There really are a lot of confusion and controversy surrounding DE-MSN programs. From what I can tell, they can be divided into two types:
1. You receive RN education and trains you to be a CNL (another topic that is quite controversial). Usually takes 2 years. You DO NOT become a specialized advanced practice nurse, but a generalist bedside nurse with MSN degree.
2. You receive RN education followed by additional year(s) of specialty training of your choice, like FNP, etc. Usually 3 years. You obtain RN license and finish the program to receive MSN degree and become an advanced practice nurse.
I graduated from the first one. I chose such program not because I wanted to be a CNL but just loved the faculty and the courses offered. The school was also very close to me. CNL role isn't really being embraced by hospitals right now other than the VA system, but some people really see vision in it and are hoping that hospitals will hire CNLs when the economy gets better. While I am not getting the CNL certification (costs so much money!!), I am very happy with the program that prepared me well to be an RN on top of all the education in research and healthcare systems.
I don't have close experience with ABSN or the other type of MSN program, but people choose ABSN because it's quick and practical. People choose the second type of DE-MSN when they know for sure they want to be an NP, NM, etc.
No matter which program you end up choosing, I agree with all the tips others gave. Having a job as a tech or CNA helps a lot, since hospitals love to hire internals. Of course it's not easy to hold a job while studying full-time, but it's not impossible. Quite a few in my class had part-time or per-diem jobs, including myself. Just make sure you get flexibility in scheduling. You really have to keep your grades up, though. While the GPA itself has little to do with being a good nurse, it will make a difference in job application process. The hospital I got hired, for example, requires GPA of 3.5 or higher in order to be considered for its RN residency program (="new grad program" in my previous post.) Even if there's no such cut-off, it will make an impression, you know?
It is also important to get your senior practicum or preceptorship in your interested area, as someone said previously. I wish I could tell students to relax and do not fight over it (it was not a pretty sight in my cohort, which was generally very cohesive and friendly), but it really can make a huge difference in your job prospects if you want ICU or ER. I heard that some residency positions in ICU would not consider you if you did not do your preceptorship in an ICU setting. And of course, it is the best opportunity to network and make yourself known to unit managers.
It's wonderful that you're really researching carefully. It's also great that you seem to know exactly why you want to pursue this path rather than some vague ideology. Nursing is such a great field as long as you get into it knowing what you're getting into. I have nursing experience as an LVN and there was a time when I was so burnt out and tired that I swore I will leave nursing for good. But I ended up coming back and wanting more. I believe that endless possibilities we can make as nurses, for ourselves, our patients, our community, far outweigh all the stress and b***s$%# we have to put up with.