Nurses: Thinking About Grad School? Read This First.

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More nurses are going back to graduate school.If you’ve ever considered heading back to school for a higher degree in nursing, there’s no better time than the present. It’s easier than ever to make advanced education fit into your life. And current trends show that an advanced nursing degree can boost your income level even more than you may think.

More and more nurses are following the call of formal education, and according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing degree programs are experiencing an enrollment surge. Here’s why.

Accessibility is better

Going back to school used to mean packing your bags for a new location, unless you were lucky enough to live near a program that fit your needs. But nursing education at all levels is much more accessible now. Online components mean you can complete at least a portion of your requirements at home, at the times that work for you. This is especially true for nurses who haven’t completed the general educational requirements associated with associate or bachelor’s degrees. The plethora of choices available for online programs means you can be choosy about what one really works for you.

There are also many part-time programs available. So you can forget fears of saying good-bye to your day job, and going deep in debt to return to school. Part-time programs let you maintain a regular work schedule while obtaining a degree at a slower pace, with coursework spread out over a longer time period. If you’re interested in a particular nursing school but are worried about making it work without an income, there’s a good chance they offer a part-time program, too.

Degrees mean more money

Nurses with degrees are proven to be more likely to secure jobs after they graduate. But are those jobs more likely to pay better? Yes. In general, higher degrees correlate to higher earnings. And that’s especially true when the degree qualifies you for positions you weren’t previously able to obtain.

For example, certain nursing roles require a master’s level degree. These roles, including specialist positions like an informatics nurse or a chief nursing officer, pay significantly higher than many roles that are open to those without a master’s degree.

It may be required

It’s true — more and more hospital systems across the country have started to require that their nurses hold at least a bachelor’s degree. And some states, like New Jersey and New York, have even considered putting this requirement into law. This move is coming in part from studies that have shown nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher outperform peers on the hospital floor, which means better outcomes for patients.

But the idea of having to return to school to keep your job is daunting to many. To make it easier on nurses who are working without a bachelor’s degree, many schools have started “RN to MSN” programs, designed to make it simpler for them to fulfill the higher education requirement.

Where to start?

If a higher degree is calling to you, here are some immediate steps to get started.

  • Consider your career goals and identify educational goals to match. If you already work as an RN in a large hospital system and want to have more job security, perhaps an RN to MSN program is right. Or, if you’re interested in moving up the ladder to a leadership or specialty position, a master’s degree may be what you’re after.
  • Research programs. With so many options, there’s no reason to settle on one that isn’t right for you. Be sure to consider all types of programs, too, like traditional, online and part time. Would you rather go back to school full time, or would you rather split your time between working and school?
  • Map out your timeline. Completing a degree can be a lengthy process no matter which way you go about it, so you’ll want to have a clear picture into what’s happening and when. Things to note include when you’d need to spend time on applications and what documentation to have ready, and when, and for how long, your courses will run. Identifying milestones you’ll hit (for example, the halfway done mark) is important, too, for keeping yourself motivated to finish.
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