The Best Online MSN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Updated September 21, 2022 · 6 Min Read

A DNP is a valuable degree you can use to become an APRN or to teach nursing. Learn about online MSN-to-DNP programs and find the right one for you.

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The Best Online MSN-to-DNP Programs of 2022
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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 can help you determine whether to pursue a DNP, outlining its benefits, how to evaluate different programs, and how to apply.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best 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, and program offerings.

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

Featured Online DNP 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.

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. See below for common DNP roles and responsibilities.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Mental health NPs order tests, diagnose mental health conditions, and prescribe treatments. They can prescribe medications, including controlled substances. The median annual salary is $120,000, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

  • Salary: $120,000

Learn more about Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners


Nurse Educator

Nurse educators teach nurses and other healthcare professionals, assess training and education needs, measure the impact of training, and mentor students and other learners. The average annual salary is $78,010, according to Payscale, as of December 2021. While most nurse educators are MSNs, a DNP is typically required to teach at the collegiate level.

  • Salary: $78,010

Learn more about Nurse Educators


Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs administer anesthesia and pain relief medication before, during, and after medical procedures. They also monitor the patient's condition during and after anesthesia administration. The median annual salary for CRNAs is $183,580, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Salary: $183,580

Learn more about Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists


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 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 varies by the curriculum 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 through 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, such as 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 demonstrating a track record of career excellence. Although every program has its own requirements, you can expect the following when applying.

Admission Materials

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?

This guide only includes accredited online MSN-to-DNP programs, as proper accreditation can determine a student's success after graduation.

  • Only graduates of accredited programs are eligible for APRN certification.
  • Accreditation ensures the program curriculum meets quality standards.
  • Most employers will not hire graduates of unaccredited programs.
  • Most federal financial aid is available only for accredited programs.
  • With so many accredited MSN-to-DNP programs online and on campus, there is no reason to risk your time and money on an unaccredited program.

Paying for Online MSN-to-DNP Programs

On-campus or online MSN-to-DNP programs are an excellent investment in your future career and earnings, but they come at a cost. Some MSN-to-DNP online programs charge a flat tuition rate for all learners, while others charge more for out-of-state students. Cost considerations also include book fees, any on-campus requirements, program length, and if you can work while studying.

There are many sources of financial aid available for online MSN-to-DNP programs. While some schools offer loans and scholarships, you can also apply for loans, scholarships, and grants from other sources.

Some government programs pay your education costs, plus a stipend, or offer loan forgiveness for working in under-served areas once you graduate. Your current employer may offer a tuition aid or reimbursement program, especially if you commit to remain with them for a certain period after you graduate.

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

#1

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UCF's online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program requires 42 credits. The program prepares healthcare changemakers with advanced clinical and research skills. 

Online learners can study part time. Degree-seekers complete on-campus intensives twice a year. They also complete 1,000 clinical hours. Some clinical hours transfer from prior master's coursework. Students complete 420 hours through DNP coursework.

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#2

Georgetown University

School Information
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Admission Rate 14%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Jesuit-centered Georgetown offers a part-time doctor of nursing practice (DNP) that focuses on patient care delivery improvement and ethical organizational leadership. 

The 30-credit online MSN-to-DNP program includes two on-campus executive sessions, more than 300 practice hours, and a DNP scholarly project. Active practitioners teach live, interactive online classes.

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#3

Johns Hopkins University

School Information
Location Baltimore, Maryland
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Top-ranked research institution Johns Hopkins offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) with an executive track. The program blends online learning with on-campus immersions and symposiums. 

Graduates complete a final project. Selected students can participate in the Nurse Leader Executive Mentorship Program. These learners receive a $5,000 expense reimbursement.

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#4

University of Virginia-Main Campus

School Information
Location Charlottesville, Virginia
Admission Rate 24%
Graduation Rate 95%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UVA's doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program combines online classes with on-campus faculty advising and in-person executive format courses.

Enrollees receive credit for 500 practicum hours from their master's degree. Students complete another 500 hours during the DNP program. They can complete these hours at UVM Medical Center or an approved student-selected site.

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#5

Ohio State University-Main Campus

School Information
Location Columbus, Ohio
Admission Rate 54%
Graduation Rate 86%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Ohio State offers a post-master's doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Students choose from a clinical expert or nurse executive track. 

The clinical expert track runs mostly synchronously for those interested in patient care. The executive track online MSN-to-DNP program is geared for students who want to lead healthcare organizations.

Degree-seekers present and defend final projects on campus.

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#6

Frontier Nursing University

School Information
Location Hyden, Kentucky
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

FNU offers an MSN-to-DNP program online that emphasizes evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership. 

The 30-credit nursing doctoral curriculum includes a three-day on-campus orientation and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) project. This MSN-to-DNP program online lets degree-seekers complete 360 onsite clinical hours at their workplaces.

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#7

Michigan State University

School Information
Location East Lansing, Michigan
Admission Rate 71%
Graduation Rate 81%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

MSU offers a 28-credit MSN-to-DNP program. Learners can complete the degree online or in a hybrid format. Classes cover topics like clinical epidemiology, healthcare informatics, and scientific foundations. 

Students devote 10 credits to doctor of nursing practice (DNP) projects. Degree-seekers learn how to design, implement, and evaluate patient-centered healthcare services.

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#8

Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing

School Information
Location Peoria, Illinois
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located on the campus of Saint Francis Medical Center, SFMCCON offers an MSN-to-DNP online program. The program combines asynchronous and synchronous learning. Enrollees can specialize in clinical or leadership.

The curriculum emphasizes healthcare advocacy for rural areas, information technology, and population health. Both tracks in this MSN-to-DNP online program include projects and residencies.

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#9

Purdue University Global-Indianapolis

School Information
Location West Lafayette, Indiana
Graduation Rate 27%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Focusing on adult education, Purdue Global offers an online MSN-to-DNP program. The program features multiple start dates and 10-week terms. Students earn both a master's and doctorate through accelerated study.

Concentrations in this MSN-to-DNP online program include executive leader, nurse educator, and psychiatric mental health.

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#10

DePaul University

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Admission Rate 68%
Graduation Rate 74%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 30% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Catholic-based DePaul offers an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program with tracks including family nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist. The program also includes DNP-completion tracks in nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse midwife.

All track enrollees take 10 core courses and complete a DNP project practicum.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Online MSN-to-DNP Programs


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

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

How much more can you earn with a DNP compared to an MSN?

The exact numbers depend on many factors. Overall, the average base salary for nurses with an MSN is $97,000, according to Payscale, while the average for nurses with a DNP is $104,000. However, in 2025, new nurse anesthetists will need a DNP rather than an MSN, which may increase the salary gap.

What are the most popular concentrations for MSN-to-DNP programs?

Family health is the most popular APRN specialty, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Almost 70% of APRNs are in family practice. Other popular DNP concentrations include adult care, nurse anesthesia, nurse midwifery, and clinical nurse specialist programs. Starting in 2025, new nurse anesthetists will need a DNP, so this DNP concentration could grow in popularity.

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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