Best Master’s in Neonatal Nursing Programs

A master's in neonatal nursing can allow nurses to become nurse practitioners who diagnose and treat newborns and infants. Find the best program for you.

portrait of Mackenzie Maxwell
by Mackenzie Maxwell

Published on August 2, 2022

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

Our Review Network

BestColleges is committed to delivering content that is objective and accurate. We have built a network of industry professionals across healthcare and education to review our content and ensure we are providing the best information to our readers.

With their first-hand industry experience, our reviewers provide an extra step in our editing process. These experts:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Our growing Review Network currently consists of professionals in fields like business, nursing, social work, and other subject-specific industries; professionals in higher education areas such as college counseling and financial aid; and anti-bias reviewers.

Reviewers typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for BestColleges as a side project. Our reviewers are members of the Red Ventures Education Freelance Review Network and are paid for their contributions.

See a full list of our Review Network contributors.

Edited by Taylor Gadsden
Share this Article

A master's in neonatal nursing prepares current nurses to become nurse practitioners with clinical specialties in neonatology. Graduates qualify to sit for the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) exam. Upon passing, they can apply for state licenses and work as neonatal nurse practitioners.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate-level tuition was $19,792 per year in 2019-2020. Prospective students must also consider other costs of graduate school, such as books, fees, and living expenses.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Full-time students in online programs can earn a master of nursing with a neonatal nurse practitioner clinical specialty in just three semesters. Part-time students may take up to three years. The investment of money and time can be well worth it to go to graduate school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nurse practitioners earned a median wage of $120,680 annually in May 2021 and projects job growth in the field that is much faster than average.

Our Top Pick

University of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Why It's #1: Penn takes the top spot on our list of the best master's in neonatal nursing programs because of the school's low class sizes and high graduation rate. The school's neonatal nurse practitioner program offers a 6-to1 student-to-teacher ratio, which allows professors to give personalized instruction. The program has the highest graduation rate on our list at 96%.

Read Our Rankings Methodology

Best Accredited Master's in Neonatal Nursing Programs

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

#1

University of Pennsylvania

School Information
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 8%
Graduation Rate 96%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 6% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

On Campus | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State and Out of State | $6,756

Credits to Graduate
12

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | Yes
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Penn's master's in neonatal nursing program prepares learners to become nurse practitioners who help families and infants through a baby's first year of life. Students choose between full-time and part-time coursework, so nurses can work during the program. 

Applicants must hold bachelor of nursing degrees from accredited universities and GPAs of at least 3.0. Within 3-5 years of applying, candidates need at least two years of full-time experience as a registered nurse in a level III-IV NICU.

View School Profile
#2

Duke University

School Information
Location Durham, North Carolina
Admission Rate 8%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 6% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Online Courses with In-Person Clinical Hours | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State and Out of State | $1,984

Credits to Graduate
43

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | No
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Duke offers a master of science in nursing with a neonatal nurse practitioner major and fully online coursework. In this online master's in neonatal nursing program, students learn family centered and culturally sensitive care. Degree candidates complete at least 616 clinical hours in diverse medical settings. 

Applicants need two years of full-time registered nursing experience taking care of critically ill newborns or infants in the previous five years.

View School Profile
#3

Vanderbilt University

School Information
Location Nashville, Tennessee
Admission Rate 9%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State and Out of State | $1,883

Credits to Graduate
41

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | Yes
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Vanderbilt blends the benefits of in-person education with the flexibility of distance learning with this hybrid neonatal nurse practitioner program. Learners come to campus for 3-7 days only 2-3 times per semester, except for the summer semester. Students complete all other coursework online asynchronously and earn clinical hours locally. 

Full-time learners can complete the program in just three semesters. Applicants need at least two years of level III NICU nursing experience in the previous five years.

View School Profile
#4

Regis University

School Information
Location Denver, Colorado
Admission Rate 71%
Graduation Rate 64%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Online Courses with In-Person Clinical Hours | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State and Out of State | $937

Credits to Graduate
44

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | Yes
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Regis offers an online master's in nursing with a neonatal nurse practitioner major that requires learners to visit campus twice. All other learning occurs through synchronous online courses and 630 clinical rotation hours. 

A successful applicant must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited institution and a minimum 2.75 GPA. Candidates must also have two years of clinical experience in level III or IV NICUs. In addition, they must submit three professional recommendation letters.

View School Profile
#5

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus

School Information
Location Cincinnati, Ohio
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Online Courses with In-Person Clinical Hours | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $746
Out of State | $1,333

Credits to Graduate
48-53

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | No
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Residents of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana can apply for UC's neonatal nurse practitioner program. They must have bachelor's degrees in nursing and at least two years of experience caring for patients under the age of two in acute care settings. Candidates who have one year of experience may earn admissions but must complete another year before beginning clinical rotations. 

Learners take most courses online. However, they can choose between online or in-person learning for the intensives.

View School Profile
#6

Wayne State University

School Information
Location Detroit, Michigan
Admission Rate 73%
Graduation Rate 48%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,005
Out of State | $1,864

Credits to Graduate
47

Program Information
NCLEX-RN Pass Rate | N/A
On-Campus Requirements | Yes
Program Accreditation | Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

WSU's master of science in nursing with a neonatal nurse practitioner clinical specialty allows students to learn online or in person. Thanks to technology-enabled classrooms, distance education students attend classes virtually alongside their on-campus peers. 

Some courses require a few in-person sessions, which learners know about well in advance. A successful applicant needs two years of nursing experience in a level III or IV NICU before clinical rotations begin. 

View School Profile

Popular Online Neonatal Nursing Programs

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

How We Rank Schools

Each year, the BestColleges Ranking Team evaluates hundreds of programs to produce our annual Best Master's in Neonatal Nursing Programs ranking. In 2022, the team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. We identified six schools that qualify for our ranking list based on the following criteria.

To ensure the accuracy and quality of our final ranked list, the ranking team reviewed each qualifying school to ensure it met the criteria for our ranking, and then applied our proprietary ranking methodology to identify the best schools offering this program in the nation. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring academic factors (60%) and affordability (40%).

The BestColleges Ranking Team is made up of contributors from our data science and product management teams. These contributors operate independently from the editorial team. All BestColleges school rankings are produced by the ranking team and are free of editorial influence. Read our Editorial Policy and Standards to learn more.

BestColleges' Ranking Factors

Top Three Benefits of a Neonatal Nursing Degree


Nurses can significantly increase their pay by becoming nurse practitioners.

According to data from the BLS, the median annual income for registered nurses is $77,600. Earning a master's degree in neonatal nursing can allow nurses to become nurse practitioners, who earned a median annual salary of $120,680 in May 2021. That's a potential increase of $43,080 per year.


Neonatal nurse practitioners enjoy high job satisfaction.

Research published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners found that 95% of neonatal nurse practitioners reported feeling "very satisfied" or "mostly satisfied" with their career choice.


Nurse practitioners are in high demand.

The BLS projects that the number of job openings for nurse practitioners will increase by 45% between 2020 and 2030. This exceeds the 9% growth rate for registered nurses during the same time.

What Can I Expect From a Master's in Neonatal Nursing Program?

Master's in neonatal nursing programs require learners to attend classes and complete clinical rotations. The classes may take place online or on campus. Some coursework requires classes called "intensives." These classes take place over a few days and teach students practical skills.

Clinical rotations take place in hospitals and other medical settings. Degree candidates work under the supervision of neonatal nurse practitioners. These hours allow learners to gain hands-on experience.

A master's in neonatal nursing program is best suited for nurses who have excellent bedside manner and enjoy working with families. Learners should also excel in science, including pharmacology and anatomy.

Check Out The Student's Guide to College Planning

Program Snapshot
Average Graduate Degree Tuition Cost

Public Institution: $12,410

Private Institution: $26,597

Length 2 years
Credits 30
Program Tracks Master of science in nursing
Example Courses
  • Advanced nursing assessment
  • Neonatal pharmacology
  • Developmental physiology of fetus and newborn
  • High-risk neonate theory
  • Roles and contexts for advanced nursing practice

What Programs Are Similar to Neonatal Nursing?

What Are the Admission Requirements?

Most master's in neonatal nursing programs require candidates to hold bachelor's degrees in nursing from accredited universities. Applicants should also have an active and unencumbered registered nursing license. Most of these programs only consider applicants with registered nursing experience in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

These schools do not typically require GRE scores, but submitting them can help. Applicants usually submit a grad school essay that outlines their career goals and motivations, as well as their resume and recommendation letters.

Explore Our Graduate Admissions Guide

How Do I Pay for a Master's Degree in Neonatal Nursing?

What Can I Do With This Degree?

Most master's in neonatal nursing programs specifically prepare students to work as neonatal nurse practitioners. These professionals diagnose and treat babies from the moment of birth through their first year of life.

The BLS projects most healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners to see a job growth rate of 12% between 2020 and 2030. However, nurse practitioners are in much higher demand with a job growth projection of 45%. Some graduates go on to earn doctoral degrees and teach the next generation of neonatal nurses and nurse practitioners. In addition, some states even require neonatal nurse practitioners to hold a doctorate.

Popular Neonatal Nursing Careers
Career Annual Salary
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Median May 2021: $120,680
Nurse Educator Median May 2021: $77,440
Clinical Research Associate Average July 2022: $69,480
Nursing Manager Average July 2022: $89,670
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Average July 2022: $100,950

Learn More About Nursing Careers

Neonatal Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Neonatal Nursing Licensing and Certification

Graduates who earn a master's in neonatal nursing often work as neonatal nurse practitioners, but there are a few steps they must take after graduation. First, they must apply to become licensed nurse practitioners in the state in which they want to work. The process varies by state.

Nurse practitioners must then pass the exam from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). The NCC's Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC®) exam is a three-hour test with 175 multiple-choice questions.

Should I Get a Master's in Neonatal Nursing Online?

Online degrees allow for maximum flexibility when pursuing a master's in neonatal nursing. Students can live in a different state than the university of their choice and still receive a high-quality education.

Online vs. On-Campus Degrees

On-Campus Pros

  • Access to on-campus resources and support services
  • In-person social interaction and networking
  • Hands-on learning
  • Classroom learning environment with fewer distractions
  • Extracurricular clubs and activities

On-Campus Cons

  • May be more expensive than online programs
  • Set class times with less flexibility
  • Time/money commuting

Online Pros

  • Flexibility to learn on your schedule
  • Learn from anywhere
  • Network with people around the world
  • Save time/money on commuting
  • May be more affordable than on-campus programs
  • Access to online tutoring and career services

Online Cons

  • Requires more self-discipline
  • Not all programs are available online
  • More technical requirements
  • Potential social isolation and loneliness

How to Choose an Online Degree Program

Frequently Asked Questions About Neonatal Nursing Programs

Is a master's in neonatal nursing worth it?

A master's degree in neonatal nursing can lead to an emotionally and financially rewarding career, which can make the investment worth it. These degrees allow graduates to become nurse practitioners, who have diagnostic and prescribing privileges. Nurse practitioners earn a median annual wage that is more than $43,000 higher than the median annual wage of registered nurses.

Graduates from these master's programs specifically work as neonatal nurse practitioners. Those who are passionate about helping newborns and their families during times of crisis can find emotional satisfaction from this career.

What can I do with a master's in neonatal nursing?

The most common career choice for graduates with a master's degree in neonatal nursing is a neonatal nurse practitioner. These medical professionals commonly work in NICUs in hospitals. There, they treat critically ill newborns and educate their families about their care.

Neonatal nurse practitioners may also work in labor and delivery units or in outpatient clinics. Some graduates with master's degrees in neonatal nursing pursue other careers. They may work in quality assurance, nurse management, research, healthcare administration, or nurse education.

What continuing education is available for neonatal nursing graduates?

Some graduates go on to earn a doctorate in nursing. These nurses can teach at nursing colleges or work in the field. Continuing education is an important part of any nursing career, including neonatal nurse practitioners.

States require nurse practitioners to gain continuing education hours every few years, though the number of hours and years depends on the state. Nurse practitioners gain these hours through professional conferences, graduate certificates, and other formal learning opportunities. By continuing to learn, nurse practitioners stay up to date on current research and best practices.

How much money can I make with a master's in neonatal nursing?

Graduates who earn a master's in neonatal nursing and go on to work as nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary exceeding $100,000 in 2021, as per the BLS. Pay can vary depending on experience, location, and skills. Other jobs for these graduates and their annual wages include:

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in neonatal nursing?

The highest-paying job for graduates with master's degrees in neonatal nursing is also the most common: neonatal nurse practitioner. According to the BLS, those who work in home healthcare services earned a mean annual salary of $133,170 in May 2021. Those who worked in California, New Jersey, and New York made the highest average salaries per year at $151,830, $137,010, and $133,940, respectively.

Feature Image: Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.