The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

March 2, 2022 , Modified on March 9, 2022 · 5 Min Read

Accelerate your career by earning the highest level of education in nursing through an RN-to-DNP bridge program.

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The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022
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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. 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.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online RN-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 RN-to-DNP programs, or go straight to our list of the best online RN-to-DNP programs.

What Can You Do With a Degree from an RN-to-DNP Program?

A DNP prepares learners to work as APRNs in the highest paid nursing roles. APRNs enjoy a high level of job autonomy and can transition from working as a practical nurse to research or teaching. Starting with the class entering in 2022, new nurse anesthetists must hold a DNP. Even if a job does not require it, having a DNP gives applicants a competitive edge when applying for positions.

While you can earn a BSN, followed by an MSN, and then a DNP, an RN-to-DNP program reduces the number of programs you need to enroll in. While it does commit you to one school for the majority of your education, an ADN-to-DNP program reduces the overall time commitment.

Some common nursing positions for DNPs include:

msn Required

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Most nurse practitioners specialize in family practice. They act as a primary care provider in a hospital, health system, independent practice, or other setting. FNPs diagnose patients, prescribe medications, provide patient education, and may supervise nurses or CNAs. The median annual salary for FNPs, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, is $107,000.
Salary $107,000*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Family Nurse Practitioners
msn Required

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Clinical nurse specialists provide advanced nursing care or act as administrators in specialty areas, such as pediatrics, gerontology, emergency care, or mental health. They are responsible for quality improvement, implementing the latest evidence-based care findings, and supervising nurses. The average annual salary for a CNS is $92,270, according to Payscale.
Salary $92,270*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Clinical Nurse Specialists
msn Required

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Nurse anesthetists are the highest paid APRNs, earning a median $183,580 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may act as the primary anesthetist for minor surgery and as part of the anesthesia team for more complex procedures. CRNAs help patients manage pain before, during, and after surgery.
Salary $183,580*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
*SOURCE: Payscale, AANP, BLS

What to Look for in an Online RN-to-DNP Program

When selecting an RN-to-DNP program, consider how the school fits your needs, background, and career goals. Attending an online program reduces some challenges, such as commuting, but makes other aspects more challenging, especially if you're new to online learning.

Admission requirements tell you how likely you are to get into a program, how academically rigorous it is, the type of student the school seeks, and how likely you are to succeed. If you aren't a perfect match for your dream RN-to-DNP program, discuss your situation with an admissions counselor. The program curriculum should match your career goals and make you excited to learn. Course descriptions highlight the program's culture and what classes emphasize. Every RN-to-DNP program requires clinical experience, but the logistics vary from program to program. Will the format and schedule work for you? Does the school have a history of placing students in or near your community? You need to graduate from an accredited program to receive APRN certification. Additionally, while an unaccredited RN-to-DNP program may offer a faster or cheaper degree, most employers won't consider graduates of unaccredited programs. The right program length for you lets you graduate as soon as possible while succeeding in your classes and balancing other responsibilities. Program length also affects how much the program will cost you. Although you already have your RN, the school's NCLEX pass rate can tell you how well it prepares students to succeed at the RN level. For an ADN-to-DNP program, the BSN pass rate will be especially relevant to you, since you will be taking some of the same classes. Consider the school and program graduation rate together. A high NCLEX pass rate but a low graduation rate mean that students who don't succeed drop out. Both a high graduation rate and NCLEX pass rate are a sign of a successful program. Consider how well the format works for your learning style and your other responsibilities. How will you interact with teachers and your fellow learners? Will you have access to enough online books and articles?

Featured Online DNP Programs

Applying to an Online RN-to-DNP Program

Begin your preparations early to maximize your chances of being admitted to the best RN-to-DNP program for you. Talk with your mentors about your strengths, improvement areas, and what to emphasize in your application. Make sure your references are ready to vouch for you. Reach out to alumni to learn more about the program's culture and what it takes to succeed.

Most RN-to-DNP programs require:

Admission Materials

You need your NCLEX-RN scores, undergraduate transcripts, at least two references, and an application that includes an essay or personal statement.

GPA Requirements

Most RN-to-DNP programs require at least a 3.0 GPA, though some require a 3.25 or higher. A strong work record or high GRE scores may offset a GPA that's slightly below the requirement

Other Requirements

Some ADN-to-DNP programs require a GRE exam, though they may waive it for a GPA above a certain level. Many programs require or strongly prefer at least two years of nursing experience as an RN.

Why is Online RN-to-DNP Program Accreditation Important?

To become a certified APRN, you must attend an accredited program. Even if you don't plan to become an APRN, choosing an accredited RN-to-DNP program is vital to your success.

  • Most employers only consider graduates of accredited programs.
  • Most accredited schools only accept transfers from other accredited programs.
  • Most government loans are available only if you attend an accredited program.
  • Program accreditation is an independent assurance of the program's quality.
  • Attending an unaccredited program can waste your investment of time and money.

Paying for Online RN-to-DNP Programs

The final consideration is paying for your degree. Many factors affect RN-to-DNP program costs. Some online programs offer the same rate for all students, regardless of where they live. For others, in-state students pay far less. You also need to consider books and materials, whether you need to travel for any on campus programs, and whether you can keep working while studying.

Fortunately, you have many financial aid options. You can find scholarships and grants from schools, associations, nonprofits, and government programs. Because of the demand for nurse practitioners, many loan forgiveness programs apply to those working in an under-served area after graduation. Some government programs pay for tuition and other costs, such as a living stipend, in exchange for a commitment to serve one of these areas.

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Online RN-to-DNP Programs

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.

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.

What are the advantages to earning a DNP online?

An online DNP allows you to consider programs outside your community, with no need to relocate or commute. Some programs offer asynchronous lectures students can watch at any time.

Is it worth getting a DNP?

Most nurses find getting a DNP a very valuable investment that is well worth the time and money. DNP-holders have higher salaries, more professional autonomy, and excellent job prospects.

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