In Your Healthcare Career?
Get started on a Post-Master's Certificate or an MSN from WGU.

Post-Master's Certificate or MSN?

If you’re a registered nurse looking to take the next step in your nursing career, there are two distinct options available to you: an MSN or a post-master's certificate. Choosing which program is right for you mainly depends on your academic experience.

A master’s degree in nursing (MSN) program is designed for registered nurses who hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). This program provides a more comprehensive education and prepares you for leadership roles in a variety of healthcare settings. An MSN program typically includes coursework in advanced nursing theory, research, and clinical practice.

A post-master's certificate is a specialized program designed for nurses who already hold a master's degree in nursing. This program allows you to gain advanced knowledge and skills in a specific area of nursing practice. It’s a great option for those who want to advance their career in a specific field, such as nursing education, nursing informatics, or nursing leadership.

If you already hold a master’s degree in nursing and want to specialize in a specific area, then a post-master's certificate may be the right choice for you. If you have a BSN and want to advance your career in a leadership role, then an MSN program would be the better option. Taking your nursing education to the next level can open a world of opportunities that will allow you to earn more, be a stronger job candidate, and make a positive impact on the healthcare industry.

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing and master's degree program in nursing at WGU are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org).

The post-graduate APRN certificate program at WGU is pursuing initial accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Applying for accreditation does not guarantee that accreditation will be granted.

What is a a Post-Master’s Certificate?

Post-master's certificate (PMC) programs are designed for individuals who already hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree as well as an RN license and want to deepen their knowledge in a specialized nursing practice. 

A post-master's certificate program is particularly useful for nurses who may want to add another specialization to their résumé and have the option to move into other areas of nursing. It allows students the flexibility to focus specifically on the courses of an MSN program that are relevant to their area of interest or expertise, tailoring their education to their career goals. 

What is an MSN Program?

An MSN program is a great option for registered nurses who already hold a BSN degree as well as an RN license and are looking to advance their nursing career by earning a master’s degree. This post-baccalaureate program gives students the opportunity to gain expert-level knowledge and skills in nursing theory, healthcare-related research, and clinical practice.

There are different specializations you can focus on by enrolling in an MSN program, including those of a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse educator, and nurse executive. Each specialization offers a unique set of courses and clinical experiences that allow students to find the best fit for their career goals.

No matter which MSN program you choose, you can expect to take core classes in advanced nursing practice, healthcare delivery systems, healthcare policy, and leadership. MSN students will also gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations in a variety of healthcare settings.

How Long Does a Post-Master's Certificate Take?

.5-2 years

Post-master's certificate programs can vary drastically in length but typically take six months to two years. Some programs have fixed completion times due to clinical requirements, but many offer courses allowing students to complete their education at an accelerated pace. 

How Long Does an MSN Program Take? Differences

2-3 years

MSN programs usually range from two to three years, depending on the program and the pace at which you move through the academic materials. Due to your set clinical schedule, your ability to accelerate through the program is limited. Clinical rotations are an essential component of any MSN program, giving students the opportunity to clock hands-on experience in different healthcare settings.

What Courses are in a Post-Master's Certificate Program?

Post-master's certificate programs will include unique specialty courses based on the type of degree you are earning. Post-master's certificate programs don’t contain MSN core coursework and will generally just focus on the main specialty courses. Some examples of post-master's certificate coursework include:

  • Emerging Trends and Challenges in 21st Century Nursing Education
  • Nursing Education Field Experience
  • Nursing Education Capstone
  • Business Case Analysis for Healthcare Improvement
  • Strategically Planning the Execution of a Healthcare Improvement Project
  • Advanced Pathophysiology for the Advanced Practice Nurse
  • Advanced Psychiatric Mental Health Care of Children and Adolescents Across Care Settings

Students will also be able to have clinical experiences, internships, and capstone projects in their post-master's certificate program. One of the advantages of these programs is that students don’t have to retake MSN core coursework. Instead, they can focus specifically on courses that are relevant to their specialty.

 

What Courses are in an MSN Program?  

An MSN program covers topics such as advanced nursing practice, healthcare delivery systems, healthcare policy, and leadership. Courses include:

  • Nursing  Research
  • Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment

In addition to specialty courses, MSN programs also include core coursework. These are designed to reinforce and expand your existing knowledge in nursing theory, research, and clinical practice.

 

What Can I Do with a Post-Master's Certificate?

This type of academic program can provide you with advanced knowledge and skills that will help you grow in your nursing career. For individuals who already hold an MSN, a post-master's certificate may be a way to add an additional accolade to your résumé and help give you a competitive edge in the hiring process. You’ll become more desirable compared to less experienced candidates when applying for roles as a nurse educator, nurse manager, or even a nurse practitioner. Whether you want to deepen your expertise in your current nursing specialty or add new skills to your arsenal, a post-master's certificate can help you achieve your goals.

What Can I Do with an MSN Program?

Earning an MSN degree can give you access to a plethora of high-paying career opportunities in the nursing field. Some of the most common career paths for MSN graduates include nurse manager, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, and clinical nurse specialist. Nurse managers are responsible for overseeing a healthcare facility or department. Nurse educators shape and have a positive impact on future nurses. Anesthetists or nurse practitioners provide direct patient care and prescribe medications under certain circumstances. Clinical nurse specialists are experts in clinical care who provide consultation to patients and other healthcare professionals.

Post-Master's Certificate Programs at a Glance

Nursing Education – Post-Master's Certificate

A specialty certificate in nursing education for nurses with MSNs....

A specialty certificate in nursing education for nurses with MSNs.

This program will prepare you to teach the next generation of nurses.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 8 total courses in this program.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing Faculty
  • Program Director
  • Academic Clinical Nurse Educator

Hospitals and other facilities need nurse educators. Earn your Post-Master's Certificate in Nursing Education and step into a role inspiring and empowering caregivers. This program will prepare you to sit for the National League for Nursing Certified Nurse Executive (CNE) exam.

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.
  • Courses: 8 total courses in this program.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Family Nurse Practitioner – Post-Master's Certificate

This is a program for individuals who already have an MSN and are looking...

This is a program for individuals who already have an MSN and are looking to now become a family nurse practitioner with a post-master's certificate program.

  • Locations: Due to the clinical requirements of this degree program, the FNP is currently NOT available to students who have a permanent residence in the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington.
  • Time: 2 years or less
  • Tuition: $6,252 per six-month term.
  • Courses: 10 total courses in this program.

Students must have a permanent and active license from a state that is not listed above, must complete the internships in that state, and intend to obtain initial APRN licensure in that state. See more state-specific information related to nursing licensure. Compact licenses must be endorsed by your state of residence. More about compact licenses.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – Post-Master's Certificate

This program is for current RNs who already have earned an MSN and are...

This program is for current RNs who already have earned an MSN and are wanting to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner through a post-master's certificate program.

  • Locations: Due to the clinical requirements of this degree program, the PMHNP post-master's certificate program at WGU is currently NOT open to students who have a permanent residence in the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Time: 2 years or less
  • Tuition and fees: $6,625 per six-month term.
  • Courses: 11 total courses in this program.

This program is for current RNs who have earned their MSN but are wanting to add a specilization to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. This post-master's certificate program is only available in select states.

Students must have a permanent and active license from a state that is not listed above, must complete the internships in that state, and intend to obtain initial APRN licensure in that state. See more state-specific information related to nursing licensure. Compact licenses must be endorsed by your state of residence. More about compact licenses.

"Absolutely the best school I have ever attended. I love this school so much I decided to go back for a second Masters degree. All the online information is easy to access and the professors are readily available."

—Jennifer Michael
M.S. Nursing - Leadership and Management (BSN-MSN)

MSN Programs at a Glance

Nursing – Education (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This MSN – Education online nursing program for RNs includes a BSN program...

This MSN – Education online nursing program for RNs includes a BSN program component and is a substantial leap forward for an aspiring nurse educator.

  • Time: 73% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 32 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for current RNs who are looking to earn both their BSN and MSN in a single, accelerated program.

Sample careers and jobs this online nursing degree will prepare you for:

  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing Faculty
  • Program Director
  • Academic Clinical Nurse Educator

Given the growing nurse educator shortage, earning your MSN with a focus in education is both a rewarding decision and a solid career move.

Nursing – Education (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

A master's in nursing education program for nurses with BSNs....

A master's in nursing education program for nurses with BSNs.

This degree will prepare you to teach the next generation of nurses.

  • Time: 64% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 15 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for RNs who already have their BSN and are ready to progress in their career.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Nurse Educator
  • Nursing Faculty
  • Program Director
  • Academic Clinical Nurse Educator

Hospitals and other facilities need nurse educators. Earn your MSN – Education and step into a role inspiring and empowering caregivers.

Nursing – Nursing Informatics (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

A nursing program that empowers data-driven nurses with a BSN and MSN...

A nursing program that empowers data-driven nurses with a BSN and MSN component, allowing them to go from RN to MSN.

  • Time:  67% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 36 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 31 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for currently licensed RNs who are looking to earn a bachelor's degree and a master's degree at an accelerated pace.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Chief Nursing Informatics Officer
  • Informatics Director
  • Nursing Informatics Specialist
  • Informatics Analyst

The trajectory of data and informatics in healthcare will continually open opportunities for registered nurses who take this path.

Nursing – Nursing Informatics (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

A nursing degree program that empowers data-driven nurses who already have...

A nursing degree program that empowers data-driven nurses who already have a BSN but seek the success a master's can bring:

  • Time:  72% of grads finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 14 total courses in this program.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Chief Nursing Informatics Officer
  • Informatics Director
  • Nursing Informatics Specialist
  • Informatics Analyst

The trajectory of data and informatics in healthcare will continually open opportunities for nurses who take this path.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 32 total courses in this program.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality. This program is ideal for current RNs who are interested in earning both their BSn and MSN in an accelerated program.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for additional career opportunities.

  • Time: 68% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 15 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for current RNs who have a BSN and are ready for the next step in their education.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Why WGU?

Earning Potential

A PMHNP or FNP degree from WGU can dramatically impact your earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners make an average salary of $111,680 annually. For PMHNPs working in a hospital, the average pay is around  $124,660 per year.* Keep in mind that other factors can also affect the salary you earn in these careers, such as geographical location, and years of experience.


*BLS data

On Your Schedule

Competency-based education means you can move as quickly through your degree as you can master the material. You don't have to log in to classes at a certain time—you are truly in the driver's seat of your education.

Flexible Online Programs

The Coursework for the FNP and PMHNP programs at WGU are completed online, but both programs include on-site clinicals. Complete your coursework at night, after work, on weekends, or even while traveling..

"WGU has a wonderful learning platform where you can learn and succeed at your own pace, and they have mentors and course instructors to guide you along the way.

—Breann Dickey
M.S. Nursing

Prepared for Success on the Job

*From a 2022 Harris Poll of 300 employers of WGU graduates.

97% of employers said that WGU graduates were prepared for their jobs.*

95% of employers said that they would hire another WGU grad.*

99% of employers said WGU graduates met or exceeded expectations.*