Nurse practitioner degrees are one of the top academic credentials in nursing. These graduate programs prepare registered nurses to assume leadership positions not only within nursing but in their communities as well. Many nursing schools now offer their non-clinical coursework online, allowing current RNs to advance toward a nurse practitioner career while continuing to work. Learn more about online nurse practitioner programs, including specialization tracks, course details and advice on choosing a nursing school.
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Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs: 2018
Those interested in studying a career that enhances their leadership, logical, and interpersonal skillset may consider enrolling in an online nurse practitioner program. Online nurse practitioner programs allow students to work towards their academic goals in a way that works with their busy schedules. However, the search for the best fitting program can be trying at times, which is why we have found the top online nurse practitioner programs for 2018 based on our criteria. See who made this list below.
Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution, including specialized accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
At least 1 online nurse practitioner degree at master’s or doctoral level (MSN, DNP, Ph.D.)
Annual in-state tuition below $25,000
Availability of academic/career counseling services
Availability of job placement services for graduates
Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:
Average in-state net price (tuition & fees minus financial aid)
Count and breadth of nurse practitioner programs available
% of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college
3-year loan default rate
AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*
*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.
Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.
Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017
Tailored for working adults, Purdue University Global offers greater access to an affordable, world-class education for those who need a more flexible online learning schedule. Our personalized programs make it possible to receive a high-quality, prestigious university degree completely online. A generous transfer credit policy and credit for work and military experience also allows our students to leverage their skills to earn a degree in less time, with 1-on-1 mentoring and support to guide you along every step of the way.
National Median Annual Salary & Job Growth for Nurse Practitioner
The bureau of labor statistics provides the following data about job growth in the Nurse Practitioner industry. As well as the following national median salary data for several different careers in the field of Nurse Practitioner.
National Job Growth (2014 – 2024)
National Median Salary (May 2014)
Clinical Nurse Specialists
EXPLORE ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS TO BECOME A NURSE PRACTITIONERsearch programs
*NOTE: The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups Clinical Nurse Specialists data into the larger career category of Registered Nurses. Job projection data for Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Anesthetists is grouped into a single category by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nurse Practitioner Programs: The Online Experience
Online nurse practitioner programs are designed to complement on-campus options, following the same curriculum and clinical experiences. Below is an overview of the online learning experience for nurse practitioner students.
Nursing education lends itself well to online learning as students can complete conceptual and theoretical curriculum online before moving to clinical rotations. Online students use web-based learning management systems to access course materials, participate in discussions and group collaborations, and communicate with peers and instructors. Programs may either delivered in real-time (synchronous) or asynchronous (self-paced) formats, but either allows students to access their instructional materials at any time.
Students are traditionally required to identify and select a preceptor in their local community, an individual who can manage the student’s clinical experience. Many colleges have clinical placement coordinators who can assist students find and establish local site agreements.
Local Clinical Rotations
After receiving approval for a local preceptor, students may participate in local clinical rotations. Some institutions require a faculty site visit to review and evaluate student progress.
Some programs, especially Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs, require students to attend on-campus learning intensives throughout the program. Students may spend a few days to a week or more on-campus, participating in clinical skills development sessions.
Online programs can be accessed via the Internet, but typically require students to have minimum technology systems including up-to-date web browsers and Microsoft Office, and other programs such as QuickTime, Windows Media Player and Adobe Acrobat.
Career and Academic Milestone Map
Nursing is a dynamic and varied profession, offering multiple opportunities for career development and advancement. Below is a map of example milestones for individuals interested in becoming nurse practitioners.
Earns a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and passes NCLEX-RN exam
Gets position as an RN in neonatal intensive care unit, providing care to newborn infants
Earns CCRN certification for adult, pediatric and neonatal critical nurses
Moves into director role for pediatric unit at a major hospital
Completes neonatal-focused Doctor of Nursing Practice
Opens private pediatric care office to provide care in the local community
Nurse Practitioner Online Degree Options
Becoming a nurse practitioner requires completion of a graduate educational program of study, either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The MSN is the minimum entry-level educational requirement. However, in 2004 the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommended moving advanced nursing practice to the Doctor of Nursing Practice by 2015. However, that change has not been fully enacted to date. Through evidence-based instruction and mentored patient care experiences, graduates of online nurse practitioner programs are prepared to practice as independent healthcare providers in 21 states, with other states limiting the scope of practice under the oversight of a supervising physician.
Master of Science in Nursing
(18 to 24 months)
RN-MSN Bridge Program
(24 to 36 months)
(12 to 24 months)
Doctor of Nursing Practice
(24 to 48 months)
The Master of Science in Nursing is designed to prepare registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree for entry-level entry into the advanced nursing field. Curriculum is divided between theoretical foundations of nursing and experiential, clinical practice. During the first year of study, students complete core nursing coursework (e.g. nursing leadership, research methods, healthcare policy) prior to moving into a specialized track of study. These academic tracks align with professional areas of practice, with examples including nursing administration, family nursing, adult-geronotological primary care, mental health care, and forensic nursing. Although the credit load varies by program, students can typically finish their MSN in 18 to 24 months, completing between 36 and 48 credit hours of full-time study along with a set number of clinical hours of practice. Upon graduation, MSN students are prepared to sit for national certification examinations.
The RN-to-MSN program is designed for registered nurses with an associate degree who wish to pursue a graduate degree in nursing. As accelerated programs of study, the RN-MSN bypasses BSN study by including “bridge” coursework—typically 5-8 undergraduate courses—that take students from associate- to master’s-level study. Credit requirements vary by university, but typically require between 48 and 55 credit hours of study to complete the RN-MSN. Some departments also offer options to BSN students, requiring approximately 36 credit hours to earn the MSN. Curriculum blends theoretical, nursing practice instruction and hands-on clinical practicums, allowing students to apply their classroom-based knowledge in practical healthcare settings. Depending on the specific RN-MSN bridge program, students may pursue specialized academic tracks, such as healthcare administration, nurse educator, and nursing leadership.
Post-master’s certificates are short programs of study that allow RNs with master’s degree to complete specialized academic tracks to sit for national certification examinations not part of their original master’s degree. Example concentrations span the spectrum of nursing specializations, from family nursing to adult-gerontology acute care, nurse education to pediatric nursing. Curriculum varies by program but generally requires between 18 and 27 credit hours of study, including clinical practicums. Graduates may leverage a post-master’s certificate to pursue a career or role change, as well as prepare for entrance into a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program.
The Doctor of Nursing practice is a terminal degree, the highest academic program for nurses. The goal of the DNP is to prepare graduates to pursue careers as researchers in academic, government and private healthcare settings. Through their studies, DNP students leverage evidence-based knowledge to improve clinical practice—making advances in health care systems, nursing education, and patient care management. For individuals with an MSN, DNP programs typically require 72 to 76 credit hours of study to complete, including 36 to 39 credit hours transferrable from the MSN degree. Curriculum is generally offered online with on-campus intensive sessions held throughout the program. Each DNP program includes clinical and classroom-based coursework and either a dissertation or final capstone project.
Nurse Practitioner Program Concentrations
Students may choose to concentrate their studies in specialized areas of nursing practice. There are numerous academic specializations available. Below is a list of four commonly pursued educational tracks:
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
In the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care track, nurses develop clinical skills in physical assessment, treatment, and care of health problems in adult and elderly patients.
Family Nurse Practitioner
The Family Nurse Practitioner track trains nurses to provide primary care to patients across the lifespan (from infancy to adulthood) in a range of medical settings, from hospitals to medical offices.
Pediatric Primary Care
The Pediatric Primary Care concentration prepares nurses to work as primary care providers to children and their families, conducting health examinations, ordering laboratory tests, and prescribing medications.
Mental Health/Psychiatric Nursing
Through the Mental Health track, nurses develop skills to asses, diagnose and treat mental health issues in patients, providing care in individual, group, and family settings.
Nurse Practitioner Course Information
Curriculum in online nurse practitioner programs is built upon two pillars: theoretical and evidence-based clinical knowledge. The goal of these programs is to equip students with the clinical and professional skills required to provide both primary and specialized care to a variety of patients across healthcare settings. Students enhance their knowledge of nursing practice, developing an advanced understanding of patient assessment, diagnosis, and care. Below is a list of courses commonly found in nurse practitioner programs.
In this class, students learn about the fundamentals of healthcare policy, study the dynamic processes of policy creation, develop analytical skills, and gain an understanding of the political and historical context and impact of healthcare policy at the local and national levels.
Physiology and Pathophysiology
This course covers advanced topics in physiology and pathophysiology, designed to elevate the student’s knowledge of how physiological processes and systems impact diagnosis and subsequent patient care treatment plans.
Advanced Health Assessment
This class concentrates on advanced concepts in assessment, including evidenced-based practice within the context of the advanced nursing role. Students gain an understanding of how to gather and leverage a range of patient data to develop focused patient assessments.
Students are introduced to the ethical principles of nursing practice, critically reflecting on the modern nursing and its inherent challenges (e.g. social justice, compassion, and professional care).
In this course, students study advanced pharmacological concepts (e.g. drug metabolism and pharmacodynamics), drug classes, and how they apply to making decisions for therapeutic use in treating diseases in patients.
Selecting an Online Nurse Practitioner Program
A master’s or doctorate degree can help advance a nurse’s career. However, the decision to complete a graduate program of study should not be made lightly and without research. Prospective students should ensure their learning style meshes with online learning, the program offers the right mix of research and clinical experience, and faculty members support student success. Below is a checklist of items prospective students can use to select the right online nurse practitioner program.
How long is the program and are full- or part-time study options available?Prior to enrolling, students should understand the program requirements and structure. Some MSN programs do not allow students to attend part-time.
Do faculty actively practice? Faculty members who are working professionals are typically up-to-date in the latest nursing practices.
Does the faculty have the proper expertise? Make sure faculty members have clinical and research experience in the concentration or area of practice in which the student wishes to practice.
Does the program offer local clinical and leadership opportunities?Relevant, hands-on clinical experience is critical to the professional development of students.
Is the program accredited? Master’s programs should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Does the program offer student support? Does the program support online students? Are faculty members required to respond to student questions in a certain time period? Are they available by phone? By email? By the online course management system?
Are programs offered online and/or in a hybrid format? Make sure the learning format of the program fits the student’s learning preferences and style.
What percentage of graduates have job offers in their area of practice after graduation? Job placement and career success are indicators of the program’s quality and indicate the likelihood of employment after finishing the master’s program in nursing.
Accreditation for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
In the US, accreditation is a voluntary review process by a third-party, non-governmental organization that safeguards program quality and integrity. The primary accrediting body for nursing programs is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Other accrediting bodies include the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). Accreditation is a critical factor for students to consider when reviewing and choosing an online master of nursing program. Completing a program of study at an accredited institution is required both by national certifying bodies and state boards of nursing licensure.
Preparation and planning is important when it comes to applying to and completing a graduate program of study in nursing. Below is a sample timeline for preparing to enroll in an online nurse practitioner program at the master’s level.
Time to Complete
Earn Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
3 to 4 years
Pass NCLEX Examination and Earn Nursing License
Gain professional clinical experience as a registered nurse
1 to 2 years
Study for and take Graduate Record Examination (if required)
10 to 12 months
Apply for admission to programs of choice
8 to 10 months
Admission to online nurse practitioner programs is a competitive process, with pools of candidates that typically outsize the number of positions available. Gaining admission to a graduate program is not based on a single criterion but a collective of information that is used when it comes to accepting candidates. Below is a list of five ways prospective nurse practitioner students can make their applications more competitive.
Gain professional experience Past clinical experience is important and many nurse practitioner programs require candidates to have at least one year of professional experience as a nurse.
Participate in job shadowingCandidates can demonstrate their interest in the field by shadowing a licensed nurse practitioner in their area of interest, such as mental health or family nursing.
Keep those grades upIn addition to overall GPA, admissions committees also review the candidate’s grades in nursing and nursing-related courses.
Join nursing organizations Membership in nursing organizations and associations (such as the National Student Nurses Association or American Nurses Association) can help a candidate’s application stand out.
Gain certificationEarning professional certifications indicates the candidate’s commitment to continuing education and advanced nursing potential.
Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook
Employment data from multiple sources all arrive at the same conclusion: the practice of advanced nursing is a well-paying and rapidly growing profession. Multiple factors are contributing to this growth—a shortage of primary care health care providers, health care reform, and the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. What’s emerged is a new model of health care delivery, with nurse practitioners serving as primary care providers across areas of practice, from pediatrics to family health. In turn, nurse practitioners are expected to see employment gains greater than 30 percent between 2014 and 2024, well above the national average for all occupations. Below is an overview of the career and salary outlook for nurse practitioners compared to other advanced practice registered nurses.
Becoming Certified and Licensed as an NP
In the U.S., nurse practitioners are licensed by the state in which they practice. Prior to licensure, prospective nurse practitioners must gain national certification, available from several organizations, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), National Certification Corporation (NCC), and Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). Certification indicates the nurse practitioner possesses the professional knowledge and skills to practice in their specialty area of practice.
Eligibility requirements vary by certifying organization. Below is a snapshot of several of the major certifications available for nurse practitioners.
The AANPCP Examinations are entry-level, pass/no-pass, computer-based examinations that test candidate’s knowledge and expertise in specific areas of nursing practice. Knowledge domains include assessment, diagnosis, care planning and patient evaluation.
ANCC examinations are competency-based that measure the candidate’s entry-level clinical skills and knowledge of working as a nurse practitioner. Each examination includes 175 questions that vary by specialty area of practice.
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult Nurse Practitioner
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
PNCB examinations are designed to test candidate’s knowledge of pediatric health issues in primary care and acute and urgent settings. Tests include 175 multiple-choice questions with content based on the specific area of practice.
Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Path to Licensure as an NP
State Boards of Nursing regulate the licensing process for nurse practitioners, a process of granting nurses permission to practice legally in their respective state. Requirements vary by state and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing maintains a list of the contact information for each state board of nursing. While individual state requirements vary, common licensing elements include the following:
Verification of graduation from an accredited NP education program
An active nursing license in the state where the nurse practitioner wishes to practice
National certification from recognized national certifying body
Criminal background check
Related Online Nursing Programs
Nursing is a broad, diverse field, one that offers an assortment of professional opportunities in different specialties and work environments. The breadth and depth of the practice affords interested individuals educational paths not only at the master’s level, but certificate, diploma, associate, and bachelor’s level as well.
For individuals interested in nursing, an online CAN program can help them prepare for an entry-level position as a Certified Nursing Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant. These programs can be completed in as little as six weeks and teach students the fundamentals of basic nursing skills, allowing graduates to serve in assistant positions under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians.
Prospective students can select from a variety of online RN programs at varying educational levels, such as associate in nursing and RN-to-BSN completion programs. These degrees are designed to prepare graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination and pursue entry-level employment as registered nurses.
Online LPN programs are designed to prepare graduates to care for patients under the supervision of a registered nurse. Students gain an understanding of the nursing process, develop practical nursing skills, and fundamental knowledge of key nursing concepts, such as medical terminology, pharmacology, and anatomy and physiology.