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The Master of Science in Nursing is the second-highest degree a nursing student can obtain. An MSN follows a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and comes before a terminal nursing degree, like a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing. Family nurse practitioner is a concentration within an MSN degree program.
In the United States alone, there are more than 222,000 nurse practitioners. While only one in 10 registered nurses currently holds a master’s degree,  nearly every nurse practitioner has one.  Why? Most employers seeking to fill entry-level nurse practitioner positions expect at least an MSN,  making it one of the most popular degrees for health care professionals who want more from their nursing careers.
The Master of Science in Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN–FNP) degree is a specialization that registered nurses can seek for their master’s-level education.
The role of the family nurse practitioner is best defined by what it isn’t. FNPs are not like standard registered nurses who support doctors in hospitals and health clinics. Rather, they are advanced practice registered nurses with exceptional clinical experience. It’s true that many work under physicians, but FNPs in 32 states and the District of Columbia have the autonomy to work independently at private practices if they so choose. In 24 of those regions, FNPs may also act as the prescribing authority without input from an overseeing physician. 
Before enrolling in an MSN–FNP program, students must first obtain a registered nurse license from their states’ respective Board of Nursing, as well as earn an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and high undergraduate GPA and/or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.
Without counting the four years or more a student may need to qualify for a master’s degree candidacy, completing an MSN–FNP program usually takes between two to four years, depending on program requirements, curriculum design, and a student’s full- or part-time status.
An MSN–FNP is a prerequisite that can be used toward a Ph.D. or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). MSN–FNP graduates must obtain advanced licensure prior to postgraduate program enrollment.
When choosing an online program, there are a number of factors worth considering.
All online master’s degrees in nursing fall into one of two camps. Asynchronous programs allow students to select when to read and complete assignments according to their personal schedule, while synchronous programs mandate students attend lectures and discussions at prearranged times. Which one conforms best to your lifestyle?
“Cohort” means the program is structured like traditional schooling. You and your peers enter the program at the same time and graduate at the same time. The non-cohort model implies a possible fluidity between classes during the graduate tenure based on each student’s pace, specialization, etc.
An MSN–FNP would not be complete without clinical field placement, a crucial component to this degree. Master’s nursing programs typically require 500+ hours of hands-on training administered by a preceptor who works in the same field the student plans to study and enter. Under professional tutelage, MSN–FNP students will receive the opportunity to apply their textbook knowledge to the real world. Graduate students must work with their schools to locate a preceptor, secure an apprenticeship, and arrange reliable transportation to and from the experiential learning site throughout their studies.
From now until the mid-2020s, nurse practitioner, midwife, and anesthetist employment should see tremendous growth. Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 31% surge, an increase of more than 53,000 jobs. Nurse practitioners, including FNPs, will fill nearly 84% of those open positions.  For comparison, overall job growth during that same period is projected to grow by 7%.
What are a few factors that will drive this incredible demand for nurse practitioners?
Between 2017 and 2025, the U.S. Census Bureau expects the number of U.S. residents to balloon by more than 20 million.  These people, whether they are newborn babies or naturalized citizens, will all require health care from trained professionals. FNPs have the broad education necessary to treat all demographics.
Health care continues to be a hotly debated topic in the United States. As a major issue in government, and with federal programs available to help those in need find care, more and more nurses and medical professionals may be required to satisfy the population’s health care needs.
States continue to give advanced practice registered nurses the freedom to perform additional services like prescribe medicine to patients without consulting with a superior physician. These allowances strengthen the value of FNP degree programs and their graduates to health care facilities.
Based on the most recent BLS data, nurse practitioners with advanced degrees, such as FNPs, earn a median salary of just over $98,000.  A salary that size usually goes to MSN–FNP graduates with five to nine years of experience, according to PayScale  — and the earlier you earn your MSN–FNP, the sooner you can attain that experience level. And on average, FNPs with master’s degrees earn 33% more in bonuses than standard NPs. 
While the typical NP work environment may be difficult to pin down — the BLS compiles information on nurse practitioners with similar careers like nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives — a large majority of NPs likely find jobs in physician offices and hospitals.  Family nurse practitioners fill many of those positions. Other environments FNPs work in include home care, hospice care, and in the military.
Since MSNs are considered the benchmark of today’s entry-level nurse practitioner positions, an FNP degree candidate should receive all the information and training necessary to perform the duties of a modern, autonomous health care provider.
Moreover, when considering the right MSN–FNP program, you should remain aware of two major challenges facing students as they obtain their degrees: insufficient faculty and limited clinical preceptors.
A preceptor is a doctor assigned to train prospective nurses using real-world experience and consultation. Between 2014 and 2015, more than 15,000 qualified graduate and postgraduate nursing students were not admitted to programs because of a lack of resources needed to advance them adequately. 
This represents perhaps the most remarkable downside in the meteoric rise of this academic/career path. Be sure the program you select guarantees room for you over the years you will potentially study there. Additionally, students may have success applying to schools that let them choose their own preceptor, provided the student has one in mind.
Summarily, a graduate-level nursing program ought to prepare degree candidates to do the following, as outlined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing: 
The role of the family nurse practitioner is highly clinical. Degree candidates expect, and are expected, to practice medicine. If you are looking for a non-clinical nursing career in fields like medical writing or patient advocacy, research MSNs other than the FNP track.
FNP programs should evenly mix a strengthening of foundational nursing theory and the unique challenges of the family nurse practitioner specialization. According to the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, students should expect the following general graduate-level competencies to be addressed in their core curriculum: 
As the name implies, core curriculum includes courses students must complete and pass in order to graduate.
Apart from the core courses, an MSN–FNP program may include, but is not limited to, a mix of any or all of the following course electives:
Electives are chosen at the discretion of students, guided by the subjects they are interested in. However, all programs have credit requirements. Students must take enough core and elective courses to fulfill those demands.
Electives give students the opportunity to craft their graduate studies around their individual futures. Once you obtain your MSN–FNP, where do you plan to work? Although many FNPs attend to families in a traditional health clinic or hospital setting — under or independent of a physician — the electives you choose during your graduate studies may help you target more specialized work environments.
Many master’s programs, regardless of field of study, culminate in a final project. Generally speaking, a thesis or a capstone consists of solo or collaborative work, like a long-form written dissertation, a multimedia presentation, and/or an examination.
Whether a particular MSN–FNP program mandates these concluding projects is entirely at the discretion of the school. Some may offer their students the ability to complete additional coursework and studies in lieu of a final paper or presentation. This may be preferable to graduate nursing students with full-time jobs or families as theses and capstones tend to be time-intensive.
Not always. However, many schools offering online or hybrid MSN–FNP programs will also expect enrollees to attend introductory orientations or make periodic in-person appearances. These on-campus residencies are usually concentrated to accommodate the busy schedules of adult learners with families and careers.
Nevertheless, you should always know if or when the programs on your shortlist require you to come to campus, especially if you plan on attending courses exclusively online. This includes the financial planning involved in travel, as well as research into whether things like food and lodging are covered under standard tuition costs. Moreover, students should also find out how many different campuses a single school has, their proximity to those satellite campuses, and whether the school will allow them to fulfill on-campus residency requirements at the closest one.
For the online-only learner, on-campus residencies may seem like an inconvenience. But prospective family nurse practitioners should not shy away from socialization or hands-on collaborative experiences with peers. These sessions can lay the groundwork for a personally and professionally fulfilling network of colleagues that may last a lifetime.
Apart from academic studies, MSN–FNP students will complete several hundred hours of experiential learning. Programs will connect graduate nursing students with preceptors who supervise them on site and offer guidance over the course of their studies. Under the preceptors’ watch, graduate students will perform the everyday duties of a family nurse practitioner and experience firsthand what it is like to work as one.
Hands-on clinical work prepares MSN–FNP students by:
In researching MSN–FNP programs, you should ensure that potential schools perform rigorous vetting of preceptors and experiential learning sites. In-clinic training is unquestionably important to all health care providers. FNP students must have an effective outlet to use what they were taught if they are expected to become tomorrow’s go-to medical professionals.
The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.
Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.
You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.
There are also different requirements for the number of clinical hours you’ll be asked to perform, depending on your concentration. These requirements can have an impact on the length of study. More information on these requirements can be obtained from the individual college or university you choose to pursue your advanced graduate degree.
While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.
In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.
For more information about admissions, please visit our admission requirements page.
Master’s-level nursing students demonstrate a desire to accomplish more than a baccalaureate degree in nursing could offer, a knowledge of career opportunities relevant to their personal goals, and possibly an interest in pursuing a Doctor in Nursing Practice.
The family nurse practitioner degree track combines education and training in several different fields of study with a focus on how they all relate to the family. Other MSN degrees concentrate finely on a particular area of study. Is the family nurse practitioner specialization right for you? In addition to the information provided in earlier sections, here is a list of popular MSN degrees worth investigating before you commit to an MSN–FNP:
Please note that an MSN–FNP degree and its associated licensure does not necessarily qualify a student to work in alternate disciplines of medicine. Every nursing job has different requirements. Before selecting a graduate school program in nursing, be sure it fulfills the prerequisites and experiences employers in your desired field expect.
Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.
Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.
You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.
All reputable Master of Science in Nursing programs are overseen and regulated by accrediting bodies. These organizations enforce a measurable standard by which all nursing schools must adhere. What is taught, how it is taught, and what constitutes degree completion all fall under an accreditation board’s jurisdiction.
Two major organizations authorize MSN programs at the national level in the United States:
Nurses are the second-largest body of licensed professionals in the United States.  Why? Licensure ensures each nurse’s commitment to education, self-improvement, and discipline and protects millions of patients every day by setting a standard these health care providers must rise above.
Before beginning their master’s nursing studies, nursing students will have completed their baccalaureate degrees and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the licensing examination for registered nurses created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The NCLEX uses computer adaptive testing to administer questions of varying difficulty based on a test-taker’s in-test performance. An algorithm grades answers along the way and ends the test once it has decided with high confidence that the test-taker is above or below the passing benchmark.
The NCLEX has two discrete versions:
The NCLEX-RN for registered nurses, with a maximum time limit of six hours
The NCLEX-PN for practical or vocational nurses, with a maximum time limit of five hours
MSN–FNP programs may require one or permit either for enrollment. 
In 2015, nearly 230,000 students took the NCLEX, and eight out of 10 NCLEX test-takers passed on their very first attempt. 
After receiving their master’s degree in nursing, graduates cannot immediately jump into a career as a family nurse practitioner. In order to practice medicine as a family nurse practitioner, upon completion of their MSN–FNP degrees graduates must also:
Take a certification exam from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
Obtain board certification and credentialing from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
MSN–FNP degree programs are essential, as they are the only way for FNPs to sit for these examinations and obtain credentials.
Furthermore, state licensure may be required in addition to the previously mentioned credentials. FNPs must seek permission to practice from state authorities if so compelled.
The rise of online distance education opened doors for students to attend programs otherwise closed off to them because of their location.
However, since degree authorizations exist both at the federal and state level, a conflict may occur when deciding which state is responsible for interstate education compliance. Is it the state where the student resides or the state where the school’s campus is located?
Resolving this confusion is of the utmost importance to both students and educators. If distance students attended schools that did not permit out-of-state participants, they could forfeit their degrees or lose the progress they made in their programs — however, this is not a common occurrence.
Enter the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, otherwise known as NC-SARA. States with SARA membership statuses assent to the adoption of nationally recognizable interstate quality standards shared by all other SARA members.
As of 2017, all but three states have SARA membership. California, Massachusetts, and Florida are not part of SARA.  For a complete list of NC-SARA institutions, please visit the organization’s website.
While modern medicine as we currently know it dates back to the 19th century, the nurse practitioner is a fairly recent development in the health care profession. The first programs sprang up in the mid- to late-1960s. Sixty-five nurse practitioner programs would emerge in less than 10 years after the first. 
Today, the Master of Science in Nursing required to become a nurse practitioner satisfies many health care professionals who want the freedom to help people and the ability to do it on their personal timeline. Additionally, the cost to become a nurse practitioner is usually between one-fifth and one-quarter the cost of becoming a physician.  With a growing population of patients as well as doctors approaching retirement age, not to mention increased life expectancies for both men and women, the popularity of nurse practitioner jobs could help fill the void of a projected nationwide physician gap. This gap is expected to increase to between 61,700 to 94,700 empty roles by 2025. 
One study conducted on behalf of the American Nurse Practitioner Foundation in 2013 revealed that about nine out of 10 nurse practitioners are female, and more than half are in their 40s and 50s.  However, the number of male nurses has grown steadily since the 1970s.  Additionally, as more nursing schools in the U.S. offer accelerated BSN-to-DNP programs, younger nursing candidates can earn degrees sooner and start work immediately.
There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.
For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.
There are many options available for mitigating educative costs incurred by graduate nursing students:
Scholarships and grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS): If graduate nursing candidates feel called to do so, they can apply and possibly receive NURSE Corps scholarships from the DHHS in exchange for a commitment to work in underprivileged communities upon degree completion. Financial support covers tuition, fees, and the cost of resources and supplies, as well as a monthly stipend. 
Federal loan repayment programs: Similar to the NURSE Corp scholarship program, if advanced practice registered nurses with unpaid student loan debt apply and are accepted to the NURSE Corp Loan Repayment Program, the DHHS will pay 60% of their outstanding financial obligations. In exchange, recipients work a minimum of two years at a designated Critical Shortage Facility somewhere in the U.S. at the discretion of the program managers. 
Student scholarship programs: Accrediting organizations for nursing also aggregate and direct interested students toward scholarships for eligible master’s degree candidates. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, for example, lists several on its website, including the Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship and CastleBranch-GNSA Scholarship.  However, in instances like these, students must attend a school recognized by the accrediting body in order to become eligible for these opportunities.
Because this degree leads to certification as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), you will need basic RN skills that you will build on throughout your MSN-FNP degree. RN licensure is a prerequisite to an APRN license. To apply for an MSN-FNP degree you will need an active registered nursing license. 
Becoming a licensed nurse practitioner (NP) can allow you to conduct examinations, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medication to individuals from pediatrics to geriatrics, depending on the state in which you are licensed. You may also conduct routine check-ups, be able to assist in minor surgical procedures, focus on disease prevention and order patient lab tests.
NPs practice under the license of the state in which they reside. For specific state-by-state NP licensure information, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and select the state in which you reside/practice. 
In order to enroll in an MSN-FNP degree program, you will need to have earned an undergraduate degree. Universities will want to verify the program you graduated from was an accredited nursing program. While most programs offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) entry point, there are some programs that offer an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)/Diploma entry point. If you graduated with a non-nursing baccalaureate you may need to complete additional prerequisite courses.
Regardless of your undergraduate degree, in order to enroll in an MSN-FNP, program you will need to provide proof of a current nursing license.
Other university requirements will vary. For example, some may require completion of an undergraduate statistics course. Be sure to check with your guidance counselor if you meet all prerequisites for enrolling in a specific program.
Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.
The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.
Yes. Many institutions offer MSN-FNP degrees online.
Online and on-campus degrees typically look identical. Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.
Yes, schools typically follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) require specific course curriculum for accreditation. The course work should abide by the accrediting body guidelines.
You should take a variety of coursework in the following areas: family nursing theory and intervention, acute and chronic illness management, research, primary health care concerns and leadership preparation.  Look at degree curriculum to ensure you will be prepared to apply for licensure. If the program is CCNE- or ACEN-accredited, then the curriculum should meet the requirements for licensure.
With a concentration (such as neonatal, acute care, women’s health, etc.), you can develop proficiency in that specific concentration, and you may only be able to work with patients in that field. For example, if you specialize as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, then you will not be able to work in geriatrics, and if you decided to change fields, then additional education will be required.
Pursuing the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) degree, you will have the opportunity to train in various specialty fields (such as women’s health, neonatal, acute care, gerontology). The FNP allows you to work in various areas or select specialties, allowing you to be versatile in your work setting and roles.
The NP is trained to assess, diagnose, and treat patients in a specialized health care setting across the lifespan. An anesthesiologist is trained to administer anesthesia before a surgery and monitor the patient during surgery and recovery. A certified midwife works primarily with women from puberty through menopause.
These roles are very different. Your choice depends upon your career goals and passion.
Clinical experience has the potential to create strong job recommendations and even lead to careers after graduation. Be sure to make the most of your clinical experience by being proactive in inquiring about procedures you would like to practice and asking questions that you can’t easily find the answers to on your own. Learn as much as you can during your clinical experience so you can be prepared once you have a job.
Making a good impression with your preceptors also can create a network you may be able to lean on when searching for a job upon graduation.
Yes. You should look for a program that includes between 500-750 clinical hours, as required by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board. To be eligible to take the ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner board certification exam, you are required to have 500 clinical hours. 
Support for finding a preceptor will vary based on the university. The institution may or may not have a list of affiliated sites/personnel that you can reach out to about considering a preceptor role. Regardless, you should be prepared to start networking early to secure preceptors for your clinicals. Inquire with a guidance counselor about the support provided for students when finding a preceptor.
The difficulty and competition to acquire a preceptor and clinical site will vary by location and individual. You will need to be proactive in securing preceptors for your clinicals. Here are some helpful tips:
Consider your personal network of doctors, friends, and family.
Inquire with NP groups in your state who may offer guidance or support in securing a preceptor.
Explore websites with preceptor directories. For example, for a small fee on the eNP website, you can correspond with potential preceptors. 
Investigate whether your state has Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) that may help you find preceptors. 
Be creative when considering sites.
Inquire with a guidance counselor about preceptor requirements before beginning to look for preceptors.
This will vary by university. In general, you will need to have the clinical site approved by the university. In addition, some universities use various softwares that preceptors, professors and students can access. Others will require campus visits or have scheduled visits from advisors to review the sites. Inquire with a guidance counselor to determine the process followed by each university.
Yes, the minimum education level to become a nurse practitioner is a master’s degree.
This can vary from state to state. Generally, for licensure to be obtained, a master’s degree or post-master’s certification must be completed at an accredited program in your field. To obtain licensure, you will also need to provide proof of an RN license and national certification. 
To sit for licensure as an NP, you must meet the following requirements:
Graduation from an accredited MSN, post-master’s certificate, or doctorate program
An active RN license
At least 500 clinical hours
Final transcript showing work completed
Graduate coursework in physiology, pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology
Graduate level content in health promotion and maintenance, disease management, and differential diagnosis 
There are various careers available to graduates with an MSN-FNP. Places of employment can include, but are not limited to, hospitals, private practices, schools, and health departments. Various roles can include, but are not limited to, the following:
Primary Care Mid-level provider
Acute Care Mid-level provider
Although the demand may be high for NP’s across the country, there are specific state restrictions that should be noted while looking for full autonomy in the position. You can read state specifics detailing the licensure requirements and level of practice details at the ANCC’s website. 
Typically, it will vary between 500 and 750 clinical hours. 
This will vary by university. Inquire with a guidance counselor to determine if the course load will be a good fit with your work-life balance.
Yes. The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships for which you qualify. 
Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.
The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.
Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students.
If the program is not accredited, there is the possibility it will not be recognized when you apply for licensure.
For nurse practitioner programs, the accrediting body is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is recognized as a national accreditation agency by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Programs can also be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Meanwhile, continuing education nursing programs — which will come later in an NPs career — should also be accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Accreditation Program. 
Yes. If the program you graduate from is not accredited, then there is the possibility it will not be recognized when you apply for licensure.
If you graduate from an accredited program, your degree will remain accredited — because the curriculum at the time of your graduation was accredited.