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Nurse Practitioner Online Programs The Pinnacle of Nursing Education

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.

Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs 2018-2019

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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 2018-19 based on our criteria. See who made this list below.

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Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Cox College Springfield, Missouri$9,60014%59%100%2Yes No Yes School website
2 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Alabama$10,47056%53%68%2Yes Yes Yes School website
3 South Dakota State University Brookings, South Dakota$7,15557%91%60%1Yes Yes Yes School website
4 University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida$4,47843%50%73%3Yes Yes Yes School website
5 Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia$15,10588%24%55%1Yes Yes Yes School website
6 University of Mary Bismarck, North Dakota$15,990100%77%59%3Yes Yes Yes School website
7 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minneapolis, Minnesota$12,54659%44%80%1Yes Yes Yes School website
8 Winona State University Winona, Minnesota$7,10347%60%59%9Yes Yes Yes School website
9 Ashland University Ashland, Ohio$19,44894%72%57%1Yes Yes Yes School website
10 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, North Carolina$3,89368%41%59%1Yes Yes Yes School website
11 Illinois State University Normal, Illinois$9,82749%89%73%3No Yes Yes School website
12 University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa$7,12875%84%71%2No Yes Yes School website
13 University of Toledo Toledo, Ohio$8,05292%94%47%3Yes Yes Yes School website
14 West Virginia University Morgantown, West Virginia$7,99266%76%59%1Yes Yes Yes School website
15 Boise State University Boise, Idaho$4,87241%82%44%3Yes Yes Yes School website
16 Grand Valley State University Allendale, Michigan$11,83268%82%68%2No Yes Yes School website
17 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, Ohio$9,32258%76%72%5Yes Yes Yes School website
18 Ferris State University Big Rapids, Michigan$11,14469%78%51%1Yes Yes Yes School website
19 Ball State University Muncie, Indiana$8,99240%62%62%3Yes Yes Yes School website
20 Clarion University Clarion, Pennsylvania$7,23841%94%51%2Yes Yes Yes School website
21 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, Massachusetts$14,59065%60%77%2Yes Yes Yes School website
22 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, Colorado$6,62446%93%50%2Yes Yes Yes School website
23 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, Texas$6,87254%67%81%1No Yes Yes School website
24 Missouri State University Springfield, Missouri$6,15054%84%57%2No Yes Yes School website
25 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, Texas$5,61058%69%46%5Yes Yes Yes School website
26 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, Mississippi$7,54968%60%51%1No Yes Yes School website
27 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, Alabama$8,99676%76%51%2No Yes Yes School website
28 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville, Illinois$7,21846%89%53%3No Yes Yes School website
29 Delta State University Cleveland, Mississippi$6,29858%89%38%2No Yes Yes School website
30 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, Georgia$4,18113%65%54%1Yes No Yes School website
31 Northwestern Oklahoma State University Alva, Oklahoma$5,73878%44%36%1Yes Yes Yes School website
32 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, Louisiana$5,18049%62%40%2Yes Yes Yes School website
33 Georgia Southwestern State University Americus, Georgia$3,88636%68%36%1Yes Yes Yes School website
34 Columbus State University Columbus, Georgia$4,18111%53%37%1Yes Yes Yes School website
35 West Texas A & M University Canyon, Texas$4,98943%60%44%1No Yes Yes School website
36 University of Southern Indiana Evansville, Indiana$7,10445%92%41%2Yes Yes Yes School website
37 Fort Hays State University Hays, Kansas$3,78973%91%44%1No Yes Yes School website
38 Arkansas State University Jonesboro, Arkansas$6,06070%70%41%1No Yes Yes School website
39 The University of West Florida Pensacola, Florida$3,73564%41%55%1No Yes Yes School website
40 Tennessee Technological University Cookeville, Tennessee$7,03253%67%51%1Yes Yes Yes School website
41 Old Dominion University Norfolk, Virginia$6,33065%85%55%2Yes Yes Yes School website
42 McNeese State University Lake Charles, Louisiana$5,14734%64%45%1Yes Yes Yes School website
43 Kent State University at Kent Kent, Ohio$10,01279%85%58%1No Yes Yes School website
44 Purdue University-Main Campus West Lafayette, Indiana$9,20843%56%75%1No Yes Yes School website
45 University of Memphis Memphis, Tennessee$7,48844%57%46%1Yes Yes Yes School website
46 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mankato, Minnesota$6,90421%62%53%1No Yes Yes School website
47 University at Buffalo Buffalo, New York$6,47060%59%73%7No Yes Yes School website
48 Georgia College Milledgeville, Georgia$7,1809%85%62%2Yes Yes Yes School website
49 University of Kansas Lawrence, Kansas$9,57962%93%62%3No Yes Yes School website
50 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, Texas$7,35048%70%47%3No Yes Yes School website

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.

Career National Job Growth (2014 – 2024) National Median Salary (May 2014)
Nurse Practitioners 31% $95,350
Nurse Midwives 31% $96,970
Clinical Nurse Specialists 16% $66,640
Nurse Anesthetists 31% $153,780
EXPLORE ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS TO BECOME A NURSE PRACTITIONER search programs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

*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.

  • Virtual Learning

    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.

  • Local Preceptors

    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.

  • Learning Intensives

    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.

  • Technology Requirements

    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.

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.

  1. Undergrad Studies

    Earns a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and passes NCLEX-RN exam

  2. Neonatal Nurse

    Gets position as an RN in neonatal intensive care unit, providing care to newborn infants

  3. Professional Certification

    Earns CCRN certification for adult, pediatric and neonatal critical nurses

  4. Career Advancement

    Moves into director role for pediatric unit at a major hospital

  5. Online Doctorate

    Completes neonatal-focused Doctor of Nursing Practice

  6. New Opportunities

    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.

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.

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 Program Concentrations

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.

Course Description
Healthcare Policy 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.
Healthcare Ethics 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).
Advanced Pharmacology 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.

Find out more about nurse practitioner program accreditation and the overall accrediting process.

Master of Science in Nursing: Pre-Enrollment Plan

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
Step 1

Earn Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

3 to 4 years
Step 2

Pass NCLEX Examination and Earn Nursing License

3 years
Step 3

Gain professional clinical experience as a registered nurse

1 to 2 years
Step 4

Study for and take Graduate Record Examination (if required)

10 to 12 months
Step 5

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 shadowing

    Candidates 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 up

    In 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 certification

    Earning 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.

Certification Options

Certification Options

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
  • Official transcripts
  • An active nursing license in the state where the nurse practitioner wishes to practice
  • National certification from recognized national certifying body
  • Criminal background check
  • Application
  • Application Fees