Nurses looking to enter advanced practice and interested in a leadership role need look no further than a clinical nurse leader. This type of specialty nurse has vast knowledge in general medicine and acts as a valuable resource to an interdisciplinary team. Those who want to improve patient outcomes and lead a diverse nursing staff will be well-suited for the clinical nurse leader specialty. Luckily, this new yet growing area of nursing can be accessed via programs across the country.

2024 - Best Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Programs

Clinical Nurse Leaders are crucial healthcare team members, overseeing processes to improve patient outcomes. For advanced registered nurses, the CNL role is something to aspire to if you feel the call to impact quality of care through assessment, management, and leadership. Enrolling in the right MSN or DNP-level CNL program is an important part of the journey. That's why we've ranked the top online/hybrid graduate-level CNL programs, to help prospective students make the most informed choice for their future.

For more on our top nursing school rankings, visit our Methodology Page (


Morningside College

Sioux City, IA

Morningside College, located in Sioux City, Iowa, has in its offerings an MSN / Clinical Nurse Leader track that prepares students for many advanced nursing positions. Select courses include Management of Care in the Healthcare Environment, Healthcare Policy, and several practicums.

MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
  • Full and part-time study plans are available.
  • Some in-person labs and clinicals are needed.
  • A private university associated with the United Methodist Church.

Queens University of Charlotte

Charlotte, NC

Queens University of Charlotte, a private institution in North Carolina, excels in healthcare education. Recognized for its Clinical Nurse Leader program, Queens offers personalized training in a supportive environment. The university stands as a prominent choice for those seeking excellence in nursing education.

MSN Programs
  • Designed with an innovative curriculum.
  • Provides extensive clinical immersion experiences.
  • CNL program adopts an interdisciplinary approach.

Sacred Heart University

Fairfield, CT

Day-to-day nurses can step into leadership roles when they choose to become Clinical Nurse Leaders at Sacred Heart University. Through this mostly online MSN program, students can lead nursing teams in delivering evidence-based care to improve patient outcomes.

MSN Programs
  • Students complete their clinicals near home locations.
  • Specific skills are gained to obtain CNL certification.
  • A private, Catholic university in Connecticut.

Choosing a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Program

Deciding on a clinical nurse leader (CNL) program may seem daunting, but remembering to check schools and programs for the following attributes is a great way to ensure success:


A good clinical nurse leader program will be accredited by local, regional, and/or national accrediting organizations to ensure quality. A few to look for include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Program Cost

Most clinical nurse leader programs list tuition costs by credit. Students can expect to find tuition costs that range from around $600 to well over $1,000 per credit for both master’s and doctoral-level degrees. Since doctoral, or DNP, programs require more credits, these programs tend to be more expensive than a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Students must also cover the cost of additional fees, textbooks, course materials, and more.

Program Length

Most MSN-level clinical nurse leader programs require around 35 credits, which can typically be completed via part-time or full-time study. Once a student receives their MSN, they can continue to a DNP, which can take another 40 or so credits, depending on the school and program.

Internship/Externship Opportunities

To gain experience, residency programs and other hands-on training can be a valuable part of the clinical nurse leader's preparation. Most schools can help match students with clinical internships and externships, or students can seek them out on their own.

Online/Campus Options

To meet the demands of busy students, many programs offer both online and campus-based clinical nurse leader programs. Some schools will even offer a "hybrid" program, allowing students to take many courses online but also offering classroom-based lectures and labs.

Clinical Nurse Leader Degree Levels Offered

Most CNLs receive their Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). Upon becoming a clinical nurse leader, some nurses choose to go back to school to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. A bachelor's degree and experience as a professional nurse are usually required in either case.

MSN Programs

The most common choice for a clinical nurse leader, MSN-level programs in the specialty prepares RNs to become advanced-practice generalists, taking courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical outcomes management, and more. The program also typically requires approximately 400 clinical hours. As an example, LaSalle University in Philadelphia offers a CCNE-accredited MSN Clinical Nurse Leader program.

DNP Programs

While specific clinical nurse leader DNP programs are hard to find, some schools offer bridge programs for MSN-educated clinical nurse leaders to earn a doctoral degree in a related field. For example, the University of South Alabama offers an MSN to DNP Clinical Nurse Leader Bridge to Executive Nursing Administration, designed specifically for CNLs to earn a DNP in executive nursing administration so that they can further their practice.

Learn about post-master’s nurse leadership certificate programs.

Online Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

With technology playing a bigger role in higher education these days, it's no surprise that online clinical nurse leader programs are rising in popularity. Nurses who want to enter advanced practice are typically busy and may have work or family obligations that make completing a traditional classroom program impossible. Luckily, there are a variety of reputable online options available.

Advantages of Online Programs

Many students enjoy the convenience and flexibility that online programs afford, as they can move through the coursework on their own time and at their own pace. Others are grateful for the ability to complete their degree in large part at home, making it ideal for those who may live far away from a university. Unlike campus-based students, online students don't have to factor in the cost of transportation, gas, parking, and other commuting expenses.

Program Accreditation

Like campus-based programs, online clinical nurse leader programs can (and should be) properly accredited. A good online program will typically be CCNE or ACEN accredited.

Costs and Length

Online clinical nurse leader programs require the same amount of credits as classroom programs at around 35 credits, but students usually have the option of moving through the coursework at their own speed, making the total length a variable factor. Tuition for online clinical nurse leader programs is also similar to campus-based programs and can vary widely depending on the student's school of choice. UMass Amherst, for example, charges $750 per credit for their online MSN Clinical Nurse Leader program.

What Are the Admissions and Certification Requirements?

Admissions requirements for most CNL programs include:

  • BSN from an accredited school
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Transcripts from all colleges/universities attended
  • CV or resume
  • Two professional letters of reference
  • Personal essay
  • Copy of current U.S. RN license

Certification as a clinical nurse leader can be obtained through the Association of American Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and has the following requirements:

  • Must be licensed as a registered nurse
  • Must have graduated from a Master's or post-master’s CNL program

Certification is awarded upon successful completion of the CNL examination. Students in their last term of a CNL education program are eligible to sit for the exam.

List of Clinical Nurse Leader Programs

Clinical nurse leader programs can be found from coast to coast; check out our list to find the right program for you.

Jump to Your State Listings


MSN Programs
School of Nursing
1720 2nd Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35294
(205) 975-7529


MSN Programs
201 Donaghey Ave.
Conway, AR 72035
(501) 450-5000


MSN Programs
800 N. State College Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
(657) 278-2011

Graduate Certificate Programs
333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd
San Marcos, CA 92096
(760) 750-4000

5500 Campanile Dr
San Diego, CA 92182
(619) 594-5200

Graduate Certificate Programs
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
(707) 638-5200

4610 X Street Suite 4202
Sacramento, CA 95817
(916) 734-2145


MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
12950 E. Montview Boulevard
Aurora, CO 80045
(303) 724-2152


MSN Programs
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
(203) 254-4000

5151 Park Avenue
Fairfield, CT 06825
(203) 371-7999

Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
501 Crescent Street
New Haven, CT 06515
(203) 392-7278


Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
600 W. College Avenue
Tallahassee, FL 32306
(850) 644-5621

12201 Research Parkway, Suite 300
Orlando, FL 32826
(407) 823-2744


1120 15th Street
Augusta, GA 30912
(706) 721-9767


DNP Programs
1501 W Bradley Ave
Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 676-7611

600 S. Paulina St
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 942-7100


Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1501 Morningside Avenue
Sioux City, IA 51106
(712) 274-5000

MSN Programs
50 Newton Road
Iowa City, IA 52242
(319) 335-7018


DNP ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
315 College of Nursing Building 751 Rose Street
Lexington, KY 40536
(859) 323-5108


MSN Programs
1900 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 568-4200

700 University Ave.
Monroe, LA 71209
(318) 342-1640


MSN Programs
655 W. Lombard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 706-6109


651 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2703


MSN Programs
7400 Bay Road University
Center, MI 48710
(989) 964-4000

Graduate Certificate Programs
4001 W. McNichols Road
Detroit, MI 48221
(313) 993-1828


College of Graduate and Extended Studies
411 Central Methodist Square
Fayette, MO 65248
(877) 268-1854

School of Nursing
3525 Caroline Mall
Saint Louis, MO 63104
(314) 977-8909


P.O. Box 173560
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-3783


MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
(402) 280-2700


MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
1664 N. Virginia Street
Reno, NV 89557
(775) 784-1110

New Hampshire

MSN Programs
2500 N River Rd.
Manchester, NH 03106
(888) 387-0861

New Jersey

MSN Programs
180 University Avenue
Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 972-4307

College of Nursing
400 South Orange Ave.
South Orange, NJ 07079
(973) 761-9000

2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628
(609) 771-2591

North Carolina

MSN Programs
1900 Selwyn Ave
Charlotte, NC 28207
(704) 337-2200

1 University Drive
Pembroke, NC 28372
(910) 521-6000


MSN Programs
2121 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 687-2000

MSN Programs
1585 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-4041

2801 W. Bancroft
Toledo, OH 43606
(800) 586-5336

Graduate School of Nursing
3800 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45207
(513) 745-3000


MSN Programs
2501 N Blackwelder
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
(405) 208-5000


MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
1601 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 895-2000

MSN Programs
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19141
(215) 951-1000

MSN Programs
Department of Nursing
1200 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
(610) 861-1660

MSN Programs
3500 Victoria Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
(412) 624-4586

South Carolina

MSN Programs
320 Stanley Avenue
Greenwood, SC 29649
(864) 388-8000

South Dakota

MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
1004 Campanile Dr
Brookings, SD 57007
(605) 688-4114


DNP ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
2800 S University Dr
Fort Worth, TX 76129
(817) 257-7000

MSN Programs
301 University Blvd
Galveston, TX 77555
(409) 772-1011


MSN Programs
The University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405
(802) 656-3131


MSN Programs
225 Jeanette Lancaster Way
Charlottesville, VA 22903-3388
(434) 924-0141

Washington, DC

3700 O St NW
Washington, DC 20057
(202) 687-0100


2442 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-1122

MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
800 Algoma Blvd
Oshkosh, WI 54901
(920) 424-1234

Are we missing your school's program or need to update information listed? Please contact us so we can make the necessary changes.