Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

TBS Staff Writers
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Updated June 25, 2024
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Registered nurses looking to advance their careers can pursue a nurse practitioner career with a master’s degree. Online master of science in nursing (MSN) programs, sometimes referred to as online nurse practitioner (NP) programs, prepare graduates for certification, licensure, and employment as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Along with NPs, APRNs include nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists. While the professional scope of an APRN varies by state, they typically provide advanced nursing services and are well-paid for their work.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data projects that employment for NPs will increase by 52% from 2019-2029. This projected growth rate exceeds the national average by 1,200%. Nures practitioners also earn a median annual wage that nearly quadruples the median annual salary for all occupations.

Selected Nurse Practitioner Programs

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The Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

#1 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

The University of Southern California

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$57,256
  • Out-of-state$57,256
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate11%
  • Students Enrolled48,321
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment17%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Texas A&M University

  • Location-markerCollege Station, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,941
  • Out-of-state$34,190
  • Retention Rate93%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled68,726
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment14%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Clarkson College

  • Location-markerOmaha, NE
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,392
  • Out-of-state$13,392
  • Retention Rate59%
  • Acceptance Rate46%
  • Students Enrolled1,108
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment94%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

George Washington University

  • Location-markerWashington, DC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$54,453
  • Out-of-state$54,453
  • Retention Rate92%
  • Acceptance Rate41%
  • Students Enrolled27,814
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment22%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Georgia College & State University

  • Location-markerMilledgeville, GA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,508
  • Out-of-state$26,688
  • Retention Rate86%
  • Acceptance Rate80%
  • Students Enrolled7,031
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment29%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Samford University

  • Location-markerBirmingham, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$32,000
  • Out-of-state$32,000
  • Retention Rate89%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled5,692
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment30%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Duquesne University

  • Location-markerPittsburgh, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$39,992
  • Out-of-state$39,992
  • Retention Rate85%
  • Acceptance Rate74%
  • Students Enrolled9,197
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment21%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Olivet Nazarene University

  • Location-markerBourbonnais, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$36,080
  • Out-of-state$36,080
  • Retention Rate77%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled4,317
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment58%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Sacred Heart University

  • Location-markerFairfield, CT
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$42,800
  • Out-of-state$42,800
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate64%
  • Students Enrolled9,156
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment34%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Angelo State University

  • Location-markerSan Angelo, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,332
  • Out-of-state$14,460
  • Retention Rate69%
  • Acceptance Rate77%
  • Students Enrolled10,568
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment41%
  • AccreditationYes
#11 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

The University of Texas at Arlington

  • Location-markerArlington, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,624
  • Out-of-state$25,713
  • Retention Rate75%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled48,635
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment54%
  • AccreditationYes
#12 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Concordia University Wisconsin

  • Location-markerMequon, WI
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$30,060
  • Out-of-state$30,060
  • Retention Rate81%
  • Acceptance Rate64%
  • Students Enrolled5,777
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment39%
  • AccreditationYes
#13 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

The University of Texas at Tyler

  • Location-markerTyler, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,540
  • Out-of-state$20,760
  • Retention Rate71%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled9,617
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment62%
  • AccreditationYes
#14 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Maryville University

  • Location-markerSaint Louis, MO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$26,070
  • Out-of-state$26,070
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled10,013
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment76%
  • AccreditationYes
#15 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

DeSales University

  • Location-markerCenter Valley, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$37,200
  • Out-of-state$37,200
  • Retention Rate80%
  • Acceptance Rate79%
  • Students Enrolled3,460
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment36%
  • AccreditationYes
#16 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Regis University

  • Location-markerDenver, CO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$37,830
  • Out-of-state$37,830
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate71%
  • Students Enrolled6,908
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment60%
  • AccreditationYes
#17 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Misericordia University

  • Location-markerDallas, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$32,800
  • Out-of-state$32,800
  • Retention Rate82%
  • Acceptance Rate86%
  • Students Enrolled2,503
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment39%
  • AccreditationYes
#18 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Bradley University

  • Location-markerPeoria, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$34,200
  • Out-of-state$34,200
  • Retention Rate85%
  • Acceptance Rate70%
  • Students Enrolled5,929
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment31%
  • AccreditationYes
#19 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

The University of Central Missouri

  • Location-markerWarrensburg, MO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,128
  • Out-of-state$14,256
  • Retention Rate74%
  • Acceptance Rate65%
  • Students Enrolled11,229
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment39%
  • AccreditationYes
#20 Best Nurse Practitioner Degrees Online

Cox College

  • Location-markerSpringfield, MO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,080
  • Out-of-state$10,080
  • Retention Rate100%
  • Acceptance Rate39%
  • Students Enrolled956
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes

What Is a Nurse Practitioner Degree?

NPs are APRNS who can provide primary care, often without a physician’s supervision. They conduct physical assessments, diagnose medical conditions, and — depending on the state — prescribe medication for their patients.

Within the field, NPs usually specialize in areas like pediatrics, family practice, or mental health. They work with patients of all ages, with specialists who provide neonatal care to babies and palliative care to the elderly.

During an online nurse practitioner program, students train in advanced health assessment, evidence-based practice, and primary care. They also complete specialization courses. Online programs also incorporate clinical hours to build practical experience during the master’s degree.

Each NP must hold a master’s degree to earn state licensure and qualify for board certification. Only accredited online nurse practitioner programs meet licensure and certification requirements.

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

In addition to NP programs, registered nurses (RNs) can pursue other graduate-level degrees to advance their careers. Nurses considering master’s degrees can also enroll in healthcare administration, nursing administration, healthcare management, and healthcare informatics programs. These degrees prepare nurses for leadership roles throughout the healthcare industry.

Attending an online nurse practitioner program is a flexible, accessible way for RNs to advance their careers. During an online program, nursing students engage in a virtual classroom experience, using discussion groups and other online learning technologies to complete their coursework. They also take online exams. However, most online programs still require practicums to help nurses develop medical experience through physical assessment simulations.

Depending on the program, students may meet for classes at set times or complete coursework on their own schedule. Regardless of the format, online programs offer greater flexibility than most on-campus programs. Since online students can arrange their coursework around work responsibilities, these programs are ideal for nursing professionals who intend to continue their careers while pursuing education.

Students in an online nurse practitioner program also gain valuable clinical experience as part of their training. Most programs incorporate a minimum number of clinical hours, which students often arrange locally. Online NP students may also complete on-campus residencies during their degrees to test their clinical skills.

An online learning format also appeals to nurses seeking specialization in a high-demand concentration that local universities may not offer, such as neonatal or psychiatric mental health nursing. Prospective students should note that earning an online degree requires nurses to be highly self-motivated and disciplined.

Choosing an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Evaluating online nurse practitioner programs requires students to consider factors like delivery method, program option, and state licensure requirements. Start by finding programs that offer the appropriate specialization for your career goals and satisfy the licensure requirements for your intended state of practice. Many online MSN programs have practicum or on-campus components that require travel, so that’s another important factor to consider.

Finally, consider program lengths, admission requirements, and tuition prices for nonresidents if you plan to study out of state.

For more details on individual schools, nursing candidates should check out our rankings of the best online colleges.

Accreditation for Online Nurse Practitioner Degrees

Prospective students should only attention accredited online nurse practitioner programs — especially those that hold regional accreditation. An accredited college or university has undergone a regular, systematic review of its student learning outcomes, graduation requirements, and faculty qualifications. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain current lists of accredited institutions.

Some schools also hold program-specific accreditation from leading organizations in the field. Nursing programs that follow best practices for educating NPs typically receive accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

An NP must attend an accredited program to earn a license, qualify for board certification, or receive federal financial assistance. Similarly, many employers only hire nurses with accredited degrees. Prospective nursing students should always check for ACEN or CCNE accreditation when researching potential NP master’s programs.

What Can I Expect in Pursuing a Nurse Practitioner Degree Online?

Online MSN programs provide training in advanced nursing practices, nursing leadership, and population health. Most programs also offer concentration options, such as pediatrics, family care, and adult-gerontology. These programs also prepare graduates to take certification and licensure exams in their respective specializations.

Common Courses in Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Required coursework in online nurse practitioner programs varies by school and specialization. For instance, the curriculum for a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) program differs from the courses required for a concentration in women’s health. Below are a few example courses commonly found in online NP programs.

  • Primary Care of Adults: This course prepares students to assess adult patients and diagnose common health conditions and diseases. Enrollees develop critical thinking skills while learning about medications and treatments.
  • Pathophysiology: This advanced course combines the study of genetics, physiology, and pathology. Students learn about how disease affects the body’s organs and systems, along with how to manage symptoms.
  • Pharmacology: To prescribe medications, NPs must understand the risks and benefits of each drug. This course explores the role of prescription drugs in disease management, specifically focusing on the functions, ingredients, and side effects of commonly prescribed medications.
  • Informatics: This course explores the communication and information technology solutions used by patients and providers, such as electronic medical records. Many of these advances help streamline patient care. Students pursuing information technology roles for NPs commonly take this class.
  • Advanced Health Assessment: Regardless of specialization, each NP student must complete a course in advanced health assessment. In this course, nurses learn to conduct health assessments for patients of all ages, usually using clinical experiences, simulations, or human models.

Nurse Practitioner Concentrations

Concentrations such as family nurse practitioner (FNP), neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), or psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) prepare advanced practice nurses for specific career paths after graduation. Nursing students must also complete clinical hours in their concentration areas to gain certification.

Family Nurse Practitioner

FNPs are one of the most popular nurse practitioner concentrations. They provide primary care for families. FNP specialists complete coursework in pediatrics and adult care, focusing on health maintenance, preventative care, and acute care. FNPs commonly work in family practice and can often work independently, depending on the state.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

An NNP concentration prepares students to care for newborn babies, often in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In this concentration, nursing students learn common medical conditions, illnesses, and challenges that affect premature newborns, including low birth weight and heart abnormalities. They also study conditions that necessitate a NICU stay after birth.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The PMHNP concentration trains students to assess a patient’s mental health needs. Coursework focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders through medication or psychotherapy. PMHNPs can also train to work with groups or communities.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

PNPs work with children from birth through young adulthood. Their training covers health assessment for young patients, well-child exams, and developmental screenings. Coursework also covers treating acute illnesses, disease prevention, health promotion, and educating families on health and wellness.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

An adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) concentration prepares learners to care for patients from young adulthood through old age. Students complete coursework on health assessment for adult and elderly patients, common illnesses and diseases, and palliative care. AGNP students may also specialize in subfields, like diabetes care, HIV/AIDS, or cancer.

Licenses and Certifications

After completing an online MSN program, graduates qualify to take a national certification exam through a nurse practitioner certification board. Each organization offers specialization options, such as neonatal, acute care, women’s health, and emergency nurse practitioner certifications. Eligibility requirements vary by board and certification, but candidates typically need a valid RN license, an accredited MSN degree, and 500 supervised clinical hours.

Applicants also need relevant training to qualify for a specific specialized certification, along with courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology, and physical assessment. Test details vary by specialization. For example, certified PNP exams have 175 questions and take up to three hours, whereas adult-gerontology acute care exams take slightly longer.

After passing one of the national certification exams, NP candidates must pursue licensure to practice. While the major requirements remain the same, each state has its own minor requirements for licensure. For instance, some states require additional background checks or character references.

Some states also require APRNs to complete collaboration or supervision components before they can run an independent practice. For example, Connecticut requires 3 years or 2,000 hours. Though states do not yet have APRN licensure reciprocity agreements, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) developed an APRN compact model in 2020 to allow multi-state licenses in the future.

Nurse Practitioner Career Info

Completing an online nurse practitioner program equips graduates to enter one of the most in-demand careers in the country. In general, the training leads to many healthcare careers, including those in the list below.

Learners can customize their training and pursue specific career interests through specializations. They should pay close attention to state licensure requirements for each concentration, as they may differ. Readers should also note that salaries vary by specialization and location.

Nurse Practitioner Salary and Job Growth

Median Annual Salary

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032)

Nurse Practitioner

NPs provide care and health education to patients. Their duties vary by state and specialization, but NPs usually offer patient check-ups, run tests, and design treatment plans. These professionals often need compassion, leadership skills, and strong communication abilities.

An NP needs a valid RN nursing license, a graduate nursing degree, and 500 hours of supervised clinical work to qualify for certification exams. After passing this test, certified candidates can apply for APRN state licensure. Some states may also require an NP to have a collaboration agreement in place with a physician.

Family Nurse Practitioner

FNPs work with families and individuals, evaluating patient health, providing treatment options, and suggesting healthy living strategies. Depending on the state, these professionals may prescribe medication and work independently from physicians. Successful FNPs usually have compassion and excellent interpersonal and critical thinking skills.

To qualify for the FNP national certification exam, candidates need a valid RN nursing license, a graduate degree with an FNP specialization, and 500 supervised clinical practice hours. After passing the exam, candidates can apply for state licensure and begin working with families.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

PMHNPs support patients with mental health challenges, such as behavioral, anxiety, and eating disorders. These specialized NPs conduct regular check-ups, perform and order tests, and administer treatment plans. In this discipline, NPs need patience and resourcefulness.

To practice in this field, NPs first need the PMHNP certification. To qualify for the test, applicants need an active RN license, a graduate nursing degree with a mental health specialization, and a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours. Once they receive certification, candidates can apply for state licensure, which may feature additional requirements.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

PNPs support the health outcomes of children and young adults. They may work in primary care, performing check-ups and providing health maintenance suggestions, or they can work in acute care, providing care for illnesses and injuries. Both fields require professionals with compassion, patience, and problem-solving skills.

Practice in this discipline requires an acute care or primary care PNP certification, such as CPNP-AC or CPNP-PC. Both certifications require candidates to have a valid RN license, a graduate nursing degree with a pediatrics specialization, and at least 500 supervised clinical hours. Once certified, they can apply for state licensure.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

NNPs work with infants, mothers, and families with newborns. They diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, and complications in children, providing families with support and helpful information. NNPs typically need critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.

NNPs can pursue two major certifications to practice in this field: the NNP certification and a women’s health nurse practitioner certification. Both credentials require an active RN license, a graduate degree with a neonatal or women’s health specialization, and a minimum of 500 clinical hours to apply. Individuals who successfully pass the certification exam can apply for licensure within their state.

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Advanced Practice Nursing in a Pandemic

The World Health Organization declared 2020 the year of the nurse and midwife — a fitting recognition for a profession that spent most of the year combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. That public health crisis has altered NP responsibilities. As hospitals across the country became overloaded with patients, NPs took on new care roles requiring less physician supervision.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, all APRNs received infection control education and must wear full personal protective equipment in response to the virus. The coronavirus highlighted a nationwide shortage of nurses, and that demand will not subside after the pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions About MSN

Is an MSN a Nurse Practitioner?

An MSN is a master of science in nursing degree — the minimum education required to become an NP. Once a graduate completes the degree, they must pass an APRN certification exam and apply for state licensure to become an NP.

How Long Does It Take To Go From MSN to NP?

Typically, online MSN programs run for 2-3 years, though some schools offer accelerated or part-time schedules. Graduates then take certification exams, which may require several months of studying. In most cases, candidates can move from online MSN programs into NP careers in 2-4 years.

What Is the Difference Between a Doctor and Nurse Practitioner?

Doctors and NPs have several major differences. Doctors need an average of 11 years of education, compared to 4-8 years for NPs. Doctors can prescribe medications in every state, whereas NPs are limited in some states. Doctors can also pursue more specializations, practice in more settings, and don’t require supervision.

Should I Get My MSN or DNP?

Students should consider their career goals when choosing between online MSN programs and DNP degrees. Both online nurse practitioner programs can lead to the same certifications and careers, though DNP graduates tend to pursue leadership positions while MSN graduates often find employment in clinical professions. DNP programs usually run longer and require full-time study schedules.

How Many Years Does It Take To Be a Nurse Practitioner?

After high school, an NP needs to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, a two-year MSN program, certification, and licensure. Most students complete this process in 6-8 years.

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