The highest degree in clinical nursing, the doctor of nursing practice (DNP), continues to become increasingly necessary for nurses who want access to advanced career opportunities and higher-paying jobs. A DNP is practice-focused, giving nurses the skills to implement research findings into patient care. It prepares nurses for advanced practice roles, including as nurse practitioners (NP), as well as leadership positions in healthcare management and administration.
Although many NPs hold a master of science in nursing (MSN), the DNP is becoming the preferred credential for those entering the field. A DNP also significantly increases earning potential in the nursing field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary for an RN is $77,460, while an NP earns a median of $115,800 per year.
BSN-to-DNP bridge programs serve nurses who already hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) but have not yet earned a master’s degree. The curriculum typically includes up to 80 credit hours of coursework and a practice-based DNP project focused on changing healthcare outcomes for a specific population.
Students typically specialize in a clinical area such as pediatrics, gerontology, nurse midwifery, nurse practitioner, or psychiatric nursing. Most online programs take four years to complete following a traditional academic calendar, or three years with summer study.
Most coursework for a BSN-to-DNP program can be completed online, but some schools require attending occasional in-person seminars or workshops, which often facilitate connection with professors and peers.
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Applying to a BSN-to-DNP Program
To qualify for a BSN-to-DNP program, you must hold a BSN degree from an accredited college of nursing and an active nursing license. Depending on school location, you may need to be licensed in that state to qualify. Some programs also prefer applicants with at least one year of professional nursing experience.
Specific program requirements vary, but most require a minimum 3.0 GPA, with emphasis on achievement in upper-level coursework. Several programs also require a competitive GRE score of 500 or above.
Applicants to online BSN-to-DNP programs also typically need to submit transcripts, a resume or curriculum vitae, a personal statement or essay, and letters of recommendation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to complete a BSN-to-DNP program?
Program length varies, but most nurses can expect to complete a BSN-to-DNP program within 3-4 years. All programs require a practice-based project to expand student scholarship and expertise; students work on these projects throughout the BSN-to-DNP program.
What does it mean for a program to be accredited?
Accreditation assures that a BSN-to-DNP program meets specific criteria for quality, academic rigor, and learning outcomes as determined by national and regional accrediting agencies. The leading accreditation agencies for nursing are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Can you earn a DNP online?
A BSN-to-DNP degree can be completed online. Motivated nursing students who need to balance work, school, and family responsibilities often prefer the flexibility that online programs offer. Most programs utilize a mix of synchronous and asynchronous courses to accommodate students’ busy schedules.
What are the best paying careers with a DNP?
Earning a DNP creates opportunities to work as an advanced practice nurse or NP. These are high-paying positions; according to the BLS, the median wage for nurse anesthetists is $174,790, while nurse practitioners and nurse midwives earn median salaries of $109,820 and $105,030 respectively.
Best BSN-to-DNP Programs and Schools
Known as a "public Ivy" for its top academic reputation, Ohio State began as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College in Columbus in 1870. The university now serves over 61,000 graduate and undergraduate students each year.
Ohio State's BSN-to-DNP program offers certification in 10 specialties. Online students may choose from family nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner tracks. Campus-based students may choose from these specialties or others, such as nurse-midwifery or acute care pediatric nurse practitioner.
This program takes three years to complete full time or four years part time. In the first part of the program, students complete the coursework to become advanced-practice certified. The second half of the program entails immersion experiences and a final project. Online students must attend real-time virtual classes once per week. They may need to visit campus during the program.
Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA and an active nursing license. Applicants must also submit a resume, a purpose and goals statement, three letters of recommendation, and a recorded online video interview.
Ohio State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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Pennsylvania State University (University Park)
University Park, PA
Established as the Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania in 1855, Penn State evolved into a major research university with a student body of approximately 90,000 graduate and undergraduate students across 24 campuses.
Penn State offers online BSN-to-DNP programs with a specialization in nurse leadership and three nurse practitioner concentrations: family/individual across the lifespan, adult-gerontology primary care, or adult-gerontology acute care. All students must attend on-campus intensives at the start and end of their program.
Applicants must hold a bachelor of science in nursing with a GPA of at least 3.5, plus a current nursing license (in Pennsylvania for nurse practitioner options). Those applying for the adult-gerontology acute care program must hold two years of acute care experience. Applicants must submit three letters of reference, a statement of purpose, a published or unpublished thesis or scholarly paper, and a curriculum vitae. Applicants should also undergo an in-person or video conferencing interview.
The Pennsylvania State University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Founded in Knoxville in 1794, UTK became the flagship of the University of Tennessee system, serving over 30,000 graduate and undergraduate students per year.
The university offers a BSN-to-DNP program with concentrations in family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, primary or dual-track primary-acute pediatric nurse practitioner, and nurse anesthesia. All nurse practitioner tracks follow a hybrid curriculum with two campus visits per semester. The nurse anesthesia blended curriculum requires several campus visits per course.
Applicants must hold a BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA and minimum GRE scores of 300 combined and 3.5 analytical writing (GRE waived for applicants with a minimum 3.3 GPA). Nurse anesthesia applicants must hold current ACLS and PALS certifications plus at least 12 months of full-time adult critical care experience. All applicants submit a personal essay, a resume, three recommendations, and a copy of their current Tennessee nursing license.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
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Established in Detroit 20 years before Michigan became a state, U-M relocated to Ann Arbor in 1837 and later became a founding member of the Association of American Universities. Today, the university welcomes nearly 47,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year.
UM's BSN-to-DNP pathway offers several concentrations, including acute or primary care adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, acute or primary care pediatric nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, and combined nurse-midwifery and primary care pediatric or family nurse practitioner. All specializations offer blended online and campus-based learning on a three-year or four-year track.
Admission requirements include a BSN with a GPA of 3.0 or above, a valid RN license, a resume, a personal statement, and three references. Applicants must also complete a video assessment and a live webinar interview.
University of Michigan is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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West Lafayette, IN
Opened in 1874 with 39 students in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue has grown into a world-renowned research university. Today, Purdue serves close to 46,000 graduate and undergraduate students per year.
Its BSN-to-DNP program combines graduate nursing core courses with advanced practice registered nurse courses, specialty classes, and doctoral essentials, all in a hybrid format. Students must complete at least 1,000 clinical hours. Learners choose a nurse practitioner specialization in family, pediatric primary care, psychiatric mental health, or adult-gerontology primary care.
Applicants must hold a BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA and an active RN license. Additional materials include an essay, a resume, and three letters of recommendation. The department may request a personal interview.
Purdue University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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