Best Online MSN-to-DNP Programs 2020

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Advanced practice nurses like nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse anesthetists are among the fastest growing professions in the United States. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) could increase by 45% through 2029.

Although many nursing professionals go into higher-level roles with a master of nursing practice (MSN), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends that aspiring advanced practice nurses earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Many colleges and universities have taken note of the increased interest in DNP programs; from 2006-18, the number of DNP programs in the U.S. rose from fewer than 50 to about 350.

MSN-to-DNP programs do not last as long as the typical doctoral program; students usually complete the program in 1-2 years. Many nurses also prefer to pursue an MSN-to-DNP online, which allows distance learners to schedule their studies around their busy work schedules.

If you’re interested in an MSN-to-DNP degree, you can find a list of the best MSN-to-DNP programs below.

Read about our ranking methodology here.
Advertisement 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.

Featured Online Programs

Top Online MSN-to-DNP Programs for 2020

Rank School Location
1 American Sentinel University Aurora, CO
2 Capella University Minneapolis, MN
3 Maryville University St. Louis, MO
4 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
5 Walden University Minneapolis, MN
  • American Sentinel University

    Aurora, CO

    American Sentinel is a for-profit Institution that offers many online healthcare-focused degrees and certificates in nursing and management. In this online MSN-to-DNP program, students can choose from concentrations in educational leadership, executive leadership, informatics leadership, and professional leadership. All courses, such as health statistics, health services research, and principles of finance, are completed online. The only in-person obligations are a four-day residency requirement in Aurora, Colorado, and 1,000 clinical hours at an approved healthcare location.

    American Sentinel subscribes to a rolling admissions policy and reviews applications throughout the calendar year. Prospective students must submit a resume, personal essay, and proof of at least one year of employment at a healthcare facility. Before applying, DNP seekers must secure a location or facility to complete their required onsite clinical hours. Most students who enter with an MSN finish this program in 28 months. Online students have access to educational resources such as 24/7 tutorial services, a writing help center, and a virtual library.

  • Capella University

    Minneapolis, MN

    Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Capella’s nursing program offers an MSN-to-DNP program online. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this for-profit online school helps students acquire the necessary administrative, organizational, and communication skills to be effective leaders in healthcare. The curriculum examines public healthcare policy, patient care, modern advancements in technology, and how the healthcare system can be improved. All students complete at least 52 credits, which includes four capstone courses and practicums.

    Admission requirements include a master’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Applications must contain official transcripts, application fee, proof of registered nurse licensure, and documentation of one year of work experience in the field. Incoming students may be eligible for scholarships offered through the department worth up to $10,000. Awards require a separate application and have independent deadlines.

  • Maryville University

    St. Louis, MO

    Established in 1872, Maryville is a private university with approximately 6,500 students. Distance learners can pursue an MSN-to-DNP program online. There are no on-campus requirements for distance learners, and they may apply without taking the GMAT or GRE. Courses are asynchronous; students can access them any time to work with their schedules. All students complete at least 11 courses for a total of 33 credit hours, including a capstone course and final project. Core courses for the MSN-to-DNP program online include graduate statistics, advanced healthcare policy, foundations of clinical scholarship, and integrating and synthesizing research.

    Distance learners in this program typically finish the requirements in approximately 20 months. Online students complete all clinical requirements at nearby locations. Applicants should have a registered nursing license and an MSN. Graduates of this program often seek out management and administrative positions.

  • University of Florida

    Gainesville, FL

    Located in Gainesville, Florida, and established in 1853, UF offers an MSN-to-DNP online program for graduate students who already hold an MSN. Online learners prepare to become experts in a specialized advanced practice area of the field. Graduates of the UF nursing program move on to careers as clinical nurse specialists, educators, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. Distance students take all required courses online including quantitative research design and measurement in nursing, applied statistical analysis, infant care, and community health studies.

    Prospective students should have a 3.0 GPA or higher in their MSN program, a current registered nurse license with permission to practice in Florida, and national certification as an advanced registered nurse practitioner. UF expects incoming nursing students to have graduate-level courses in pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. Competitive applicants have minimum scores of 153 and 144 on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE, respectively.

  • Walden University

    Minneapolis, MN

    Walden is a for-profit school founded in 1970 and located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This MSN-to-DNP program is for those with a current registered nursing license and an MSN who wish to diversify their skill sets and knowledge in healthcare policy, patient care, information systems, and organizational leadership. Nursing students at Walden must accumulate a minimum of 576 practicum hours of in-person field experience. Some of these practicum hours may come from the research time involved with the final doctoral project. In total, practicums take 48 weeks to complete.

    Walden DNP graduates move on to careers both inside and outside hospitals and clinics, and work in areas such as informatics, education, health policy, and government. Students interested in this MSN-to-DNP program should have a master’s degree in nursing with a 3.0 GPA or higher. The school also offers nursing students merit-based scholarships of up to $10,000.

Applying to an Online MSN-to-DNP Program

Incoming MSN-to-DNP program students need a master’s degree to qualify for admission. Applicants usually need an RN or advanced practice nursing license, as well. Beyond those two requirements, the admissions process for MSN-to-DNP programs varies depending on the school.

Doctoral degrees can prove challenging, which means schools usually set admissions standards high. Applicants should possess an undergraduate and master’s GPA above 3.0 and may need to achieve high scores on the GRE or MAT tests, as well.

DNP programs often look at candidates’ past work experience and may require references or recommendation letters. The admissions process at the doctoral level often involves an interview with faculty members.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to complete an MSN-to-DNP program?

    For incoming DNP students who already possess an MSN, this doctorate can take 1-2 years to complete. Of course, that timeline varies depending on the school. Additionally, part-time students may need an extra semester or year to graduate.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Nobody wants to invest in an advanced degree only to realize their program doesn’t offer a quality education. That’s why students should pay attention to a program’s accreditation status. Accreditation indicates that students will obtain a valuable education. A degree’s accreditation status matters after students graduate, too; nursing professionals need an accredited degree to apply for licensure, and employers look for job candidates with accredited degrees. Keep an eye out for programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

  • What can I do with a DNP?

    Along with a Ph.D. in nursing, a DNP is the highest level of education that nursing professionals can receive. As a result, DNP-holders often find themselves in high-paid nurse practitioner or advanced nursing roles or go into nursing leadership. Sometimes, DNP graduates stick to academia and research, working as faculty members at colleges and universities.

  • What's the difference between a DNP and a Ph.D. in nursing?

    The main difference between a DNP and Ph.D. in nursing is the programs’ focus. DNP programs concentrate more on practice, while Ph.D. programs focus on research. Many DNP graduates go on to work as advanced practice nurses, nursing leaders, or nursing consultants. In contrast, Ph.D. graduates tend to go into research or teaching in higher education.