The Best Online MSN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

March 4, 2022 , Modified on May 4, 2022 · 5 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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

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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