Online MSN-to-DNP Programs 2021

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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

The doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is a terminal nursing degree that prepares nurses to deliver the highest level of care. An increasingly popular degree, many nurses opt to complete an online master of science in nursing (MSN)-to-DNP program. The following guide will help you determine whether to pursue a DNP, outlining its benefits, how to evaluate different programs, and how to apply.

Online MSN-to-DNP Program Overview



We use our data-driven methodology to select online MSN-to-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, program offerings, and online flexibility.

Read About Our Ranking Methodology

Online MSN-to-DNP Programs 2021

Rank School Location
1 Chatham University Pittsburgh, PA
2 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
3 Gardner-Webb University Boiling Springs, NC
4 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
5 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
6 Ohio State University-Main Campus Columbus, OH
7 Regis College Weston, MA
8 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
9 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, CO
10 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO

Keep reading to find out more about job opportunities and information on how to apply to an MSN-to-DNP program, or click here to learn more about the online MSN-to-DNP programs on our list.

Advertisement 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.

Featured Online Programs

What Can You Do With a DNP?

The DNP is one of two terminal degrees in nursing; the other is the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. Unlike the Ph.D. which focuses more on research, the DNP is a practice-based degree, meaning it provides practicing nurses with the highest level of clinical knowledge and expertise for providing direct patient care. The DNP also provides nurses with in-depth knowledge of healthcare leadership and policy, which opens the door to higher paying senior leadership positions in healthcare organizations.

In addition, although the current requirement for advanced practice nursing certification is a master’s degree, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) voted to increase the entry-level requirement to the DNP. Consequently, the DNP may become a requirement for all advanced practice nursing, such as nurse practitioners (NPs), in the future. The transition to the DNP for nurse anesthetists is already in place.

DNP programs also play a role in increasing the number of doctoral-level nurse educators who play a vital role in improving the quality of nursing care moving forward. See below for common DNP roles and responsibilities.

msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Nurse Educator

The DNP prepares nurses for teaching roles in classrooms and clinical environments at colleges, universities, and healthcare facilities. Educators perform research and oversee curriculum development, training, and professional development for nurses at all levels.
Salary $74,470*
Job Outlook 9% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Nurse Educators

msn Required
High Demand

Advanced Practice Nurse

A DNP prepares nurses to work as NPs, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse midwives, providing direct care to patients in acute and primary care settings. In some states, advanced practice nurses can practice independently.
Salary $115,800*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Advanced Practice Nurses

msn Required
High Demand

Nurse Leader

Nurses with a DNP fill nurse leadership roles, overseeing staff and managing operations. They may serve as senior leaders in hospitals or healthcare systems or work in public health and government agencies developing health programs to improve access to quality healthcare.
Salary $82,735*
Job Outlook 32% increase from 2019-2029 (for all medical and health services managers)

*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

What to Look For in an Online MSN-to-DNP Program

Choosing a DNP program requires assessing your career goals and what you hope to learn from the program, as well as practical matters such as admission requirements, time commitments, and the program quality. As you weigh your options, consider the following metrics that can influence your decision.

Admission Requirements
Every program has minimum admission standards and requirements for applicants. Meeting these requirements only indicates that you are eligible to apply and does not guarantee admission. Reviewing them ensures that you have the necessary licensure, work experience, and academic credentials to apply and gives you specific goals to work toward if you might not meet the requirements yet.
Program Curriculum
Every DNP program is different in terms of the required courses and the availability of tracks or specializations. Look for a program that aligns with your interests and goals.
Clinical Experience
Earning a DNP requires completing supervised clinical rotations to apply your skills. Although most online programs allow you to complete practicum hours at a local facility, some include a residency element. Others require fulfilling clinical requirements in a specific state or at a designated facility. Make sure the program’s clinical requirements meet your needs.
Accreditation
If you are earning your DNP to become an advanced practice nurse, then completing an accredited program is necessary to qualify for the certification exam. Also, many employers will only hire nurses who earned degrees from accredited schools.
School Graduation Rate
Graduation rate tells you how many students finish the program, which may reflect its quality. Students may voluntarily leave a program for personal reasons, but a lower graduation rate could be a warning sign.
Online Learning Format and Requirements
Many online courses are offered asynchronously, meaning you can log in to complete lectures, discussions, and assignments on your schedule. However, some require students to attend classes at designated times via video conference or chat. Consider how the course format matches your learning style and schedule.

Applying to an Online MSN-to-DNP Program

DNP coursework focuses on providing nurses with the latest evidence-based practice standards to improve the quality of patient care and outcomes. Most schools allow students to align their coursework with their career goals, with tracks in nursing leadership and practice-based specializations like gerontology, pediatrics, family medicine, and psychiatry.

Doctoral programs are rigorous, and applicants must meet high standards for admission. These include meeting license, education, and GPA requirements and a demonstrated track record of career excellence. Although every program has its own requirements, you can expect the following when applying.

Admission Requirements
Current valid registered nurse (RN) license; MSN from an accredited program; recommendations; personal statement
Program Length
Typically 12-24 months
Clinical Requirements
500-1,000 clinical hours (usually completed at the facility of the student’s choice)
GPA Requirement
3.0-3.5 in MSN program
Other Requirements
Some programs require national certification as an advanced practice or critical care nurse. Also, many top programs include on-campus requirements in addition to online courses. These are typically multi-day intensives.

Why Is Online MSN-to-DNP Program Accreditation Important?

Choosing an accredited MSN-to-DNP online program is vital for several reasons.

  • Accreditation ensures the program meets or exceeds nurse education quality standards.
  • Employers typically require nurses to hold degrees from accredited institutions.
  • Attending an accredited school is a requirement for accessing federal student financial aid.
  • Accredited online nursing programs must meet the same standards as in-person or on-campus programs.

Who Accredits Online MSN-to-DNP Programs?

How Do I Know an Online MSN-to-DNP Program Is Accredited?

MSN-to-DNP online programs must meet the same accreditation standards as on-ground programs. Accrediting bodies like the CCNE and AACN require online programs to have both online and in-person clinical components, ensuring nurses receive hands-on training from an experienced instructor. Online programs also need to apply for accreditation like on-ground programs and are held to the same quality expectations.

With this in mind, you can determine a school’s accreditation status by checking with the leading accreditation organizations and the schools themselves. Accredited online MSN-to-DNP programs will be upfront about their status. All of the schools listed on this page and NurseJournal.org are accredited.

Paying for Online MSN-to-DNP Programs

The cost of an MSN-to-DNP online varies based on several factors. Attending a public university as a resident student is almost always less expensive than a private school or paying out-of-state tuition costs. However, other factors, including the length of the program, the costs for books and lab fees, and whether you need to invest in additional technology can also influence your total costs.

There are options for financial aid, though. One of the first places to look is your employer, as many offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs for nurses seeking advanced degrees. It is possible your employer will cover some or all of your education expenses.

Other options to reduce your costs include scholarships, grants, and loans. Keep in mind that there are limits on how much you can borrow from the government for doctoral degrees, and the interest rates may be higher.

Learn More About Online MSN-to-DNP Programs and Schools

  • Chatham University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Chatham's MSN-to-DNP features one of the fastest degree plans of its kind, allowing students to graduate in as little as 12 months of full-time study. The curriculum comprises 27 credits of coursework along with 500 practice experience hours. Learners enjoy flexible online courses that last 15 weeks and include one required on-campus residency.

    Enrollees explore evidence-based practice and focus on promoting safe, high quality, patient-centered healthcare across populations and settings. The unique program format enables students to specialize their coursework to align with their particular interests and goals.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
    • Tuition: $1,017 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; copy of resume or curriculum vitae; current RN license; two letters of professional recommendation; admissions essay; documentation of 1,000 post-baccalaureate practice experience hours
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    One of America's 15 largest private universities, Drexel serves nearly 25,000 students. As one of the oldest, most successful sources of online degree programs, Drexel's online college offers a range of both undergraduate and graduate opportunities, including an MSN-to-DNP.

    Designed for nurses interested in a terminal degree focused on alternative research, the DNP program prepares learners for careers in leadership, executive, and practitioner roles. The curriculum features four ten-week quarters, allowing degree-seekers to explore more topics than other calendar structures.

    Along with the required coursework, enrollees must satisfy 500 clinical hours. Students have the option to take part in an in-person global engagement seminar.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $1,041 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree in nursing, business administration, or a health-related field; current RN license; advanced practice nursing licensure and certification documents; two letters of recommendation; personal statement; curriculum vitae or resume
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.46%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Gardner-Webb University
    Location

    Boiling Springs, NC

    Gardner-Webb's MSN-to-DNP online program prepares enrollees for specialty nursing roles focused on evidence-based practice. The DNP offers three specialization options, including paths for leadership, family nurse practitioner, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The faith-based curriculum exposes learners to patient care leadership through a Christian viewpoint.

    Along with the online coursework, degree-seekers participate in a practicum experience focused on their chosen nursing specialty within their desired setting. Credit requirements vary depending on the specialization. The leadership program comprises 36 credit hours, students in the family nurse practitioner option complete 79 credit hours, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students must satisfy 81 credit hours.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Boiling Springs, North Carolina
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
    • Tuition: $795 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing from a regionally accredited institution with a nationally accredited program; minimum 3.2 GPA; current RN license; certifications in practice area; current curriculum vitae; goal statement; satisfactory criminal background check
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins offers a flexible online MSN-to-DNP executive track designed to allow students to continue working while completing their program requirements.

    The 40-credit curriculum includes on-site immersions. Coursework covers a variety of topics, such as analysis and evaluation of individual and population health data, clinical data management and analyses, and health information systems and patient care technologies.

    Enrollees who earn clinical hours during their master's degree program can apply them to the DNP, which requires learners to satisfy a minimum of 1,000 practice hours. Degree-seekers must complete their program within six years of their enrollment date with many learners satisfying their requirements in about six semesters of full-time study.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Baltimore, Maryland
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $39,748 per year
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; three letters of recommendation; current resume or curriculum vitae; goal statement; interview with faculty
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.49%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Nova Southeastern University
    Location

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Advanced practice nurses considering doctoral-level programs can explore a fully online MSN-to-DNP program at NSU. Experienced faculty members within the DNP emphasize collaborative opportunities and expose students to innovative techniques that support evidence-based practice.

    The DNP includes four project courses that allow learners to explore their specific area of interest within advanced nursing practice. These full-immersion experiences require students to summarize an identified healthcare problem and discover and propose viable solutions. The curriculum offers courses in an eight-week format, enabling degree-seekers to complete their requirements within six semesters.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
    • Tuition: $750 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing from a CCNE or CNEA-accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; curriculum vitae; writing sample; two reference letters; official documentation of all supervised post-baccalaureate practice hours from a regionally accredited institution
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Twelve months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.97%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Ohio State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    Ohio State offers one of the nursing field's most innovative online MSN-to-DNP programs. The DNP allows learners to tailor their degree to their personal interests and career goals by choosing between two track options: the clinical expert track or the nurse executive track.

    Enrollees interested in focusing their nursing practice on the highest level of patient care can enroll in the clinical expert track. The nurse executive track prepares degree-seekers to lead healthcare organizations and influence the field on a large scale.

    The 36-credit curriculum combines convenient online coursework with in-person clinical immersion experiences. Learners in both tracks can finish the program within as little as two years as a full-time student or three years if studying part time.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Columbus, Ohio
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditations: Higher Learning Commission
    • Tuition: $44,175 total
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree from an accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; active APRN certification; current resume or curriculum vitae; goals statement; recorded online interview; three letters of recommendation; verification of hours form
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Regis College
    Location

    Weston, MA

    Founded in 1927 as a women's college, Regis became co-educational in 2007. Regis offers a variety of innovative undergraduate and graduate degrees, including some of the top nursing degrees. The online MSN-to-DNP serves advanced practice nurses looking to practice at the highest level of nursing care.

    Learners pursuing their DNP at Regis can tailor their degree to align with their interests and professional goals by choosing a specialization. Enrollees select from five tracks, including pediatric nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, women's health nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, and nurse education. Depending on their chosen field of study, students complete between 27-64 credits.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Weston, Massachusetts
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditations: New England Commission on Higher Education; Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
    • Tuition: $875 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing from a regionally accredited institution; 3.0 minimum GPA; valid RN license; two letters of recommendation; statement of purpose; verification of hours form; APRN certification
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 90%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of Arizona
    Location

    Tucson, AZ

    Founded in 1895, before Arizona became a state, UofA's first graduating class included three people. Today, the university boasts a vast, diverse student body with a variety of innovative program opportunities, including one of the top online MSN-to-DNP programs in the nation.

    Building on the experience and knowledge gained during a master's program, the DNP explores quality improvement, evidence-based practice, and healthcare policy. The program serves learners who hold prior certification as a nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse practitioner.

    The 35-credit curriculum focuses on advanced topics, such as interprofessional collaboration in healthcare teams, theories of leadership and organizational management, and healthcare informatics theory and practice. Students must participate in at least one on-campus resident intensive summer experience and complete a DNP project.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Tucson, Arizona
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditations: Higher Learning Commission
    • Tuition: $1,200 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing from a regionally accredited institution; 3.5 minimum GPA; APRN license
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.15%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of Colorado Colorado Springs
    Location

    Colorado Springs, CO

    Designed to train highly-prepared professionals in nursing practice, the online MSN-to-DNP at UCCS builds upon the foundations of a master of science in nursing and emphasizes evidence-based practice. The 33-credit curriculum typically takes degree-seekers about three years to complete and explores topics in population-based healthcare for improving the nation's health; theoretical foundations of reflective practice; and advanced healthcare policy, ethics, and law.

    Throughout the innovative program, enrollees enjoy the chance to collaborate with faculty and other students on inter-professional teams to create effective and safe healthcare systems and promote healthcare to improve population outcomes.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Colorado Springs, Colorado
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditations: Higher Learning Commision; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $816 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing from an accredited program; 3.0 minimum GPA; active RN license; national certification as NP or CNS
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.66%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus
    Location

    Denver, CO

    CU Denver's MSN-to-DNP online program emphasizes both leadership skills and evidence-based clinical practice. In addition to online coursework, the program includes one-to-two day intensive on-campus sessions, limited to three times per year.

    DNP students can explore five different program pathways: an advanced practice registered nurse track, a DNP public community health option, a master's degree in public health/DNP dual degree, a post-graduate DNP focused on health systems leadership, or a veteran and military healthcare leadership path. Learners complete clinical hours in their chosen setting.

    • Program: Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Denver, Colorado
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditations: Higher Learning Commission
    • Tuition: $690 per credit hour for residents; $1,115 for non-residents
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; personal essay; curriculum vitae or resume; current RN license; three letters of recommendation; applicant interview
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Online MSN-to-DNP Program FAQs


How long does it take to go from an MSN to a DNP?

Earning a DNP takes less time than a Ph.D. in nursing. Most full-time students earn the degree in 1-2 years. Part-time students may need another year to complete the program.

Do DNPs get paid more than NPs?

As of 2020, nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $117,760 regardless of whether they hold a master’s or doctorate.

Is it worth getting a DNP?

Determining the worth of a DNP depends on your career aspirations. If you wish to reach the highest levels of nursing practice and qualify for leadership positions, a DNP can get you there. A DNP allows you to put the most recent nursing research to work in the clinical environment, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes and the overall standard of care.

Is an MSN or a DNP better?

Both the MSN and DNP prepare nurses to take on leadership roles. The difference is the DNP builds on the knowledge and experience gained in the MSN and prepares nurses for the highest levels of practice. Because the AACN has called for the DNP to be the entry-level degree for advanced practice roles, the DNP may be the best choice if that is your goal.

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