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.

2021 - 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 (

Montana State University

Bozeman, MT

Montana State University offers multiple distance-learning pathways to the master's-level CNL specialty, including an ADN to MSN and a BSN to MSN. Coursework is delivered online utilizing teleconference and video conference methods to supplement learning. Students enrolled in any of MSU's CNL programs must complete an MN Professional Project as part of the curriculum, which also includes courses in Design of Healthcare Delivery Systems as well as Finance and Budget.

MSN Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Admissions accepted on a rolling basis
  • Travel to Bozeman required at the start of each Fall semester
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Birmingham, AL

The University of Alabama at Birmingham's MSN-level Clinical Nurse Leader program prepares RNs to work as advanced practice generalists in a variety of medical settings. UAB's distance-accessible program consists of 26 didactic hours and 11 clinical hours for a total of 37 total credit hours, with 540 hours of clinical contact overall. Students who begin the program in the summer semester can finish in just 6 semesters, and with limited on-campus requirements (one orientation and two multi-day intensives).

MSN Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • MAT/GMAT/GRE scores required; waivers available for qualified students
  • School has a Hospital Affiliation
  • Public 4-Year
Morningside College

Sioux City, IA

Sioux City, Iowa's Morningside College offers an MSN degree program with a Clinical Nurse Leader track to train RNs for rewarding advanced-practice nursing careers. This online program includes 22 credits of graduate core classes and 16 credits of CNL specialty courses to total 38 overall credit hours. Students also complete 500 hours of clinical practice alongside their residency.

MSN Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • One on-site residency required
  • Part-time and full-time options
Bradley University

Peoria, IL

Bradley University, located in Peoria, IL, offers a DNP Leadership track for ambitious registered nurses. This 100% online program gives students the knowledge and skills necessary to become nursing leaders in just 3 years of study, over the course of 9 semesters. Nurses who complete the program are prepared for advanced leadership roles in patient care, administration, and much more.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Enrolled students complete 1,000 clinical hours
  • No campus residency requirements
Sacred Heart University

Fairfield, CT

Connecticut's Sacred Heart University provides an MSN program with a Clinical Nurse Leader specialization to help RNs advance their careers. The program is designed to be completed in 2 years, at the completion of 39 credit hours. The curriculum consists of 9 courses that cover everything from theory to ethics to community and family care, all with the common thread of leadership within nursing.

MSN Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • 6 convenient start dates
  • No BSN requirement for admission

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 cost 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's 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 is usually required in either case.

MSN Programs

The most common choice for a clinical nurse leader, MSN-level programs in the specialty prepare 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 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 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.

Select Your State:


SchoolContact Information
University of Alabama at Birmingham
MSN Programs
1720 2nd Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35294
(205) 975-7529


SchoolContact Information
University of Arizona
RN to MSN Programs
1305 N. Martin | PO Box 210203
Tucson, AZ 85721
(520) 626-6154


SchoolContact Information
University of Central Arkansas
MSN Programs
201 Donaghey Ave.
Conway, AR 72035
(501) 450-5000


SchoolContact Information
California State University Fullerton
MSN Programs
800 N. State College Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
(657) 278-2011
California State University San Marcos
Graduate Certificate Programs
333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd
San Marcos, CA 92096
(760) 750-4000
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Dr
San Diego, CA 92182
(619) 594-5200
Touro University California
Graduate Certificate Programs
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592
(707) 638-5200
UC Davis
4610 X Street Suite 4202
Sacramento, CA 95817
(916) 734-2145


SchoolContact Information
University of Colorado
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
12950 E. Montview Boulevard
Aurora, CO 80045
(303) 724-2152


SchoolContact Information
Fairfield University
MSN Programs
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
(203) 254-4000
Sacred Heart University
5151 Park Avenue
Fairfield, CT 06825
(203) 371-7999
Southern Connecticut State University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
501 Crescent Street
New Haven, CT 06515
(203) 392-7278


SchoolContact Information
Florida State University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
600 W. College Avenue
Tallahassee, FL 32306
(850) 644-5621
University of Central Florida
12201 Research Parkway, Suite 300
Orlando, FL 32826
(407) 823-2744


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


SchoolContact Information
Bradley University
DNP Programs
1501 W Bradley Ave
Peoria, IL 61625
(309) 676-7611
Rush University
600 S. Paulina St
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 942-7100


SchoolContact Information
University of Indianapolis
1400 East Hanna Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46227
(317) 788-3368


SchoolContact Information
Morningside College
MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
1501 Morningside Avenue
Sioux City, IA 51106
(712) 274-5000
University of Iowa
MSN Programs
50 Newton Road
Iowa City, IA 52242
(319) 335-7018


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


SchoolContact Information
Louisiana College
MSN Programs
1140 College Dr
Pineville, LA 71360
(318) 487-7011
Louisiana State University New Orleans
MSN Programs
1900 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 568-4200
University of Louisiana at Monroe
700 University Ave.
Monroe, LA 71209
(318) 342-1640


SchoolContact Information
University of Maryland
MSN Programs
655 W. Lombard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 706-6109


SchoolContact Information
University of Massachusetts Amherst
651 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2703


SchoolContact Information
Saginaw Valley State University
MSN Programs
7400 Bay Road University
Center, MI 48710
(989) 964-4000
University of Detroit Mercy
Graduate Certificate Programs
4001 W. McNichols Road
Detroit, MI 48221
(313) 993-1245


SchoolContact Information
Central Methodist University
411 Central Methodist Square
Fayette, MO 65248
(877) 268-1854
Saint Louis University
3525 Caroline Mall
Saint Louis, MO 63104
(314) 977-8909


SchoolContact Information
Montana State University
P.O. Box 173560
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-3783


SchoolContact Information
Creighton University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
(402) 280-2700


SchoolContact Information
University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1664 N. Virginia Street
Reno, NV 89557
(775) 784-1110

New Hampshire

SchoolContact Information
Southern New Hampshire University
MSN Programs
2500 N River Rd.
Manchester, NH 03106
(888) 387-0861
The University of New Hampshire
Hewitt Hall, 4 Library Way
Durham, NH 03824
(603) 862-1177

New Jersey

SchoolContact Information
Rutgers School of Nursing
MSN Programs
180 University Avenue
Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 972-4307
Seton Hall University
400 South Orange Ave.
South Orange, NJ 07079
(973) 761-9000
The College of New Jersey
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628
(609) 771-2591

North Carolina

SchoolContact Information
Queens University of Charlotte
MSN Programs
1900 Selwyn Ave
Charlotte, NC 28207
(704) 337-2200
University North Carolina Pembroke
1 University Drive
Pembroke, NC 28372
(910) 521-6000


SchoolContact Information
Cleveland State University
MSN Programs
2121 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 687-2000
The Ohio State University
MSN Programs
1585 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-4041
The University of Toledo
2801 W. Bancroft
Toledo, OH 43606
(800) 586-5336
Xavier University
3800 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45207
(513) 745-3000


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


SchoolContact Information
Drexel University
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
1601 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 895-2000
La Salle University
MSN Programs
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19141
(215) 951-1000
Moravian College
MSN Programs
1200 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
(610) 861-1660
University of Pittsburgh
MSN Programs
3500 Victoria Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
(412) 624-4586

South Carolina

SchoolContact Information
Lander University
MSN Programs
320 Stanley Avenue
Greenwood, SC 29649
(864) 388-8000

South Dakota

SchoolContact Information
South Dakota State University
MSN ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
1004 Campanile Dr
Brookings, SD 57007
(605) 688-4114


SchoolContact Information
Texas Christian University
DNP ProgramsGraduate Certificate Programs
2800 S University Dr
Fort Worth, TX 76129
(817) 257-7000
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
MSN Programs
301 University Blvd
Galveston, TX 77555
(409) 772-1011
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio - UT Health San Antonio
MSN Programs
7703 Floyd Curl Dr
San Antonio, TX 78229
(210) 567-7000


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


SchoolContact Information
University of Virginia
MSN Programs
225 Jeanette Lancaster Way
Charlottesville, VA 22903-3388
(434) 924-0141

Washington, DC

SchoolContact Information
Georgetown University
3700 O St NW
Washington, DC 20057
(202) 687-0100


SchoolContact Information
Marquette University
1250 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(800) 222-6544
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
2442 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 229-1122
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Graduate Certificate ProgramsMSN Programs
800 Algoma Blvd
Oshkosh, WI 54901
(920) 424-1234

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