The Best Online DNP Programs

January 25, 2022 · 6 Min Read

A DNP degree gives nurses greater options to advance their practice choices. Discover what to look for in an online DNP program.

mini logo
NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

The Best Online DNP Programs
Credit: Blend Images/ John Fedele / Getty Images

In a challenging healthcare environment, DNPs bridge the gap between physician shortages and patient care. The advanced skills required to earn a DNP raise your level of expertise, which can improve patient outcomes and save lives.

This guide explores online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs offered in 2022. These degrees lead to high earning potential and come with strong projected employment growth rates. Read on to explore career paths, common coursework in online DNP programs, application requirements, and financial aid information.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online DNP programs, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

Keep reading to learn more about online DNP programs, or go straight to our list of the best online DNP programs.

What Can You Do With a DNP?

DNP program graduates earn the highest clinical degree in nursing and hold positions in advanced practice nursing, research, and nursing administration. Top employers include hospitals, outpatient care centers, physicians' offices, other healthcare practitioners' offices, and educational services.

Nurses can expect to earn an average annual salary of $105,000 with their DNP. Certain specialty areas pay higher median annual salaries, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives.

Three of the most in-demand roles for DNP graduates include:

msn Required
High Demand

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs check vital signs, assist with pain management during recovery, and administer and monitor anesthesia for patients undergoing surgery. CRNAs earn a median annual salary of $117,670 and employment is projected to increase by 45% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Salary $117,670*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

PNPs assess and diagnose patients with mental illness and addiction challenges, provide acute and chronic psychiatric treatment, and prescribe medication. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, PNPs earn a median annual salary of $120,000. The BLS estimates that nurse practitioners will see a 45% increase in employment from 2020-2030.

Salary $120,000*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Certified Nurse Midwife

CNMs care for patients through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum; assist physicians with Cesarean procedures; and educate patients on childbearing, infant development, and women's health issues. CNMs earn a median annual salary of $111,130 and are projected to see an 11% increase in employment, according to the BLS.

Salary $111,130*
Job Outlook 11% increase from 2020-2030
Learn More About Certified Nurse Midwives
*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey

What to Look For in an Online DNP Program

Our school listings include information about factors such as admission, clinical hours, accreditation, and distance learning. These elements carry significant importance when choosing an online DNP program.

Admission Requirements

Reviewing the admission requirements of your potential programs narrows down your choices, identifies schools that align with your qualifications, and pinpoints which programs will accept your application materials.

Program Curriculum

Each DNP student specializes in a patient population or nursing area, such as research, education, or administration. Always ensure that your prospective schools offer coursework in your concentration.

Clinical Experience

Candidates should consider clinical formats and completion timelines when exploring programs. You'll need to pay attention to whether you can continue to work during your studies, course load volume, clinical settings and locations, and the time commitment required.

Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that a program receives regular evaluation of its academics and preparation of future DNPs. Licensing boards and many employers require applicants to hold degrees from accredited programs.

School Graduation Rate

The graduation rate correlates with faculty effectiveness, along with how successfully the curriculum and clinical experiences prepare students for advanced nursing careers.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Applicants should consider if they prefer synchronous or asynchronous learning. Some programs offer both delivery methods or a blend of the two formats.


Applying to an Online DNP Program

Once you have selected your program, register to take the GRE (or check that your GRE scores are current), ensure that you have completed any requisite coursework, order your official undergraduate transcripts, and arrange for your letters of recommendation. Prepare or update your personal statement and resume, as well.

Admission Requirements: While schools and programs vary, most require a master of science in nursing (MSN) from an accredited program, GRE scores, a current registered nurse license, and national certification. Each candidate typically must submit a personal statement, a resume, and 2-3 letters of recommendation. Some DNP programs may seek applicants with 1-2 years of work experience. Program Length: DNP programs typically take 1-2 years for MSN degree-holders and 3-4 years for individuals with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Clinical Requirements: Each enrollee must complete 500-1,000 hours. GPA Requirement: An aspiring DNP must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other Requirements: Some programs may accept applicants with a BSN degree. These candidates complete personal interviews and may need clinical experience.

Why Is Online DNP Program Accreditation Important?

Attending an accredited program is important in every step of your nursing education. Although the DNP is a terminal degree in nursing, enrolling in an accredited program increases your eligibility for financial aid and tuition reimbursement from employers. It also paves the way for more employment opportunities.

The DNP program should be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These accreditations are important when seeking licensure and certification as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Many certifying organizations only accept candidates from an accredited program.

Accreditation is important for a DNP online program for the following reasons:

  • Accreditation assures a standard of quality for students and employers
  • Students attending accredited programs have access to more financial aid and tuition reimbursement
  • Many certifying organizations only accept candidates that have graduated from accredited programs
  • Credits from an unaccredited program may not transfer to another college
  • Accredited programs may lead to higher-paying jobs and better job prospects
  • Accreditation helps students identify acceptable institutions and programs
  • The process develops goal-setting for institutional improvement

Paying for Online DNP Programs

Several factors impact your out-of-pocket costs for an online DNP degree, including how much financial aid you receive, the length of the program, and whether you have in- or out-of-state tuition. Cost also varies depending on whether the school is public or private.

Fortunately, there are funding options to help minimize your educational debt. All public and most private schools accept federal funding and offer federal loans and grants to graduate candidates. Private organizations and companies also offer grant opportunities. Students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to demonstrate financial need.

There are also several types of federal loans available, based on your FAFSA score. The online DNP program may offer a combination of federal grants and loans, including any private loans available. Grants are money you do not pay back, while loans are paid back with interest.

Some employers offer a tuition reimbursement program to help advance the education of their nursing staff. If you accept a tuition reimbursement program, you may need to commit to work at the organization for a specified period after graduation.

You may also help offset the cost of school by working part-time while completing your online DNP program.

Featured Online Programs

Learn More About the Top Online DNP Programs and Schools

University of Nevada-Reno true View School Profile $$$ Reno, NV 61% 36% 24% Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

The University of Nevada-Reno offers a BSN-to-DNP program and post-master's DNP. Students complete the 68-72-unit BSN-to-DNP coursework primarily online with limited campus visits.

RNs complete the 30-unit post-master's DNP exclusively online, except to visit campus for an orientation and to defend their final project. All students learn advanced clinical practices and how to implement evidence-based best practices. The online DNP programs include nurse executive, family nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health specializations.

  • Program: BSN-to-DNP and Post-master's DNP
  • Campus: Reno Nevada
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $305.50/unit in-state; $305.50/credit and $8,045.50 per semester, out-of-state
  • Admission Requirements: An NLN- or CCNE-accredited BSN or MSN; a minimum 3.0-3.5 GPA, and current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 3-4 years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes (limited)
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92.5% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $104,192 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
The University of Tampa true View School Profile Tampa, FL 58% 51% Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The University of Tampa's DNP builds on a tradition of rigorous nursing education. RNs complete the 30-credit DNP entirely online in 27 months. Participants choose one of three cohort tracks: advanced practice nursing, leadership in population health, or leadership in clinical and academic nursing education.

Enrollees complete 500 practicum hours working on a research translation project. The degree, one of the nation's best online DNP programs, enrolls RNs licensed in Florida or compact states.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Tampa, Florida
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $32,904 program total for 27 months
  • Admission Requirements: Accredited MSN, RN license, all college transcripts, and additional requirements depending on the concentration.
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 27 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $97,959 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Thomas Edison State University true View School Profile Trenton, NJ 20% 100% Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Thomas Edison State University designs programs for nontraditional learners. RNs complete the DNP entirely online in 18-36 months. The 36-credit DNP offers a systems-level leadership speciality.

The curriculum develops competencies in advanced nursing practice, healthcare policy and technology, and economics and finance. Participants complete an evidence-based project and a 1,000-hour clinical/practicum. TESU offers one of the nation's most flexible online DNP programs with full- and part-time enrollment.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Trenton, New Jersey
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $798/credit
  • Admission Requirements: A CCNE-, CNEA-, or ACEN- accredited MSN or BSN, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and a valid RN license in the United States
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 18 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.4% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $103,449 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
University of Arizona true View School Profile $$$ Tucson, AZ 65% 36% 42% Higher Learning Commission

At the University of Arizona, RNs complete a hybrid DNP. The program blends online coursework with on-campus intensives in Tucson. The 35-credit curriculum explores topics such as health informatics and evidence-based practice.

Students apply lessons learned during in-person practicum and clinical placements. Enrollees culminate the DNP with a project. Full- and part-time enrollment offers flexibility for students pursuing the DNP online. Online learners pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Tucson, Arizona
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $975/credit
  • Admission Requirements: An accredited MSN, minimum 3.0 GPA, and APRN licensure.
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.2% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $103,746 for DNP graduates, according to College Scorecard
Baylor University true View School Profile Waco, TX 78% 42% 10% Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor University offers a DNP with entry pathways for BSN- and MSN- educated RNs. Students complete 31-75 credits online except for clinicals and residencies.

Participants choose one of six tracks, including FNP, nurse-midwifery, and neonatal nurse practitioner. The school places 90% of participants at clinical sites within 125 miles of their home. Baylor boasts a 100% certification pass rate for FNP and nurse-midwifery graduates. All online students pay the same affordable tuition.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Waco, Texas
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education
  • Tuition: $1,100/credit
  • Admission Requirements: Accredited BSN or MSN, minimum 3.0 GPA, unencumbered RN license, and other requirements based on the specialization
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 18 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.4% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $100,127 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Drexel University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA 69% 51% 38% Middle States Commission on Higher Education

The online DNP at Drexel University teaches RNs how to apply evidence-based practice in healthcare delivery. The 45-credit degree also develops leadership skills. The curriculum explores topics such as applied epidemiology, health policy and economics, and quantitative methods in clinical nursing.

RNs apply concepts learned during 500 clinical hours. Enrollees culminate one of the nation's best online DNP programs with a project. All students must attend a virtual orientation.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,051/credit
  • Admission Requirements: Accredited MSN or a master's in a health-related field and RN licensure in the U.S.
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.5% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $102,258 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Seton Hall University View School Profile South Orange, NJ 73% 51% 25% Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Seton Hall University, a Catholic college in New Jersey, administers an online DNP. The program enrolls both post-BSN and post-MSN RNs. BSN-educated nurses complete 73-79 credits, and MSN-holders complete at least 31 credits.

Participants take DNP online courses such as integrity in nursing leadership and leadership in healthcare business. Students can choose one of two specialities: advanced practice nursing or health systems administration. RNs complete residencies and a scholarly project.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: South Orange, New Jersey
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,383/credit
  • Admission Requirements: ACEN- or CCNE-accredited BSN or MSN, a minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE scores for some applicants, and professional nursing licensure
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.7% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $96,539 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Wilkes University View School Profile Wilkes-Barre, PA 63% 71% 59% Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Wilkes University offers one of the best online DNP programs for MSN-educated nurses. The DNP prepares RNs for leadership roles in two years. Students complete 10 courses online. They explore topics such as epidemiology and environmental health and leadership in advanced nursing practice.

Students complete clinical hours depending on their experience. Wilkes places students at clinical sites within their communities at no additional charge. All online students pay the same affordable tuition.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,024/credit
  • Admission Requirements: Accredited MSN, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and unencumbered RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.6% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $133,171 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus View School Profile $$$ Cincinnati, OH 71% 45% 49% Higher Learning Commission

The University of Cincinnati offers BSN-to-DNP and post-MSN DNP programs. The DNP offers seven specialties, each with its own curriculum. The specializations include nurse anesthesia, pediatric acute care, and psychiatric-mental health.

A unique public health option prepares nurses who specialize in public health emergencies. Enrollees culminate the DNP with a project that demonstrates proficiencies. Students complete the DNP online, but some specializations require campus visits.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $746/credit residents; $761 nonresidents
  • Admission Requirements: Accredited BSN or MSN, minimum 3.25 GPA (BSN), an unrestricted RN license, and at least one year of RN experience for most specialties
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Three years for the BSN-to-DNP
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes, for some specializations
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $119,805 for doctoral programs
The University of Alabama View School Profile $$$$ Tuscaloosa, AL 71% 38% 13% Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The University of Alabama enrolls advanced practice nurses (APNs) in this DNP. APNs complete the 40-credit curriculum online. The program explores topics such as evidence-based practice strategies and informatics for advanced practice nursing.

Students work with an advisor to choose a clinical site for the required practicum. Participants must attend one spring intensive and the graduation on campus. UA offers one of the nation's most affordable online DNP programs.

  • Program: Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Campus: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $440/credit
  • Admission Requirements: An MSN in an advanced practice area, minimum 3.0 GPA, RN licensure, and APN certification or eligibility
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 2-3 years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.1% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $119,061 for doctoral programs

Frequently Asked Questions About Online DNP Programs


How long does it take to complete an online DNP program?

The length of the program varies depending on the path the student takes and the specialization they pursue. For example, a BSN-to-DNP program can take 3-4 years to complete when the candidate attends full time. However, an MSN-to-DNP program may only take 1-2 years on a full-time schedule.

Do nurse practitioners with a DNP get paid more than those with a master's?

DNP program graduates typically earn more than advanced practice nurses with an MSN. For example, a 2019 American Association of Nurse Practitioners compensation report found that nurse practitioners with an MSN earned an annual median base salary of $108,000, while those with DNPs made $113,000 per year.

What is the Difference Between a DNP and a Nursing Ph.D.?

Both the DNP and Ph.D. are terminal degrees for APRNs. However, they have a vastly different focus. A nurse with a DNP degree has a clinical focus in their practice, while a nurse with a Ph.D. nurse has a research focus.

Is a DNP required to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist?

Currently, nurses must hold an MSN to be a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). However, beginning in 2025, nurses will need a doctorate to practice as a CRNA. This is a position endorsed by the Council on Accreditation. The move started in 2004 when the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published a position statement advising member colleges to transition their APRN programs to a DNP degree.

Related DNP Resources

Popular Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.