Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are a subset of advanced practice registered nurses. NPs perform many of the same duties as physicians: they can order lab work, diagnose conditions, and prescribe medications. Becoming an NP requires completing a master of science in nursing (MSN), passing a board certification exam, and obtaining state licensure.

NPs enjoy lucrative earnings and exceptionally strong job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 45% job growth for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives from 2019-2029, much faster than the national average. As of 2020, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $117,670.

This page ranks the best online nurse practitioner programs and explores what the online learning experience entails.

What to Expect From a Nurse Practitioner Online Program

Online NP programs typically mirror traditional on-campus NP programs in terms of credit load, course offerings, and concentration options. However, on-campus and online NP programs differ in several ways, including delivery format, cost expectations, and on-campus requirements.

Learn More About Nurse Practitioner Degrees in General

How Is an Online NP Degree Different From an On-Campus NP Degree?

Prospective students may wonder whether to attend an NP program online or on campus. The main difference between the two lies in student demographics, affordability, and flexibility.

Because advanced nursing practice requires hands-on clinical experience, no MSN is 100% online. However, distance learners spend substantially less time on campus overall. This flexibility can be useful for students with family or career obligations.

Schools often provide tuition discounts to distance learners. Attending an NP program online can also cut down on relocation and commuting expenses.

Below, we review how on-campus and online nurse practitioner programs compare.

Comparing online NP programs to on-campus NP programs

Online NP Program On-Campus NP Program
Length Two years Two years
Credit Load 40-60 credits 40-60 credits
Student Demographics Seasoned nursing professionals and registered nurses with prior work experience Primarily registered nurses with little or no professional experience
Admission Requirements Registered nurse credentials Registered nurse credentials
Delivery Format Mostly online On campus
Tuition Discounts to Learners Yes No

Top Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Delivery Formats for Online Nurse Practitioner Degrees

Online nurse practitioner programs require in-person attendance for hands-on activities, including clinical training. Most classes can be completed remotely. Nursing schools sometimes use a hybrid model that combines traditional and virtual delivery formats, with some course offerings online and some on campus.

Online NP programs deliver course content synchronously and asynchronously. Most schools use software like Blackboard or Canvas to deliver online course content. The synchronous format mirrors the on-campus experience with regular live classes at set times. Live lectures or discussions typically occur on Zoom or other platforms.

Asynchronous classes do not have live components. Instead, students access pre-recorded lectures, participate in discussion boards, and complete assignments by the deadlines.

Online programs, particularly those using the asynchronous model, offer enhanced flexibility. However, students should consider their own learning styles before applying to online programs, as these classes require time management, organization, and self-discipline.

Accreditation and State Authorization for Online NP Programs

Aspiring nurse practitioners should prioritize schools with accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting commissions. These organizations ensure a school meets standards of academic excellence. Some schools may hold national accreditation, but this is typically reserved for religious and technical institutions.

Regionally accredited colleges and universities enjoy higher esteem than nationally accredited schools. Federal financial aid is only available for enrollees at regionally accredited schools, and many certifications and licensures require a degree from a regionally accredited school.

Industry-specific accreditation should also play a role in the school selection process. Programmatic accreditation ensures that an online nurse practitioner program meets industry standards. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing confer accreditation to top online nursing programs.

Nursing students enrolled in out-of-state schools should also confirm that the school holds authorization in their state. This credential permits institutions in one state to educate learners with residency in a different state.

How Much Will an Online NP Degree Cost?

According to data from U.S. News & World Report, an online master’s program costs $20,000-$80,000 in tuition and fees. When calculating total degree costs, students should also factor in expenses for textbooks, technology, and on-campus visits.

According to data from U.S. News & World Report, an online master’s program costs $20,000-$80,000 in tuition and fees.

Online degrees can be more affordable than their on-campus counterparts. For example, many public institutions charge in-state tuition rates for online learners, regardless of state residency. Other schools, including private institutions, may charge reduced online-only tuition rates.

To offset the cost of attending a nurse practitioner online program, consider applying for financial aid such as scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Student loans accrue interest and require repayment, so these should be considered a last resort.

Why Attend a Nurse Practitioner Program Online?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 7 million students enrolled in a distance learning course at a postsecondary institution in fall 2018. With the growing demand for remote education, an increasing number of nursing schools offer nurse practitioner programs online. These programs enable students to live in one state but study in another without the hassle of relocating.

Because online programs require learners to familiarize themselves with digital communications technologies, pursuing a nurse practitioner program online provides experience with these tools. With the rise in telehealth, this competency can give distance learners a competitive edge in the job market.

Many online nursing practitioner students enjoy reduced tuition rates and flexible delivery formats. Asynchronous courses enable learners to fulfill work and family obligations by completing coursework on their schedules. Remote education can also entail savings on cost for campus amenities, commuting, and parking.

The drawbacks of attending a nursing practitioner program online include less access to on-campus career services and a more independent structure.

Pros

  • Opportunity to study at schools in other states without relocating
  • Greater familiarity with telehealth technology
  • Asynchronous classes allowing students to satisfy family and career obligations
  • Reduced tuition rates

Cons

  • Requires good time-management skills
  • Reduced access to on-campus career services
  • Less interaction with peers and instructors
  • May require additional expenses for travel to satisfy in-person clinical requirements

Selecting Your Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Our rankings are an excellent starting point for finding the right online NP program. But prospective students should also consider other factors, such as location, cost, concentration options, and career services. We discuss these additional factors below.

Location
If you plan to attend an online nurse practitioner program in one state but practice nursing in another, ensure that the school holds state authorization.
Cost/Financial Aid
Pursuing public, in-state, or online nurse practitioner programs and applying for nonrepayable financial aid can help lower total costs.
Concentration Options
Ensure that the online nurse practitioner programs you intend to apply to offer your preferred specialty. If not, consider whether they offer electives in the area you want to specialize in.
Career Services
The best online NP programs provide extensive career services to learners, such as workshops, placement services, and mock interviews. Confirm with the school whether you can access these services remotely.

Explore Related Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you become a nurse practitioner online?

    Yes! Many schools offer nurse practitioner programs online. However, even online NP programs typically require students to complete in-person clinical and hands-on requirements.

  • What's the fastest way to become a nurse practitioner?

    Some schools offer accelerated online nurse practitioner programs. The fastest programs take around one year of full-time study to complete. However, many of these programs require prior work experience.

  • How much does an NP program cost?

    Becoming an NP requires completing a master’s program in nursing. The cost of a master’s degree ranges from $20,000 to $80,000 for tuition and fees. The price depends on school prestige and type (public vs. private), student residency (in state vs. out of state), and delivery format (online vs. on campus).

  • How long are online NP programs?

    Most online NP programs take two years of full-time study. Prior professional experience may help you qualify for an accelerated online NP program. These programs allow you to finish in as little as one year.

Top Online NP Programs of 2021

Our rankings below list the five best online nurse practitioner programs in 2021. Each program features online or hybrid delivery with minimal on-campus requirements. All featured schools hold institutional accreditation from regional accreditors. The following regional accrediting bodies assess nurse practitioner online programs:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)

Some of the online NP programs on our list also hold industry-specific accreditation. Click on the links below to explore this year’s top online nurse practitioner programs.

View our ranking methodology

  1. Texas A & M University-College Station
    Location

    College Station, TX

    Tuition

    $19118.00

    Texas A & M's online master of science in nursing-family nurse practitioner program is open to state residents with a BS in nursing and a current Texas RN license. The program emphasizes prevention through health promotion, risk reduction, and health condition management.

    The full-time RN-to-FNP program spans six semesters over two years. Part-time learners study for eight semesters over two years, plus an additional fall and spring term.

    Prospective students should demonstrate a minimum GPA of 3.0, both cumulative and for their last 60 hours of undergraduate study. Applicants must also have completed an elementary statistics class with a "C" grade or higher.

    While the MSN-FNP program is presented largely online, students must complete an orientation session on campus, 45 clinical hours, and one or two on site components for particular courses. With faculty approval, candidates may fulfill the clinical practice requirement in their local community.

    The program's digital campus includes access to an online library and virtual student services. All nursing students are eligible for academic advising services, including assistance with accessing learning resources.

  2. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    Unconfirmed

    Presented through USC's School of Social Work Department of Nursing, this online nurse practitioner program features a family nurse practitioner specialization. Grounded in foundational social work theories and principles, the curriculum addresses social, environmental, and physical aspects of health.

    Students may enroll in the RN-to-FNP program on a part- or full-time basis. The full-time program lasts for five semesters and the part-time program takes eight, requiring 21-33 months in total. Candidates complete two intensives at USC's Los Angeles campus and perform clinical placements in their own communities.

    Classes are presented live and coursework is available online 24/7. All classes are limited to 12 participants. Learners enjoy online access to course materials and a career success team for assistance in career development.

    Applicants must hold a BSN or MSN degree, an RN license, and at least one year of clinical experience. Prospective students should also demonstrate a 3.0 GPA or better and a "C" grade or higher in a three-credit college-level statistics course.

  3. George Washington University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Tuition

    Unconfirmed

    GWU's online MSN-NP adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner program trains students to care for critically ill patients ages 13 and older, and to support patients' families. The program strives to develop fast-paced critical thinking skills required in acute care settings.

    Most of the RN-to-MSN courses are available online. However, candidates must travel to GWU's Washington, D.C. campus for intensives and certain exams, including a skills assessment at the end of the program.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, an active and unencumbered nursing license, and at least one year of clinical experience. The university also recommends that learners boast a GPA of at least 3.0. There are some restrictions on applicants from certain states. For the most recent information, please review the program's FAQ.

    Students in the online NP program can take advantage of academic and career services, including academic advising, online library services, programs and benefits for veterans, peer mentoring, and writing assistance.

  4. Georgia College & State University
    Location

    Milledgeville, GA

    Tuition

    $20478.00

    Based in Milledgeville, GC offers a primarily online RN-to-FNP program that includes a four-day in-person onboarding session. During onboarding, candidates meet faculty, staff, and fellow students as they learn about the program and services available to students. The advanced assessment course includes a week-long in-person lab component, and other courses include brief on-campus sessions.

    Featuring both synchronous and asynchronous modules, the program is available on a full-time basis (six semesters) or part time (nine semesters). Learners must complete their studies within seven years and maintain at least a 3.0 average GPA. If a student receives a

    "C" or lower grade in a clinical class, they must repeat the class. Candidates take a comprehensive written examination in their final semester. Students must complete their clinical rotation hours in Georgia.

    Prospective students must possess a bachelor's degree in nursing, a current unencumbered Georgia nursing license, at least one year of clinical experience, and at least a 2.75 GPA for the last 60 hours of their nursing program.

    Students enjoy access to programming and services from the Career Center, including virtual practice interviews, and access to online services from the university library.

  5. Duquesne University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Tuition

    Unconfirmed

    Pittsburgh-based Duquesne's adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner program is ideal for busy professionals seeking an RN-to-NP program with minimal on-campus requirements.

    Learners are placed in cohorts of 12-15 individuals for the three-year, 12-course program's duration. Students attend three on-campus visits, while the rest of the program is presented online. The curriculum includes a four-course clinical sequence and classes on evidence-based practice, health promotion, and ethics.

    Each student is assigned a faculty mentor and can work with a team of advisors who assist with enrollment, academics, and career services. All students enjoy free tutoring and mentoring services, including access to a writing center. Career Center services include resume and application review and career counseling.

    Applicants should hold a BSN in nursing from an accredited program with a 3.0 or higher GPA, a current and unencumbered nursing license, and at least one year of experience as an RN by the time they enlist in clinical courses. They should also have completed at least one course in statistics with a "C" or higher.

Featured Image: Getty Images

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