Nurse practitioner (NP) graduate school aims to prepare students for well-paying, specialized nursing jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that NPs made an average annual salary of $114,510 as of May 2020.
As advanced practice registered nurses, these nurses receive training to specialize as family, adult-gerontology, and mental health nurse practitioners. NPs can diagnose and treat illnesses, perform diagnostic tests, and prescribe medication to patients of all ages.
Depending on their past education, each NP must earn a master of science in nursing (MSN), doctor of nursing practice (DNP), or a post-master’s certificate.
What to Expect From NP Programs
The best nurse practitioner programs cover disease prevention and health promotion, common chronic and acute illness management, and advanced physical assessment.
Top NP programs offer several pathways, including post-graduate certificates, MSNs, and DNPs. Timelines and average credit loads vary by program, specialization, and full-time vs. part-time enrollment status.
A post-graduate certificate, designed for master’s-level RNs seeking to become NPs, takes 1-2 years and requires 10-19 credits. A nurse practitioner master’s degree takes 2-3 years and requires about 42-48 credits. A DNP requires about 4-5 years and 56-81 credits.
Tuition for nurse practitioner programs varies by school and degree type, but students can save money by attending public universities offering in-state tuition rates.
Admission Requirements and Prerequisites
A prospective nurse practitioner student usually submits an online application, along with an application fee and supplemental materials. Admission requirements vary among the best schools for nurse practitioners, but all programs (including MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate programs) require applicants to hold current, unencumbered RN licensure.
Typical requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate nursing GPA. Most nurse practitioner programs require a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from a Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredited program at a regionally accredited institution. Some RN-to-MSN programs do not require a BSN.
Nursing schools may require prerequisites in areas like statistics and nursing research. DNP nurse practitioner programs may prefer applicants with more professional experience and ask applicants to describe their professional goals, interests, and DNP project ideas.
Nursing schools may require prerequisites in areas like statistics and nursing research.
Programs typically ask for an application essay, resume or CV, letters of reference, and official college transcripts. Some of the best nurse practitioner programs require selected applicants to complete interviews.
Prospective students may also need to meet clinical education requirements, including proof of a negative drug screen, criminal history clearance, immunization records, and American Heart Association Basic Life Support certification.
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Degree and Specialization Options
Prospective NPs will encounter several program options. RNs who already hold MSNs can pursue post-graduate certificates. RN-to-MSN bridge programs allow RNs to earn their MSNs quickly and may include NP options. Some bridge programs accept applicants without BSNs.
Prospective students should choose NP colleges based on their education level, experience, and career goals. Below, we outline several sub-specializations in top NP programs.
Family Nurse Practitioner: An FNP track develops the clinical skills to comprehensively treat, prevent, and manage illnesses in children and adults. FNPs can practice independently in many states. These nurse practitioners work in primary care, school clinics, community clinics, and urgent care settings.
Nurse-Midwifery/Women’s Health: A nurse-midwifery or women’s health specialization prepares NPs to offer primary and reproductive care to women, including during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Graduates can work as nurse midwives.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: A pediatric nurse practitioner concentration focuses on children’s health, growth, and development from infancy to young adulthood. Graduates work as pediatric nurse practitioners.
Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: NPs specializing in mental health treat patients with psychiatric conditions and work as psychiatric nurse practitioners.
||Advanced clinical nursing practice and knowledge, including diagnosing and treating patients of all ages
||Prepare students to work directly with patients to diagnose and treat medical conditions
||Primary and gynecological care during and after pregnancy and birth
||Prepare students to provide women’s health services
|Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
||Primary care, illness management, and development and growth of babies through young adults
||Prepare students to care for infants through young adults
|Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
||Psychiatric illnesses and disorders
||Prepare NPs to assess and diagnose psychiatric patients, offer psychotherapy, prescribe medication
Each student should choose a specialization based on their desired career path. For example, someone who wants to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner needs to complete pediatric courses to qualify for certification.
Prospective NPs can also earn general nurse practitioner credentials to keep their options open and pursue a new specialization in the future.
Popular Nurse Practitioner Courses
Courses vary among the best NP schools, but most programs require core and elective classes, along with clinical/practicum hours. Degree level and specialization will influence coursework.
An NP curriculum usually covers advanced health evaluation, nursing ethics, advanced pharmacology, and issues in healthcare policy. Below, we describe five common courses for nurse practitioner students.
- Nursing Ethics
- This elective course explores ethical issues common to healthcare and nursing practice. Students learn to apply ethical reasoning to patient care using real-world nursing case studies.
- Advanced Health Assessment
- Learners in this course develop experience with comprehensive decision-making and diagnostic reasoning to identify illnesses, prevent disease, and promote health. Topics include data collection, comparing abnormal and normal findings, along with diagnostic testing in diverse populations.
- Primary Care Nursing
- This clinical course, ideal for NPs specializing in primary or family care, explores health issues affecting families and individuals. Topics include assessment, plans of care, and differential diagnosis. Prospective family nurse practitioners learn to take a systems approach to common primary care issues.
- Clinical Decision-Making
- Enrollees apply decision-making and integrate theoretical knowledge in clinical settings. The course includes clinical conferences and a clinical practice preceptorship aiming to develop primary care skills with a holistic approach. Students work each week at their clinical placements with nurse practitioners as their preceptors.
- Healthcare Policy and Issues in Practice
- This course focuses on creating and evaluating healthcare policy and its effects on advanced practice nursing. Students also explore how they can influence policy and management. The class examines different models of healthcare delivery.
How Much Will an NP Degree Cost?
Tuition at nurse practitioner schools varies significantly depending on factors. Degree level (MSN, DNP, or post-graduate certificate), type of college (public or private), residency status (in-state or out-of-state), and program length all affect cost. Other considerations include school prestige, program format (online or in person), and credit requirements.
Nurse practitioner candidates may pay around $30,000-$98,000 in tuition to earn their degrees. Attending a public university and paying in-state tuition typically offers a more affordable option than enrolling in a private institution and paying out-of-state tuition.
Prospective students need to consider other costs they may incur during their studies, including housing, travel, books, and tech-related expenses. Financing options for nurse practitioner degrees include scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans. Nursing majors can also pursue student loan forgiveness programs.
Learn more about financial aid for nursing school below.
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Why Get a Nurse Practitioner Degree?
Earning a nurse practitioner degree usually requires a significant investment of time, money, and personal sacrifice. However, after earning NP credentials, professionals can earn impressive salaries in a well-respected field and help people live healthier lives.
NPs also face an excellent job outlook. The BLS projects an astonishing 45% growth rate for nurse practitioners from 2019-2029 — much faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations.
Medical schools for nurse practitioners prepare students for lucrative nursing careers in several specialties. Students graduate prepared to take on more responsibilities, often performing many of the same day-to-day tasks as medical doctors. Below, we describe some potential benefits of nurse practitioner school.
- High Salary: The BLS reports that nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives earned a lucrative median annual salary of $117,670 as of May 2020. The median annual wage for all workers was just $41,950 as of the same period.
- Sense of Accomplishment: Earning an NP degree requires a significant investment of time, money, and hard work. Graduates often feel a strong sense of pride after accomplishing such a milestone.
- Career Opportunities: RNs who earn nurse practitioner credentials qualify for better-paying jobs with greater responsibility. Depending on their specialization, these nurses can become family nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives.
How to Select Your Nurse Practitioner School
Prospective enrollees should research many factors to choose their nurse practitioner programs. Below, we describe some of the most important considerations.
Prestigious colleges apply strict admission standards. Research admission requirements before applying for a sense of your admission prospects.
Program length varies. At schools where students pay per term, graduating more quickly can help save money.
NP degree costs vary significantly, and tuition costs can make or break your program decision. Compare estimated costs of attendance and explore financial aid opportunities.
Attending an accredited institution ensures that you receive a high-quality education. Always choose nursing programs accredited by CCNE or ACEN to qualify for licensure and certification.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does it matter where I get my nurse practitioner degree?
The best nurse practitioner programs hold CCNE or ACEN accreditation. Many state licensing boards require NPs to hold degrees from accredited nursing graduate programs. Choosing an accredited program also indicates you will receive a respected, high-quality degree.
How many years of college does it take to get my nurse practitioner degree?
Earning a nurse practitioner degree usually takes about four years of full-time undergraduate study and at least another two full-time years of graduate study. Students who decide to earn DNPs extend this timeline further.
Is it worth being a nurse practitioner?
The top nurse practitioner programs prepare graduates for lucrative positions. The BLS reports that nurse practitioners earned an average annual salary of $114,510 as of May 2020.
Is NP school harder than nursing school?
Nurse practitioner graduate school covers more advanced concepts than basic nursing school. However, by the time students enroll in NP programs, they typically already possess significant nursing theory and practice knowledge.
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