The Best Online DNP Programs 2020

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A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) has become the preferred credential for all advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). This practice-based, terminal degree prepares graduates for leadership positions in a variety of healthcare settings.

While earning a DNP online may take up to three years, a doctoral degree leads directly to fulfilling careers improving patient care. As an aging population demands more healthcare services and nursing professionals begin to retire, employment prospects for APRNs should increase dramatically.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects positions for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners to grow by 45% from 2019-29. These APRNs earn significantly higher salaries than RNs with a BSN degree, receiving a median annual income of $115,800. In response to this demand for APRNs, many of the top nursing programs have developed online DNP programs that offer the same curriculum and adhere to the same standards as traditional campus-based degrees.

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Featured Online Programs

The Best Online DNP Programs for 2020

Rank School Location
1 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA
2 Bradley University Peoria, IL
3 Catholic University of America Washington, DC
4 Clemson University Clemson, SC
5 DeSales University Center Valley, PA
6 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
7 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA
8 George Washington University Washington, DC
9 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA
10 Gwynedd Mercy University Gwynedd Valley, PA
Read about our ranking methodology here.
  • Azusa Pacific University
    Location

    Azusa, CA

    Located in Azusa, California, APU is a private, nonprofit school that offers an online DNP program. Its low-residency format allows students to complete most requirements online, while requiring participation in intensive on-campus experiences for 1-2 days at a time.

    This DNP online program focuses on evidence-based practices, leadership skills, and organizational analysis. Graduates move on to nursing leadership positions, work in healthcare policy, or conduct research to improve clinical outcomes. Degree-seekers need to complete at least 500 clinical hours and a final practice-focused project to meet graduation requirements.

    Each prospective student needs to complete an online application and possess a 3.0 GPA or higher. An application must include official transcripts, a statement of career goals, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, and copies of all professional certifications or licensure. Applicants' official transcripts must reflect a history of graduate-level classes in statistics and nursing research.

    Courses Include:

    • Social ethics and health policy
    • Leadership and role development in nursing education
    • Health disparities and vulnerable populations

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,034/credit
    • Credits Required: 39-52
    • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
  • Bradley University
    Location

    Peoria, IL

    Located in Peoria, Illinois, Bradley offers more than 185 academic programs, including online DNP programs. These online nursing programs best serve students interested in developing specialized administrative skills for healthcare or to establish themselves as leaders in primary care or family medicine facilities.

    A student with a bachelor's degree in nursing who wants to become a family nurse practitioner can consider Bradley's DNP-FNP. Alternatively, incoming learners with master's degrees can also pursue the DNP in leadership. Instructors deliver coursework entirely online with no on-campus requirements for either track.

    However, the DNP-FNP requires at least 1,050 clinical hours and usually takes learners four years to complete. The DNP in leadership requires 1,000 clinical hours and full-time students can complete this program in three years. A competitive applicant for both tracks possesses a 3.0 or higher GPA. Incoming learners also need current nursing licenses.

    Courses Include:

    • Advanced health assessment
    • Healthcare policy
    • Ethics in advanced practice nursing

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $930/credit
    • Credits Required: 42 (DNP in leadership), 83 (DNP-FNP)
    • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Catholic University of America
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Catholic University of America is a private school in Washington, D.C. that offers an online DNP program. The school serves approximately 3,800 students.

    The program comprises 37 credits, 360 clinical hours, and a comprehensive exam. Additionally, the program requires learners to complete a final evidence-based practice project that includes an oral defense and presentation. Degree-seekers need to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher to remain in good standing with the department.

    Each applicant needs to submit a professional portfolio that includes a personal statement, a resume, a copy of their RN licensure, a description of current and past clinical practice, three letters of recommendation, and any applicable publications for consideration.

    Courses Include:

    • Principles of epidemiology
    • Healthcare biostatistics
    • Population-based healthcare management

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,910/credit
    • Credits Required: 37
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Clemson University
    Location

    Clemson, SC

    Clemson is a public school in South Carolina with regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College. Distance students enjoy remote access to its online DNP program.

    This doctor of nursing practice program requires 35 credits and a final project for graduation. Learners complete most degree requirements online except for 2-3 short visits to campus for immersion experiences or orientations during the summer semesters.

    Each prospective DNP student needs to complete an online application and possess a master's degree in nursing with a 3.0 or higher GPA. An applicant also must submit their official transcripts, three letters of reference, official transcripts, a resume, personal statement, and a letter of support from a practice or healthcare institution for their intended DNP final project.

    The school offers a limited number of merit-based graduate assistantships. Recipients benefit from tuition remissions and stipends, provided they enroll in nine credits or more per semester.

    Courses Include:

    • Scientific underpinnings for practice
    • Healthcare policy for advocacy
    • Clinical prevention and population health

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $770/credit
    • Credits Required: 35
    • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College
  • DeSales University
    Location

    Center Valley, PA

    DeSales is a private university in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. The school is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and offers online DNP programs.

    Remote learners choose between the DNP in clinical leadership or DNP in executive leadership. An enrollee can also pursue a dual DNP program that offers a doctoral degree and an MBA. Both degrees typically take full-time students seven semesters to complete.

    DNP clinical leadership students need at least 35 credits and 525 residency hours for graduation. This program best serves students interested in pursuing work as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists.

    The DNP in executive leadership is ideal for students who possess master's degrees in health policy, clinical informatics, health administration, or public health. This degree requires at least 41-48 credits and 525 residency hours.

    Courses Include:

    • Health policy and ethics
    • Healthcare informatics
    • Applied epidemiology and biostatistics

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,095/credit
    • Credits Required: 35 (DNP in clinical leadership), 41-48 (DNP in executive leadership)
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Drexel is a private, nonprofit institution located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The school is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and features a doctor of nursing practice online program. This program prepares graduates for leadership roles as practitioners and executives in evidence-based practice. Degree-holders move on to careers focusing on individual, community, and family health outcomes.

    Instructors deliver most of the required components online in a 10-week class format. In-person components include an orientation during the student's first term and a global engagement training session during the spring quarter of the second year. Each degree-seeker completes 500 clinical hours and 45-46 course credits for graduation. Most full-time learners complete the program in two years.

    A prospective DNP student needs a master's degree in nursing, a health-related field, or a master of business administration. An applicant without a master's degree in nursing should possess at least a bachelor's degree in the field.

    Courses Include:

    • Quantitative methods in clinical nursing
    • Leadership in organization systems
    • Applied epidemiology

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,041/credit
    • Credits Required: 45-46
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Duquesne University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Duquesne is a public institution with two online DNP programs. Online learners choose between clinical leadership or executive nurse leadership and healthcare management tracks. Both pathways require enrollees to complete a final practice project to demonstrate their mastery of coursework.

    Instructors deliver courses entirely online. Depending on their previous training and education, students complete between 35 or 62 credit hours for graduation. The BSN-to-DNP program requires 20 courses and takes full-time students four years to complete. Both the clinical leadership DNP and MSN-to-DNP online programs require 11 classes and take approximately two years to finish.

    Interested candidates need a current RN license and a bachelor's or master's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher. An application needs to include a resume, a goals statement, three letters of reference, and official transcripts.

    Courses Include:

    • Healthcare policy and finance
    • Ethical leadership in complex organizations

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,509/credit
    • Credits Required: 35 (MSN-to-DNP), 62 (BSN-to-DNP)
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • George Washington University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Located in Washington, D.C., GW is a private institution with regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The nonprofit school offers one of the best online DNP programs in a hybrid format. The school offers both full- and part-time learning opportunities.

    Learners can consider several tracks for the online DNP, depending on their academic history and career aspirations. GW distance students can pursue DNP degrees in adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, executive leadership, family nurse practitioner, health policy, or nursing practice.

    A student applying to the post-BSN DNP track should possess a bachelor's degree with a 3.3 GPA or higher. Each MSN-to-DNP applicant needs a master's degree, sometimes in a specialized area such as nursing leadership management or nursing administration, with a 3.3 GPA or higher.

    Courses Include:

    • Translating research into practice
    • Healthcare economics, finance, and reimbursement
    • Healthcare quality improvement

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,435/credit
    • Credits Required: 72 (post-BSN DNP), 36-42 (MSN-to-DNP)
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Gonzaga University
    Location

    Spokane, WA

    Located in Spokane, Washington, Gonzaga offers one of the best online DNP programs. The private, nonprofit institution holds a religious affiliation with the Roman Catholic Jesuit church.

    Learners choose from tracks in family nurse practitioner (FNP) or psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). Each enrollee needs 1,000 hours of practicum hours, plus 7-8 in-person immersions on-campus. Full-time degree-seekers can complete the FNP program in approximately five years, while the PMHNP track takes 13-15 semesters.

    A prospective DNP student needs a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, along with an unencumbered RN license. Competitive applicants possess 3.3 or higher GPAs.

    Applications need to include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a current resume, and official transcripts. The admissions committee may also ask for an interview. Only students residing in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Arizona may apply.

    Courses Include:

    • Information technology and data management
    • Theoretical foundations for healthcare improvement
    • Advanced health assessment

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $1,055/credit
    • Credits Required: 78
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Gwynedd Mercy University
    Location

    Gwynedd Valley, PA

    GMercyU offers one of the best online DNP programs. Located in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, the private, nonprofit institution today enrolls 3,100 students. Learners in this program prepare for careers as nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.

    GMercyU boasts small class sizes and an accelerated online curriculum that focuses on evidence-based practices, leadership qualities, healthcare quality improvement, and social policy engagement. Degree-seekers need 39 credits and 400 hours of clinical experience for graduation. Full-time learners usually need two years to finish this degree.

    Each interested DNP online learner needs to possess a 3.5 or higher GPA. All applications need to include GRE scores, official transcripts, a copy of the applicant's current liability insurance, a current RN license, three letters of recommendation, and a personal goal statement.

    Courses Include:

    • Technology for advanced nurses
    • Evidence-based practice
    • Organizational behavior and social policy

    Unique Features:

    • Cost: $930/credit
    • Credits Required:
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Applying to an Online DNP Program

Although a few schools offer bridge programs for RNs with only an associate degree or nursing diploma, most students apply to either a post-bachelor’s DNP or an MSN-to-DNP program.

RNs with a BSN degree may apply to post-bachelor’s DNP programs. Most schools require a minimum 3.0 GPA, reference letters, a personal statement, and sometimes an in-person interview. Some programs recommend at least one year of work experience.

Designed for APRNs who want to continue practicing while earning their doctorate, MSN-to-DNP programs require an RN license, a master’s degree, an advanced practice state license, and certification in an APRN specialization. Applicants must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA, submit letters of reference and a statement of professional goals, and sit for an interview. While many schools do not request GRE scores, candidates who submit their test results may gain an advantage over other applicants.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to complete a DNP program?

    The time needed to complete a DNP online depends on the student’s enrollment status and academic background. Depending on the program, MSN-holders may graduate in 1-2 years, while RNs with an associate or bachelor’s degree may take up to six years.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    The best DNP programs hold accreditation from the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Nurse anesthesia and midwifery programs receive specialized accreditation from other agencies. Accredited DNP programs, which meet specific clinical practice standards and learning objectives, determine a student’s ability to apply for financial aid or specialty certifications.

  • What can I do with a DNP?

    Employment rates for DNP-holders should remain strong in response to the continuing nationwide shortage of primary care providers and the growing demand for healthcare services. In addition to serving in specialized APRN roles, graduates of online DNP programs work as healthcare executives, nursing faculty, researchers, information technology specialists, and lobbyists.

  • What's the difference between a DNP and a Ph.D. in nursing?

    While both the Ph.D. and DNP are considered terminal nursing degrees, they emphasize different approaches and skills. The DNP, designed for nurses interested in clinical or service leadership roles, stresses evidence-based practice to improve patient care outcomes. The research-focused Ph.D. prepares graduates to develop new knowledge and advance nursing science through scholarly inquiry and teaching.

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