The Best Online RN-to-DNP Programs of 2022

March 2, 2022 , Updated on March 9, 2022 · 6 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

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.

Program Curriculum

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.

Clinical Experience

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?

Accreditation

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.

Program Length

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.

School NCLEX Pass Rate

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.

School Graduation Rate

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.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

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

Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing

School Information
Location Saint Louis, Missouri
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 3% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Eastern Kentucky University

School Information
Location Richmond, Kentucky
Admission Rate 94%
Graduation Rate 45%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 44% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Jacksonville State University

School Information
Location Jacksonville, Alabama
Admission Rate 55%
Graduation Rate 41%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 70% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Lenoir-Rhyne University

School Information
Location Hickory, North Carolina
Admission Rate 78%
Graduation Rate 52%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 33% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Lincoln Memorial University

School Information
Location Harrogate, Tennessee
Admission Rate 50%
Graduation Rate 55%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Lourdes University

School Information
Location Sylvania, Ohio
Admission Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 36%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Madonna University

School Information
Location Livonia, Michigan
Admission Rate 75%
Graduation Rate 60%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 61% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

School Information
Location University Park, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

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.

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The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

School Information
Location Knoxville, Tennessee
Admission Rate 79%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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University of Cincinnati-Main Campus

School Information
Location Cincinnati, Ohio
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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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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