Best Online DNP Programs

By: Staff
Last Updated: March 2020

Table of Contents

Earning a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) can elevate your nursing career to its pinnacle. These nurses improve the nursing profession at the institutional, state, and national levels, and they also enjoy higher earning potential, making the degree a worthwhile investment. Many DNPs work as postsecondary nursing instructors, which is a profession that pays as much as $124,000 per year to earners in the upper percentile. Other graduates go on to work as nurse managers or hospital administrators.

Licensed registered nurses with at least one year of experience can explore DNP online programs, no matter their previous educational experience. Nurses with associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees can all attend online DNP programs, which allow them to continue working as they earn their degrees. Full-time students should consider accelerated online DNP programs. The following sections provide a broad overview of DNP application requirements, courses, concentrations, associated careers, and scholarship opportunities.

Best Online Doctor's in Nursing (DNP) Programs

Rank University Degree Programs
1 Maryville University - MO Online DNP
2 Walden University - MN Online DNP
3 Capella University - MN Online DNP
4 University of South Alabama - AL Online DNP
5 Drexel University - PA Online DNP

#1 Maryville University


Maryville University is a private institution, formed in 1872 and located in St. Louis, Missouri. Students can take Maryville’s online DNP program without any on-campus obligations. Maryville students take courses in healthcare policy and community healthcare needs to learn a variety of leadership and management skills. Ultimately, distance learners diversify their healthcare skills and increase their earning potential and ability to advance in their current careers. Program graduates typically work in internal medicine practices, hospitals, specialty practices, or administrative and political careers. Alternatively, DNP degree holders can position themselves for executive and CEO positions at healthcare organizations and related companies in the field.

Many full-time students complete this degree in as few as 20 months. In total, distance learners need 33 credit hours to graduate. All DNP online students complete a capstone project during their final semester. Applicants must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.25 GPA and one year of professional nursing experience. Additionally, prospective students need a registered nursing license with board certification as an advanced practice nurse. Application paperwork should include a personal essay, professional resume, and three letters of recommendation. Maryville is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

#2 Walden University


Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walden University offers an online DNP program where online students learn to improve their level of healthcare service through direct evidence-based training. Courses include best practices in nursing specialties, healthcare policy and advocacy, and planning and implementation. The asynchronous courses follow a weekly schedule with regular assignment due dates.

Students need 47-53 total quarter credits for graduation. Additional requirements include 1,000 practicum hours, a final project, and a doctoral dissertation. Transfer students may receive credit for up to 23 quarter credits. Prospective students should hold a master’s degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher and must submit an online application and official transcripts for consideration. Program graduates often seek employment as chief nursing officers, nurse administrators, clinical researchers, or teaching positions. In addition to savings through transfer credit possibilities, DPN online students at Walden may be eligible for merit-based scholarships through the graduate school.

#3 Capella University


Established in 1993, Capella University is a for-profit institution located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that offers a DNP online program for eligible students. To graduate, learners in the online BSN-to-DNP program need 68 total quarter credits. In addition to courses like global population health, scholarly methods in nursing, and 21st century healthcare leadership, DNP students must complete a four-quarter credit capstone course and a minimum of 1,000 hours in a supervised practicum. Students can participate in practicums at approved, convenient locations. Upon graduation, Capella alumni can pursue a variety of nursing leadership positions, such as clinical staff leader, patient care director, and nursing officer.

Courses at Capella occur in a synchronous format and require weekly participation in discussions boards, projects, and activities. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution, with a 3.0 GPA or higher from undergraduate work. Additionally, prospective students should hold an RN license verification and at least one year of work experience in the field.

#4 University of South Alabama

USA is a public research university located in Mobile, Alabama, hosting approximately 17,000 students. The school offers three pathways to earning a DNP online: MSN-to-DNP, MSN-to-DNP bridge program for clinical nurse leaders to executive nursing, and BSN-to-DNP. Distance learners choose a specialty area to determine their program trajectory. USA offers 13 DNP specialties, including neonatal nurse practitioner, nursing informatics, public health administration, and adult-gerontological acute care nurse practitioner.

Students in the online BSN-to-DNP program complete 69-87 credits for graduation. In most cases, online students complete the requirements in nine full-time or twelve part-time semesters. All students complete a major synthesis project that showcases their theories of how to improve healthcare policy and patient care outcomes. The admission application should include official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume that displays all RN experience, employment history, certifications, and publications.

#5 Drexel University

Founded as a private research university in 1891, Drexel University hosts approximately 27,000 enrolled students. Distance learners can pursue an online DNP program that focuses on nursing practices and patient care while providing an alternative to research-focused doctoral nursing programs. Drexel’s required DNP courses occur both synchronously and asynchronously and include applied epidemiology, quantitative methods in clinical nursing, doctoral nursing global perspectives, and introduction to biostatistics. Degree seekers need to complete 46 credits for graduation in addition to 500 clinical hours. Online learners typically complete this degree in two years or less.

For admission, applicants must hold a master’s degree, current RN licensure, and previous work experience in nursing. Prospective students without a master’s degree in nursing should obtain a bachelor’s degree in the field. Required application materials also include two letters of recommendation, a personal essay, professional resume, and licensure documentation. While students complete most requirements online, degree seekers must attend an in-person orientation and a one-week immersion experience at a host university.

DNP Programs Online: An Overview

This introductory section covers information regarding DNP admission requirements, concentrations, and relevant certifications, as well as other essential topics. Programs in the U.S. share many similarities, but each is unique, and may require applicants to submit application materials or complete program requirements not covered in this article.

Admission Requirements for an Online DNP Program

All online DNP applicants must possess at least an associate degree and a valid RN license. Programs typically require that applicants have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Application requirements may otherwise vary by education level. Nurses with their associate degrees may apply to DNP online bridge programs. Those with their bachelor’s may apply to BSN-to-DNP programs, and those with their master’s can apply to MSN-to-DNP programs. Read on to learn about which factors may affect your program length.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online DNP Program?

Generally, DNP students who already possess advanced degrees require less time to graduate. For example, MSN-to-DNP students already have advanced degrees and supervised clinical experience, and only require 1-2 years to complete their degrees. BSN-to-DNP students require 3-5 years, while DNP online bridge program students — who often only have an associate degree — take up to six years to graduate. Depending on the program, students complete 40-120 credits.

Aside from your educational background, other factors may influence your program length — primarily, whether you study full time or part time. Learning models, such as whether a program is self-paced or cohort-based, may also play a role. In cohort learning programs, a group of students (usually no more than 30) enter the program at the same time and take courses together until graduation. Even for full-time students, cohort programs typically take longer to complete than individual pace programs.

Concentrations Offered for an Online DNP Degree

Nurse Educator

This concentration prepares nurses for careers as undergraduate teachers, educating the next generation of nurses. Many courses emphasize teaching methodology, curriculum development, classroom management, and other vital concepts nurse educators need to balance their teaching responsibilities with academic research

Careers this concentration prepares for: Postsecondary teacher, lecturer, college professor

Family Nurse Practitioner

The family nurse practitioner concentration instructs nurses, many of whom already work as nurse practitioners, on topics essential to treating patients along with general practitioner physicians. Students in this concentration typically work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, and outpatient care centers after earning their degrees.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Family nurse practitioner

Nurse Midwifery

Nurse midwifery involves treating pregnant women and newborns. Courses focus on pregnancy and its complications, childbirth, and public policy related to pregnancy. Concentration options may include one or more courses in psychological self-care, since nurse midwives often see multiple stillbirths and miscarriages in their careers. Nurse midwives often work in hospitals’ OB/GYN departments, delivery rooms, and nurseries.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Nurse midwife

Example Courses for Online DNP Students

In this section, you can review common core and concentration courses for online DNP programs. Course titles and descriptions often vary between programs, despite courses offering near-identical curricula. Contact your prospective programs program directly for more information.

  • Finance and Economic for Healthcare Leaders: As many DNP graduates go on to management-level positions, they must understand finance and economics fundamentals. In this course, students study financial concepts that directly relate to healthcare management. At the end of the course, students understand how to create and interpret budgets and analyze economic trends affecting their departments’ performance and economic health.
  • Team Training in Patient Safety: For nurses, patient safety always comes first. DNP graduates must learn how to educate less-experienced nurses and other hospital staff in developing and implementing policies that improve patient safety and treatment outcomes. In class, students study proven patient advocacy techniques and training methodologies they can use through their careers.
  • Database Management: In database management courses, students learn how to create and maintain databases containing patients’ medical histories. Course topics include coding languages and the most popular database software that healthcare providers use.
  • Applied Statistics: To improve patient outcomes, nursing leaders must know how to analyze the latest research into nursing best practices. This analysis involves statistics, the mathematical foundation for nearly all research studies. In class, students discuss published research to learn key statistical terms and how they can use the results to affect positive change in their future careers.
  • Capstone Project: Nearly all online DNP programs include one or more capstone projects. At the start of the project, students select a problem or issue facing the nursing profession before completing extensive research or performing an experiment at their job sites. Students use their research as the foundation for a lengthy research essay; depending on the program, students may have to defend their essays to their professors. Students take this course in their final year of study.

Internship Component

Most DNP programs require students to complete practicums and supervised clinicals, either where they currently work as a registered nurse or at a new healthcare setting in their local area. The best DNP programs require over 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Some students complete 500 hours during their master’s programs, and an additional 500 hours during their doctoral programs. RNs enrolled in DNP online bridge programs may complete the 1,000 hours in one stretch, typically after finishing the majority of their online coursework.

Your university sets up clinicals with your employer. Both you and your work supervisors have responsibilities (e.g., filing paperwork) to keep track of your progress.

Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For

  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Family nurse practitioners diagnose and treat patients of all ages in doctors’ offices and other healthcare settings. To earn this license, you must complete 500 clinical hours in family medicine and pass the family nurse practitioner exam. The license remains valid for five years. Renewing the license involves earning continuing education (CE) credits.
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: Women’s health nurse practitioners treat women’s reproductive health conditions and ensure that women have healthy and successful pregnancies. Most applicants have at least one year of experience working in an OB/GYN setting. The license remains valid for three years; renewing it requires CE credits.
  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner: Oncology nurse practitioners treat patients who have cancer. The license requires at least 500 clinical hours in an oncology office; the best oncology online DNP programs require up to 1,000 hours to prepare students for their future careers. You must also pass the oncology nursing exam. Licensed oncology nurse practitioners renew their licenses every four years.

Accreditation for Online DNP Programs

As you narrow down programs that match your educational and career goals, make sure they possess regional and national accreditation, and ideally program-specific accreditation, as well. The U.S.’s seven regional accreditation agencies evaluate schools to determine their accreditation status, and the Department of Education (ED) regulates these agencies. National accreditation agencies, such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, evaluate distance and online learning programs. Your DNP online should possess both regional accreditation and program-specific accreditation from a national agency.

Beyond regional and national accreditation, self-regulatory agencies, such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), grant accreditation to both schools and other independent accreditation agencies. Finally, field-specific agencies focus solely on one academic area. For doctoral nursing programs, look out for those with accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The program you select should have accreditation from at least one of these two agencies.

To learn more about accreditation, please review the most up-to-date lists of ED and CHEA-accredited universities in the U.S.

Job and Salary Outlook

Job Opportunities for DNP Graduates

DNP programs ask that students select a concentration to specialize in one nursing subfield. Your concentration may affect future career prospects and salary potential, so make sure to research nursing professions that interest you. The five occupations below involve different concentrations. To learn more about how a concentration may expand or narrow your career options, contact online DNP programs to learn about how they prepare students for their future careers.

Top Executive

Median Annual Salary: $104,700

Top executives manage large departments or entire organizations by setting goals and organizing staff. In medical settings, they typically possess extensive experience working as nurses or physicians.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Median Annual Salary: $98,350

Medical and health services managers improve their employers’ healthcare services through developing and implementing improvement plans. They also direct many administrative tasks, such as budgeting and hiring.

Human Resources Manager

Median Annual Salary: $110,120

Human resources managers make important decisions regarding their organizations’ staffing needs. Managers with extensive nursing experience tend to select the best nursing staff.

Administrative Services Manager

Median Annual Salary: $94,020

Administrative services managers ensure their departments’ smooth operation by managing personnel and materials. In healthcare settings, they make sure other nurses have everything they need to treat patients successfully.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Annual Salary: $76,000

Postsecondary teachers instruct students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Typical job duties include planning curricula, grading assignments, and performing academic research.

Source: BLS

How Much Do DNP Graduates Make?

In the table below, you can learn more about how nurse practitioners can influence their earning potential by choosing a specialization. DNPs may earn higher entry-level salaries, as states require nurse practitioners to possess only a master’s degree. A terminal degree may give you the opportunity to increase your salary faster than nurse practitioners with master’s degrees.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Nurse Practitioner $92,319 $89,665 $96,265 $103,050
Family Nurse Practitioner $90,894 $89,317 $94,603 $97,603
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $100,161 $96,884 $103,099 $112,451
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner $92,283 $89,116 $95,822 $98,627
Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner $86,373 $84,017 $88,418 $92,450

Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

Earning a DNP often requires up to six years of coursework, thousands of clinical hours, and an extended thesis. To make the most of this investment of time, energy, and money, consider joining one or more professional organizations that assist graduate students like you. The three organizations below are a few such professional organizations. Members of these groups receive multiple benefits, including job boards, CE courses, and exclusive scholarships.

American Association of Diabetes Educators: AADE members include nurses, physicians, and other health educators. Members have access to free CE hours, educational materials for educators and patients, and an invitation to the annual AADE conference.

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists: The AANA comprises over 50,000 members throughout the U.S. Graduate students pay a single membership fee to become associate members. All members receive significant discounts on professional insurance and AANA’s CE courses.

Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association: With over 11,000 members, the Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association advances palliative care through research programs and political advocacy. Student members receive all membership benefits, including CE courses, professional publications, and in-person networking events.

Financing Your Online DNP Program

Even at public universities, earning a DNP online can cost tens of thousands of dollars. To reduce your out-of-pocket expenses, explore all financial aid opportunities. Start by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA-eligible students receive federally backed loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. If you do not qualify for aid through the FAFSA, continue your financial aid search with private scholarships. The eight scholarships in the next section accept applications solely from nursing students.

Scholarships for DNP Students

American Association of Nurse Practitioners Grants and Scholarships

Who Can Apply: AANP offers this scholarship to all doctoral students, except those enrolled in bridge programs. The application window opens in the fall. Before applying, interested students must first join the AANP. Applying to AANP grants require a separate application from AANP scholarships.

Amount: $1,000-$2,500

American Nephrology Nurses Association Career Mobility Scholarships

Who Can Apply: ANNA awards 10 scholarships each year to student members specializing in nephrology. To apply, submit all undergraduate and graduate transcripts, three recommendation letters, and a 250-word essay describing your professional goals and how you plan to use the scholarship. The scholarship does not renew; scholarship recipients may reapply.

Amount: $1,000-$3,000

CVS Together We Care Scholarship

Who Can Apply: CVS awards 20 scholarships each year to nursing students earning their doctoral degrees with a specialization in advanced practice registered nursing. All applicants must possess a minimum 3.2 GPA and show leadership potential through community involvement. The application window opens in early spring and closes in May.

Amount: $2,500

Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing

Who Can Apply: Graduate nursing students preparing for careers as oncology nurse scientists may apply. The scholarship automatically renews for one year; students may receive funding for an additional two years if they remain in good academic standing. The application window opens in July and closes on Oct. 15.

Amount: $15,000 per year

Healthline Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Healthline awards four scholarships per year to nursing undergraduates or DNP bridge program students pursuing work with patients with chronic or rare diseases. Applicants must also possess a minimum 3.0 GPA and show involvement in community health, patient advocacy, or research into chronic medical conditions.

Amount: $5,000

Nurse Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: All applicants must possess either U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. Scholarship applicants with financial need have a greater chance of receiving funding. The application period closes on Sept. 30. All scholarship recipients agree to a term of federal service equal to the time for which they receive a scholarship; graduates work in U.S. communities that lack adequate medical care.

Amount: Tuition costs plus a $1,363 monthly stipend

Nurses Education Funds Scholarships and Funds

Who Can Apply: The NEF sponsors 13 scholarships that award funding to graduate nursing students earning their doctoral degrees. All applicants must already possess a master’s degree in nursing, a minimum 3.6 GPA, and membership with at least one nursing association. Applicants submit three recommendation letters, an essay, and a $20 application fee.

Amount: Varies

Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation Scholarships and Awards

Who Can Apply: NPHF offers three specialized scholarships to nursing students earning their master’s or doctoral degrees. Previous scholarships accepted nursing applicants from diverse backgrounds, plus those studying immunology or pain management. Each scholarship requires students to submit a resume, transcripts, and two recommendation letters. Award recipients must complete a research project.

Amount: $1,000