Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs & Schools
Nurses often want to boost their careers by pursuing different pathways toward advanced degrees, sometimes in specific niches. For many medical professionals, a position as a nurse practitioner (NP) is the ultimate goal. NPs pursue different paths based on their interests and skill levels, allowing them to better serve their patients and clients. For those wishing to pursue an online program to obtain a nurse practitioner degree, there are several things to consider.
Many dedicated registered nurses eventually wish to advance their careers by becoming nurse practitioners. No matter the specialty chosen, nurse practitioners are in-demand healthcare professionals. Finding the right online program, however, can be a challenge. That's why we have ranked the best online nurse practitioner programs across the country, spanning all specialties and degree levels. Browse the top schools below to find the right fit for you. For more information on our rankings, visit our methodology page.
St. Louis, MO
Spring Arbor, MI
Searching for an online NP program by state will show you what options are available near you – an important consideration if you wish to enroll in a hybrid program or complete on-campus intensives. Click on your state below to find out more about schools, degree levels, and specialties available.
- Washington, DC
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The first thing any prospective nurse practitioner should do is decide which degree type they wish to pursue to meet their career goals.
A Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is one option available for those who wish to become nurse practitioners. This graduate degree is suitable for registered nurses who already hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN), with bridge options for those who hold an associate’s degree in nursing as well. The two-year program gives students the option to focus on a number of nurse practitioner specializations, including family care, psychiatric care, pediatrics, neonatal, women’s health, and more. This is arguably the most common online pathway for RNs looking to advance their careers by becoming nurse practitioners.
Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate
Online post-master’s, or post-graduate, certificate programs are also available for NPs. With a certificate, students integrate new knowledge with known nursing theories in specialized fields. Graduate certificates lead to niche knowledge and career growth in a matter of one to two years.
It’s important to know that post-master’s nursing certificates are only available to RNs who already hold MSN degrees. A nurse with a master’s degree can become certified in a specialty or cross over into a different field of focus for more experience and knowledge. For example, somebody who focused on gynecology and obstetrics in their MSN program can study neonatal care for their NP post-master’s certificate. This pathway is advantageous for nurse practitioners who wish to formally specialize in a new area of care, but don’t want the time commitment or expense of another full degree program such as a DNP or an additional MSN.
An online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program prepares students for the highest-level practice in nursing, including nurse practitioner specialties. While some RNs might otherwise pursue a research or academia-based doctorate such as the Ph.D. in Nursing, the DNP is a program that provides direct clinical experience in the field. Those looking for leadership and executive roles within nursing may wish to pursue a DNP in the nurse practitioner concentration of their choice.
The online DNP pathway generally takes between one and four years to complete, depending on the specialty and whether the student enters the program with a BSN or an MSN. Additional time may be needed for those taking the program on a part-time basis.
Nursing students have many rewarding patient populations and areas of care in which they can specialize. The most common nurse practitioner program specializations include:
- Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
Looking for the top programs in these specialties? Click on each link above to see our annual rankings in each concentration.
Prospective NP students need to choose an online program based on their interests, professional goals, budget, timeline, and more. Some might opt for an in-state program to save money on tuition, but others might need to look out of state to find the concentration they want to pursue. These are just a few program features to consider for future NPs.
Students considering an NP program must consider the accreditation a school and its programs hold. Schools with accreditation have undergone systematic reviews of its curriculum and the qualifications of the instructors. Before applying for school, students should look at the Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to ensure that they choose a qualified organization. The Accreditation Commission accredits many excellent NP programs for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Online programs offer more flexibility than those offered in brick and mortar locations. For instance, students can choose between synchronous and asynchronous coursework. Asynchronous coursework means students don’t have to attend lectures with other classmates at a specific time, which allows for more flexibility.
Online programs may offer both part-time and full-time options. Full-time students may complete an MSN in two to three years. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in another subject or attend part-time may require an additional two years.
Finally, NP students must consider clinical requirements for the program. While online NP program coursework can be completed remotely, hands-on clinical rotations take place in-person and are arranged in the student’s local area. Clinical hours may even be completed at the student’s current place of employment (pending approval by the school). Each program may have different hourly requirements, but most require about 600 to 700 hours.
Tuition & Costs
Tuition and other associated costs vary for online NP programs. While most schools differentiate between traditional and online programs, the costs still have a wide range. In addition to tuition, students also spend money on technology fees, textbooks, and sometimes computer software. For example, an MSN at Georgetown may cost about $2,139 per credit, whereas an MSN at Drexel University may be more affordable at $997 per credit. It’s important to note, however, that there are cost savings to online NP programs, including the elimination of costly commuting expenses (gas, public transportation, parking fees, etc.) as well as not having to relocate if the student resides in a more remote area.
Online programs offer a variety of benefits. Students who prefer to watch videos and read lectures will benefit from online programs. Additionally, online programs allow students to do classwork when it suits them best, even fitting it in between work and family commitments if necessary. Online education includes online coursework like quizzes, many of which provide quick feedback allowing students to learn immediately.
Of course, online programs require extensive time management skills. NP students might also consider a hybrid program (which combines online coursework and some campus visits) if they need in-person meetings or asynchronous discussions and lectures to stay focused.
Ultimately, the choice of an online or hybrid course will depend on each student’s learning style, schedule, and need for social stimulation.
Next, students need to consider whether a particular school supports the NP specialty of their choice. For instance, some NPs choose to work in pediatrics, acute care, or women’s health. Some want to focus on neonatal care, which involves medical care for newborn babies. Others want to work in psychiatric-mental health or adult-gerontology. These programs may have different requirements for clinical hours.
The reputation of a school or program may also influence a prospective student’s decision. An NP wants to be proud of the school they went to, and they also want to learn from experienced faculty members. They should also seek to attend a school that has positive relationships with local hospitals (which can be advantageous for clinical externships and even future employment opportunities). Taking some time to check out the school’s reputation – including any accolades or awards, how well the online program is ranked, how long it has been around, the rates of retention and graduation, and the background and expertise of the faculty – can pay off in the long run and make your resume stand out.