If you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and some clinical experience as a registered nurse, you may be thinking about getting a master’s or doctoral degree. Before pursuing an advanced nursing degree, you need to answer a few questions about your career goals and the type of nursing to which you feel you have a calling. There are several types of postgraduate nursing degrees, and depending on whether you want to practice nursing in a clinical setting or teach in a classroom, you can choose between a two-year master’s degree or a research-based doctoral degree (please also see: What Types of Nursing Graduate Degrees are Available?). If you’re interested in becoming a nursing educator, you will need a PhD or EdD degree, but for most other occupations, a two-year degree is enough. There are also certifications that take fewer than two years to complete.

Getting Into a Graduate Nursing Program

The most important first step to getting advanced nursing credentials is to put in your best possible performance as an undergraduate. Nursing graduate programs are competitive, and if the grades on your transcript are average or below, you will have to pay the full tuition for a master’s degree and maybe have to go to an expensive for-profit college. A lot of online schools offer postgraduate nursing degrees, and they are some of the most common online master’s and doctoral programs available.

It’s not necessary to get a master’s degree before enrolling in a doctoral program, and many of the top schools don’t consider admitting doctoral applicants with terminal master’s degrees. If your ultimate goal is to become a nursing professor or educator, you should begin your doctoral research as soon as you decide to follow this path. On the other hand, if you want to work with patients in a specialized capacity, by becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), for example, you should start this career path by gaining clinical experience and shadowing a nurse already working in your chosen specialization.

Master’s or Doctoral Degree

Other than obtaining a bachelor’s degree (please see: Top 10 Cheap Online RN to BSN Degree Programs 2014) and applying for a graduate program, there are no special requirements to meet before pursuing an advanced nursing degree, but you need to make sure your application is as impressive as possible. For example, experience, internships and recommendations from professors are excellent details to add to your application. Another step many nurses neglect to take is to schedule a meeting with the dean of the school they hope to attend. Many people aren’t aware of what’s required by a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, and they don’t realize that there is a great deal of research involved in becoming an educator. Nursing educator positions are primarily research-based, while master’s degrees typically lead to clinical positions.

The median annual salary for postsecondary nursing educators was $65,940 in 2012, and the top-earning 10 percent made at least $106,470. Nurses with advanced degrees earned the most by working in state government agencies, taking home a mean annual wage of $88,340. There is currently a shortage of nursing educators, and nursing school applicants are frequently turned down because there aren’t enough teachers to instruct them.

Getting accepted by a postgraduate nursing program is the biggest hurdle in the path to earning advanced nursing credentials, but the benefits are worth the effort. Before pursuing an advanced nursing degree, all you need to do is decide that you will succeed.