Completing an online nurse practitioner program puts current registered nurses (RNs) on track to a higher-paying career. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice nurses who focus their careers in specific areas of nursing, such as acute care, adult gerontology, pediatrics, family nursing, and psychiatric mental health.
Nurses can become certified as nurse practitioners after completing a graduate-level program: either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). You can complete either degree online.
Nurse Journal outlines the top online programs for registered nurses interested in becoming nurse practitioners.
We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best schools for online nurse practitioner programs, including both MSN and DNP programs. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings. All data is current as of November 2023. Program-specific information may vary.
1. Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
Georgetown University offers a 44-hour online family nurse practitioner program that prepares students for the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board exam. The Jesuit-based curriculum provides a holistic family health perspective, incorporating spiritual, physical, and mental health perspectives.
The program trains students to provide family-focused primary care, in a clinical setting, from newborns to geriatric patients. The seven-term course requires 650 clinical practicum hours and two in-person clinical intensives.
2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles
The University of Southern California offers an online master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Department of Nursing. The program is for RNs with a bachelor of science in nursing degree, where working students can opt for a 33-month part-time or a 21-month full-time schedule.
USC's family online nurse practitioner program prepares students for board certification that allows them to work in primary care with patients through the lifespan. The curriculum includes courses in diagnosing and treating routine health issues, medication prescriptions, lab and X-ray results, and wellness promotion.
USC offers a clinical placement team to help students procure clinical sites near them. Students must also complete two Los Angeles-area, on-campus intensives.
3. Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
The Stony Brook University School of Nursing offers several online concentrations for master of science in nursing students planning to become nurse practitioners. These specialties include adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, family health, women's health, neonatal health, pediatric primary care, pediatric acute care, psychiatric mental health, and nurse-midwifery. Each track offers unique programming and is aimed at preparing nurses to provide primary care for various specialties.
Nurses learn to diagnose, assess, and manage various symptoms and conditions, with the ability to provide primary care once they are board-certified. The Office of Clinical Placements assists students in setting up clinical practicums.
4. The University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL
The University of West Florida offers an online 45-semester-hour master of science-family nurse practitioner program that provides students with the necessary skills to become a primary care provider after obtaining board certification.
Family nurse practitioners care for patients throughout their lifespan. The full-time program requires a minimum of six credits per semester and 600 clinical practicum hours total. The course content is delivered asynchronously online. An orientation and virtual skills workshop is required.
5. George Washington University, Washington D.C.
George Washington University offers an online 22-credit-hour master of science in nursing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. The curriculum focuses on theories of behavioral change (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy), learning, motivation, and neurobiology.
Once students have taken and passed the state board exam, they can legally assess, diagnose, and manage mental health conditions for patients throughout their lifespan. A required on-campus course prepares nurses for taking patient histories and performing physical exams. The program offers RNs an opportunity to expand their scope of practice and qualify for advanced careers in the mental health field.
An entry-level BSN-to-DNP track is available for all online nurse practitioner programs at GWU. The online DNP nurse practitioner course is a hybrid program with online classes and on-campus training requirements.
6. Texas A&M International University, Laredo, TX
Texas A&M University's Dr. F.M. Canseco School of Nursing offers a 48-credit-hour, online master of science family nurse practitioner course aimed at educating RNs in advanced practice. After board certification, family nurse practitioners become licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat patients throughout the lifespan.
The program teaches nurses the skills needed to improve the quality of patient care in culturally diverse populations. The curriculum focuses on research, health promotion, policy, and community health.
7. Cedarville University, Cedarville, OH
Cedarville University offers a 41- to 44-credit-hour, full- or part-time, online master of science family nurse practitioner program. The accredited online nurse practitioner program focuses on assessing, diagnosing, and treating various acute and chronic conditions.
After board certification, family nurse practitioners receive a license to employ evidence-based prevention and treatment practices. Four on-campus experiences are required.
The clinical practicum requirement is 600 hours. A clinical placement coordinator is available to help learners secure the best clinical placement near the student's local geographic area.
8. University of Cincinnati-Main Campus, Cincinnati, OH
The University of Cincinnati College of Nursing offers an online bachelor of science in nursing to doctor of nursing practice (BSN-to-DNP), a post-master's doctor of nursing practice, or an on-campus nurse anesthesia program.
Several specialty nurse practitioner concentrations are available at the University of Cincinnati's main campus. Most doctor of nursing practice nurse practitioner programs are available online, with one campus visit required during the final semester.
The Doctor of Nursing Practice program prepares nurses to employ evidence-based practice in primary patient care. Graduates design, manage, and evaluate health promotion and restoration programs, often procuring leadership positions.
9. Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
Sacred Heart University offers a 42-credit-hour online master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner program and a hybrid master of science in nursing to doctor of nursing practice (BSN-to-DNP) family nurse practitioner program. The clinical practicum comprises 550 hours, which can be completed in the student's local geographic area.
The online nurse practitioner program gives students the training needed to provide primary care for patients of all ages. Graduates can perform physical exams, make diagnoses, and educate patients on wellness and health restoration.
10. Samford University, Birmingham, AL
Samford University Moffett & Sanders School of Nursing offers an online master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner program. RNs gain the skills to provide primary care to patients throughout the lifespan. The program is taught by experienced physicians and nurse practitioners. Successful program completion qualifies RNs to sit for the American Nurses' Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners family nurse practitioner certification exam.
A 24-month flexible, hybrid doctor of nursing practice emergency nurse practitioner program is available for master's-level family nurse practitioners. Applications are not accepted from students in states with strict distance learning regulations, including Oregon, New York, Colorado, California, Colorado, and Louisiana.
Nurse Journal asked a two-person panel of nurses to review each of the online nurse practitioner programs below. In their review, these nurses considered factors that influence nursing student experiences, including reputation, faculty, program quality, and value. The following are the top-scoring programs according to our panel of nurses. You can read their respective comments on each ranked program here.
What makes one nurse practitioner online program different from another? Often, factors like cost and schedule flexibility. Nurses take NP programs online for the convenience and format, but other key factors influence student decisions. The best online nurse practitioner programs prepare nurses for their chosen careers and offer a format and timeline that suits their lifestyle.
The following categoric information was included in these program rankings:
Eligibility requirements for an online nurse practitioner program are often listed in the admissions guidelines. Nurse practitioner online programs often want applicants with about 1-2 years of work experience, who hold an RN license with applicable credentials.
Nurse practitioner programs allow students to specialize in specific areas of nursing, such as adult-gerontology, family nursing, neonatal nursing, or healthcare leadership. Keep in mind that specialties vary by nursing school.
NP programs provide an education in evidence-based clinical nursing and theory. Students also take courses in their chosen nursing specialty. The quality of the curriculum matters because you want to be prepared for national certification in your nursing specialization.
To meet national credentialing requirements, nurse practitioner online programs require students to complete clinical hours in person, often in the same state the nurses study in. Some schools make this mandate more convenient than others. For instance, nursing schools may provide clinical placements near a student's hometown or at the hospital they currently work at rather than by the college campus.
Quality nurse practitioner online programs hold accreditation. This stamp of approval lets students know their education is vetted by an independent accrediting agency. In order to sit for the board certification examination and apply for state licensure, applicants must submit proof that their degree came from an accredited program.
It takes full-time students an average of 24-26 months to complete NP programs online. Nursing schools require about 40-50 credits and roughly 600-800 clinical hours in a student's expected specialty area. Program length varies by school.
School NCLEX pass rate
Students enrolling in online nurse practitioner programs have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) and hold an RN license. However, the NCLEX pass rate still provides insight about a nursing school's ability to prepare all nursing students — undergraduates and graduate students — to succeed. A school with a low pass rate cannot be expected to prepare students for national credentialing exams.
School graduation rate
Nursing school at any level is hard. A school's publicized graduate rate can inform you about that school's ability to provide resources and support to prevent students from dropping out or failing.
Online learning format and requirements
How online nursing programs work differs from how in-person programs work. Nurse practitioner online programs may offer a blend of asynchronous and synchronous work, or function entirely asynchronously. For synchronous formats, you need to meet online at set times to attend lectures. For asynchronous work, students often listen to prerecorded lectures on their own time. Consider if you can meet the learning requirements, especially if you work or have other obligations.
Accreditation ensures that your nursing program offers an effective, quality education. Accrediting agencies also work to improve all nursing education programs and fellowships.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing both provide accreditation to online nurse practitioner programs. Accreditation matters because:
Online nurse practitioner programs design learning formats for working RNs. Courses feature asynchronous and synchronous work to allow students to work on their own time, without traveling to campus.
That said, nursing programs are not entirely online. NP students who enroll in online and on-campus programs need clinical experience. This means they must work under the supervision of a certified and licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) in their chosen specialty.
Students need to meet the educational requirements and hold a current RN license to gain admission into nurse practitioner online programs.
Admittance requirements — such as minimum GPAs, work experience, and supplemental materials — vary by nursing school.
Online nurse practitioner programs often have residency requirements so students can complete in-person labs and clinical hours.
Online nurse practitioner programs often require that students hold a bachelor's in nursing degree from an accredited program. Incoming students also need an RN license from the state where the school makes clinical assignments. They may also need 1-2 years of bedside nursing experience.
Students may need to pass an undergraduate statistics course with at least a "C" grade to gain admission to online nurse practitioner programs. Applicants also may need to submit resumes, personal statements, and three letters of reference from academic, professional, or clinical supervisors.
Nursing students may think they have the means to pay their tuition out of pocket, but several factors make college more expensive. For example, nurses who cannot work while in school may need additional money to cover their living expenses. And colleges may charge more to students who cannot establish state residency.
Many graduate-level nursing students are eligible to receive scholarships and grants for nursing school, which they do not need to repay. Many employers or medical centers also offer tuition remission or reimbursement programs.
You can find NPs working in physicians' offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, and in private or public educational services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Nurse practitioners have backgrounds as RNs, but they also have advanced clinical training and education to diagnose and treat complex health conditions.
NPs earn a median annual wage of $121,610, according to 2022 BLS data. NP salaries can reach more than $160,000 among the top 10% of earners. It takes at least an MSN degree to become an NP, but the American Association of Colleges of Nursing now recommends that all APRNs earn a doctor of nursing practice.
Working as an NP provides the career flexibility to choose a specialty area either in primary or acute care. Nursing students pick NP specialties that determine their career trajectory with options to become a family nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or pediatric nurse practitioner, among others.