The Best Online DNP Programs
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If you already have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or master of science in nursing (MSN) degree, you may be ready to take the next step in your career and start an online DNP program.
With a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, you can work as a nurse practitioner (NP). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for NPs to grow by an astounding 45% from 2019-209.
NPs typically work with a high degree of independence to provide primary and specialty care to patients. They receive compensation commensurate with their expertise and experience, earning a median annual salary of $111,680 as of May 2020.
The Best Online Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner Programs
Bradley is a private nonprofit institution located in Peoria, Illinois. The school serves approximately 5,900 students and offers an online DNP program. Bradley offers three concentrations: family nurse practitioner, leadership, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
Learners complete their coursework entirely online, including classes in advanced pharmacology and health informatics. Each enrollee needs 36-74 credits for graduation, depending on their chosen concentration. The number of required in-person clinical hours also varies among concentrations.
A prospective DNP student should possess a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Each application must also include a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a resume.
Brandman is a private institution established in 1958. Learners choose from more than 50 academic programs, including its hybrid doctor of nursing practice. Learners can select from concentrations in psychopharmacology and psychotherapeutic treatments. On-campus commitments include only a four-day immersion program.
This 73-credit BSN-to-DNP psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner program requires specialty classes, such as management in lifespan psychiatric care and psychopharmacology across the lifespan. Each applicant must submit a personal statement, resume, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and proof of RN licensure.
Established in 1889, Clemson is a public research institution with approximately 26,400 students. Graduate students enjoy access to more than 130 graduate programs, including an online doctor of nursing practice program.
This 35-credit program requires 1-2 on-campus immersion experiences during three summer semesters. Along with fully online coursework, each enrollee must accrue 1,000 clinical hours. Interested learners need MSNs with 3.25 or higher GPAs. The application requires a resume, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and proof of an RN license.
GW is a private research university founded in 1821. The school today enrolls approximately 26,000 students and offers an online DNP program. This 72-credit adult-gerontology acute care NP program features a hybrid learning format.
GW's program arranges clinical placements for DNP students, which take place in-person in either Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. In-person requirements include a learning and skills intensive and on-campus examinations. Prospective learners must possess BSNs with 3.3 or higher GPAs. Each application requires a personal statement, resume, and two letters of recommendation.
Loyno is a private Jesuit institution with approximately 5,000 students. Remote learners can pursue its online doctor of nursing practice. This fully online program features specialized tracks, including a BSN-to-DNP family nurse practitioner, MSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner, and MSN-to-DNP executive leader. Its popular 78 credit FNP program requires coursework in advanced pathophysiology and primary care pediatrics.
Each prospective DNP student must submit a statement of purpose, resume, and contact information for three references. An applicant should also possess at least 1,800 hours of recent nursing practice.
Established in 1872, Maryville is a private school with one of the best online DNP programs. This program features fully online course delivery and requires no on-campus visits. Learners can choose from DNP and DNP-NP tracks. The university also offers concentrations in adult-gerontology, family nurse practitioner, mental health, and pediatrics.
All doctoral tracks at Maryville use asynchronous course delivery except for the mental health nurse concentration. Most learners complete their program in 20-36 months. Each applicant needs a minimum 3.25 GPA, an MSN, and current board certification as an advanced practice nurse.
MSU is a public school in Bozeman with approximately 16,800 students. Established in 1893, MSU now offers one of the top doctor of nursing practice programs. Students can choose concentrations in psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner. Incoming learners with APRN credentials can follow MSU's post-master's DNP track.
Faculty members deliver blended courses in synchronous and asynchronous formats. The DNP track culminates with a final project and an oral defense. Each prospective DNP student needs a 3.0 or higher GPA and at least one year of clinical experience.
NMC is a private nonprofit school in Omaha with only 1,100 students. Degree-seekers enjoy remote access to its online DNP program. Full-time DNP students often complete the program in 36 months.
This program delivers BSN-to-DNP coursework in asynchronous and synchronous formats. Learners need 1,080 clinical hours and 75 credit hours for graduation. Each applicant needs a BSN with a 3.0 or higher GPA and RN licensure. Candidates must participate in interviews with faculty for consideration. NMC does not require GRE scores.
Founded in 1841, Samford is a private Christian school in Birmingham, Alabama. Its online DNP program features BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP tracks. Available specializations include nurse anesthesia, nursing administration, and advanced practice.
The number of required practicum and credit hours for graduation varies among DNP concentrations. Most DNP tracks at Samford require 1-2 campus visits in addition to in-person clinical practice. Each candidate should possess a 3.0 or higher GPA and an unencumbered nursing license. Some Samford DNP tracks may require GRE scores.
Stony Brook is a public research institution founded in 1957. The school offers a hybrid DNP program with specializations in neonatal nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, and pediatric-primary care. Stony Brook features a cohort learning model and strives to foster a community of nursing scholars.
An advanced standing student with an MSN must complete 42 credits of synchronous coursework. Each prospective DNP student needs a 3.0 or higher GPA and a nursing license. Applications require a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a written statement.
Online Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.
While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.
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Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
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Featured Online Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner Programs
What Is an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree?
The DNP is a post-master's graduate degree designed for experienced registered nurses (RNs) who wish to develop more specialized skills. DNP graduates can work in direct patient care as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), manage healthcare delivery settings, improve health policy, and contribute to clinical scholarship. DNPs often work in hospitals, health clinics, or their own practices.
Online DNP programs typically require 30-90 credits. The total number of credits for this degree depends on your previous education credentials and work experience. Additionally, each prospective DNP must complete 1,000 clinical hours for graduation.
Clinical hours take place in-person at approved clinical sites, even if your program offers all other DNP requirements remotely. Required classes may include evidenced-based practice, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced health assessment.
Online colleges and universities with doctor of nurse practice programs may offer several concentrations to help you tailor your degree. Popular specialization areas for learners in doctorate in nursing practice programs include:
- Nurse anesthesia
- Pediatric acute care nurse practitioner
- Family nurse practitioner
DNP vs. DNS
A doctor of nursing science (DNS) focuses more heavily on medical research in nursing practice than a DNP. DNPs work with the scientific data and research that DNSs produce to help improve nursing practice and decision-making in the field. Unlike DNPs, DNS graduates usually do not work directly with patients. Instead, they often find careers with research institutions and universities. DNS degree-seekers typically need to complete dissertations for graduation, while DNPs do not.
DNP vs. Ph.D. in Nursing
Both a DNP and Ph.D. in nursing prepare degree-holders for high-level positions, but their intended career path and training differ substantially. DNP students prepare for direct patient care and leadership or administrative roles in healthcare delivery settings. Ph.D. programs in nursing, on the other hand, prepare learners for research positions and teaching at institutions of higher education.
Unlike DNPs, students enrolled in Ph.D. in nursing studies programs do not need to complete clinicals. Additionally, Ph.D. nursing students write traditional dissertations for graduation rather than evidence-based final projects.
Why Get a DNP Degree?
The DNP allows enrollees to develop valuable skills and stand out from other nursing professionals. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the DNP may soon replace the MSN as the standard for preparing students for APRN roles such as NP, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse anesthetist (CNA), and certified nurse midwife (CNM).
DNP degree-holders who pursue APRN careers also earn healthy salaries. According to a Wolters Kluwer study from 2018, professionals with DNPs make an average of $7,000 more per year than nurses with only master's degrees.
DNP Degree Program Admission Requirements
Applicants for doctorate of nursing practice programs must hold MSNs to apply. Individuals with BSNs and master's degrees from outside fields may also qualify. Schools require incoming students to possess RN licenses and some work experience in the field. Additional requirements often include GRE scores, a 3.0 or higher GPA, and official transcripts.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Nurse Practitioner Doctorate?
On average, students can expect their online NP doctorate programs to last 3-6 years. The amount of time required to earn an online nurse practitioner doctorate depends on several factors, including part-time or full-time enrollment, course availability, whether courses are individually paced or cohort-based. Enrolling in BSN-to-DNP programs or MSN-to-DNP programs will also affect the time of study.
Some DNP programs require students to go through the program in a cohort of fellow students who all take the same courses together. With this type of program, students have their entire program planned out with a set graduation date. However, sometimes the cohort learning approach takes longer since students can't set their own pace.
Choosing an Online DNP Degree Program
Students searching for DNP degrees should consider both the academic and financial components of their education. DNP learners who qualify for in-state tuition rates can usually save money in the long run.
A self-paced, asynchronous program can also help you finish your program more quickly and reduce expenses. Additionally, online DNP programs require in-person clinicals, so location can also influence the overall cost of your degree.
Degree-seekers should also look into programs that offer online DNP concentrations in their areas of interest. Since DNP students work closely with faculty members, they can benefit from attending programs where their research interests align with the teachers in their department.
Accreditation for Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs
Aspiring DNP enrollees should only attend schools that possess regional accreditation. Accreditation ensures that your college or university undergoes a rigorous evaluation by a third-party organization.
Nursing programs should also possess programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing in addition to approval by their state's board of nursing.
Paying for Your Online DNP Degree
One of the most overwhelming aspects of pursuing your online nurse practitioner doctorate can be the cost. Doctoral students can pursue several methods to pay for their education, including student loans, scholarships, grants, and loan forgiveness programs.
Every NP student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines student eligibility for financial aid. Students who do not fill out the FAFSA cannot apply for federal student loans, grants, and many scholarships.
NPs work to improve the public good, which opens up additional scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities. NP doctoral students may be particularly interested in student loan forgiveness programs that benefit individuals in public service careers.
NPs may qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and the Perkins Loan Cancellation Program. Additionally, some workplaces offer tuition reimbursement or will pay down student loan debts for employees.
Nurse Practitioner Careers
Graduates of NP doctoral programs typically work as APRNs in hospitals, clinics, and physicians' offices. They coordinate patient care and provide primary and specialty care to patients.
The scope of practice available to NPs varies among states, but many enjoy independence in their day-to-day duties. Working as an NP can be both stressful and rewarding for individuals who want to make a career out of helping others.
Certified Nurse Anesthetist
Median Annual Salary (2020): $183,580
CNAs administer anesthesia and other medications to patients before, during, and after medical procedures. They may focus on a broad range of patients or specialize in subfields such as neurosurgery, pediatrics, or obstetrics. CNAs work in medical settings such as surgical centers, physicians' offices, and outpatient care centers.
Certified Nurse Practitioner
Median Annual Salary (2020): $111,680
CNPs are nurse practitioners with additional training in a specialty area such as family practice, gerontology, or pediatrics. They diagnose patients, order diagnostic tests, treat chronic and acute illnesses, and educate patients. CNPs commonly work in hospitals, college campus health centers, and urban community health centers.
Certified Nurse Midwife
Median Annual Salary (2020): $111,130
CNMs play an essential role in women's health services, especially for pregnant patients. These healthcare professionals work closely with physicians and other healthcare providers to provide counseling and care for expecting mothers, from pre-conception through postpartum. CNMs often work in hospitals, birth centers, private practices, and military hospitals.
Common Questions About DNP Degree Programs
Yes. DNPs traditionally earn higher annual salaries than NPs, who possess master's degrees. Some APRNs who only possess master's degrees may make more than DNPs, depending on the career and location.
Professionals with the terminal DNP degree qualify for top jobs in the field. DNP degree-holders also have more influence on healthcare policies and qualify for administrative or leadership roles before NPs.
Yes. DNP degree-seekers who do not already possess MSNs earn their master's degree en route to the DNP in BSN-to-DNP programs. Some programs also accept bachelor's degree-holders who possess master's degrees in other fields.
Yes. Anyone with a doctoral degree may use the title, including professionals with a Ph.D. or DNP. The title serves as a recognition of the DNP's skills and training. It also builds trust between patients and DNPs in clinical settings.
Timon Kaple is a writer and ethnographer specializing in the study of music, language, and American culture. His recent work explores how people understand their daily experiences and how those beliefs influence their actions, engagement with social media, language, work, and art. He conducts ethnographic fieldwork and teaches students of all ages about music and culture. Timon also holds the Ph.D. from Indiana University-Bloomington.
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