Best Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs of 2021

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by Bethanny Parker
Published on October 13, 2021
Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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Graduate nursing certificate programs allow registered nurses (RNs) to advance their nursing careers. Postgraduate certificate programs in nursing typically focus on advanced practice areas for professionals looking to specialize as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners. Online nursing certificate programs are open to nurses who hold bachelor's and/or master's degrees in nursing. Some programs are also open to nurses with doctorates.

Registered nurses who complete a nursing certificate program to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can expect a big boost in income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for an RN was $75,330 per year in May 2020, compared with $117,670 for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.

What Is a Graduate Certificate in Nursing?

There are two types of graduate certificate programs in nursing: postbaccalaureate and post-master's. These give nurses who hold bachelor's or master's degrees another way to pursue a specialty or expertise.

Many nursing certificate programs focus on advanced practice areas and prepare RNs to become APRNs. Students who are already ARPNs can gain experience in an additional practice area, which opens up more career options. Other postgraduate certificate programs in nursing focus more on administration. Graduate nursing certificate programs are offered both online and on campus.

Postbaccalaureate nursing certificates require students to possess a bachelor's degree in nursing. These certificates are usually administrative in nature. For example, you can get a postbaccalaureate nursing certificate in nursing administration, health information management, or nursing education.

Post-master's nursing certificates require a master's degree in nursing. These certificates often focus on APRN practice areas. For example, you can get a post-master's nursing certificate while preparing to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

What Can I Expect From an Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program?

Online nursing certificate programs typically have the same requirements as on-campus programs, except that many online programs allow students to set their own schedules. Instead of meeting at a specific time, for instance, you may just need to listen to a recorded video lecture by a certain date.

Online graduate certificate programs may give students the flexibility to work and attend school at the same time. Most programs take about one year to complete and consist of 12-24 credits. Some have in-person requirements, such as labs or practicums. Be sure to check for in-person requirements before enrolling in an online program.

Many nursing certificate programs require hands-on clinical experiences, as well. Depending on the school, you may be able to complete these experiences through a healthcare provider in your area. Make sure you find out where your clinicals can be held before enrolling.

Discover Similar Nursing Programs.

What Are the Types of Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs?

There are many different types of online nursing certificate programs, from advanced practice specialties to health information management. Some certificates can lead to the APRN credential if students also pass the appropriate certification exam.

Different schools offer different certificates, so check several schools to see what programs they offer. Some of the most common nursing certificate programs focus on nursing education or nursing informatics, or prepare students to become family nurse practitioners, nurse administrators, and pediatric nurse practitioners.

Nursing Education

A post-master's nurse educator certificate program prepares graduates to develop curricula, define course objectives, and plan content and learning experiences. Students learn how to incorporate technology into their lesson plans. They develop tests and other evaluation methods to check their students' progress.

Nursing Informatics

A graduate certificate in nursing informatics program prepares nurses to manage the health information systems within their organizations. Students practice entering and managing data in simulated healthcare information systems. They gain experience in clinical workflow, interoperability, and meaningful use initiatives.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioner certificate programs prepare students to take the American Nurses Credentialing Center's family nurse practitioner board certification exam. Coursework typically covers professional issues for nurse practitioners, primary care of patients across the lifespan, diagnostic reasoning, clinical health assessment, and advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology.

Nurse Administrator

Registered nurses who want to advance their careers may be interested in a post-master's certificate in nurse administration. This certificate program prepares students for leadership roles in nursing. Students learn how to monitor quality and improve outcomes, lead organizational dynamics, and manage financial and human resources in healthcare.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

The pediatric nurse practitioner post-master's certificate prepares students to become certified pediatric nurse practitioners. The program focuses on management of chronic and acute conditions in pediatric patients, as well as disease prevention and health promotion for patients from infancy through early young adulthood.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Admission to Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

The graduate admissions process is generally the same whether you plan to earn your graduate nursing certificate in person or online. You'll need to prove that you've graduated with either a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in nursing, depending on which certificate you're pursuing.

You'll probably need to provide one or more references or letters of recommendation. You should ask someone who is familiar with your work, such as your immediate supervisor.

Admission Requirements

Application

First, you'll need to fill out the required application form and return it with your application fee. Most schools offer online applications. You may need to create an account in order to fill out an application. This will allow you to log in later and finish the application if you can't complete it in one sitting.

Transcripts

You'll need to submit official transcripts from any colleges you've attended. Some schools may also require your high school transcripts. The admissions committee may evaluate your transcripts to determine whether you have any credits you can transfer to your certificate program.

Application Fees

Most graduate schools charge fees ranging $40-150 per application. These fees can add up, so check with an admissions officer first to see if there are any fee waivers available. You can also reduce the amount you spend on application fees by limiting the number of schools you apply to. If you feel like you have a good chance of acceptance, you probably don't need to apply to more than three or four schools.

Nursing Degree

Depending on the type of nursing certificate you're pursuing, you'll need either a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in order to enroll. A postbaccalaureate certificate requires a bachelor's degree, a post-master's certificate requires a master's degree, and a postdoctoral certificate requires a doctoral degree. You'll also need a valid nursing license.

Minimum GPA

Most doctoral and master's-level programs require a minimum GPA of at least 3.0. However, some schools, especially those offering online nursing certificate programs, consider a student's GPA as part of a comprehensive admissions policy, focusing more on variables like experience and leadership ability.

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Students pursuing careers as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists will need to become certified after they earn their graduate certificate.

The BLS projects a 45% increase in nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner jobs between 2020 and 2030, resulting in over 121,400 new positions. This is a much faster projected growth rate than the average for all occupations.

Employment and Salary Outlook

Whether you attend school on campus or online, you should be able to earn more money after earning your graduate certificate and the appropriate certification. The BLS reports that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $117,670 per year in May 2020. Broken down by specialty, nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $183,580, while nurse practitioners earned $111,680 and nurse midwives earned $111,130.

The increasing demand for nurse practitioners is partly due to a shortage of physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. could see a shortage of 54,100-139,000 physicians by 2033. The growing population of elderly Americans should also contribute to increased demand for nurse practitioners.

Nurses who earn graduate certificates in nursing administration should see an increase in wages, as well. The BLS reports that medical and health services managers, which includes nurse administrators, earned a median annual salary of $104,280 in May 2020. Postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers earned a median yearly wage of $75,470, which is comparable to the median salary for an RN.

Median Salary by Years of Experience for Nursing Certificate Graduates

With a graduate certificate and the appropriate certification, you can pursue a career as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. There are several types of nurse practitioners, including family, neonatal, pediatric, and adult-gerontology acute or primary care practitioners. A graduate certificate could also lead to a career as a nurse educator, nurse administrator, or informatics nurse.

Career: Nurse Educator

Career: Informatics Nurse

Career: Family Nurse Practitioner

Career: Nurse Administrator

Career: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

How Do I Choose the Right Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program?

The best online nursing certificate programs are those that fit into your lifestyle. Consider whether you have to attend classes at a set time or if you have a more flexible schedule. Also consider whether there are any in-person requirements, and if so, how you will fit those in. Other things to consider are program length, cost, accreditation, and location.

Financial Aid Resources for Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

Private Loans for Nursing Students

For students who don't qualify for federal student loans, private student loans are an option. Credit unions and banks provide these loans to help students pay for their tuition, room and board, and other school-related fees.

Financial Aid for Online Nursing Students

Aside from federal or private loans, online nursing students can qualify for many types of financial aid, including government grants and scholarships. Students should take advantage of aid that does not need to be repaid before considering loans.

Financial Aid for Nursing Students with Disabilities

There are many scholarships available for students with disabilities, including nursing students. You can find scholarships for people with chronic health conditions, hearing loss, and other disabilities.

Nursing Scholarships for Single Parents

Single parents could be eligible for additional financial aid. There are scholarships for single mothers, scholarships for single mothers and fathers, and scholarships for single parents who belong to historically excluded groups.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

There is a lot of financial aid available for veterans and active members of the military. If you are in the military now or have been in the past, you may be able to get additional federal funding for your college education.

2021 Best Accredited Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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University of Connecticut true View School Profile Storrs, CT

UConn developed its holistic nursing online graduate certificate to meet the demand for qualified professionals in this nontraditional field of nursing. This program explores holistic research, evidence-based practice, and integrative care.

The program can help prepare professionals for the holistic nursing specialist certification exam. Applicants must be registered nurses with a bachelor's degree or higher from a regionally accredited school. Each cohort enrolls a maximum of 12 students.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $825 per credit
  • Program Length: Less than 1 year
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 9 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
Stony Brook University true View School Profile Stony Brook, NY

Stony Brook's online advanced certificate in nursing education program can help prepare graduates to teach aspiring and established nurses in academic and clinical settings. The curriculum combines online coursework with in-person immersion experiences.

Prospective students must hold a master's degree in nursing from an accredited program with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also have a current RN license. Stony Brook prefers applicants with at least one year of recent, relevant nursing experience. Students are required to obtain malpractice insurance.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Tuition cost: $635 per credit
  • Program Length: Varies
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 20 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Saint Louis University true View School Profile Saint Louis, MO

SLU's online postgraduate certificate program in nursing features a family nurse practitioner focus. Nurses pursuing this certificate prepare to help treat patients of all ages. The majority of classes occur online, with two in-person, on-campus requirements.

Applicants must hold a master's degree in a nursing speciality with a minimum 3.2 GPA. Additionally, students must complete prerequisites in graduate-level physiology, pathophysiology, and health assessment.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $1,220 per credit
  • Program Length: Less than 1 year
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: A minimum of 15 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.75% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Duquesne University true View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Duquesne offers online post-master's nursing certificates in six specializations: adult-gerontology acute care, executive nurse leadership and healthcare management, family nurse practitioner, forensic nursing, nurse education and faculty role, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner.

Though all certificates offer core coursework online, some specializations require minimal campus visits. Nurse practitioner specializations also include clinical experiences. While admission requirements vary slightly by program, applicants should hold a bachelor of science in nursing or master of science in nursing. They should also hold a current RN license and have completed an undergraduate statistics course.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $1,568 per credit
  • Program Length: 1-2.5 years
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 15-35 credits
  • Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes, for some specializations
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 94.38% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Winona State University true View School Profile Winona, MN

WSU offers hybrid nursing certificate programs in six specializations: adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nursing and organizational leadership, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner.

Applicants must have a nursing degree from an accredited graduate program with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also have computer literacy skills and a current, unencumbered RN license. Some specializations require at least one year of clinical nursing experience.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Program Cost: $9,500-$26,000 per program
  • Program Length: 1-4 semesters
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 12-24 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.01% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Clarkson College View School Profile Omaha, NE

Clarkson College offers online postgraduate nursing certificates in five specializations: family nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing healthcare administration, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioner certificates combine online coursework with clinical or practicum requirements.

Applicants must hold an associate degree or higher from an accredited school and show evidence of a current or in-progress nursing license. Students must meet English proficiency requirements and maintain employment as a nurse while enrolled.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $683 per credit
  • Program Length: 7 semesters (full time); 8 or more (part time)
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 23-35 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes, in some specializations
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.1% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
University of North Georgia View School Profile Dahlonega, GA

UNG offers two online postgraduate certificate programs in nursing: nurse executive leader and nursing education. Each of these programs prepare learners to pursue specialized certification and/or an advanced nursing degree.

Applicants to the nurse executive leader program must hold a bachelor of science degree or higher from an accredited institution. An active, unencumbered RN license is also required. It is recommended that applicants be employed in a mid-level or higher administrative nursing role.

Nursing education certificate applicants need a master of science degree in nursing from an accredited institution. This program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $303 per credit
  • Program Length: Varies
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 15-18 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes, for the nursing education specialization
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.68% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
University of Kansas View School Profile Lawrence, KS

KU offers online nursing certificate programs in three different specializations. These include organizational leadership, health professions educator, and psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner.

Admission requirements for KU's online nursing certificate programs vary by specialization. Nurse practitioner specializations require a degree from an accredited APRN graduate program and relevant prerequisites.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: Varies
  • Program Length: Varies
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 12-24 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes, for some specializations
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 83.74% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
University of Arizona View School Profile Tucson, AZ

UofA offers a part-time family nurse practitioner certificate program for online learners. The certificate combines online coursework with campus visits and a clinical residency. After completion of the program, these registered nurses qualify to pursue national family nurse practitioner certification.

Applicants to UofA's online nursing certificate program must hold a master of science degree in nursing. They also must have advanced nursing practice experience and a current RN license. While UofA admits students into the online certificate program once a year, the program may not be offered every year.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $975 per credit
  • Program Length: 4 semesters
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 31 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.15% (2019)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Ball State University View School Profile Muncie, IN

Ball State offers postgraduate nursing certificate programs for students with academic experience in clinical and nonclinical nursing specializations. These certificates emphasize coursework in adult nursing/adult-gerontology or family nursing.

Both tracks require a practicum. A course in nursing information technology is required for students who didn't earn a nursing master's degree from Ball State. Applicants must have a master of science in nursing degree from a program with specialized nursing accreditation. They also must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and reside in and meet clinical practicum requirements in Ohio or Indiana. An active, unencumbered Ohio or Indiana RN license is also required.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Estimated Tuition Cost: $431 per credit (in state); $646 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: Varies
  • Total Credits Required for Certificate: 13-23 credits
  • Instruction Style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.3% (2018)
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

What is a graduate certificate in nursing? true

A graduate certificate in nursing is a postbaccalaureate, post-master's, or postdoctoral certificate that advances a nurse's training, education, and career. Nurses can choose graduate certificates in nursing administration and nursing education, or choose certificates that prepare them to pursue careers as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and more.

Is a graduate certificate considered a degree? true

No, a graduate certificate is not a degree. It is an additional credential you can earn after receiving a degree. You must already have a bachelor's degree in order to enroll in a postgraduate certificate program in nursing. You can use a graduate certificate to expand your expertise even further in a specialized area.

Is a clinical nurse the same as a registered nurse? true

No, a clinical nurse specialist is not the same as a registered nurse. Clinical nurse specialists are APRNs. Most states require that they obtain adult-gerontology, pediatric, or neonatal nursing certification. Unlike RNs, clinical nurse specialists diagnose patients. They also provide treatment and ongoing management.

What is a nurse educator?

A nurse educator is a nursing instructor who teaches the next generation of nurses. They offer instruction and guidance to aspiring nurses. They often work for universities, but may also work in hospital or clinical settings. They monitor and evaluate students, design curriculum, and apply principles and theories of adult education.

What's the highest-paying job you can get with a graduate certificate in nursing?

The highest-paying job you can get with a graduate certificate in nursing varies depending on the location and employer. However, nurse anesthetists are typically very well-paid. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $183,580 per year in May 2020. You can currently become a nurse anesthetist with a master's degree and a graduate certificate, but this is changing. Starting in 2025, you will need a doctorate in nurse anesthesia practice to become a nurse anesthetist.

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