2023 Best Online Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs
|Rank||School||Salary Score||Median Starting Salary|
|# 1||AdventHealth University||$187,060|
|# 2||Midwestern State University||89||$125,822|
|# 3||Pace University||81||$118,294|
|# 4||Fairleigh Dickinson University||80||$117,472|
|# 5||United States University||79||$116,603|
|# 6||University of Nevada at Las Vegas||79||$116,502|
|# 7||Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania||78||$115,619|
|# 8||Northeastern University Global Network||75||$113,631|
|# 9||West Coast University||70||$110,302|
|# 10||Gonzaga University||68||$109,524|
Overview for Online Nurse Practitioner Degrees
The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) for nurse practitioners is for registered nurses and focuses on advanced nursing theory and principles in the design and delivery of primary care. MSN students choose a nursing specialization, such as family health, gerontology, women's health, or neonatal care. The curriculum is intended to prepare students for the national certification exam and also establishes a foundation for pursuing doctoral studies as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Program completion generally requires 42-48 credits and approximately 600 practicum hours to gain clinical experience. Full-time students may complete the program in two years, while part-time students may need four.
While on-campus NP programs emphasize collaborative group work and class discussion, as an online student, you'll work autonomously. You are also expected to maintain your nursing job while enrolled to practice and implement new skills and eventually complete your practicum.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Nurse Practitioner Program
Most professional nursing certification exams are only open to those who have completed accredited degree programs. Programmatic accrediting bodies ensure programs in their field offer a high quality curriculum that meets employer needs. Graduates should be proficient in the skills currently in-demand in order to pass certification exams and remain competitive in the job market.
You should choose an online nursing degree program specifically accredited by an agency such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing Inc., the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or the Commission for Education in Nursing. You can visit Ed.gov to check a school's accreditation status.
An NP degree program applicant must be a registered nurse with an active license and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If your bachelor's degree is in another field, you'll have to enroll in an RN to MSN bridge program. Most programs also require approximately one year of nursing work experience and proof of employment, in addition to letters of recommendation from employers.
Other admission requirements are similar across programs:
A minimum 3.0 GPA
Prerequisites may include microbiology, physiology, anatomy, psychology, chemistry, and statistics
GRE test scores
A current resume
An application fee of approximately $50
The admissions office may require an interview that an advisor will schedule once they review all the applications.
If you are on a budget, consider exploring our list of the most affordable nurse practitioner master's degrees online.
How To Become a Nurse Practitioner
Becoming an NP — one type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) — begins with earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). RNs who have already earned a BSN may apply to any NP program. RNs with associate degrees in nursing can also apply, but they may need to complete several prerequisite or "bridge" courses in addition to the full MSN curriculum.
Once students have earned their MSN to become an NP and completed their state requirement for practicum hours, they can apply for state licensure and national certification, both of which require comprehensive exams. Each state's nursing board has its own criteria for licensure, so students should check their state's website for full details. Certification varies depending on a student's area of specialization. For example, Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) can pursue certification through either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), while NPs who specialize in working with older adults can earn certification through the Gerontology Nursing Certification Commission or the ANCC. Both state licensure and certification need to be renewed periodically.
Nurse Practitioner Specialties
Students enrolled in NP programs must choose an area of specialization. Some NPs focus on patients within a particular age group — the most popular of which is the FNP — but there are other possibilities as well. The most common specializations are as follows:
- Family (individual adults and families)
- Gerontology (adults, especially older adults)
- Women (women and patients who identify as female)
- Neonatal (newborn babies)
- Pediatrics (children)
- Psychiatric and mental health patients
Especially for those students focused on older adults and children, coursework may further specialize in providing acute or primary care. Primary care training involves assisting patients with routine medical care, including treatment for chronic conditions, while acute care training focuses on assisting patients who need immediate medical attention for acute illnesses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), NPs have a bright job outlook. As of the most recent federal data, the median annual wage for NPs was $125,900, and the demand for all NPs is projected to expand by 38% through 2032, which is significantly higher than the 3% average across all occupations. The BLS notes that the aging population in the U.S. is causing a growing demand for healthcare services, and the pandemic has contributed to the need for more nurses. Because NPs can provide many of the same services as doctors, they are becoming an increasingly important component of the team-based approach adopted by many healthcare providers.
The aging population in the U.S. is causing a growing demand for healthcare services, and the pandemic has contributed to the need for more nurses.
APRNs who would like to leave clinical practice and focus exclusively on administrative work in the healthcare industry may want to consider becoming a medical and health services manager. A master's degree may be an advantage in obtaining this job, which has a median annual salary of $104,830 and projected growth of 28% through 2032.
Nursing Courses and Curriculum
The curriculum for online NP programs typically builds upon the foundation laid in baccalaureate courses by providing more advanced, specialized knowledge. Courses emphasize evidence-based practice, including classes on research and statistics. NP programs often require students to come to campus for brief learning experiences, such as on-site examinations or intensives lasting two to five days. Some programs also require a capstone project. Students generally take multiple courses related to their area of specialization, but the following are some of the NP classes commonly found across all programs:
Graduation requirements for an MSN also include 600-700 hours of clinical experience, known as practicum hours. Each practicum allows students to apply what they've learned in a healthcare facility under the supervision of other trained professionals. Many schools offering NP programs online have a designated clinical coordinator who helps students arrange for practicum sites, but some may have to secure these opportunities themselves. Clinical practice hours fulfill graduation demands, and they also count toward licensure and certification requirements.
Is an Online Nurse Practitioner Degree Worth It?
You can determine whether an online nurse practitioner degree is worth it based on your interests, desired lifestyle, professional goals, and financial situation. Your preferred learning style will also influence your decision whether to complete an online or on-campus program. As with any big life decision, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Earning an online degree is convenient for rural nurses who may work far from universities, shift nurses whose schedules rotate, and anyone juggling multiple responsibilities.
The work can be rewarding. Healthcare workers are often passionate about the work they do to improve the well-being of others and consider nursing their vocation — something they feel called to do.
An online nurse practitioner degree may be more affordable than on-campus programs because schools often waive campus fees, charge tuition a flat rate, and offer free and affordable digital materials and resources.
Practicum opportunities may be limited for you as an online student if you don't live close to campus and don't live near healthcare facilities. It may be difficult for you to find opportunities locally, especially if you live in a rural area.
The work can be stressful, especially for NPs who work in emergency rooms, trauma centers, and neonatal clinics, which can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Work hours and shifts may be irregular and stressful for you and your family. You may be an on-call NP, work rotating shifts, or you may be scheduled for evenings, weekends, or holidays. Your hours are often longer than the average workday, which can negatively impact your free time.
FAQs About Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
Can I Get a Nursing Degree Online?
Yes, you can get a nursing degree online. Many accredited schools offer online nursing programs at all levels, including an MSN for a range of NP specializations.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Most NP programs require the completion of 42-48 credit hours and at least 600 practicum hours. Full-time students often finish their NP requirements in two to three years, while part-time students may need three to four years.
How Do I Choose a Nursing Program?
Perhaps it's most important to choose an accredited nursing program, but other considerations include cost and whether the program offers the area of specialization that interests you. In addition, many online nursing programs require a few on-campus learning activities, so you may want to factor in the cost of visiting the school several times. Finally, you may want to investigate whether an online NP program's courses are primarily asynchronous or synchronous to ensure the format will give you the flexibility you're looking for.
What Is the Fastest Way To Become a Nurse Practitioner?
A few online nursing schools offer accelerated NP programs that enable full-time students to graduate in one and a half to two years. Also, students who have previously completed some graduate-level coursework that transfers into their program may be able to graduate in less time than average.
How Much Can I Earn as a Nurse Practitioner?
The BLS notes that, as of 2022, the median annual salary for NPs was $121,610. However, median salaries for NPs vary by state. The annual mean salary for NPs in California, for example, is $158,130, while the mean wage for Tennessee is $99,330.
What Else Should You Consider?
Career goals, specialization, and relevant experience will dictate which online NP programs may suit you best. Once you identify schools you're interested in, you can narrow your choices by considering several factors.
You'll most likely incur some student debt, so you'll want to choose an affordable program that meets your needs and fits within your budget. Public colleges often cost less than private, and many online programs cost less than those on campus. Accelerated programs can save both money and time.
Make sure to look through the course catalog to ensure courses meet your expectations, and that the school offers your specialty.
Clinical experience opportunities
Online programs may require you to complete a minimum number of hours of real-world experience, where you'll treat patients under the supervision of licensed professionals at a recognized healthcare facility.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners exam pass rates
If you're interested in a program such as an online family nurse practitioner (FNP) program, ask school advisors for their NP certification exam pass rates to ensure the number of graduates passing is satisfactory.
Additional Resources for Nursing Students
- The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), a 120,000-member organization, improves the quality of nursing healthcare through education, advocacy, and research. AANP members gain access to a number of informative journals and other educational support that help keep them updated on nursing practice, related legislation, and other NP issues. The AANP website features a student resource page.
- The National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA) promotes nursing education and supports nursing students. Among the member benefits are educational resources and discounts on products and services, such as health insurance.
- Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH) is a professional community for NPs who provide healthcare services to women and patients who identify as female. The group promotes best practices, conducting research, and advocating for patients and healthcare workers. Student members of NPWH are entitled to discounted membership fees and can take advantage of educational and other resources.
- American Nurses Association (ANA) is an advocacy group for nurses that provides its members with educational and professional resources. It also offers several types of NP certifications. Students can subscribe to the ANA for free.
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