The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs 2021

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Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees prepare the next generation of nurses to meet the demands of a rapidly changing healthcare industry. Employer preference for doctorate-holders extends beyond nursing to pharmacy, psychology, audiology, and dentistry, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

DNP-holders become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in administration, academia, and research. Also called bridge programs, online RN-to-DNP programs allow working nurses who do not have a master’s degree to earn a doctorate in 3-6 years while remaining employed.

After earning a DNP, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives enjoy a median annual wage of $115,800 in a field that has no shortage of jobs. Bureau of Labor Statistics data demonstrates that employment for these occupations should grow by 45% from 2019-29.

Keep reading to see which online RN-to-DNP programs ranked the best and how you can qualify for admission.

Read about our ranking methodology
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

Top RN-to-DNP Programs for 2021

Rank School Location
1 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA
2 Chatham University Pittsburgh, PA
3 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
4 Gardner-Webb University Boiling Springs, NC
5 Idaho State University Pocatello, ID
6 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
7 Kent State University Kent, OH
8 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
9 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
10 Ohio State University Columbus, OH
  • Azusa Pacific University
    Location

    Azusa, CA

    APU's online low-residency DNP program allows working nurses to study remotely with the exception of periodic on-campus intensives. Licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) can opt to specialize in oncology while earning their DNP.

    The DNP curriculum focuses on preparing advanced practice nurses with clinical expertise and leadership skills who can contribute to the improvement of global health. The program's 39-54 credits include coursework in wellness promotion, social ethics, translational research, and organizational leadership. Studies culminate with an evidence-based clinical inquiry project. Clinical residencies total 1,000 hours, and APU may allow qualified advanced practice RNs to transfer up to 500 hours.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Azusa, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $1,062 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current California RN license; graduate statistics and research courses
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 84%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Chatham University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Chatham boasts that its online DNP program offers one of the fastest paths to a degree among DNP programs. Students can finish within 3-5 terms, including a brief residency, and adapt the 27-credit curriculum and 500 practice experience hours to their clinical and research focus areas. The writing-intensive plan of study culminates with an immersive capstone experience. Graduates emerge ready to promote and lead organizational change, resulting in improved patient and system outcomes.

    Course topics include developing evidence-based practice, ethics and public policy, and quality improvement in health. For those who need a slower-paced program, Chatham allows part-time study.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $1,017 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; clinical experience
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    The RN-to-DNP program at Drexel prepares graduates to implement nursing science and research in leadership roles. The degree requires 500 clinical hours, which Drexel builds into select practicum courses and project seminars. The 45-credit online curriculum includes topics in health policy and economics; applied epidemiology; quantitative methods in clinical nursing; organization and systems leadership: innovative strategies; and doctoral nursing global perspectives, which features a one-week travel experience in another country.

    Special tuition rates may be available to Drexel alumni, military members, and educational partner organization members. Distance learners can apply for financial aid.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $1,041 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master's in nursing or in a health-related field, or an MBA; current RN license; graduate-level research methods coursework with a "B" or higher
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Gardner-Webb University
    Location

    Boiling Springs, NC

    The online DNP program at Gardner-Webb focuses on improving healthcare with evidence-based practice from a Christian perspective. The plan of study includes online classes, clinical practicums in students' local communities, on-campus intensives, and an evidence-based project. DNP students can choose one of three concentrations: a 36-credit leadership track; a 79-credit family nurse practitioner (FNP) track; and an 81-credit psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) track.

    Course content varies according to concentration area. The FNP and PMHNP tracks also offer a postdoctoral certification. DNP program participants can apply for financial aid, scholarships, and deferred payment plans.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice - FNP; PMHNP; leadership
    • Campus: Boiling Springs, North Carolina
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
    • Tuition: $795 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree in nursing with 3.0 GPA (FNP and PMHNP); master of science in nursing with 3.2 GPA (leadership track); current, unrestricted RN license
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Idaho State University
    Location

    Pocatello, ID

    ISU's DNP degree offers two options -— family nurse practitioner (FNP) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Both 78-credit concentration areas feature separate tracks for post-master's nationally certified FNPs and PMHNPs. The clinical-focused programs deliver coursework online, allow clinical experience hours to be logged in student's local areas, and require on-campus attendance for clinical intensives.

    Core courses include advanced human pathophysiology, theoretical foundations for nursing practice, professional issues of the DNP, and research and practice in rural and global communities.

    Admitted students can transfer up to 21 credits with departmental approval and apply for financial aid, including nursing program scholarships.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice - FNP; PMHNP
    • Campus: Pocatello, Idaho
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: Full-time $4,963 per semester; part-time $4,040
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current and unencumbered RN license
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 36 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 88%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    The DNP programs at Johns Hopkins include an online executive track that allows advanced practice nurses to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to lead teams focused on improving healthcare.

    The 40-credit curriculum includes online classes, clinical immersions, and 1,000 project and practicum hours. Johns Hopkins accommodates part-time study. Course topics include translating evidence into practice, analysis and evaluation of individual and population health data, and health information systems and patient care technologies.

    Distance learners qualify for School of Nursing merit-based scholarships of $10,000-$30,000. Criteria include strong academic ability, leadership, community service, and accomplishments.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice - executive track
    • Campus: Baltimore, Maryland
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $1,825 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing with 552 clinical hours; minimum 3.0 GPA; APRN license; graduate-level biostatistics
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Kent State University
    Location

    Kent, OH

    KSU's online DNP program develops nurse leaders and clinical scholars who can translate scientific evidence into effective clinical interventions. The 34-credit curriculum covers topics in clinical analytics, population health, healthcare finance and economic policy, evidence-based practice, and quality improvement in healthcare delivery.

    Graduation requires a "B" grade in all courses, 525 clinical hours, and completion and defense of a publishable scholarly project under the guidance of an assigned committee chair.

    Distance learners from outside of Ohio pay only $10 more per credit than Ohio residents. Students can access academic advising, library services, and technical services remotely.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Kent, Ohio
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $536 per credit hour in-state; $546 out-of-state
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's or master's degree in nursing from a CCNE-accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; active, unrestricted RN license; statistics course with a minimum "C" grade
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Missouri State University
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    MSU offers two DNP program tracks: a hybrid BSN-to-DNP and a post-master's DNP online. MSU boasts low costs and minimal campus visits.

    BSN-to-DNP students focus on family nurse practice. The 79-credit curriculum requires on-campus attendance at least one day per week and onsite for clinical experiences. Courses include advanced physical assessment and clinical reasoning, health policy to improve health disparities, clinical epidemiology, and prescriptive practices.

    Post-master's DNP distance learning centers on leadership with 29 credits that cover emerging science and methods of advanced practice, health policy to improve disparities, and transforming practice. Students must come to campus 1-2 times during the program.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice; BSN-to-DNP or post-master's DNP
    • Campus: Springfield, Missouri
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $334-339 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: 3.25 GPA; one year of full-time clinical practice experience
      • BSN-to-DNP track: bachelor of science in nursing from an accredited program; RN license
      • Post-master's track: master of science in nursing from an accredited program; APRN license
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Nova Southeastern University
    Location

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Designed for working professionals, NSU offers a fully online, practice-focused DNP program. The 36-credit curriculum teaches advanced competencies and trains graduates to turn complex research into real applications. Courses include biostatistics, epidemiology, and evidence-based practice; students also complete practicum hours and a final project.

    Students without a master of science in nursing enroll in a six-credit transition to DNP bridge course prior to taking DNP classes. Those without 500 clinical hours take a project matriculation course until they complete their 500 hours.

    NSU's remote learning platform features interactive discussion forums, synchronous classes, taped online lectures, and an electronic library.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice
    • Campus: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $750 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Master of science in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing and a master's in a related field; minimum 3.0 GPA; active RN license
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Ohio State University
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    The online DNP program offers two pathways depending on students' previous education: a 72-credit BSN-to-DNP for those with a bachelor of science in nursing degree or a 36-credit post-master's DNP for those with a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Depending on their specialty area, distance learners may have to travel to campus periodically but otherwise take primarily synchronous online classes either full or part time.

    BSN-to-DNP learners can select from three specialties: family nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Post-master's students can choose a clinical expert or nurse executive focus areas.

    • Program(s): Doctor of nursing practice; BSN-to-DNP or post-master's DNP
    • Campus: Columbus, Ohio
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $973 per credit hour
    • Admission Requirements: Active, unencumbered RN license; minimum 3.0 GPA
      • BSN-to-DNP: BSN from an accredited program
      • Post-master's clinical: MSN; national advanced practice certification
      • Post-master's executive: MSN, MBA, or master of public health
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Applying to an Online RN-to-DNP Program

RN-to-DNP programs present a unique opportunity for licensed nurses who do not hold a master’s degree. These bridge programs allow nurses with a bachelor’s degree, diploma, or associate degree to attain the highest level of education in nursing.

RN-to-DNP program applicants must hold a valid license and background in nursing. Admissions committees seek candidates with strong work and academic histories. Candidates typically must show proof of at least a 3.0 GPA and may need to complete prerequisite coursework and/or submit GRE scores

Other common application materials include letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and personal statements. In the last stages of admission, candidates need to complete health and immunization forms and undergo criminal background checks, including fingerprinting.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    RN-to-DNP programs usually take full-time students 3-6 years to complete. However, this ultimately depends on the student’s educational and professional history, and their chosen specialization. Online learners who hold a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree can graduate more quickly than those with an associate degree.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Students can avoid diploma mills by ensuring that they attend an accredited school and program. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing accredits RN-to-DNP programs. These accrediting bodies ensure that the program’s learning materials, teaching staff, and facilities meet industry standards.

  • What can I do with a DNP?

    A DNP opens the doors to advanced practice registered nursing positions. Graduates become clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners. DNP-holders also influence public policy, conduct clinical nursing research, and shape minds on college campuses. A higher degree can lead to land management positions along with higher pay.

  • Are RN-to-DNP bridge programs hard?

    RN-to-DNP bridge programs challenge prospective students with a competitive admissions process. Before entering the program, DNP students must complete prerequisite courses and, sometimes, volunteer hours. While online programs allow students to work while they study, the rigorous coursework poses a challenge. Additionally, online learners must complete about 1,000 clinical hours to graduate.

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