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About Graduate Programs

Getting an advanced degree in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing can add options to your career. Discover more about what it takes to get started here.

What are the differences between the different graduate psychiatric-mental health nursing degrees/programs out there?

MSN vs. DNP vs. PhD

The key difference among the three types of graduate nursing programs is their objective. The MSN is focused on nurse leadership, education, and administration, while the DNP concentrates on nursing practice. The PhD sets its sights on research.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing highlights the differences between DNP and PhD in this grid, while offers this summary of the MSN.

Expected salary

Salaries can vary due to factors such as geographic location, years of experience, specialty, and type of employer. The following figures help illustrate the range you can expect. lists the salary range for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner as 88k – 142k (March 2021).

According to the National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the annual mean salary for nurse practitioners is $111,840 (May 2019).

Career Outlook

Another consideration when thinking about seeking a graduate degree is your area of interest. View below the expected employment outcomes for each.


  • Leadership in nursing practice
  • Management positions
  • Healthcare policy, administration, or government positions
  • Academia in practice-based nursing programs


  • Nursing researcher
  • Health policy positions
  • Nursing faculty positions


  • Nurse Practitioner

What are examples of accredited graduate programs? What programs are not accredited?

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education monitors programs nationwide and offers a search for accredited programs by state or institution.

Selecting a non-accredited program may not prevent you from getting a job but it could limit your ability to work for certain organizations, to obtain financial aid or to transfer credits to another institution.

What is a bridge program?

A bridge program is an educational path designed to help you transition from one type of degree to another – enabling you to expand your knowledge and career potential efficiently, minimizing expense and time spent. Such pathways encourage nursing students to pursue advanced degrees, meeting a growing demand for nurses in advanced practice and faculty roles. Options include MSN to DNP programs and RN to MSN programs.

RN to MSN programs by state.

Is online an option?

Yes! There are many great online programs which can be a good fit for those who choose to work while they earn their degree.

Affordable Colleges Online provides details on online programs for nursing degrees including steps to advance your education and career through a bridge program.

I have a Master’s degree, what sort of program do I need to become licensed as a PMH-NP? How about someone with Master’s in non-nursing field?

Information about certification requirements for PMH-NP is available from American Nurses Credentialing Center.

There are online programs available for post (nursing) Master’s PMH-NP Certificate.

If your Master’s is in a non-nursing field, you will need fulfill a different set of course requirements. These requirements vary among programs and often must be fulfilled within a designated timeframe (within the last 5 years for example). Commonly required courses include:

  • Lifespan Development
  • Natural Science courses
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Microbiology

What should I look for when selecting a graduate nursing program? (i.e. ANCC Board pass rates, class sizes, etc.)

These programs vary a great deal. It is important to select that program that best meets your needs and your area of interest. Once you have determined your area of specialty you can evaluate the faculty, their strengths and level of expertise in that area. You can also investigate the amount of clinical work required. The availability of financial aid might also be a consideration.

US News provides a listing of top schools for the PMH NP and the criteria used to select them.

What are the usual admissions requirements?

Each program will have specific requirements, but in general MSN programs require the following:

  • A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
  • A registered nurse (RN) license.
  • Minimum GPA and GRE scores
  • Clinical experience

The requirements for PhD and DNP programs are similar and may include a BSN or MSN degree. Resumes and letters of reference are also needed for admission in many cases.

If you are planning to apply for multiple programs you might consider using this Centralized Application Service offered in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

I have an undergrad background outside of nursing, what do I need to do to get into a grad program?

For those who already have a bachelor’s degree, a direct entry masters is a great solution to help grow your career potential. In some cases PhD programs will consider applicants with non-nursing Bachelor’s degree.

What are some options to look into to pay for graduate school?

Scholarship opportunities are plentiful for nursing graduate programs.

Applications are now open for the 2024 Aging Matters Scholarship

Learn more about federal aid options or to apply for federal aid, visit FAFSA .

If you plan to concentrate on becoming a nurse educator, AACNE shares this funding information.

APNA offers other helpful resources.

Once I’m in a program, what are some tips for finding a preceptor and/or a clinical site?

Thankfully there is help available for this step in the process*.

APNA’s mentor program, allows members to search for preceptors through its Member Bridge.

Your university can contact the American Nurses Credentialing Center to access its Preceptor Bank:

AACN offers general information and the requirements for clinical practice experiences.

Here is an article from US News about what to expect from the process.

Here is helpful APNA guidance on the procurement of preceptors and mentors, as well as what role APNA plays in the process.

*Please note, APNA advocates adherence to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education’s (CCNE) standards on preceptorship (See Standard II, third bullet point) which states, “In Key Element II-F, CCNE’s expectation has been clarified that individuals serving in roles such as mentors, guides, and coaches are to be included by programs when addressing preceptors. Please note, this key element does not prohibit programs from allowing students to play an active role in identifying a preceptor, but if a student is unable to find an appropriate preceptor, when used by the program as an extension of faculty, the program is ultimately responsible for doing so.” [6]