Which DNP Program is Right For Me?

Registered nurses who enjoy the clinical side of their practice but want to move into advanced leadership roles beyond what a Master's degree can provide can opt for a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. With multiple pathways, including direct programs for students who currently hold a BSN and options for those who hold an MSN or a PhD, a DNP prepares nurses to become leaders in interdisciplinary health teams to improve healthcare systems and policies, patient outcomes, and promote healthier communities. Keep in mind, a DNP is different from a PhD in nursing, which is more focused on research and teaching rather than clinical practice. In other words, a DNP is considered a practice doctorate, while a PhD is a research doctorate.

Upon graduating with a DNP, nurses are eligible for leadership roles in clinical practices or healthcare administration and have a direct impact on pushing the profession forward and developing policies that improve both patient outcomes and healthcare as a whole. Along with these rewarding tasks, DNP nurses regularly earn, on average, over $100,000 per year. With opportunities like this on the horizon, it's imperative that RNs choose the right school and DNP program. Read on for our comprehensive guide to choosing the best DNP program for you:

Does the DNP Program Offer Campus or Online Options?

More and more schools these days are offering online programs to accommodate the increasingly busy schedules of their students. This is particularly true for RNs pursuing a DNP, who often need to balance studying alongside their nursing practice. Many of the online DNP programs out there have on-campus requirements that are minimal-to-none, dedicated faculty and staff to help students succeed, and round the clock technical support to allow students to complete coursework at any time.

Alternately, on-campus programs are still popular for those who want hands-on time with their instructors and the ability to network with fellow students. Many of these classroom-based programs are designed to allow students to continue working as well, offering just a few classes per semester along with a final clinical project that can often be completed in the student's place of employment.

Find DNP Programs In Your State

Browse through all the DNP programs offered by state. These include campus, online, and hybrid programs.

Learn more about online DNP programs.

Is the DNP Program Accredited?

One of the first things a prudent nurse must check when considering a DNP program is proper accreditation. An accredited program assures the student that it is legitimate and held to rigorous standards. Accrediting organizations exist to continually evaluate the success of these programs, so finding a school accredited by a respected nursing school organization is a good indicator of its caliber.

Learn more about the accreditation of campus-based and online programs.

How Long Has the DNP Program Been Around?

It's important to read up on your school of choice's program and history. A program that has been around for a long time is likely to be reputable, and more importantly, should be able to provide some statistics on student outcomes, such as how many students graduate from the program and what the success rates are. Online programs, though relatively new, are often off-shoots of traditional campus-based programs, with the same resources and faculty. If your preferred online program is associated with a long-running classroom-based program, you can usually assume it has the same standards and reputation.

Learn more about program curriculum and classes.

DNP Program Course Topics

Curriculum requirements will vary based on what type of DNP program a student chooses (BSN to DNP, MSN to DNP, etc.). Some programs allow a student to pursue a specialty, such as Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, so coursework may revolve around these concentrations. A good DNP program will require students to complete a mix of high-level nursing and administration courses, and will typically culminate in a final scholarly project.

Learn more about program course topics.

Associated Tuition Costs

As RNs know, a proper nursing education comes with a price tag. Much like undergraduate nursing programs, DNP programs require students to cover costs for tuition and a host of other mandatory expenses. Books, CPR training/renewal, immunizations, transportation, and registration fees are just a few of the non-tuition costs of a DNP program.

Learn more about tuition and costs.

Online DNP Programs - Advantages

A popular choice with today's fast-paced lifestyles, online DNP programs can be a lifesaver for busy working RNs. These programs are just as academically rigorous as campus-based programs, but allow students to take courses when and where they are able to, making them ideal for those who don't live within reasonable commuting distance of a university. If you're interested in earning your DNP on your own schedule and are able to study independently and stay on task, an online program might be for you. Read on to learn more about what makes online DNP programs great:

Flexible Schedule

Flexibility is one of the main draws of an online DNP program. Most RNs enrolled in a doctorate program choose to continue working, making it crucial to have the ability to work around an employment schedule. Online DNP programs, such as the University of Arizona's, typically offer full-time or part-time options so that students can customize the program to their lifestyle, and online courses can be accessed from anywhere, making it especially convenient for those on the go. These programs also offer easy access to faculty, staff, and other students via online discussion boards, email, or even Skype. Keep in mind that even though the coursework can be completed online, there are often a few days required on campus for immersion courses or projects, and students will typically still need to complete an in-person clinical requirement.

Tuition and Costs

Most students will agree that one of the main factors in returning to school is cost. Online DNP programs will require that students cover tuition and mandatory expenses, such as residency and project fees, application fees, books, and more. While the amounts will differ from program to program, prospective students can guarantee that they will face these expenses for an online DNP.

Where an online program comes out ahead, however, is in the absence of certain school-related personal expenses. Online students don't need to worry about things like transportation, separate room and board, parking, and other things that campus-based students must account for. These extra expenses may not seem like much, but added up over the course of 3 or more years, they can become substantial.

Accessibility and Convenience

If convenience is a top priority, you'll be hard pressed to find a better option than an online DNP program. With coursework accessible from your own computer, you can complete the courses anywhere, at any time. This is especially attractive for working RNs and those who have family or other time-consuming commitments that would make a traditional classroom-based program nearly impossible. Modern technology makes it easy to connect with instructors and other students; email, online messaging, Skype and/or telephone appointments, and more allow online students to interact and get additional guidance just like they would in a classroom program.

Fast Completion

Students wanting to finish their doctoral program as quickly as possible can do so via an online DNP program. With dedicated study, students can often move through the online curriculum much faster than they would be able to in a classroom program. For example, the post master's DNP program at American Sentinel University in Colorado can be completed in just 28 months. With classes that are 8 weeks in length (instead of 14 weeks), students can cycle through the coursework in a much more efficient fashion. Rolling admission in many online programs also means that prospective students don't have to wait for a particular semester to start, meaning no time is wasted once a student enrolls.

Program Curriculum

Reputable online DNP programs are academically comparable to their campus-based counterparts, the only real difference being the method of delivery. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, online DNP students can expect:

  • Minimal (if any) trips to campus
  • 24/7 technical support available
  • Access to faculty and staff via online methods/telephone
  • Online networking opportunities with fellow students
  • Supervised clinical practicum
  • Final clinical project

Accreditation of DNP Programs

Both online and classroom-based programs can be accredited by a multitude of organizations that exist just for this reason. It is incredibly important to choose a school that is properly accredited by a respected organization to ensure that its academic standards are up to par. There are a few main accrediting agencies to look for when considering a DNP program. It is advised to make sure your program of choice has at least one of them:

DNP Classes and Courses

Students enrolled in a Doctor of Nursing Practice program take a variety of nursing courses that cover the application of advanced concepts and practice. Specialty courses may also be taken, depending on the program. For example, the following courses are offered as part of the DNP program at Gonzaga University:

  • NURS 563: Evidence-Based Practice for Quality & Safety
  • NURS 700: Theoretical Foundations for Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • NURS 701: DNP Practicum I: Integrative Application of Evidence-Based Practice
  • NURS 710: Population-Focused Care
  • NURS 730: Clinical Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation

The following courses are offered via the University of San Diego's BSN to DNP program:

  • DNPC 611: Methods of Translational Science
  • DNPC 626: Strategic Planning and Quality Initiatives
  • DNPC 610: Philosophy of Reflective Practice
  • DNPC 653: Financial Decision Making for Health Care Settings
  • DNPC 686: Perspectives in Program Planning and Evaluation

What Are the Tuition and Costs of a DNP Program?

Those familiar with undergraduate and Master's programs should recognize the structure of expenses for a DNP program. Online and campus-based programs share some of the same cost categories, including:

  • Tuition (usually charged per credit or unit)
  • Mandatory university fees (examples include application and graduation fees)
  • Related expenses (books, course materials, costs associated with background checks/insurance)

In addition to this, campus-based students must also factor in the cost of:

  • Transportation/commuting
  • Room and Board (if attending a school away from home)
  • Parking (not needed for online DNP programs)

Both online and campus-based students will typically have to pay a residency fee. This fee is sometimes rolled into the tuition rate, but not always. For example, American Sentinel University in Colorado requires DNP students to attend two residencies. The first has an estimated cost (including travel and meals) at approximately $900. The second is a virtual residency in which a student would need to purchase a microphone and webcam if they don't already own these items. Some schools may also charge a fee for a student's final/capstone project.

It's important to remember that tuition rates and other expenses will fluctuate depending on the state, school, and program type. For instance, the cost of the DNP program (including tuition and fees) at Columbia University in New York runs roughly $54,653 annually, while the total cost of the post-MSN DNP program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (also including tuition and fees) is approximately $21,292.50 for the entire 5-semester program.

If paying for a DNP is an issue, nearly all schools have financial aid departments that can help direct students toward loan options, scholarships, and other methods of financial help.

What Nursing Careers or Specialties Require a DNP Degree?

Nurses who hold a DNP can go on to reach the highest levels of a variety of nursing careers. While some specialties don't require a DNP, those who want to advance to the top of their chosen nursing niche will be well-served by a doctorate. Some of these APRN and other high-level nursing careers include:

2018 Best DNP Programs - Online & Campus


Choosing to pursue a DNP degree is a milestone occasion for nursing students, as it poses them to enter the highest ranks of nursing practice. Selecting the right school and program can make all the difference in the world when it comes to a student's success. With so many factors to consider, it can seem daunting to find the perfect DNP program, and that's where we have stepped in to help by ranking the DNP programs that we feel go above and beyond regarding academic excellence. Our rankings are based on a multi-point system which takes things like tuition costs, program options, and other factors into account.

Check out our methodology page for more information on our DNP rankings.

#1. American Sentinel University

Aurora, Colorado | Points: 90.94

American Sentinel University offers three online ACEN-accredited DNP program specializations: Executive Leadership, Educational Leadership, and Informatics Leadership. The mission of these programs is to prepare highly qualified nurse leaders and educators to serve in complex healthcare and higher education settings. Other features include:

  • 28-month program length with rolling admission
  • Classes are 100% online with one short four-day residency in Aurora, CO
  • DNP Travel Assistance Program offered (the school will cover the hotel cost for your residency)

Learn more: http://www.americansentinel.edu/nursing/dnp-executive-leadership

#2. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

San Antonio, Texas | Points: 90.13

UT Health Science Center San Antonio's School of Nursing offers a DNP program with track options that include Advanced Practice Leadership, Executive Administrative Management, and Public Health Nurse Leader. Program topics focus on policy, advocacy, organizational effectiveness, health informatics, financial/business management and other advanced nursing subjects. Other features include:

  • Part-time and full-time options available
  • Program is CCNE-accredited
  • Tuition and fees for the program are approximately $16,500

Learn more: http://nursing.uthscsa.edu/programs/grad/dnp.aspx

#3. Augusta University

Augusta, Georgia | Points: 89.13

Augusta University offers three distinct DNP program specializations: the general DNP (no concentration), the Executive Nurse Leader track, and the DNP with Advanced Practice Nurse concentration (including Family NP, Nursing Anesthesia, and more). Post-BSN and post-MSN options are available. Other features include:

  • Interactive online classes
  • Part-time and full-time attendance options
  • In-state tuition of $5,160 per semester

Learn more: https://www.augusta.edu/nursing/programs/dnp/index.php

#4. University of Texas Medical Branch

Galveston, Texas | Points: 87.72

The University of Texas Medical Branch School of Nursing offers an online DNP pathway to prepare advanced-practice nurses to transform and improve the health care system as a whole. Emphasis is placed on training NPs to provide high quality care to vulnerable populations. Other features include:

  • Program consists of 42 semester credit hours (8 semesters)
  • Delivered part-time, online, with one 2-3 day trip to campus each semester
  • Tuition is approximately $14,735

Learn more: https://nursing.utmb.edu/future-students/academic-programs/dnp-program/

#5. Winona State University

Rochester, Minnesota | Points: 85.27

Winona State University offers multiple DNP program specializations, including Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP, Family NP, Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Psych/Mental Health NP, and 2 different Nursing Leadership tracks. These programs are have been approved by Minnesota State and the Higher Learning Commission. Other features include:

  • Post-baccalaureate and post-master's programs available
  • Minnesota DNP tuition runs $722 per credit
  • Program lengths are anywhere from 2-4 years, depending on pathway and track chosen

Learn more: https://www.winona.edu/graduatenursing/doctor.asp

#6. Texas Woman's University

Denton, Texas | Points: 84.40

Texas Woman's University offers a DNP program for advanced-practice nurses who are licensed and certified as such by an accredited program (NP, CRNA, CNS, or CNM). The curriculum is rooted in clinical practice, healthcare informatics, and integrating evidence-based practice. Graduates are prepared to shape policy and provide leadership within healthcare systems. Other features include:

  • Program delivered in a hybrid format consisting of both online and in-person courses
  • 46 credit hours needed to complete the program
  • 500 contact hours required in the student's area of clinical expertise, along with a final capstone project

Learn more: https://twu.edu/nursing/graduate-programs/doctor-of-nursing-practice-dnp/

#7. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Houston, Texas | Points: 83.37

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston's Cizik School of Nursing offers a post-master's DNP program as well as a BSN to DNP in Nurse Anesthesia option. The post-master's program is designed for current NPs, clinical nurse specialists, CRNAs, nurse directors, and nurse informaticists. Enrolled students get the advantage of being on a campus located onsite at the Texas Medical Center. Other features include:

  • Program offered part-time to accommodate working professionals
  • Hybrid format means students meet for two consecutive days, three times per semester
  • 34-50 credits required

Learn more: https://nursing.uth.edu/prospstudent/dnp/default.htm

#8. University of Nebraska Medical Center

Omaha, Nebraska | Points: 83.10

The University of Nebraska Medical Center offers a post-master's DNP in addition to a BSN to DNP program. These programs aim to create the highest level of nursing leaders who improve healthcare delivery, participate in and interpret important research, and even teach the next generation of quality nurses. Admission is competitive, and slots are limited for these popular programs. Other features include:

  • Approximately 500 clinical practicum hours
  • Multiple clinical specialties available (Women's Health NP, Psych/Mental Health NP, and more)
  • Current APRNs can complete the program in 1-2 years; students with a bachelor's degree can finish in roughly 3 years

Learn more: https://www.unmc.edu/nursing/programs/doctor-of-nursing-practice-dnp/index.html

#9. University of Alabama at Birmingham

Birmingham, Alabama | Points: 82.18

The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers several doctorate nursing pathways: Post-MSN to DNP, Post-BSN to DNP for Nurse Practitioners, and Post-BSN to DNP for Nurse Anesthesia. These programs give students the advanced knowledge and skills to become leaders within complex healthcare systems. Other features include:

  • Core classes offered online; some electives not available in this format
  • Part-time and full-time options available
  • In-state tuition is approximately $555 per semester hour

Learn more: http://www.uab.edu/nursing/home/dnp

#10. University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus

Aurora, Colorado | Points: 81.51

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus offers multiple DNP pathways, including a BSN to DNP, a DNP Public Health Focus, and a dual DNP/MPH (Master's in public health) degree. Graduates of these programs are able to manage complex care for patients and provide leadership to facilitate safe and effective healthcare. Other features include:

  • All classes have an online component, some 1-2 day campus intensives may be required
  • Tuition is $635 per credit for in-state residents
  • Part-time and full-time options available

Learn more: http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/nursing/programs-admissions/graduate-programs/doctor-nursing-practice/Pages/doctor-of-nursing-practice.aspx

#11. University of Maryland, Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland | Points: 80.48

The University of Maryland, Baltimore offers 4 different DNP pathways, including a Post-Baccalaureate DNP with Specialty, a Post-Master's DNP with Specialty, a Post-Master's DNP, and a Post-Doctoral Certificate. Available specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthesia, and many more. Other features include:

  • Blended format option combines online courses and web conferencing
  • Clinical/practicum requirements can be arranged in the student's local area
  • Programs culminate in a scholarly portfolio project

Learn more: http://www.nursing.umaryland.edu/academics/doctoral/dnp/

#12. East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina | Points: 77.59

East Carolina University offers a BSN to DNP with an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP or a Family NP specialization. It also offers a post-master's DNP program with the choice of either an APRN or Leadership track. The focus of these programs is to provide care for underserved, rural communities. Other features include:

  • 28-month program length with rolling admission
  • Courses are taken online with 1-5 on-campus days each semester
  • No GRE requirement if GPA is over 3.4

Learn more: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/nursing/dnp/index.cfm

#13. Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, Florida | Points: 76.94

Florida Atlantic University offers a BSN to DNP program in addition to a post-master's DNP program. The curriculum is designed to create nursing leaders who are valuable partners in interdisciplinary healthcare teams. These pathways are CCNE-accredited and uphold the values and mission of the school of nursing. Other features include:

  • BSN to DNP program is full-time; post-master's DNP program is part-time
  • Web-assisted and weekend courses offered to accommodate busy schedules
  • Graduate in-state tuition is $303.71 per credit hour

Learn more: http://nursing.fau.edu/admissions/doctor-of-nursing-practice-program/index.php

#14. East Tennessee State University

Johnson City, Tennessee | Points: 75.64

East Tennessee State University prepares advanced nurses through their BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP programs. These programs are geared toward rural clinical practice in primary care settings and are CCNE-accredited. Concentrations are available in Executive Leadership, Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Other features include:

  • Delivered in a blended/online format
  • Minimum 40 hours of practicum in an interprofessional experience
  • Doctoral Intensive Weeks required (see website for schedule)

Learn more: https://www.etsu.edu/nursing/graduateprograms/dnp.php

#15. New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico | Points: 75.43

New Mexico State University offers an online BSN-DNP, with concentrations including Family Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Public/Community Health, Adult/Gero Nurse Practitioner, and Family Nurse Practitioner. They also offer a Post-Master's DNP. Only full-time students are admitted to the BSN-DNP program, while full-time or part-time study is available for the Post-MSN to DNP. Other features include:

  • Programs are CCNE-accredited
  • All DNP students are required to attend the annual, on-campus Doctoral Summer Seminar
  • Clinical component consists of over 1000 contact hours

Learn more: https://schoolofnursing.nmsu.edu/online-doctor-of-nursing/

#16. Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing

Peoria, Illinois | Points: 75.37

The Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing offers two unique tracks as part of their DNP program: a Clinical track and a Leadership track. Upon graduation, students are armed with the scientific knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate healthcare systems, provide leadership, and integrate advanced clinical reasoning in a variety of settings. Other features include:

  • Both tracks require 39 credit hours
  • Courses offered online
  • Accredited by CCNE and the Higher Learning Commission

Learn more: http://www.sfmccon.edu/graduate-programs/dnp/index.html

#17. Montana State University

Bozeman, Montana | Points: 74.86

Montana State University provides two DNP program specializations for students to choose from: Family/Individual or Psychiatric/Mental Health. The curriculum is taught by experienced faculty, and certified advanced practice registered nurses oversee the clinical portions. One year of clinical experience is preferred for DNP applicants. Other features include:

  • Courses offered primarily online; travel to campus is required at the beginning of each Fall semester
  • Cost of attendance for in-state residents is estimated at $15,670 per academic year
  • Programs take 3-4 years to complete

Learn more: http://www.montana.edu/nursing/graduate/dnp.html

#18. University of Michigan-Flint

Flint, Michigan | Points: 74.56

UM Flint offers a few DNP pathways, including a BSN to DNP with track options like Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP, Family NP, and Psych/Mental Health NP. The MSN to DNP pathway is designed for current Certified Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, Clinical Nurse Specialists, or CRNAs who wish to pursue a doctoral degree in Psych/Mental Health or Adult-Gerontology Acute Care. In addition to these, they also offer an alternative DNP pathway for current RNs who have completed a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field. Other features include:

  • Programs delivered in an online format with minimal campus visits
  • DNP students encouraged to participate in research opportunities alongside the faculty, including paid research assistantships
  • Dual DNP/MBA options available

Learn more: https://www.umflint.edu/graduateprograms/nursing-dnp

#19. University of South Alabama

Mobile, Alabama | Points: 74.32

The University of South Alabama offers three distinct DNP pathways: MSN to DNP, MSN to DNP bridge for Clinical Nurse Leaders to Executive Nursing Administration, and a BSN to DNP. These programs prepare nurses to provide the most advanced levels of nursing care utilizing theories, methodologies, and complex concepts. Other features include:

  • Coursework is completed online with clinical hours arranged in the student's local area
  • GRE and/or MAT not required
  • On-site orientation and occasional campus visits may be required

Learn more: https://www.southalabama.edu/colleges/con/dnp/

#20. Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem, North Carolina | Points: 73.97

Winston-Salem State University offers both BSN-DNP and MSN-DNP programs for students seeking leadership roles in advanced nursing. Upon graduation from the program, students are eligible to take the American Nurses Credentialing Center Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners certification exam. Other features include:

  • BSN-DNP can be completed in three years, while the MSN-DNP can be completed in 18 months
  • Most courses delivered using an "executive model" - in-person meetings scheduled 4 times per semester from Thursday through Saturday, with the rest of the coursework taken online
  • Students admitted once a year in the fall semester

Learn more: https://www.wssu.edu/admissions/programs/nursing-practice-dnp.html

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