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AdvanceU: Top Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
Our AdvanceU score measures a university’s commitment to helping registered nurses (RNs) become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) via online programs. Primary factors—detailed at length on our rankings page—include admissions flexibility, program variety, and cost. These variables are combined and weighted to determine each school’s AdvanceU score. Those scores are what you see in our comprehensive program lists below and throughout the site.
Online Nurse Practitioner Schools, from A to Z
Check out our comprehensive collection of online school profiles, focused on accredited nursing schools that offer at least one nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, or clinical nurse specialist program online.
Each profile offers details on admission requirements, start dates, coursework, campus visit requirements, professor and peer interaction, tuition, and an overview of the online student experience.
Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?
Over a billion patient visits were made to an estimated 325,000 nurse practitioners in the United States in 2021—and that number is set to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) projects that openings for nurse practitioners will swell 52 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030, more than six times the average growth anticipated among all U.S. occupations during the same decade (8 percent). These healthcare professionals also earn an average annual salary of $114,510, more than double the average salary of all professions ($56,310).
Notably, studies show that nurse practitioners can improve healthcare costs, mortality rates, and patient satisfaction. Nurse practitioners are graduate-trained and can provide many of the same services as primary care physicians and specialists. An aging population, the adoption of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and a low supply of physicians have increased demand for qualified healthcare providers across the U.S.
Check out the best online NP program for you to become part of the solution.
How To Become an Advanced Practice Nurse
Becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)—such as a nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist—involves a combination of accredited graduate education, work experience, and credentialing.
Here is a basic step-by-step guide to joining one of these growing healthcare professions:
Step 1: Graduate from an accredited bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or related program (four years).
Accredited BSN programs typically fulfill the course prerequisites and hands-on training to apply for a graduate degree. While an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma program can suffice, completing a BSN is the most direct route to qualify for initial employment and advanced, graduate-level nursing programs.
Step 2: Become a registered nurse (RN) and gain work experience (at least one year).
After completing an undergraduate degree, aspiring NPs, CNMs, and CNSs must first become RNs by applying to their local State Board of Nursing and passing the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN). After getting licensed as RNs, they can pursue entry-level work, ideally focused on their intended specialization such as primary care, nurse-midwifery, or psychiatric-mental health. Please note that many acute care nurse practitioner programs (AGNP-AC, PNP-AC, etc.) require at least two years of experience to qualify.
Step 3: Complete an accredited graduate degree (two to four years).
Aspiring APRNs may pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, the terminal degree for practice-focused nursing. Both pathways include coursework and supervised clinical hours (500 to 1,000) known as preceptorships.
At this stage, students will choose a specialization such as adult-gerontology (acute or primary care), family care, women’s and gender-related health, pediatrics (acute or primary care), neonatal care, psychiatric-mental health, or nurse-midwifery.
MSN-prepared registered nurses may elect to pursue a post-master’s certificate rather than a DNP degree. While some post-master’s certificate programs are designed for any MSN-prepared RN, others are designed specifically for APRNs or NPs pursuing an additional specialization.
Students should seek out programs accredited by one of the following three entities: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).
Step 4: Secure national certification and state licensure (timeline varies).
All NPs, CNMs, and CNSs must have the requisite credentialing prior to seeking work. State credentials vary by region and professionals should contact their local Board of Nursing for details.
National Certification Boards
- Nurse practitioners (varies by specialization):
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- National Certification Corporation (NCC)
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- Dermatology Nursing Certification Board (DNCB)
- Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC)
- Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB)
- Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)
- Certified nurse-midwives:
- American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)
- Clinical nurse specialists (varies by specialization):
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
Step 5: Maintain all certifications and licenses (one to five years).
The renewal processes for both national and local credentials vary. They typically involve the completion of continuing education (CE) credits, especially in the area of pharmacotherapeutics.
Who Accredits Online NP Programs?
All schools and programs profiled on NPSchools.com have been accredited by one of the following reputable entities. These organizations have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
|CCNE – Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education||The CCNE, the programmatic accreditation body for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), approves nursing programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree levels, in addition to post-master’s certificates and residency programs. It is also working toward accrediting NP residency and fellowship programs.|
|ACEN – Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing||The ACEN approves nursing programs at all levels, including certificate, diploma, degree, and transition-to-practice pathways.|
|ACME – Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education||As the premier accreditation body for nurse-midwifery and midwifery education, the ACME approves certificate, direct-entry, and graduate degree programs in this discipline.|
What About Clinical Hours (Preceptorships)?
All nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, and clinical nurse specialist programs require a specific number of clinical hours. These hands-on experiences help give advanced practice nurses employment-ready skills through the guidance of experts.
For online programs, preceptorships can be completed near a student’s home at an approved facility, and are a required component of the program. Please note that some distance-based APRN programs put limitations on where a student can complete a preceptorship. NPSchools.com includes this information in all school profiles.
For working nurses, the hours may be completed at their place of employment with permission from their program supervisor or director. Other sources for finding approved facilities and mentors include preceptor lists available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the ENP Network, State Boards of Nursing, professional associations, LinkedIn, and local healthcare facilities. In all cases, aspiring NPs, CNMs, and CNSs should ensure they have preceptor approval from their graduate program prior to completing any hours.
The number of required clinical hours depends on a student’s prior preceptorships, completed education, and specialization. Typically, MSN-NP programs will require the student to complete a minimum of 500 clinical hours, while DNP-NP programs will require the student to complete a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours.
The following are estimates from Frontier Nursing University, but the figures can vary by school. Please note that ADN bridge (RN-to-MSN, RN-to-DNP) programs require the same number of clinical hours as the post-BSN options, although they have additional coursework to prepare students for the rigors of an APRN degree. Post-MSN DNP programs often require fewer clinical hours than do BSN-to-DNP programs.
Science in Nursing (MSN)
Minimum: 500 hours (FNU: 675)
Nursing Practice (DNP)
Minimum: 1,000 hours (FNU: 1,035)
Minimum: Gap Analysis Required (FNU: 540 hours)
How Does National Board Certification Work?
Once an aspiring nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, or clinical nurse specialist completes a graduate-level program in their chosen specialization, they must pursue national board certification in order to practice. Please note that state licensure varies by region and occupation. Prospective NPs, CNMs, and CNSs should contact their State Board of Nursing for details.
In general, here are the eligibility requirements to sit for an APRN certification exam:
- An application or examination fee
- An active RN license
- A graduate degree (MSN or higher) accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN), or the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME)
- Proof of specific coursework (e.g., physiology and anatomy, statistics, advanced health assessment, etc.)
- At least 500 supervised clinical hours
Here is an overview of the most popular national certifications:
|American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)||Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) |
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
|American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)||Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC) |
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC)
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC)
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC)
Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AGCNS-BC)
|American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)||Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNPC-AG) |
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (ACCNS-AG)
Pediatric Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (ACCNS-P)
Neonatal Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (ACCNS-N)
|National Certification Corporation (NCC)||Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) |
Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC)
|Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)||Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (CPNP-PC) |
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (CPNP-AC)
|American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)||Certified Midwife (CM) |
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
These certifications are valid from one to five years and must be maintained by completing certain requirements, which include earning a set number of continuing education (CE) credits in specific areas such as pharmacotherapeutics.
Where Can I Learn More?
NPSchools.com is a valuable resource for aspiring nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.
Our comprehensive lists of top NP programs allow you to rank and compare schools based on the factors that are most important to you, such as specialization, affordability, admissions requirements, and program format. Our school profiles cover every available online nurse practitioner program in the nation and are updated annually for accuracy. Finally, our features provide expert interviews with professors and working NPs to explore the advocacy and practice issues most relevant to the healthcare community.
For more on becoming an advanced practice nurse—including information about program accreditation, professional credentialing, specialization-specific issues, and salaries—please check out the following resources.
|American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)||AANP is a full-service professional association providing various journals and publications, practice information, research opportunities, surveys, position papers, job boards, events, and much more.|
|National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)||In addition to providing the NCLEX-RN licensure exam, the NCSBN offers information about specific State Boards of Nursing, annual reports, dynamic regulatory standards, and a vast array of educational resources for APRNs.|
|American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM)||ACNM is committed to advancing the midwife profession, both nationally and abroad, by promoting advanced education, research, inclusiveness, and superlative advocacy.|
|National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS)||NACNS promotes the expertise and unique experience of clinical nurse specialists through useful publications, networking opportunities, grants, fellowships, and public awareness campaigns, among other initiatives.|
|Bureau of Labor Statistics||The U.S. Department of Labor created the BLS as a resource for detailed salary data, career growth projections, and detailed occupational profiles.|