Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

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Nurse practitioners work as advanced practice registered nurses whose graduate education qualifies them to prescribe medications, treat illnesses, and educate patients. These valued members of patient care teams make for an integral asset to physicians.

An online nurse practitioner degree marks a good investment in today's job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of $103,880, and the field is projected to grow 36% between 2016 and 2026. Nurse practitioners enjoy highly rewarding and fulfilling careers. Nurse practitioners work closely with their patients, providing advanced caregiving.

WHY ARE ONLINE NURSE PRACTITIONER DEGREES BENEFICIAL?

Earning an online nurse practitioner degree allows students to acquire advanced skills in the field, earn higher salaries, and take on additional responsibilities. Many schools offer the opportunity for students to earn their master's in nursing completely online. Learners should check with their prospective school about any on-campus requirements. Read more here.

HOW MUCH IS A MASTER'S OF NURSING ONLINE DEGREE?

Online tuition for a master's in nursing varies by institution and depends on a number of factors, including residency status. Check directly with schools for accurate tuition estimates. Read more here.

HOW TO EARN A NURSING DEGREE ONLINE

Students must meet a school's admission requirements, and after enrolling, complete all program requirements. For more accurate information, students should check directly with their prospective school. Read more here.

ARE ONLINE NURSING DEGREES LEGITIMATE?

Yes, but students must make sure their prospective schools have proper accreditation -- whether regional, national, or programmatic. The best online nursing schools receive both regional and programmatic accreditation.Read more here.

WILL THIS PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

The best online master's in nurse practitioner programs give students the skills they need to manage their increased responsibility. Nurse practitioners work closely with their supervising physicians to diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses.

DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?

To become a nurse practitioner, you must first become a registered nurse (RN), or hold a bachelor's in nursing. Since requirements vary by program, carefully review the application process for each prospective program.

HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE PROGRAM FOR ME?

When choosing an online program, consider your daily life and anticipated weekly time commitment. Choose a program with enough flexibility for your life, and the resources to help you achieve your career goals.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO EARNING MY MASTER'S IN NURSING ONLINE?

Online learning allows students greater flexibility. Many programs are available entirely online with asynchronous instruction, allowing students to decide when and where to complete their coursework.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Location Description
1 George Washington University RANKING SCORE 73.05 COST % Enrolled Online 6% LOCATION Washington, DC

George Washington University’s master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner degree is a part-time nurse practitioner online program designed for registered nurses looking to advance their skillsets in preventive, diagnostic, and management care. GW's Virtual New Student Orientation equips students with program information and tools, and gives them a chance to interact with faculty, advisors, and peers. The MSN-FNP degree requires 700 clinical hours, which can be completed at a clinic in a student's community. Students are encouraged to arrange for this experience with minimal guidance from GW. The program requires three on-campus program commitments: a learning and skills intensive that teaches how to perform a complete history and physical exam, a series of clinical examinations, and a final skills assessment. Students are responsible for all travel costs of these on-campus requirements. Applicants must have a current RN license and current CPR certification to be considered.

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2 Frontier Nursing University RANKING SCORE 71.12 COST % Enrolled Online 100% LOCATION Hyden, KY

The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner from Frontier Nursing University is geared towards registered nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree. Unlike other online family nurse practitioner programs, Frontier also offers an optional companion doctor of nursing practice degree, which requires an additional 360-hour clinical practicum. Students must attend two on-campus sessions at Frontier’s main campus in Hyden, Kentucky, with all other coursework completed online. The curriculum includes courses in women’s health and childbearing, principles of health promotion, and pharmacology for advanced practice. Applicants must have one year of RN experience, a minimum GPA of 3.0, and three professional references. Courses are structured in 11-week terms, with 2-week breaks in-between. There is also a 675-hour clinical practicum requirement that can be completed near the student’s community. The MSN program is typically completed in two years by full-time students, with part-time attendance also an option.

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3 The University of Texas Medical Branch RANKING SCORE 68.18 COST % Enrolled Online 26% LOCATION Galveston, TX

The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner program at UTMB has awarded MSN degrees since 1988. UTMB is a Military Friendly School and offers its veteran students comprehensive services through its Veterans Resource Group. This online nurse practitioner programs prepares graduates to test for national certification with the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The program requires a 700-hour clinical practicum and 49 total credit hours of coursework. Students outside of the Galveston/Houston area are responsible for finding clinical placement in their area. The average FNP student takes two courses per semester over seven semesters. Applicants must have a nursing-accredited bachelor’s degree, and those without this degree are considered on a case-by-case basis. Interested applicants should also check to see if their state is a member of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement to ensure degree reciprocity from UTMB.

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4 Upstate Medical University RANKING SCORE 63.39 COST % Enrolled Online 76% LOCATION Syracuse, NY

Upstate Medical offers one of the best nurse practitioner programs online, designed for the professional RN who wants to become an expert and collaborator in primary care. Upstate Medical University’s full-time program allows students to earn a master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner in two years, while part-time students take an average of three to five years. The curriculum covers health-care theory and policy, advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology, and other topics necessary to succeed as a primary care specialist. Graduates know how to prescribe medications and treatments, interpret diagnostic lab tests and x-rays, develop a cancer treatment plan, and more. Upstate allows students to transfer up to nine qualifying graduate program credits toward the FNP degree. Students may choose to complete an optional education certificate or thesis option. Applicants must submit a valid RN and current CPR certifications, as well as three letters of recommendation to be considered.

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5 Samuel Merritt University RANKING SCORE 49.83 COST % Enrolled Online 2% LOCATION Oakland, CA

Samuel Merritt University offers an online master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner program with a rigorous curriculum aligned with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and the AACN. SMU’s FNP program is available to students in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. The university continually reaches across state lines to expand degree reciprocation, and students can check periodically for updates. The 49-credit program can be completed in less than two years of full-time study, and includes three semesters of on-site clinical practice. Coursework includes classes on professional advocacy, advanced pharmacology, and analysis of health policy issues. Graduates are qualified to work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, community health organizations, and more. Unlike many online family nurse practitioner programs, applicants with a bachelor’s degree in an area other than nursing are considered on a case-by-case basis.

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6 Clarkson College RANKING SCORE 63.52 COST % Enrolled Online 86% LOCATION Omaha, NE

Clarkson College offers an online master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner program to registered nurses looking to advance their careers. The FNP specialty prepares practicing nurses to provide primary care to entire families and communities. Students learn to combine theory with evidence-based practices in the primary care system. While most coursework can be completed online, some clinical courses require students to attend on-campus during the weekend. The degree is typically completed in two years, and students may transfer up to nine qualifying credits from another accredited graduate program. The program concludes with a final research project and poster presentation, presented on campus during a graduate symposium. Like other online nurse practitioner programs, applicants must have a valid RN license in the state where they plan to complete their practicum, two years professional nursing experience, and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing institution to be considered.

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7 Thomas Jefferson University RANKING SCORE 64.35 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Philadelphia, PA

Thomas Jefferson University offers a variety of online nurse practitioner programs, which include family nursing, adult gerontology primary or acute care, pediatric primary care, women’s health and gender related nursing, and neonatal nursing. Each online master of science in nursing degree program takes between 15 months and five years to complete, depending on whether students study full- or part-time. Each 36 credit program also includes a nursing core.

Students may enroll in the fall, spring, or summer, with admissions deadlines for each on May 1, October 15, and February 15, respectively. Prerequisites include a bachelor’s degree, RN licensure, and -- in some cases -- at least one year of clinical experience. Applicants must also submit fingerprints, undergo a criminal background check, and submit to drug testing. Thomas Jefferson University is located in Philadelphia, PA and tuition is the same for all students regardless of state residency.

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8 University of South Carolina-Columbia RANKING SCORE 64.83 COST % Enrolled Online 2% LOCATION Columbia, SC

Located in Columbia, South Carolina, University of South Carolina offers a competitive master's of science in nursing—primary care family nurse practitioner. This top-ranked online family nurse practitioner program allows students to complete their degree in just over two years, including practicum experience. Students complete 45–48 credit hours, depending on whether they choose a thesis or non-thesis option. The curriculum includes courses in clinical applications of population analysis, conceptual basis for family and community health nursing, and acute problems of adults and women’s health in primary care. Students must pass the MSN comprehensive exam and complete all other degree requirements within six years. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0, two letters of reference, and a current RN license in their state they practice to be considered. Graduates are eligible to sit for any national nursing certification exam.

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9 Ball State University RANKING SCORE 60.84 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Muncie, IN

Ball State University offers an online family nurse practitioner program as a master of science in nursing degree. The program teaches students to care for patients across their lifespan. Coursework takes eight semesters to complete and includes 690 supervised practical practice hours in clinical settings. Upon graduation, students are prepared to sit for the family nurse practitioner certification examination.

Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing that is accredited by NLNAC, ACEN, or CCNE with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. An active, unencumbered nursing license is also required. Finally, a two-credit undergraduate research class with a grade of “C” or higher is a prerequisite for admission. Prospective students may enroll in the fall and spring only. Admissions deadlines are set approximately six months prior to the desired start date. The university is located in Muncie, IN, and Indiana residents pay discounted tuition.

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10 Auburn University RANKING SCORE 60.48 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Auburn University, AL

Auburn University’s online family nurse practitioner program, the master of science in nursing, can be completed in six semesters. Students may begin the 43-credit program on a part-time basis in the summer, spring, or fall. Full-time students only start in the summer. The curriculum is sequential, so students must complete all courses assigned to a specific semester before advancing to the next semester’s courses. The course sequence also includes 750 clinical hours, which students begin fulfilling in the second semester. The final three semesters consist primarily of clinical hours, though students continue to learn nursing theory as well.

Nursing licensure is required for admission. In addition, applicants submit official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a 500-word personal goal statement. Auburn University is located in the city of Auburn, AL, and in-state students pay discounted tuition.

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11 Maryville University of Saint Louis RANKING SCORE 59.07 COST % Enrolled Online 1% LOCATION Saint Louis, MO

The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner at Maryville University is one of the foremost accredited online nurse practitioner programs in the country. The program requires 15 core and elective courses and an additional 745 clinical hours, and the average completes the program in two years. Clinical practicums can be completed close to the student’s home. The curriculum emphasizes a holistic and preventative approach and covers theory and evidence-based practices, leadership and policy, pediatric and gerontology, and other advanced coursework. Maryville students benefit from an average class size of 15 students and high-quality instruction from faculty, 90% of whom hold PhD degrees. Applicants must have an accredited BSN degree, a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, a valid and current RN license, three professional letters of reference, and at least one year of nursing experience to be considered.

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12 Regis University RANKING SCORE 51.92 COST % Enrolled Online 49% LOCATION Denver, CO

Regis University offers one of the only nurse practitioner programs online specifically designed for underserved and rural populations. The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner program is designed for registered nurses looking to advance their careers. Students are expected to participate in at least one online class during the week, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. MST. Online coursework includes classes on women's health, childbearing for the family nurse practitioner, and foundations of health care economics. During the two-year program, students participate in five on-campus intensives at the university’s Denver campus. The required 630 clinical hours can be completed in a student’s community at local health-care facilities. These hours are divided evenly over the last three semesters of the program, and students are expected to gain experience working in a variety of settings, including pediatric, adult, women’s, and family-oriented environments. The curriculum also prepares students to take the AANP or ANCC exams.

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13 University of Cincinnati RANKING SCORE 52.89 COST % Enrolled Online 34% LOCATION Cincinnati, OH

University of Cincinnati offers one of the best nurse practitioner programs online in the country, which provides advanced training for registered nurses who learn how to treat common and complex conditions in patients of all ages. The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner curriculum emphasizes looking closely at family dynamics and how an individual’s illness affects the family as a whole. Students complete an advanced seminar, practicum hours, and a capstone project. FNPs often have many of the same duties as a physician, and often work in collaboration with a physician, including conducting physical examinations, providing prenatal care, and even performing minor surgeries and operations. FNPs also have the expertise to work in a wide variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, community health centers, private practices, and more. Upon graduation, FNPs are prepared to earn national certification with either the ANCC or AANP. Online courses are accessed through Blackboard.

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14 Stony Brook University RANKING SCORE 65.04 COST % Enrolled Online 6% LOCATION Stony Brook, NY

The 45-credit master of science in family nurse practitioner program at Stony Brook University focuses on management of common acute and chronic health problems through health promotion, maintenance, supervision, and restoration. On-site requirements include a one-day welcome orientation and four separate on-site intensives, offered during semesters when a student is completing clinical requirements.

The program begins each summer, with applications due in December. Applicants are required to have a baccalaureate degree with a major in nursing. Students with a non-nursing baccalaureate degree may be granted admission on a conditional basis with the submission of a clinical practice portfolio. At least one year of professional experience is preferred, but not required. Stony Brook offers one of the only nurse practitioner online programs in New York, and graduates are eligible for licensure as an FNP in the state of New York and certification at the national level.

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15 MCPHS University RANKING SCORE 57.27 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Boston, MA

MCPHS University offers a part-time, two-year online family nurse practitioner program. The curriculum for the master of science in nursing, which is delivered asynchronously, expands upon the skills developed in a nursing bachelor’s degree program. While most instruction is provided online, students must attend a one-day orientation on-campus in Boston, MA. The program also includes two on-campus residencies that range between one and three days. The program also includes onsite clinical hours that must be completed at medical facilities.

Applicants should have earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher in their undergraduate nursing studies. They should also have an active nursing license and have completed at least one year of full-time nursing work after earning their bachelor’s degree. Complete applications include official transcripts, a resume, and one letter of recommendation. All online students pay the same tuition rate.

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16 Tennessee Technological University RANKING SCORE 55.87 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Cookeville, TN

Tennessee Technological University’s master of science in nursing with a concentration in family nurse practitioner is offered as a 46-credit bridge program for registered nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. All courses are delivered asynchronously, though students must also complete clinical practice requirements at facilities located near their homes.

Nursing licensure in Tennessee or the state in which the student will participate in clinical practice is a prerequisite for this online nurse practitioner program. An undergraduate statistics course is required as well. Applications should submit official undergraduate transcripts that demonstrate a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. Applications are due on June 15, October 15, and February 15 for enrollment in fall, spring, or summer, respectively. The campus is located in Cookeville, TN, and in-state students pay discounted tuition.

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17 Seton Hall University RANKING SCORE 55.82 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION South Orange, NJ

Seton Hall University offers two accredited online nurse practitioner programs. The master of science in nursing is offered in pediatric primary/acute care nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner. Students in these programs typically take classes on a part-time basis, which means the 42-credit pediatric primary care and 44-credit pediatric acute care programs take three years to complete; the 48-credit adult-gerontology programs take between three and four years. Students in all programs also complete several hundred hours of on-site clinical practice.

Applicants should hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. They must also have an active nursing license and liability insurance. In addition to official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions that showcase a GPA of 3.0 or better, applicants should submit two letters of reference, a resume, and personal statement. In-state and out-of-state nursing students pay the same tuition rate.

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18 Cedarville University RANKING SCORE 53.17 COST % Enrolled Online 25% LOCATION Cedarville, OH

Cedarville University offers one of the leading Christian-based nurse practitioner online programs, with a focus on primary care. The master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner is a competitive program that accepts a limited number of students each term. The program is open to registered nurses who hold an accredited BSN degree and identify with the Christian faith. Application requirements include both a professional reference and a Christian leader reference.

Cedarville offers a structured two- or three-year plan of study, both requiring three on-campus intensives that include clinical hours and an advanced physical assessment and diagnostic reasoning course. The curriculum includes courses in biblical foundations of advanced nursing practice, and physiology, pathology, and genomics. Online courses are accessed through the Moodle learning management system. Online students have access to “The Cove”, an online academic resource hub that includes academic coaching, tutoring, learning specialists, and other services.

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19 University of South Alabama RANKING SCORE 52.99 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Mobile, AL

University of South Alabama offers a number of nurse practitioner programs online. Students can pursue a master of science in nursing in pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, or adult-gerontological acute care nurse practitioner. Each program requires 45 credits and seven semesters to complete, while the pediatric acute care nurse practitioner specialty requires 59 credits spread over the same amount of time. Every program includes onsite clinicals. The family nurse practitioner program also requires two on campus visits. All programs are offered to students with or without a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but a nursing license is a prerequisite for admission.

Successful applicants have two years of professional nursing experience and a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0, though students with a GPA of 2.5 may be given provisional admission. Applicants should submit official transcripts and proof of an unencumbered nursing license. The university is located in Mobile, AL, and in-state students pay discounted tuition.

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20 Columbus State University RANKING SCORE 52.64 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Columbus, GA

The master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner at Columbus State University is a 44-semester hour program that may be completed in five semesters if taken full-time. Students complete 15 hours of core courses before moving onto 23 hours of specialty courses and a six credit practicum. All courses are delivered asynchronously, but students must complete 765 clinical hours at facilities located near their homes. To graduate, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout their studies.

Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing that is accredited by NLNAC or CCNE. Candidates with a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 are generally granted admission, but candidates with a 2.75 GPA may be admitted on a conditional basis. Applicants should also hold a current nursing license and must submit three professional letters of recommendation. Columbus State University is located in Columbus, GA, and residents pay discounted tuition.

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21 Graceland University-Lamoni RANKING SCORE 50.66 COST % Enrolled Online 20% LOCATION Lamoni, IA

As one of the top-ranking online nurse practitioner programs, Graceland University maintains rigorous performance standards, and students must earn a B in all courses in order to graduate. Graduates of Graceland University’s master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner are qualified to assess, diagnose, and design treatment plans for acute and chronic ailment in diverse populations. Courses are offered in 16-week trimesters and are accessed via the eCollege learning management system. Both part- and full-time study options are available. Students must complete a 2-day focus session on the Independence, Missouri campus, in tandem with an advanced competencies lab. The 720-hour practicum requirement can be completed anywhere in the U.S., including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. During these hands-on experiences, all students are supervised by an approved facility professional and by a Graceland faculty member on-site.

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22 McNeese State University RANKING SCORE 52.18 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Lake Charles, LA

Based in Lake Charles, LA, McNeese State University offers an online psychiatric nurse practitioner program and an online family nurse practitioner online program, both awarded as a master of science in nursing. Students may pursue the family program with the standard 42 credit format or as a 45 credit thesis option. The psychiatric/mental health program also has a 48 credit standard or 51 credit thesis option. Students may transfer some credits from prior institutions into both programs provided they earned grades of “B” or higher in those courses.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing that is accredited by NLNAC/ACEN or CCNE. Their undergraduate transcripts should demonstrate of cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher and a grade of “C” or higher in a three-credit statistics course. A nursing license, GRE scores, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and resume are also required. In-state tuition is discounted.

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23 Concordia University-Wisconsin RANKING SCORE 53.05 COST % Enrolled Online 15% LOCATION Mequon, WI

Concordia University’s 41-credit master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner program integrates elements of family planning and counseling into preventative treatment of patients. Concordia stands out from other family nurse practitioner programs online because of its use of the online Betty Neuman Systems Model of nursing, which teaches a body systems approach to the study of manifestations of symptoms and specific diseases. Students also learn other advanced concepts, such as the inner working of cells and their resilience against harmful external stimuli. In addition to core courses like foundations of healthcare informatics, students choose between one of two electives: global perspectives in healthcare or culturally congruent care for advanced nursing. The FNP program offers a competitive per-credit tuition rate and is available to students in most states, though students in Washington, D.C. and Maryland have restrictions on where they can do their clinicals.

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24 Saint Joseph's College of Maine RANKING SCORE 51.45 COST % Enrolled Online N/A LOCATION Standish, ME

Saint Joseph's College of Maine offers a 48 credit online master of science in nursing with a family/individual across the lifespan nurse practitioner program. Students complete 24 hours of core courses and 24 hours in the family nursing concentration There are no on-campus residency requirements, though students complete onsite clinical hours at local facilities. The program concludes with a three-credit capstone course. Students must pass all courses with a grade of “B” or higher in order to graduate.

Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution as well as an active nursing license. Only candidates with undergraduate GPAs of 3.0 or higher will be considered. Candidates should also submit three letters of reference, a resume, and career statement. All applicants are required to undergo a criminal background check. The college is located in Standish, ME, but in-state and out-of-state students are subject to the same tuition rate.

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25 Duquesne University RANKING SCORE 57.94 COST % Enrolled Online 8% LOCATION Pittsburgh, PA

With Its main campus in downtown Pittsburgh, Duquesne University is within proximity of some of the top health facilities in the country, including the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Duquesne’s master's of science in nursing—family nurse practitioner program prepares students to sit for the AANPCP or ANCC exams and earn certification as a certified registered nurse practitioner. FNPs learn how to create comforting healthcare environments, leverage collaborative approaches to care, and design, implement, and evaluate health care systems. Core and major coursework make up the foundation of the 45-credit program, with an additional 670 clinical hours and 80 lab hours required. Two required on-campus visits during the program allow students to connect with their peers and instructors face-to-face. Duquesne is one of a few online nurse practitioner programs that assign all students a faculty mentor to serve as a mentor to guide them throughout the FNP program.

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Structures and formats of online master's in nurse practitioner programs vary by school. Consider the details of each prospective program carefully. Degree requirements also vary, so consider each of these factors before selecting a program.

Admission Requirements for an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Online nurse practitioner programs require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree in nursing. Often admissions requirements lay out a minimum undergraduate GPA, as well. Candidates usually need a minimum 3.0 GPA, though the threshold varies between schools. Schools also prefer candidates to have earned satisfactory grades in statistics or health assessment courses.

Prospective students must hold an unencumbered nursing license, ideally valid in the state where they hope to attend school. Some admissions departments only require proof of applicants' licenses, while others require candidates to have completed at least a year of work as a professional nurse. Many of the top online nurse practitioner programs expect applicants to submit essays and recommendation letters, and interview with a faculty member. Because of these requirements, most universities do not require GRE scores.

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE NURSE PRACTITIONER DEGREE

Although the scope and focus of coursework vary by program, most online master's in nurse practitioner degree programs include similar foundational courses. Below are a few sample courses, common to many nurse practitioner curricula.

  • Advanced Pharmacology: This course examines pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics. Students learn to ethically and cost-effectively manage prescription medications.
  • Advanced Physiology: This course delves into physiology across the entire lifespan. Students learn what factors cause and influence acute and chronic illnesses, equipping them to diagnose and treat these illnesses.
  • Diagnostic Reasoning: This course teaches students to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses.

Skills and Competencies Gained in an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Each online nurse practitioner program provides a unique curriculum, teaching a unique set of skills of competencies. However, most programs cover similar fundamentals, so nurse practitioners enter their industry with common expertise. Read more about the specific skills learned in NP programs -- and how they set nurse practitioners apart from registered nurses -- below.

  • Pharmacology: Nurse practitioners must have acute knowledge of medications and how they affect the human body. NP programs often require courses in pharmacology and advanced practice pharmacotherapeutics to provide students with this competency.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: Pathophysiology involves an understanding of human diseases and their physical symptoms. Nurse practitioners study this discipline at the advanced level, in order to see and diagnose patients.
  • Assess Health: Nurse practitioners boast more autonomy than registered nurses at healthcare organizations, meaning NP students must learn how to visit with patients and assess their health status without a doctor.
  • Diagnose Patients: Unlike registered nurses, nurse practitioners can identify acute illnesses in patients. In nurse practitioner master's programs, students gain learn to diagnose patients through advanced coursework.
  • Prescribe Medication: Nurse practitioners provide treatment plans and assist patients in following those treatment plans. They also hold the authority to write prescriptions for medications within their field of specialization.

Additional Requirements for an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Nurse practitioner curricula typically include some real-world experience requirements, often in the form of clinicals or practicum courses, where NP students spend 500-700 hours working in a healthcare facility. Students may also need to complete a graduate research project or thesis, or take a capstone or final seminar.

Certifications and Licenses a Nurse Practitioner Program Prepares For

Family Nurse Practitioner Certification: Nurse practitioners can attain their family nurse practitioner certification from either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) certification board. This credential allows NPs to work with patients across their lifespan, from infancy to old age. The certification exam covers physical assessments and pharmacology for treating patients.


Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Certification: Also offered by both the ANCC and the AANP, this credentials certifies that NPs can assess and diagnose patients ranging from adolescents to young adults. The exam covers cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, psychiatric, and respiratory issues, among others. Professionals with this certification also hold expertise in health promotion and maintenance. Candidates should possess at least a master's degree and a registered nursing license.


Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification: Nurse practitioner graduates may take this certification exam from the ANCC. Candidates for this certification need to know the same anatomy and physiology as other certifications, but this credential focuses more on patients' health states. The exam centers on assessing and diagnosing neurological functions. Applicants must hold an RN license, plus a master's or doctoral degree.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN NURSING?

Several factors impact the time it takes to complete an online master's in nurse practitioner program. For example, students in cohort-based programs work in groups, and may take longer to complete their degrees. On the other hand, individually paced programs are flexible, allowing students to complete coursework on their own schedules.

Family nurse practitioner master's degrees generally require 60 credit hours, which full-time students may complete in three years. Part-time students may take longer to complete their degrees. Program length also partially depends on whether courses are synchronous or self-paced.

Nurse Practitioner Specializations

The healthcare industry is currently experiencing a shortage of medical professionals, including doctors. This shortage has increased the demand for nurse practitioners, who help fill in gaps by providing highly skilled care in a variety of medical disciplines, either as primary care providers or in supervised specialty positions. Nurse practitioners are in an ideal position to increase their earning potential and take advantage of new career opportunities.

This ranking of the top online nurse practitioner degrees can help you evaluate which programs and medical disciplines best fit your long-term career goals. The medical disciplines with the highest pay and required training are also the ones with the highest demand. These disciplines include psychiatric, critical care, and neonatal/pediatric nursing. The best online master's programs prepare nursing students to pursue these fulfilling and lucrative degree options by offering a wide variety of learning formats and curriculum options to meet the needs of all distance learners.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide the same services as family practice physicians, including consulting with patients, diagnosing illnesses, administering treatment, and prescribing medication. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $90,000, and work in a wide variety of healthcare facilities, including private and public clinics, medical centers, nursing homes, hospitals, and private residencies.

Due to the current national shortage of internal medicine and and primary care doctors, authorized family nurse practitioners in many states operate their own autonomous private practices as primary healthcare providers. Entering this rewarding career typically requires an MSN, plus family nurse practitioner board certification. Many students can complete their online family nurse practitioner programs in just two years.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are highly specialized RNs who work with mental health professionals, including doctors of psychiatry. These professionals perform mental health assessments, provide therapy and counseling, prescribe psychopharmaceuticals and other medications, and develop holistic treatment plans for their patients. As the awareness of the need for accessible healthcare expands, employment opportunities in this field also increase.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of more than $100,000, and practice in a variety of specialized nursing areas. For instance, nurses with skills in serving high-need populations -- such as substance abusers, children, adolescents, and the elderly -- are in high demand. Many nurses in this field have graduated from online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs.

Neonatal/Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Neonatal/pediatric nurse practitioners are trained to work as primary or specialty care providers for children from infancy through adolescence. These professionals conduct routine exams, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medications. They typically work under a pediatrician in a medical clinic or hospital, though some operate their own independent practices. Neonatal nurses generally work with premature or high-risk newborns in hospitals' neonatal intensive care units. These highly specialized professionals earn median annual salaries of above $96,000.

Neonatal/pediatric nurse practitioners commonly require advanced training beyond a bachelor's degree and board certifications. Online pediatric nurse practitioner programs offering MSN degrees provide an attractive option for many advanced nursing students.

Geriatric Nurse Practitioner

Geriatric nurse practitioners work exclusively with older patients facing distinctive healthcare challenges. Also known as gerontological nurse practitioners, these professionals treat age-related conditions and place a major focus on preventative care to improve their patients' quality of life. The aging U.S. population a has longer life expectancy than previous generations, but with it comes a growing rate of medical impairments, like hearing loss, osteoporosis, dementia, and higher risks from minor injuries. As a result, the demand for nurse practitioners is growing in nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, clinics, and home healthcare.

Geriatric nurses typically work under physician supervision as part of a team of nursing staff, social workers, physical therapists, dieticians, and other geriatric professionals. They may also work as independent primary care providers in a private practice.

Critical Care Nurse Practitioner

Critical care nurse practitioners provide specialized care to patients with chronic, acute, and critical life-threatening conditions, including brain injuries, cardiac arrest, strokes, and organ and respiratory failure. These nurses typically work in intensive care units, emergency rooms, rapid response teams, and burn units. Due to the challenging, high-stress conditions associated with critical care, these professionals earn high pay, with annual median salaries of $98,000.

Nurses who have graduated from critical care nurse practitioner online programs and received certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses enjoy high demand. In turn, online acute nurse practitioner programs are on the rise.

Emergency Nurse Practitioner

Emergency nurse practitioners work as advanced practice registered nurses, treating patients in hospital emergency rooms and acute care facilities. These professionals perform medical procedures and generally administer to patients of all ages seeking emergency attention for a variety of conditions. These conditions range from severe injuries and acute, life-threatening illnesses to other urgent care needs, such as food poisoning or allergic reactions. Due to the projected shortage of emergency physicians, licensed nurse practitioners are in high demand.

Emergency care nurses typically complete educational programs with dual fields of study. For example, students interested in emergency nurse practitioner programs online often combine this specialization with a degree in family nursing or gerontology.

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

Women's health nurse practitioners specialize in ongoing, comprehensive, holistic healthcare for women from puberty through their senior years. Unlike certified nurse midwives, who specialize in childbearing, women's health nurse practitioners provide a broad spectrum of services to women of all ages. Their expertise is not restricted to gynecological and reproductive care, and they often work in medical offices and clinics rather than in delivery rooms or hospitals. They also provide preventive care and healthcare education about women-specific issues.

Certification is not required in all states, but the women's health nurse practitioner -- board certified credential has become a valuable asset for professionals who want to advance their career.


Median Salary by Nurse Practitioner Specialty
Specialty Median Salary
Family Nurse Practitioner $90,507
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $99,517
Neonatal/Pediatric Nurse Practitioner $96,656
Geriatric Nurse Practitioner $91,730
Critical/Acute Care Nurse Practitioner $98,019
Emergency Nurse Practitioner $94,026
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner $86,936

Source: PayScale

In choosing the best online degree for you, consider each potential program's accreditation. Most schools have regional accreditation, and some may have national accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission gives regional accreditation to schools that meet its criteria. The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education agencies both give accreditation to nursing and nurse practitioner programs.

The U.S. Department of Education handles policies in U.S. school systems. This agency also provides aid and assistance to students, who must submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to receive financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation both provide comprehensive lists of their accredited post-secondary schools. Check their websites to find the best online nurse practitioner degrees.

JOB PLACEMENT

With all the careers available in the nursing field, deciding which is best for you can be difficult. However, if you want a higher salary, consider becoming a nurse practitioner; on average, they earn the highest salaries of all nursing professions. The table below uses data from the BLS to compare salaries among types of nurses.

Nursing Level Average Salary
Registered Nurse $70,000
Licensed Practical Nurse $45,030
Nurse Practitioner $110,930

MASTER'S IN NURSING SALARY

Nurse practitioner master's degrees open up a wide range of career opportunities. The table below outlines the median salaries for nurse practitioners in their five most common industries.

Employer Type Median Salary
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $117,850
Outpatient Care Centers $112,940
Offices of Physicians $108,300
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $107,700
Educational Services; State, Local, and Private $101,600

MASTER'S IN NURSING CAREERS

Nurse practitioners work in all kinds of settings and environments, from hospitals to rehabilitation centers. After earning their master's degree, graduates may pursue a variety of careers, or further education at the doctoral level. Nursing students are valued for their patience, compassion, and strong work ethic, putting them in demand. Below are examples of careers for nurse practitioners.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners, or advanced practice registered nurses, care for patients, prescribe medications, and diagnose acute and chronic illnesses.

Median Annual Salary $110,930

Projected Growth Rate 31%

Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs perform basic nursing care activities under the supervision of registered nurses. They generally work in specialized areas, such as long-term care facilities or elderly nursing homes.

Median Annual Salary $45,030

Projected Growth Rate 12%

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses provide patient care, advice, and support in settings such as schools or the military.

Median Annual Salary $70,000

Projected Growth Rate 15%

Respiratory Therapist

These nurses work with patients dealing with both acute and chronic respiratory illnesses. They help administer breathing and respiratory treatments.

Median Annual Salary $59,710

Projected Growth Rate 23%

Dietitian/Nutritionist

These professionals advise and guide patients needing dietary and nutritional support, helping patients lead healthy lifestyles.

Median Annual Salary $59,410

Projected Growth Rate 15%

Professional organizations offer students resources, conference opportunities, and methods for broadening their knowledge of the field. These organizations help graduates find jobs and network with other nursing professionals. Below are examples of prominent professional organizations in the field of nursing.

Including scholarships, loans, and grants, students have an array of options to finance their master's in nurse practitioner degree. Large corporations, like Johnson & Johnson, offer scholarships for undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Also check with local and national nonprofit nursing organizations for scholarship opportunities.

All online students should begin by filling out the FAFSA. Students applying for aid must enroll in an master's program that is accredited by a federally recognized agency. Students in nurse practitioner programs may also apply for program-specific scholarships through organizations in the field.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but plenty of overlooked financing options may reduce overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about what changes have taken place, plus the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars are available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Rankings Archive

Best Online Master's in Nurse Practitioner Programs of 2017
Rank School Location
1 George Washington University Washington, DC
2 Frontier Nursing University Hyden, KY
3 The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX
4 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
5 University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia, SC
6 Clarkson College Omaha, NE
7 Upstate Medical University Syracuse, NY
8 Samford University Birmingham, AL
9 University of Oklahoma-Health Sciences Center Oklahoma City, OK
10 Maryville University of Saint Louis Saint Louis, MO
11 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA
12 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
13 Cedarville University Cedarville, OH
14 Concordia University-Wisconsin Mequon, WI
15 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, OH
16 Georgia College and State University Milledgeville, GA
17 Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion Marion, IN
18 Regis University Denver, CO
19 Graceland University-Lamoni Lamoni, IA
20 Samuel Merritt University Oakland, CA
21 Wheeling Jesuit University Wheeling, WV
22 Catholic University of America Washington, DC
23 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN
24 Saint Joseph's College of Maine Standish, ME
25 Midwestern State University Wichita Falls, TX