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The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSNNurseJournal Rankings Team
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Updated November 30, 2023
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Accelerate your career by earning the highest level of education in nursing through an RN-to-DNP bridge program.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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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 list available RN-to-DNP bridge 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.

Popular DNP Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in an Online RN-to-DNP Program

We used key metrics to evaluate a list of online RN-to-DNP programs. These data points significantly contribute to program quality, your admission, and the potential for successful graduation. Consider these factors as they relate to your unique needs.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements are often consistent across most programs. For example, you need practice experience, an unencumbered and active RN license, and recommendations. Some programs have unique requirements that might affect your eligibility for admission.


Specializations

There are several administrative and clinical specializations that you may choose as a DNP. These include informatics, leadership, pediatrics, mental health, family practice, and midwifery. Ensure the program you choose offers the specialization you want.


Clinical Experience

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) requires at least 1,000 hours of clinical experience in a DNP program. These hours can be split between practicums, residency, and project hours to make up the total. Consider how to best divide these hours.


Accreditation

You need to graduate from an accredited program to receive APRN certification. While an unaccredited RN-to-DNP program may offer a faster or cheaper degree, most employers won’t consider graduates of unaccredited programs.


Program Curriculum

Most programs are between 33 and 43 credit hours that can be completed in two years of full-time work or three to six years part-time while working.


Certification Exam Pass Rate

A DNP can begin clinical practice after passing the national certification examination in their specialty. Most programs post the pass rate for these exams, which gives a candidate an estimate of how well the program prepares the students to take the exam.


School Graduation Rate

Schools often publish the graduation rates of full-time students who graduate on time and an overall graduation rate. This metric indicates how well the school chooses eligible students, how much support is available for those students, and how well the school prepares students for graduation.


Online Learning Format and Requirements

The program may be completed only online or have an in-person requirement. The learning platform and technology requirements also vary between programs.

Know how you learn best before enrolling in an online RN-to-DNP program. For example, do you do better with a video lecture-style format or independent reading? Do you anticipate needing technological help and is it available?

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

Accreditation ensures the program meets national standards and provides the student with a quality education. While the DNP is the terminal nursing degree, you must have graduated from an accredited program to practice as an APRN.

The programs listed in our rankings are all accredited and meet the peer review standards. Find more information about how accreditation impacts your program decision as you consider some of the reasons to choose an accredited online RN-to-DNP program:

  • Ensures the education meets national standards
  • Validates the students’ educational preparation
  • Necessary to practice as an APRN
  • May be required to receive federal aid
  • Most employers only hire graduates from an accredited program
  • Better employment and advancement opportunities
  • Credits may not transfer if you seek another non-nursing degree

Learn More About the Online RN-to-DNP Programs & Schools

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location-markerChapel Hill, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,019
  • Out-of-state$34,198
  • Retention Rate95%
  • Acceptance Rate25%
  • Students Enrolled30,092
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment91%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

University of Florida

  • Location-markerGainesville, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,477
  • Out-of-state$25,694
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate31%
  • Students Enrolled53,372
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment92%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

University of Virginia-Main Campus

  • Location-markerCharlottesville, VA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$15,772
  • Out-of-state$49,819
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate23%
  • Students Enrolled25,628
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment92%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

University of Central Florida

  • Location-markerOrlando, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,478
  • Out-of-state$19,810
  • Retention Rate92%
  • Acceptance Rate45%
  • Students Enrolled71,881
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment96%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Duke University

  • Location-markerDurham, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$55,880
  • Out-of-state$55,880
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate8%
  • Students Enrolled16,172
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment42%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Georgetown University

  • Location-markerWashington, DC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$57,384
  • Out-of-state$57,384
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate17%
  • Students Enrolled19,371
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Johns Hopkins University

  • Location-markerBaltimore, MD
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$54,160
  • Out-of-state$54,160
  • Retention Rate97%
  • Acceptance Rate11%
  • Students Enrolled28,890
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment88%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Florida International University

  • Location-markerMiami, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,721
  • Out-of-state$16,529
  • Retention Rate91%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled58,836
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment86%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Ohio State University-Main Campus

  • Location-markerColumbus, OH
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,615
  • Out-of-state$32,599
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate68%
  • Students Enrolled61,369
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment94%
  • AccreditationYes
The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Stony Brook University

  • Location-markerStony Brook, NY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,070
  • Out-of-state$24,740
  • Retention Rate90%
  • Acceptance Rate49%
  • Students Enrolled26,782
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment90%
  • AccreditationYes

How Online RN-to-DNP Programs Work

Online RN-to-DNP programs work differently than traditional in-person programs. One advantage of enrolling in an online program is that you can attend a program based anywhere in the U.S.

Online programs also offer greater flexibility. Students enjoy fewer challenges with commuting and the associated costs. However, they may find online learning platforms more challenging than in-person classroom experiences.

Students often must complete their program at one educational institution. While some schools allow students to transfer up to 15 credits from another school, most do not.

The logistics of your clinical experience in an online program vary from program to program. Some schools help you find placement and others do not. Some programs require in-person labs and others allow you to complete your skills check-off with your clinical preceptor.

Applying to an Online RN-to-DNP Program

Applications to an online RN-to-DNP program have standard requirements but the measurements may vary across programs. For instance, they all require a minimum GPA, but that minimum can vary.

To increase your chances for admission, begin your preparation for the admissions process early. Consider speaking with an admission counselor from the program to ensure you include not only the required documentation, but also that you meet optional conditions.

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    Admission Requirements

    Online RN-to-DNP programs require you have an unencumbered and active RN license, at least two years of experience as an RN, and some prerequisite coursework, including science courses and an upper-level statistics course.
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    Admission Materials

    Some programs require your (NCLEX) scores. All programs require you to have at least two years of experience, some programs require more. With your application, you submit fees, information for a background check, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
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    GPA Requirement

    Most programs require a 3.0 GPA but some require a 3.5. Talk with the admission counselor if your GPA is lower as some programs accept a GRE examination or strong work experience if your GPA does not meet the requirement.

Paying for Online RN-to-DNP Programs

Several factors affect the cost of an online RN-to-DNP program. These can include whether the school’s costs for an online program are different for in-state and out-of-state students, the length of the program, and the cost per credit hour.

Each of these factors affects whether a student can pay out-of-pocket for the program. Students who can work through the program can also help cover their cost of living expenses.

Students have financial aid options that help cover costs. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement but you should consider what the employer asks in return. Some hospitals require you work for several years after graduation to help repay the debt.

DNP students may also apply for scholarships, grants, and student loans to help pay for their education. Each of these options has pros and cons that students must evaluate carefully.

Additionally, there are forgiveness programs that can reduce your debt. There are eligibility requirements for these programs and specifications you should understand before accepting the funds.

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

A DNP degree prepares the graduate for a leadership role in administrative and clinical practice. Graduates are prepared to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice. APRNs fill roles in education, patient care, research, and leadership.

According to AACN, there are currently 407 DNP programs enrolling students, including online RN-to-DNP programs. The number of students enrolled rose by over 1,000 from 2020 to 2021.

While students may earn a BSN, then MSN, before enrolling in a DNP program, an online RN-to-DNP program can take less and be more cost-effective.

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 can 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.


Page last reviewed November 2, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.


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