Best Online PhD Degrees in Nursing

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Doctorate-Level Education and Career Options in Nursing

The doctorate is a great way for nurses to broaden their professional horizons. There are two types of doctorate nursing degrees: the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) and the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). The PhD is more research-oriented, focusing on the broad application of nursing in practice, such as developing system-wide solutions and working with setting policies. The DNP is designed for those in active practice, and is ideal for nurses who would like to become nurse practitioners (NPs).

Top 10 Best Online Schools for a PhD in Nursing

Rank School Location
1 Ashland University Ashland, OH
2 Boise State University Boise, ID
3 Clarion University Clarion, PA
4 Delta State University Cleveland, MS
5 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
6 Florida International University Miami, FL
7 Georgia College Milledgeville, GA
8 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA
9 Hampton University Hampton, VA
10 Idaho State University Pcatello, ID

Best Online Schools for a PhD in Nursing


  • METHODOLOGY

    Best Online PhD in Nursing

    Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors Data Sources:

    Eligibility Criteria:

    • Each college must be accredited
    • Each college must be a not-for-profit institution
    • Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
    • Each college must have at least one online program 1
    • Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000

    Ranking Factors:

    • Affordability
    • Quality
    • Flexibility
    • Program

    Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.

    1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.

    2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates. Notes:

    • A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
    • Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.


Students have a wide range of choices for programs that offer an online doctorate in nursing, so figuring out which ones to apply to isn’t always an easy decision. We’ve made the process more manageable by creating a ranking list that considers several factors that are important to most students.

Advertisement AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

  • Ashland University
    Location

    Ashland, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A Doctor of Nursing Practice for certified nurse practitioners is offered at Ashland University. This program focuses on leadership development, practice management, evidence based practice, informatics and advocacy. It consists of 32 to 38 credit hours as well as courses such as Principles of Practice Management, DNP Role and Interprofessionalism and Health Informatics. Students must complete a DNP project in addition to all required courses. Prospective students must be advanced practice nurses with a master's degree and a minimum GPA of 3.0. Additionally, they are required to submit 3 letters of recommendation, complete an undergraduate or graduate level statistics course, write a 2- to 3-page paper that describes their clinical area of interest and participate in an interview. A maximum of 9 graduate level credits may be transferred into the DNP program. Only courses in which students earned a 3.0 or higher are transferable.

  • Boise State University
    Location

    Boise, ID

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Nurses who hope to become leaders in nursing may benefit from the online Doctor of Nursing Practice in Leadership at Boise State University. This program consists of a variety of courses that can help nurse leaders succeed. These courses are related to finance, information systems, policy and advocacy, organizational leadership and project management. At the start of the program, students will need to select a scholarly project, which will directly or indirectly improve the practice of nursing and health outcomes. All of the courses they take throughout the program will allow them to complete the project successfully. Prospective students must hold a master's degree in nursing or a master's degree in a related field and a bachelor's degree in nursing. In addition, they are required to have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in their undergraduate and graduate coursework. The Doctor of Nursing Practice in Leadership is available to students from all states except Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.

  • Clarion University
    Location

    Clarion, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Clarion and Edinboro Universities have partnered together to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice. This online program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or ACEN. It consists of 27 credit hours and involves core courses such as Leading Nursing in Health Care Systems, Advanced Topics in Population Health and Analytical Methods of Evidence Based Practice. Students will also be required to take elective courses such as Clinical Teaching Strategies in Nursing, Advanced Evaluation Strategies in Nursing Education and Advanced Care of the Individual and Family. In addition, students must complete a clinical internship and dissertation. Students can take courses on a part-time basis over 5 semesters. They will be admitted in cohorts and start the program in May of each year. Graduates of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program will be well-versed in policy, leadership, population health and clinical practice.

  • Delta State University
    Location

    Cleveland, MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

  • East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At East Carolina University, students have the opportunity to enroll in a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing that is delivered in an online and hybrid format. Admission requirements include a nursing degree from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission and a minimum GPA of 3.2 on all graduate work. Prospective students are also required to submit a written essay explaining why they wish to pursue a PhD in nursing, a curriculum vita and 2 written professional references. The 3 paths of this program include BSN to PhD, MSN to PhD and DNP to PhD. Students are required to maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 and closely follow the plan of study as courses are only delivered once a year. After graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, students will be able to work as researchers, policy makers, analysts, university faculty or administrators in public and private health care organizations.

  • Florida International University
    Location

    Miami, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Florida International University allows students to earn a Doctor of Philosphy in Nursing. This program prepares nurses for research and leadership positions in health care as well as government and health care-related private organizations. It involves 6 components including program of study, candidacy examination, dissertation proposal and defense, dissertation research, dissertation writing and dissertation defense. Students who enroll on a full-time basis can graduate in 4 years. Those who wish to earn this degree must hold a master's degree in nursing, a cumulative graduate GPA of 3.3 or higher and a Florida RN license. They are required to complete a master's level statistics course and submit their GRE scores as well. Students who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing may also earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing as long as they have an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.0, a RN license in the state of Florida and take the GRE. All students will work with an academic adviser to plan their program of study.

  • Georgia College
    Location

    Milledgeville, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

  • Georgia Southern University
    Location

    Statesboro, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

  • Hampton University
    Location

    Hampton, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

  • Idaho State University
    Location

    Pcatello, ID

    Tuition

    $$$$$

The Doctoral Degree Timeline

APPLYING TO DOCTORATE PROGRAMS

In order to apply to a DNP program, students must hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Schools who accept those with only a bachelor’s degree tailor the course load and degree requirements to fit the student’s previous educational attainment; students who hold a master’s can expect to begin more advanced coursework sooner in the program. Either way, most students will need the following information when applying to an online DNP degree program:

  • Proof of registered nurse status.All DNP programs require incoming students to provide proof of an RN license and APRN specialty certifications.
  • Resume or curriculum vitae.This complete educational and work history of the student gives the admissions committee a full picture of the student’s nursing background, especially prior clinical experience.
  • GRE scores.Although many doctoral programs in nursing do not require GRE scores, some do, so check the requirements well in advance.
  • Academic transcripts.These serve as an official record that the student has taken the necessary classes and received the prerequisite education. Most admissions offices will only accept transcripts directly from the host institutions, so applicants should check what the process entails.
  • Personal statement.Most schools have their own individualized essay prompts, but they all revolve around the student’s academic interests and why they want to get a DNP degree.
  • Letters of recommendation.Usually two or three are required, with letters from former professors or work colleagues showing the student is qualified to succeed in the DNP program.
YEAR 1

The first year of a DNP degree program consists primarily of foundational coursework, including classes that cover topics such as epidemiology, statistics and evidence-based practice. Depending on the program, students may also begin working on their clinical experience requirements and capstone projects.

YEAR 2

This will be the final year for students entering a DNP program with a master’s degree. A rigorous course load expands to include elective courses that are relevant to the student’s chosen concentration. Students will also work on their capstone project. For those entering a DNP program with a bachelor’s degree, there will be more core coursework, with only a few electives.

YEARS 3 AND 4

These years only apply to students who began their DNP education with a bachelor’s degree. During the last two years, these students will complete their capstone projects, continue with clinical experience, and take the bulk of their electives.

TESTING AND GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS

In addition to coursework, students in most DNP programs must complete a capstone project, as well as fulfill clinical experience requirements, before graduation.

  • Capstone project.Most DNP programs require students to undertake a scholarly project that demonstrates their understanding of concepts and experiences learned from clinical experience and program coursework. Work on the capstone project usually takes place over two years.
  • Clinical experience.DNP degree-granting institutions partner with local medical facilities to allow students to take information and theories learned in class and apply them in a clinical setting.

Routes to a Doctorate Degree

There are two primary routes to an online doctorate degree in nursing—the PhD and DNP—with each having unique characteristics. Students may review the focus and requirements of these distinct degrees to determine which is best-suited for entering a particular profession or nursing avenue.

PhD in Nursing

Theory is the underpinning of a PhD in nursing, and thus is ideal for those who would like to end up in an academic or research setting. For becoming a professor of nursing or conducting medical research, the PhD is probably the best choice.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

For nurses who want the hands-on work of treating patients, the DNP is the appropriate route. With its focus on practical knowledge and skills, DNP graduates are qualified to work in clinical settings such as hospitals, rather than a classroom or lab.

For certain jobs, upon graduation of a DNP program students may need or want to obtain additional certifications showing they are proficient in a given specialty. For example, they may gain certification as an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

The Impact of a PhD in Nursing on Salary & Career Potential

A DNP degree enhances a nurse’s career opportunities, job security, and earning potential. One of the ways the DNP does this is by allowing the nurse to specialize in a certain area on the journey to becoming a nurse practitioner. These are some of the most common concentrations for those in a DNP program. 

CONCENTRATIONS

Allergy and Immunology

Allergies can be a nuisance and sometimes a life-threatening danger. Nurses who choose this concentration learn about the immunological bases of allergies and how they affect people. Certification in this field is offered by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

Career:

  • Adult Health NP: Adult health NPs not only treat any illnesses their patients may suffer from, but also work to promote healthy lifestyles through education.
  • Family Health NP: Family health NPs work with patients across the majority of their lifespan, providing preventive care, treatment of illnesses, and disease management.
  • Pediatric/Child Health NP: With their work ranging from preventive care to diagnosing chronic diseases, pediatric and child health NPs treat children from infancy through adolescence. Work settings include a variety of locations, such as doctors’ offices and hospitals.
Orthopedics

This concentration concerns the treatment of tendons, muscles and bones. Nurses who concentrate in this area will treat patients with musculoskeletal injuries.

Career:

  • Acute Care NP: Acute care NPs work wherever complex, intense and critical care is needed. They can be found in emergency rooms, intensive care units and critical care facilities.
  • Adult Health NP: Adult health NPs not only treat any illnesses their patients may suffer from, but also work to promote healthy lifestyles through education.
  • Family Health NP: Family health NPs work with patients across the majority of their lifespan, providing preventive care, treatment of illnesses, and disease management.
  • Gerontology NP: As primary care providers to the elderly, much of the care provided by gerontology NPs concerns rehabilitation, hospice care and treating medical conditions predominant in the elderly, such as dementia.
Emergency

Trauma-induced injuries and emergency care are the focus of this concentration. Nurses who specialize in this field will study emergency room protocols, triage, and emergency treatment procedures.

Career:

  • Acute Care NP: Acute care NPs work wherever complex, intense and critical care is needed. They can be found in emergency rooms, intensive care units and critical care facilities.
  • Adult Health NP: Adult health NPs not only treat any illnesses their patients may suffer from, but also work to promote healthy lifestyles through education.
  • Family Health NP: Family health NPs work with patients across the majority of their lifespan, providing preventive care, treatment of illnesses, and disease management.
  • Gerontology NP: As primary care providers to the elderly, much of the care provided by gerontology NPs concerns rehabilitation, hospice care and treating medical conditions predominant in the elderly, such as dementia.
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health NP: Whether in hospitals, private practice or substance abuse centers, psychiatric and mental health NPs provide intensive treatment, including counseling and medication administration, to patients suffering from mental illnesses or problems.
Cardiovascular

In a cardiovascular specialty, students learn about issues that affect the heart and lungs, and ways to treat those conditions. Topics of study include physiology, cardiovascular disease, and caring for recipients of heart transplants.

Career:

  • Women’s Health NP: Women’s health NPs provide medical services to women through most stages of their lives, from the late teens to post-menopause. They may also further specialize in midwifery to provide obstetric and gynecological care.
  • Acute Care NP: Acute care NPs work wherever complex, intense and critical care is needed. They can be found in emergency rooms, intensive care units and critical care facilities.
  • Adult Health NP: Adult health NPs not only treat any illnesses their patients may suffer from, but also work to promote healthy lifestyles through education.
  • Family Health NP: Family health NPs work with patients across the majority of their lifespan, providing preventive care, treatment of illnesses, and disease management.
Neurology

Neurology deals with the identification and treatment of illnesses as they relate to the nervous system. Nurses learn how to treat a wide variety of patients, including those suffering from the effects of strokes and brain disorders. Nurses in this field have two certifications available to them: Stroke Certified Registered Nurse (SCRN) and Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN).

Career:

  • Women’s Health NP: Women’s health NPs provide medical services to women through most stages of their lives, from the late teens to post-menopause. They may also further specialize in midwifery to provide obstetric and gynecological care.
  • Acute Care NP: Acute care NPs work wherever complex, intense and critical care is needed. They can be found in emergency rooms, intensive care units and critical care facilities.

Potential Salary Increases with a Doctoral Degree

Getting a doctorate degree in nursing has great potential to vastly increase a nurse’s salary and earning potential. Many positions require an advanced nursing degree, and attaining either the DNP or PhD positions a nurse to expect better compensation. Following is salary information typical of various nursing specialties:

CAREERLOWER 10%MEDIAN SALARYUPPER 10%
Nursing Professor$39,830$66,100$107,080
Nurse Practitioner$68,830$95,350$131,050
Nurse Midwife$65,940$96,970$129,140
Nurse Anesthetists$107,240$132,380$181,860
Registered Nurse$45,880$66,640$98,880

Additional Resources & Links

To find out more about the nursing profession, its various specialties, and career development, students may find the following resources helpful:

  • AANP: American Association of Nurse PractitionersThe AANP is one of the premier professional membership organizations for nurse practitioners. The website contains information about financial aid opportunities for nursing students.
  • American Association of Colleges of NursingThe AACN establishes standards for nursing education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
  • American Nurses AssociationThe ANA is the exclusive professional membership organization for registered nurses.
  • DiscoverNursing.comThis is a comprehensive source of information regarding the nursing profession in the United States. From financial aid to statistics to advice, this site has plenty of information for those interested in nursing.
  • Doctors of Nursing PracticeComprised of advanced practice nurses, the organization’s goal is to promote the DNP degree and the nursing profession in order to enhance the overall care of patients.
  • HRSA: Nurse Corps Loan Repayment ProgramThis program is designed to encourage registered nurses to work at medical locations with nursing shortages. In return, nurses receive partial payment of their student loans.
  • National Student Nurses’ AssociationThis is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping nursing students at all levels achieve their professional goals.

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