The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

by

Updated November 7, 2022 · 2 Min Read

check mark Reviewed by

Our Integrity Network

NurseJournal.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for NurseJournal.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

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

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Credit: baona | E+ | Getty Images

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 ADN-to-MSN (RN to NP) 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.


At a Glance: The Top 10 Online RN-to-DNP Programs

  • 1. Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing
  • 2. Eastern Kentucky University
  • 3. Jacksonville State University
  • 4. Lenoir-Rhyne University
  • 5. Lincoln Memorial University
  • 6. Lourdes University
  • 7. Madonna University
  • 8. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
  • 9. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
  • 10. University of Cincinnati-Main Campus


Keep reading to learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing a program or go straight to our ranking of the best online RN-to-DNP Programs.

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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?

Featured Online NP Programs

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 Best 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 of 2022

Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing

  • Saint Louis, MO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing's RN-to-DNP program helps nurses with a master's degree improve their skills and advance their careers. 

This degree requires 30 credits, including a final project, which students complete over six terms. Enrollees must also complete 1,000 clinical hours. Of these, 500 hours may come from a student's MSN program.

Average Tuition
In-state
$20,020
Out-of-state
$20,020
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
663
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
3% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Eastern Kentucky University

  • Richmond, KY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Eastern Kentucky University offers a practice-focused RN-to-DNP program for post-master's students who want to pursue organizational leadership careers. This degree requires 32-38 credits and accepts up to 12 transfer credits. 

Courses include informatics in healthcare delivery and management of healthcare resources. Each class lasts eight weeks. The program concludes with a doctoral project.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,266
Out-of-state
$19,338
Retention Rate
75%
Admission Rate
94%
Students Enrolled
14,980
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
44% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Jacksonville State University

  • Jacksonville, AL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Jacksonville State University offers three RN-to-DNP tracks. Two of these are BSN-to-DNP programs that partially fulfill the qualifications to sit for either the FNP or AGACNP exam. The other is a post-master's DNP track.

All three tracks focus on leadership, technology, informatics, and advanced clinical practice. Post-BSN students take 69 credits and 700 clinical hours. Post-master's learners take 36 credits and 500 clinical hours.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,720
Out-of-state
$19,440
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
55%
Students Enrolled
9,021
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
70% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Lenoir-Rhyne University

  • Hickory, NC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Lenoir-Rhyne University offers two RN-to-DNP tracks: a post-master's program and an option that includes an FNP certificate. Both programs prepare students to be visionary leaders in healthcare delivery. 

The DNP/FNP program requires 72 credits and 1,000 clinical hours. The post-master's degree requires 33 credits and 1,000 clinical hours.

Average Tuition
In-state
$37,400
Out-of-state
$37,400
Retention Rate
72%
Admission Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
2,742
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
33% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Lincoln Memorial University

  • Harrogate, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Lincoln Memorial University's RN-to-DNP program helps nurses become professional scholars in a community-based setting. This six-semester degree requires 39 credits. 

Courses include biostatistics, adaptive leadership, and informational systems and technology application. Students also complete a doctoral project. Instead of clinical hours, the program requires practical experiences that focus on a primary area of interest.

Average Tuition
In-state
$22,200
Out-of-state
$22,200
Retention Rate
77%
Admission Rate
50%
Students Enrolled
4,867
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Lourdes University

  • Sylvania, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Lourdes University offers an RN-to-DNP program for post-master's nurses who wish to study leadership for population health. This degree calls for 30-35 credits and includes a translational research project. 

Students take courses, such as epidemiology, program planning and evaluation, and population health across diverse cultures. The program requires a minimum of 1,000 post-BSN practice hours.

Average Tuition
In-state
$22,650
Out-of-state
$22,650
Retention Rate
66%
Admission Rate
69%
Students Enrolled
1,547
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Madonna University

  • Livonia, MI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Madonna University's interdisciplinary RN-to-DNP prepares students to influence healthcare outcomes through policy and patient care. This seven-semester program requires 33 credits, including a hands-on scholarly project. 

Students also take courses, such as biostatistics for the health professional, scientific inquiry informing DNP practice, and economic and financial management for quality healthcare.

Average Tuition
In-state
$23,100
Out-of-state
$23,100
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
75%
Students Enrolled
2,992
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
61% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

  • University Park, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online

Like many RN-to-DNP programs, Pennsylvania State University-Worldwide Campus' degree offers two tracks — one for applicants with a BSN and one for prospective learners with an MSN. 

Depending on their level of preparation, students take 38-61 credits, averaging 2-3 courses per semester. They also attend in-person intensives and meet other doctoral benchmarks.

Average Tuition
In-state
$13,484
Out-of-state
$13,484
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
76%
Students Enrolled
Not provided
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

  • Knoxville, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville offers a 38-credit, hybrid RN-to-DNP program for post-master's nurses. Two in-person sessions supplement the degree's online courses. 

Courses include principles of population health, evidence-based practice, and health systems finance. Students also undertake a doctoral project. The school recommends combining this degree with a post-graduate certificate.

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,332
Out-of-state
$28,522
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
79%
Students Enrolled
29,460
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus

  • Cincinnati, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Cincinnati offers an RN-to-DNP program for both post-BSN and post-MSN students. Enrollees can select from seven different specialties. Program and admission requirements vary by specialty. 

The DNP requires 78-84 credits over nine semesters. Courses may include biostatistics for evidence-based practice, application of advanced clinical reasoning, and epidemiology methods in healthcare. Students also complete a doctoral project and practicum.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,476
Out-of-state
$24,810
Retention Rate
88%
Admission Rate
77%
Students Enrolled
39,263
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

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.

1. 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.

2. Admission Materials

Some programs require your National Council Licensure Examination (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.

3. 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.


Related Online RN-to-DNP Program Resources

Popular Nursing Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.