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:

2019 - Best Online DNP Programs

Choosing to pursue a DNP degree is a milestone occasion for nursing students, as it prepares 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. Check out our rankings of the best online DNP programs below to find the right fit for you.

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

#1
East Tennessee State University

Johnson City, TN

East Tennessee State University prepares advanced nurses through their BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP program offerings. These pathways are geared toward rural clinical practice in primary care settings and are delivered in a convenient online/hybrid format. Concentrations are available in Executive Leadership, Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and Psych/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Minimum 40 hours of practicum in an interprofessional experience
  • Doctoral Intensive Weeks required (see website for schedule)
#2
University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford

Rockford, IL

Become an authority figure in the clinical setting as well as a healthcare leader when you graduate from the University of Illinois College of Medicine's Doctor of Nursing Practice program. In this uniquely designed program, students benefit from partnering with those from cross-discipline fields for their research projects. Moreover, students learn from medical, pharmaceutical and advance practice nursing instructors so they gain more comprehensive industry knowledge. The blended, online and on-campus offering provides them with convenient classes and hands-on learning.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • School has a Hospital Affiliation
  • Public 4-Year
  • Clinicals taught by medical, pharmaceutical and nursing instructors
#3
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Buffalo, NY

Put evidence-based care into clinical practice by advancing your nursing career with a DNP. Making use of asynchronous distance learning formats, the bridge and direct-entry DNP programs at University at Buffalo SUNY offer quality education and convenient scheduling. The part-time program was designed for working professionals with master’s degrees in nursing specialties. Graduates are readied to become healthcare leaders and to improve patient outcomes across diverse populations.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • School has a Hospital Affiliation
  • Public 4-Year
  • Veteran Focused Collaboratives
#4
Ohio University

Athens, OH

Leverage your current nursing expertise in Ohio University’s bridge BSN or MSN to DNP programs. Using on-campus clinicals as well as rigorous online coursework, students gain the practical skills and nursing knowledge to take on new responsibilities and move ahead in their healthcare careers. Students gain foundations in leadership and administration, critical thinking and ethics, policy and informatics. The affordable and flexible program is suitable for nursing professionals who work.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Community Partnerships
  • Four-Year Fixed Tuition Rates
#5
Clarke University

Dubuque, IA

Advanced nurses can impact the individual patient and the larger scope of healthcare by becoming nursing executives and administrators. At Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, advanced practice nurses can return to school while working to earn their Doctor of Nursing Practice in a mix of online and on-ground instruction. With regular on-campus clinicals each month, nurses can manage their work, school and family schedules. The new program makes use of advanced technology as well as traditional nursing curriculum.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Christian-based University
  • Small cohorts
#6
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Edwardsville, IL

Progress within your area of specialization while working and earning your DNP. The hybrid online and on-ground program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) utilizes your current place of employment to make the most of concentrated clinicals. The part-time offering, which focuses on applying evidence-based learnings, can be completed in two and a half or three years. Students complete a final project as part of the program.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Complete projects at the workplace
  • Blend of online and on-ground classes
#7
Salve Regina University

Newport, RI

Acquire the high-level didactic learning needed to lead others in applying evidence-based practice at medical centers where you work. The online and face-to-face DNP program at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island allows working nurses to earn a terminal degree in nursing. The part-time program focuses on critical thinking, healthcare ethics, empirical evidence, and health outcomes data. To graduate, students identify, plan and complete a final, real-world clinical project.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Catholic University
  • Flexible, part-time hybrid DNP program
#8
St. John Fisher College

Rochester, NY

Nurses who are advanced practice specialists can move into healthcare administrative positions when they earn their Doctor of Nursing Practice at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. With simulations, seminars and intensive clinicals, the on-campus and distance learning DNP program fits into the schedule of busy working nurses. In the program, nursing professionals learn to lead and mentor others in executing evidence-based practices to improve patient results.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Independent College in the Catholic Tradition
  • Interdisciplinary Clinical Settings
#9
University of Iowa

Iowa City, IA

Nurse Practitioners in family, mental health, adult or pediatric specialties can elevate their careers when they obtain their DNP at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. With convenient online classes and in-person clinicals, the rigorous program covers scientific methods and analyses as well as healthcare leadership and administration. The curriculum of each specialty varies widely but all are project heavy with a focus on practicums. Nurses who graduate from the University of Iowa stand out to area hospitals and healthcare employers.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • School has a Hospital Affiliation
  • Public 4-Year
  • Hybrid learning format with evening and weekend class options
#10
Rivier University

Nashua, NH

Upon earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice from Rivier University, you’ll be able to lead nurses and healthcare professionals as well as set a higher standard of care for them to follow. The online program with in-the-field practicums covers complex diagnostic and treatment modalities, individual and community patient care, and informatics for clinical decision making. Based in Nashua, New Hampshire, the DNP was developed for professional working nurses.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • 80-year-old Catholic Institution of Higher Learning
  • Community Partnerships
#11
Kentucky State University

Frankfort, KY

Designed for the adult/gerontological primary care practitioner, the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Kentucky State University in Frankfort prepares students to serve others while becoming leaders in their field. Offered mostly via an asynchronous distance learning format, the program can be completed in about three years. Students must, however, make time in their schedules to complete face to face clinicals or practicums. They work closely with a nursing program advisor to ensure they are on an expedient pathway to completing this terminal degree.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Historically Black College or University
  • Public 4-Year
  • Competitive Entry with No Waitlist
#12
Creighton University

Omaha, NE

Students enrolled in Creighton University's hybrid DNP program can enter into numerous nurse practitioner specialty tracks, including Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and many more. Alternatively, they can enter the Nurse Leader track with an emphasis on clinical systems administration. With no GRE or thesis requirement, students get the advantage of maximum convenience. Full or part-time options are available for greater flexibility as well.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • School has a Hospital Affiliation
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Program entry in August, January, and May
#13
Arkansas State University

State University, AR

Arkansas State University's DNP program prepares post-master's students for doctoral nursing leadership. This full-time program is delivered online, with an on-campus experience required before the start of each semester. Enrolled students complete 41 credit hours consisting of didactic courses and clinical internships. The program can be completed in around 2.5 years of study.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Curriculum includes 1,000 clinical hours
  • Practice-focused program
#14
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, TX

Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi offers a 100% online Doctor of Nursing Practice program for ambitious RNs. Some travel may be required for students to meet with experts in their chosen area of study. The 40 credit-hour program also includes 1,000 hours of clinical field experience and a capstone/scholarly project. Students can choose between the Nurse Practitioner (NP) track or the Executive Leadership (ExL) track.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Public 4-Year
  • Part-time
  • DNP students admitted in Fall semester only
#15
Mount Carmel College of Nursing

Columbus, OH

Ohio's Mount Carmel College of Nursing offers students an online DNP program with 2 specialty tracks options: the Leader in Clinical Practice DNP or the Executive Leader DNP. The 5-semester program is designed to be completed in 18 months and consists of 37 credit hours and 500 practice experience hours. A DNP project in translational practices is also required for graduation.

DNP Programs
Tuition & Fees:
  • $$$$$
Quick Facts:
  • Private Non-Profit 4-Year
  • Faith-based institution
  • Coaching and support are integrated into the program

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.

Path to DNP: BSN to DNP vs. MSN to DNP

Nurses who wish to expand their clinical knowledge, as well as their career opportunities, often choose to return to school and earn a master's or doctoral degree in nursing. The DNP is considered the "terminal" degree in nursing as there is no higher degree available for nurses. However, there are different specialty tracks nurses can choose from to further broaden their clinical knowledge.

Depending on the nurse's starting point, the road to a DNP can be a challenging one. For example, a BSN-prepared nurse has more of an academic journey than an MSN-prepared nurse. The different paths are explained in further detail below.

BSN to DNP

A bachelor's degree is the key to higher nursing degrees. It's a prerequisite for both MSN and DNP degrees. For those that want to go straight to a DNP, the academic path is a little bit longer. Many programs award both an MSN and a DNP upon graduation. The length of the program can vary, usually between 60 and 75 credit hours. Students can expect to complete the program in a minimum of three years, or longer if not attending full-time.

The program begins with foundation courses for advanced-practice nursing, followed by courses in the nurse's chosen specialty. Supervised clinical hours and capstone projects are other components of the program. Read more about BSN to DNP programs.

MSN to DNP

MSN-prepared nurses have an advantage when going for their DNP, as they have already gotten their foundations courses out of the way in their MSN program. They also have been licensed as an APRN in a certain specialty. As with the BSN to DNP program, the length of an MSN to DNP program can vary, usually between 35 and 45 credit hours depending on the specialty.

Students can expect to spend a minimum of one to two years in a DNP program, or longer if attending part-time. Supervised clinical hours and a project are also required to graduate, but some programs allow students to apply clinical hours from their MSN program towards the DNP requirement.

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 a 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:

Organizations and Helpful Resources for DNP Students

Other Nursing Degree Programs