Nurse practitioners (NPs) belong to a broader group of healthcare professionals known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). RNs seeking to advance their careers can consider becoming NPs.
NPs hold graduate degrees along with national and state-level certifications. They bridge the gap between registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. For example, nurse practitioners can prescribe medications, diagnose conditions, order tests, and perform other duties typically associated with physicians.
The U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a sharp 45% increase in the number of NP jobs from 2019-2029. Salary data from May 2020 indicates that NPs enjoy median annual earnings of $117,670 per year.
Accelerated online nursing programs offer a flexible pathway to qualified candidates. These programs provide established nurses an efficient way to earn the credentials needed for advanced practice licensure.
What to Expect From an Online Accelerated NP Program
Nurse practitioner positions require a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. Accelerated NP programs enable RNs with a history of strong academic achievement to earn these credentials on faster timelines.
Degree-seekers in accelerated programs engage with the same topics and skills as those in traditional programs. The key difference lies in the program’s structure. Accelerated NP programs deliver coursework in intensive, concentrated formats, allowing students to complete their degree requirements more quickly.
Learn More About Nurse Practitioner Degrees in General
How Is an Online Accelerated Nurse Practitioner Degree Different From a Traditional Degree?
Accelerated nursing programs facilitate faster graduation in several ways. Since these programs assume proficiency with fundamental topics, it minimizes time spent on foundational prerequisites. The curriculum also moves at a faster pace, allowing students to earn their credit requirements more quickly.
Admission standards vary. However, accelerated nurse practitioner programs usually maintain more demanding admission requirements. For example, applicants often need valid, unencumbered RN licensure and a nursing degree.
Accelerated DNP programs are usually available only to RNs with MSN degrees. Accelerated MSN programs are typically open exclusively to RNs with bachelor’s degrees. In contrast, traditional nursing programs sometimes admit degree-seekers without an RN license.
Accelerated programs typically favor applicants with proven histories of strong academic achievement. For example, GPA cutoffs usually start in the 3.0 range (on the 4.0 scale). Programs that include prerequisite courses may also stipulate that students earn a certain minimum grade (such as a B or C) in all preliminary classes to qualify for admission.
Delivery Formats for Accelerated Nurse Practitioner Degrees
Accelerated nursing programs use multiple delivery formats. Examples include accelerated online nursing programs, bridge programs, and direct entry programs.
Online programs sometimes use hybrid formats that blend the virtual and traditional classrooms, allowing students to complete some coursework online and some on campus. The structure of online and in-person components varies by program, so prospective candidates should understand their campus attendance requirements before applying.
Schools also offer 100% online programs that do not require on-campus presence. Online courses follow asynchronous or synchronous models. Asynchronous delivery means lectures are pre-recorded. Students can self-schedule and engage with coursework when convenient.
In contrast, synchronous online classes occur live, in real-time sessions. These courses follow set schedules, and virtual learners must log in at the specified time.
Bridge programs allow students with prior nursing education to earn academic credentials more efficiently. Its name derives from the fact that the program “bridges” gaps between the student’s current knowledge and the knowledge associated with the culminating degree.
Bridge programs usually require existing RN licensure, which facilitates faster completion by reducing or eliminating introductory material.
Direct entry nurse practitioner programs offer degree-seekers with non-nursing academic backgrounds the opportunity to earn a graduate nursing degree. Direct entry programs typically follow an accelerated format and leverage students’ existing knowledge to guide them through intensive foundational course sequences.
Students become eligible for RN licensure after completing their prerequisites. After obtaining licensure, they proceed to complete their MSN degrees and become NPs.
How Much Will Getting an Accelerated Nurse Practitioner Degree Online Cost?
Tuition rates vary widely among institutions. Multiple factors impact total costs. Students in accelerated RN to NP programs pay more per semester than learners in regular nursing programs. Yet, a fast-tracked program enables students to earn more credits each semester and graduate faster.
The intensive nature of accelerated nurse practitioner programs may make it difficult for students to work while they study. By contrast, regular programs allow degree-seekers more flexibility to hold jobs as they attend school, especially if they follow asynchronous online formats. This also affects financial outcomes for students. Degree-seekers who continue earning an income while in school have a clearer path to graduating with less debt.
Nursing professions pay well, and students typically enjoy favorable returns on their educational investments. Even so, many need help meeting the upfront costs of their schooling. Learners who need financial aid should consider nonrepayable sources like grants, fellowships, and scholarships before federal or private loans.
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Why Get Your Nurse Practitioner Degree Faster?
Accelerated programs offer a faster path to NP licensure. Yet this shorter timeline comes with a trade-off. Students take more courses per semester and must sustain more effort to maintain their academic performance. Learners often dedicate themselves to their accelerated studies full time, foregoing work and an income.
Asynchronous online accelerated nursing programs offer a measure of relief, as the format offers scheduling flexibility. Generally, committed degree-seekers with confidence in their academic abilities tend to make the best match for the unique demands of accelerated learning.
The following chart summarizes the major pros and cons of earning an accelerated nurse practitioner degree:
- Accelerated degrees take less time to complete, allowing students to reenter the workforce with advanced credentials more quickly.
- Intensive programs demand immersive learning, driving higher levels of engagement with course material.
- Accelerated programs offer an efficient path to higher-paying nursing careers.
- Learners do not spend time and money reviewing foundational material.
- Accelerated nursing programs are challenging and place major demands on students’ time.
- Up-front costs can be higher than traditional programs.
- Students may have trouble balancing accelerated learning schedules with employment commitments.
- Admission standards are usually more selective and competitive.
Selecting Your Accelerated Online Nurse Practitioner Program
The fastest online NP program is not necessarily the best one for a given student. Candidates considering accelerated nurse practitioner programs should evaluate factors beyond their delivery formats. Examples of other important considerations include:
- The program’s practicum and clinical experience components
- Graduate success rates on nurse practitioner licensing examinations
- The school’s reputation among employers
- Career services for students and alumni
- Program flexibility and course delivery formats (asynchronous and/or synchronous)
- On-campus attendance requirements (for hybrid programs)
Degree-seekers should also confirm whether their school holds accreditation. Students should apply only to institutions with valid national or regional accreditation.
Some nursing schools also hold optional programmatic accreditation. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education rank among the leading accrediting bodies for nurse practitioner programs in the United States.
Explore Related NP Programs
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I get my MSN fast?
Accelerated nurse practitioner programs and BSN-MSN bridge programs both offer faster routes to an MSN degree. Their structures, course loads, and entry requirements differ. Prospective students should make comparisons of available study opportunities to determine which format best meets their objectives.
Are there accelerated nursing programs online?
Until fairly recently, accelerated nursing programs were mostly campus-based. Schools now offer learners the opportunity to earn all or most of their academic credits online. However, nurse practitioner programs include clinical training and experiential learning components, which students must complete in person.
How hard is it to get into an accelerated nursing program?
Admission standards typically differ from one school to the next. However, accelerated nursing degrees generally hold applicants to higher standards than their regularly paced counterparts. Students with a history of strong academic performance stand the best chance of acceptance.
What is the typical nurse practitioner program length?
Typical MSN programs usually demand the equivalent of 2-3 academic years of full-time study. Accelerated programs usually compress this timeline by one semester or academic year. Full-time DNP programs typically require 1-3 academic years to complete, depending on their pace and structure, and whether the student entered with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Top Five Online Accelerated Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs of 2021
Five schools earned distinction as the top-ranked accelerated online nurse practitioner programs of 2021. Each program features an accelerated structure that saves students time relative to standard programs. Additionally, all featured schools hold institutional accreditation from a national or regional agency. Some also have optional programmatic endorsements from specialized bodies.
The accrediting bodies that recognize the academic excellence of the top NP programs for 2021 include:
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN)
Learn more by exploring the links to each of the five programs that made the 2021 list.
View our ranking methodology
University of Southern California
Located in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California serves roughly 46,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Its online MSN program prepares registered nurses with at least one year of clinical experience to serve patients as primary care providers.
Coursework is built on an evidence-based curriculum designed for aspiring family nurse practitioners (FNPs). The program trains FNPs to offer integrative care for patients of all ages.
Coursework covers pathophysiology, pharmacology, community-based research, and more. All coursework may be completed online, but students are also required to complete two on-campus intensives in Los Angeles during the program.
Students enrolled full time take roughly 21 months to finish the program, while part-time students complete the program in 33 months. If enrolled full-time, this program is one of the fastest online nurse practitioner programs in the U.S.
Applicants need a BSN from an accredited college or university and a 3.0 GPA. Transcripts also need to show a completed 3-credit course in statistics with a C grade or better.
The University of West Florida
Based in Pensacola, Florida, UWF offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. UWF's accelerated nurse practitioner program offers an online MSN for FNPs that prepares students for a national certification exam to receive a license as an advanced practice nurse.
This MSN program is taught by nurse educators with direct experience in the field. With an accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), this program prepares students for an advanced career in primary care. Candidates must have a BSN from an accredited college or university.
Coursework covers topics that range from diagnosing and evaluating a patient's health in a safe and cost-effective manner to the use of evidence-based theories to improve the general practice of nursing. FNPs graduate with the ability to effectively provide and improve current care to patients of all ages.
The program typically lasts 27-30 months and consists of 45 credits, as well as a 600-hour practicum.
A Catholic university, Sacred Heart University offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 9,000 students in Fairfield, Connecticut.
SHU offers an online MSN-FNP degree program for registered nurses seeking to become advanced practitioners. Students learn how to diagnose various diseases and injuries, treat common illnesses, and conduct physical examinations. Coursework also includes providing health care guidance to a diverse set of patients.
Students typically complete the 42 credit program in three years. Students can continue working while enrolling in the program either full or part-time.
The program prepares students for national certification exams through both the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). The FNP program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Only students with a BSN degree may apply.
California State University-Dominguez Hills
Located in Los Angeles, California State University, Dominguez Hills teaches a diverse student body of 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
CSUDH's MSN family nurse practitioner program prepares registered nurses for advanced primary care.
Coursework consists of online meetings, occasional on-campus meetings, and 576 clinical hours in an outpatient setting. The program requires 48 credits taken over 3-4 years. Students can enroll full or part time, but CSUDH notes RNs working full-time may have difficulty completing coursework.
Only registered nurses with at least two years of experience providing direct clinical care to patients will be considered for admission. Transcripts need to show a GPA of 3.0 or higher in the last 60 semester units enrolled in a BSN.
CSUDH's NP program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN).
A Catholic Jesuit university located in Denver, Colorado, Regis University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs to its approximately 7,000 students.
Regis offers an online MSN program for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and a neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) program. The FNP program focuses on caring for rural and underserved communities.
Students typically complete the 44-48 required credits in 5 or 6 semesters. Classes meet online once per week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students must also complete 630 hours of monitored clinical hours, which must be separate from a student's regular paid working hours.
The program also requires two on-campus intensive sessions lasting up to three days. Students are advised to avoid working full-time during the last semester due to clinical hours.
Candidates with a bachelor's degree from a NLN or AACN-CCNE accredited program with a minimum GPA of 2.75 or higher may apply. Applicants must also have an active RN license with two years of clinical practice as an RN. For NNP applications, experience in a level III or level IV NICU is preferred.
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