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.
|#1||University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA|
|#2||Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX|
|#3||Clarkson College Omaha, NE|
|#4||George Washington University Washington, DC|
|#5||Georgia College & State University Milledgeville, GA|
|#6||Winona State University Winona, MN|
|#7||Samford University Birmingham, AL|
|#8||Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA|
|#9||Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais, IL|
|#10||Sacred Heart University Fairfield, CT|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nurse Practitioner Professional Organizations
Professional organizations provide resources and support for NPs at different career stages. Students can access certification information, healthcare publications, and job boards, whereas established professionals can benefit from professional development and networking opportunities.
The following list includes just some of the many professional organizations available for NPs.
The Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
Founded in 1880, USC now teaches over 46,000 students both on-campus and online. It functions as a private research university.
The master of science in nursing (MSN) degree trains registered nurses (RNs) who are looking to become family nurse practitioners on providing advanced care in a primary care setting. Coursework covers pharmacology, pathophysiology, healthcare policy, and more. The program requires all students to attend 2 on-campus intensives in Los Angeles.
All applicants need at least one year of clinical RN practice and a bachelor's degree. Transcripts must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA. The program can be completed part-time in 33 months, or full-time in 21 months.
Founded in 1876 as the state's first public higher education institution, Texas A&M University enrolls over 69,000 students every year.
The master of science nursing-family nurse practitioner degree focuses on providing registered nurses the training needed to become primary care providers. All students must attend a one-day new student conference at the Bryan-College Station campus upon admittance. The program requires 45 hours logged on campus for clinical hours and other course objectives, including diagnostics and procedures in addition to four primary care courses.
Applicants need an unencumbered RN license and must reside in the state of Texas.
Established in 1888, Clarkson College offered only nursing degrees until the mid-1900s. Clarkson now offers a wide variety of healthcare degrees for both graduate and undergraduate students.
The registered nurse to MSN degree allows students with a diploma or associate degree in nursing to earn both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Students can choose to specialize in serving families, mental health patients, and adult and gerontological patients, among other concentrations.
Theory coursework takes place entirely online and students make occasional campus visits to demonstrate hands-on competencies.
Clarkson requires nursing students to maintain employment throughout the program in order to comply with clinical standards.
The George Washington University enrolls over 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students yearly. Founded in 1821, it functions as a private research university.
GW's master of science in nursing for nurse practitioners program trains RNs to provide healthcare in both primary and acute care settings. Students may specialize in working with families, adults, senior citizens, and mental health patients.
Coursework takes place in a hybrid format, blending online courses and on-campus training and assessments. Students must be able to commute to the Washington, D.C. campus.
Established in 1889 as a women's educational center, this public liberal arts college serves both undergraduate and graduate students just two hours from Atlanta.
Georgia College's master of science in nursing degree offers several online nurse practitioner concentrations, allowing students to specialize in family health, mental health, women's health, and midwifery.
To graduate, students must complete 40 credits and 630 clinical hours. Only clinical hours completed in the state of Georgia count towards the degree. Students must also complete a 45-hour on-campus lab immersion experience.
Founded in 1917, WSU offers more than 80 online and in-person degrees to students at all levels.
The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree works with RNs that have either a BSN or MSN. The program offers a wide variety of concentrations, including family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. Students are trained as advanced practice nurses in the chosen field of study.
Applicants need an unencumbered RN license, a 3.0 GPA, and a baccalaureate or masters in nursing.
Samford University, a Christian institution founded in 1841, enrolls 5,700 students on a yearly basis.
Samford's master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner degree prepares RNs for the role of primary care provider for a diverse set of patients. Students may optionally specialize in emergency or psychiatric care. Certified nurse practitioners lead all coursework.
Graduates of the program may take FNP national certification exams through the American Nurses' Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
Applicants must hold an unencumbered registered nursing license and submit transcripts showing a completed BSN and a 3.0 GPA for all nursing courses.
Founded in 1878, Duquesne University offers undergraduate and graduate programs to nearly 9,500 students.
Duquesne offers an online master of science in nursing degree with three nurse practitioner tracks: adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGANCP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). The degree focuses on training RNs to deliver chronic and preventative healthcare to adults of all ages. The coursework consists of 42-44 credits across 12-15 courses depending on specialization.
Interested applicants need a BSN with a 3.0 GPA and at least one year of clinical experience as an RN with an unencumbered license.
Olivet Nazarene University, established in 1907, offers degree programs instilled with Christian ideals. Olivet enrolls more than 3,500 students every year.
ONU's online master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner degree prepares RNs to provide advanced healthcare in clinics, community-based settings, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.
Classes take place in an accelerated, eight-week format, allowing students to graduate in as little as 24 months. To graduate, students must complete 52 credits and a 720 hour practicum.
Applicants must hold a BSN and an active RN license.
A Catholic university, SHU offers over 9,000 students undergraduate, graduate, doctorate, and certificate programs.
SHU's online master of science in nursing for family nurse practitioners prepares students to deliver a high level of patient care within diverse family systems.
The fully online coursework consists of 42 credits and typically takes three years to complete. Upon graduation, students may take the ANA and AANP certification exams.
Applicants must hold an unencumbered RN license and a BSN with a 3.2 GPA.
ASU enrolls more than 10,000 students across 100 different degree and certification options each year.
The master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner degree prepares RNs to provide primary care in a wide range of healthcare settings. To graduate, students must complete 49 credits and 650 practicum hours split across several courses.
Applicants must reside in Texas and hold a BSN with a GPA of at least 3.0. They must also demonstrate proof of at least one year of clinical experience as an RN.
Established in 1895, this public Carnegie Research 1 institution offers more than 180 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs to over 60,000 students.
UTA's master of science in nursing degree offers several nurse practitioner tracks with specializations in primary and acute care for pediatric, gerontological, and family nurse practitioner skills.
To graduate, students must complete 41-46 credits and 720 clinical hours. The flexible program offers multiple start dates and many students complete the program in under three years.
Applicants must hold an unencumbered RN license and a BSN with a GPA of 3.0. Students who do not meet GPA requirements should submit GRE scores.
Founded in 1881 with just 13 students, this Lutheran university now serves roughly 7,000 students every year.
The master of science in nursing - nurse practitioner program provides RNs the advanced coursework necessary to treat patients in a primary care setting. Students may specialize in family care or adult/gerontological care. Coursework covers pathophysiology, pharmacology, health policy, and more.
All coursework takes place online, and students must complete 720 clinical hours to graduate. Graduates may take AANP and ANCC certification exams upon program completion.
The University of Texas at Tyler, one of 14 colleges in the University of Texas system, offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs to nearly 10,000 students.
The master of science in nursing for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) degree prepares students to diagnose mental health disorders and treat mental illnesses. Coursework covers psychotherapeutic theories and integrated mental healthcare.
Students may take 99% of the MSN-PMHNP degree online. To graduate, students must complete 500 clinical hours in their community. Graduates qualify for the national certification exam.
Applicants must submit transcripts showing a BSN with a 3.0 GPA for the last 60 hours of coursework.
Maryville University, a private university with over 10,000 students enrolled yearly, offers a robust set of online degree programs for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Maryville offers an online master of science in nursing with five nurse practitioner tracks: adult-gerontology primary care, pediatric primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, psychiatric mental health, and family nurse practitioner. Current RNs receive advanced practice training through 100% online coursework and up to 745 hands-on clinical hours.
DeSales University went through several name changes until its most recent founding in 2000. A private Catholic university, it serves roughly 3,000 students.
DeSales offers an online master of science in nursing for nurse practitioners, with specialities in family/across the lifespan care, adult-gerontology acute care, and psychiatric-mental health care. The program trains current RNs to identify, diagnose, and treat short-term and chronic illnesses and condition for their specialty population.
Graduates exceed requirements for prescriptive authority in Pennsylvania and may take national certification exams offered by the ANCC and the AACN.
Regis, a Jesuit University with 6,900 students enrolled annually, offers full undergraduate and graduate programs across three different campus locations and online.
Regis's master of science in nursing trains students as either neonatal nursing practitioners (NNPs) or family nurse practitioners (FNPs) in rural and underserved communities. The degree program combines ethics, leadership, nursing theory, and healthcare policy.
Online coursework consists of 44-48 credits and takes place once per week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students must also complete 630 hands-on clinical hours.
Applicants must hold a BSN with a GPA of at least 2.75 and an active RN license. Ideal applicants can also demonstrate two years of clinical practice as an RN.
Misericordia, a Catholic liberal arts institution founded in 1924, teaches 2,600 students every year.
Misericordia's online master of science in nursing programs train students to work as adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) or family nurse practitioners (FNPs). The program focuses on providing students with a BSN the opportunity to run an advanced practice. Coursework combines theory-based learning and real-world application. Students will learn how to treat long-term, chronic illnesses for patients of all ages.
Applicants must hold a BSN with a GPA of at least 3.0 and an unencumbered RN license.
With 185 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, Bradley University offers a wide variety of options for its 6,000 students.
Bradley's online master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner (FNP) degree trains current RNs to become advanced practice nurses in a primary care setting. For students without a BSN, Bradley offers RN to MSN-FNP bridge courses.
Graduates of both the BSN to MSN-FNP and RN to MSN-FNP programs are eligible for national certification exams through the ANCC and AANP.
UCM, founded in 1871, offers more than 150 degree programs to nearly 10,000 students each year.
UCM's online master of science in nursing with a family nurse practitioner emphasis area. The program trains students in advanced pharmacology, pathophysiology, and health appraisal across the lifespan.
To graduate, students must complete 44 credits and three hands-on practicums.
Interested applicants need one year of clinical experience as an RN and a BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The program strongly recommends taking classes on a part-time basis.
Founded in 1907, Cox College serves a smaller student body with only 1,000 yearly enrolled students. It specializes in offering healthcare-specific degrees as a private nursing college.
Cox's online master of science in nursing offers tracks to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) or a family nurse practitioner (FNP). The program prepares registered nurses with a BSN to provide primary health care or mental health care to patients of all ages. Coursework includes 42 credits and 600-660 clinical hours.
All graduates qualify for their respective national certification exams.
SJC, a private Catholic liberal arts college, enrolls 2,000 students every year.
SJC's online master of science in nursing degree offers two nurse practitioner tracks: family/individual across the lifespan and adult gerontology acute care. Coursework takes place entirely online and covers nursing informatics, health care policy, safety, and more. Students in the adult gerontology acute care track must attend on-campus practicums.
Applicants need an unencumbered RN license, a BSN with a 3.0 GPA, and demonstrate previous enrollment in an undergraduate statistics and health assessment course with a "B" grade.
Founded in 1895, GU moved its nursing programs to a fully online format in 2000.
GU's master of science in nursing degree offers three tracks: family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult gerontoglogy acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).Coursework trains students on diagnosing and developing treatment plans for acute and chronic illnesses.
To graduate, students must complete 47 credits and 600 clinical hours.
GU's nursing programs restrict students from some states. Qualified applicants need an unencumbered RN license and a BSN.
Established in 1894, Morningside College offers undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate degrees to 1,300 students.
Morningside's master of science in nursing program offers a family nurse practitioner track and an adult gerontology primary care nurse track. The degree trains students to conduct physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, and administer treatments.
The online coursework consists of 47 credit hours and 600 clinical hours. Students must also attend a three-day skills lab on campus.
NAU, a research-intensive university founded in 1899, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to nearly 30,000 students.
The master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner degree teaches students how to manage family healthcare and healthcare delivery systems. Components of being an advanced practice nurse practitioner and FNP are central to degree coursework.
To graduate, students, must complete 48 credits, including three hands-on practicum courses
Interested applicants need an RN license and a BSN with a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Online Nurse Practitioner Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
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Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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