The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Keith Carlson, RN, NC-BC
Updated April 10, 2024
Reviewed by
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Direct-entry nurse practitioner programs let students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree complete an accelerated NP program. Find the best direct-entry NP program for you.
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Nurse practitioners (NPs) are key players in 21st-century healthcare. As a fast-growing group of skilled, in-demand providers, the prospects for finding a well-paying position as an NP have never been stronger. With high median earnings, rapidly growing employment, and increasing clinical autonomy in more than half of states, those seeking a career as an NP have plenty of reasons for optimism.

This guide can offer insight about the top online direct-entry NP programs nationwide. It also offers details about NP specializations, school accreditation, clinical experiences, program length, and what you can do as a NP.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online direct-entry NP 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.

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Learn About The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs and Schools

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.arrow-right

#1 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Cedarville University

  • Location-markerCedarville, OH
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$31,122
  • Out-of-state$31,122
  • Retention Rate85%
  • Acceptance Rate79%
  • Students Enrolled4,302
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment36%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Saint John Fisher College

  • Location-markerRochester, NY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$34,340
  • Out-of-state$34,340
  • Retention Rate88%
  • Acceptance Rate64%
  • Students Enrolled3,618
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment13%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Regis College

  • Location-markerWeston, MA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$42,650
  • Out-of-state$42,650
  • Retention Rate89%
  • Acceptance Rate79%
  • Students Enrolled3,194
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment42%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

American International College

  • Location-markerSpringfield, MA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$36,930
  • Out-of-state$36,930
  • Retention Rate69%
  • Acceptance Rate65%
  • Students Enrolled2,891
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment18%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi

  • Location-markerCorpus Christi, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,719
  • Out-of-state$14,695
  • Retention Rate60%
  • Acceptance Rate80%
  • Students Enrolled11,452
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment33%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Wheeling University

  • Location-markerWheeling, WV
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$29,090
  • Out-of-state$29,090
  • Retention Rate46%
  • Acceptance Rate68%
  • Students Enrolled798
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment40%
  • AccreditationYes

How We Rank Schools

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online direct-entry NP programs, making it easy to find a program that meets your needs. Informed by data from the most reputable sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, our methodology is based on metrics that matter most to nursing students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings. This ranking is from 2023.

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in an Online Direct-Entry NP Program

When you need to choose among many online direct-entry NP programs, there are key details about each program that may help you decide which is best for you.

1. Program Tracks and Specializations

Direct-entry NP programs are likely to offer clinical tracks in a variety of NP specialties, but not necessarily every possible specialty. Since you’ll need to choose your specialization before applying, narrow your choices to the programs offering the track you’ve set your sights on.

2. Clinical Experience

Every NP program requires a certain number of training hours in a clinical setting. Some schools have robust clinical placement programs, providing students with assistance finding clinicals. Other programs leave the task of finding and arranging clinical placements entirely up to the student.

Some NP students don’t mind arranging their own clinicals, while some prefer schools that offer high-level support. Do your research and be clear about your preference.

3. Accreditation

Accreditation for NP programs is an important indicator of quality. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education are commonly accepted sources of accreditation for NP programs.

Every NP board certification organization requires graduation from an accredited program to be eligible for the national certification exam; some employers only hire staff from accredited institutions.

4. Program Length

The length of an NP program can vary from 24-30 months full time or about 36 part time. If you need to work while going to school, or if you’re raising children or caring for elderly parents, the length of the program — and whether it’s full or part time — may influence which NP program is best for your lifestyle.

5. Nurse Practitioner Board Certification Pass Rate

The success rate of graduates passing the NP board exams can indicate the quality of education. If a large percentage of a school’s students are failing, perhaps their preparation is substandard.

6. Online Learning Format and Requirements

There are many differences between an online and in-person nursing program. Online learning takes focus and self-direction. Many students like to learn in the comfort of their own home, but others prefer learning in a classroom environment.

Determine if online learning for NP programs is “synchronous,” meaning that classes happen at a specific time and everyone attends online simultaneously, or “asynchronous,” where lectures are recorded and can be watched at any time of day or night. These and other factors will influence your experience.

Access to programs might be another reason to choose online. If you are located in a more rural area, it may be challenging to find a local university with an NP program. An online nursing program may be more accessible.

Why Is Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Program Accreditation Important?

This guide only lists accredited direct-entry NP programs. State licensing boards only license graduates of accredited programs, so an unaccredited program does not prepare you for licensure or for the most valuable nursing certifications.

  • check-circleProgram accreditation ensures that independent professionals have evaluated the program to determine that graduates can safely practice as NPs.
  • check-circleTo become an NP, you must earn a license, which requires graduating from an accredited program.
  • check-circleAccredited schools almost never accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs.
  • check-circleMost federal loans only apply to accredited programs.
  • check-circleUnaccredited programs can waste your time, effort, and money.

Online direct-entry NP programs are where students without a previous nursing degree or experience as a registered nurse (RN) can enter the profession with a master of science in nursing (MSN). These direct-entry MSN-NP programs provide an avenue to professional clinical practice.

Part-way through a direct-entry MSN program, you earn enough credits and gain enough experience to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to receive your license as an RN.

Direct-entry NP programs are considered one of the many types of nursing bridge programs. One advantage of these programs includes the flexibility to engage with prerecorded learning modules and slide decks according to their own schedule.

Program outcomes include a comprehensive education that allows students to sit for the national NP board exam, become licensed as an NP, and seek employment in their chosen specialty as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). You should note that some employers may prefer to hire APRNs with previous clinical RN experience.

Some schools will assist students in finding clinical placement opportunities for hands-on learning, while others may require that students find their own clinical experiences. Clinical hour requirements can vary from 500 hours to as many as 1,000 hours.

Applying to an Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Program

Each online direct-entry NP program may vary in terms of its admission process. But typical admission requirements may include:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. college or university
  • Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2
  • Prerequisite courses completed in the previous five years: anatomy and physiology I & II; general chemistry with lab; microbiology with lab; intro to psychology or sociology; statistics
  • No prior nursing experience required

Paying for Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Direct-entry NP programs can be an excellent investment but also costly, even without travel or room and board costs. When paying for your nursing degree, factors to consider include your current financial situation and savings; program costs, including tuition, books, and equipment; how many hours you can work while studying; program length; and if you can pay in-state tuition rates.

You may be eligible for your school’s financial aid and other nursing financial aid options. Many different organizations, including nonprofits, corporations, foundations, and government agencies, offer nursing grants and scholarships.

You can also get commercial or government loans; many government loans offer student loan forgiveness programs for nurses in exchange for working in an underserved area once you graduate.

What Can You Do as a Nurse Practitioner?

The NP career track is projected to be the second-fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. between 2022-2032, and the median salary for NPs is $125,900, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

With competitive pay and robust job growth, this is an excellent time to enter the nursing field, especially as an NP.

There are many possible NP specializations, such as:

  • starFamily Nurse Practitioner: Focuses on patients across the lifespan and are generally employed in primary care, private practice, and internal medicine settings
  • starAdult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Works with patients from young adults through the elderly; may be certified to work in acute care or primary care; typically requires at least two years of experience as a critical care nurse for admission to the acute care track
  • starPsychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: May work in hospitals, psychiatric institutions, outpatient clinics, substance misuse programs, and private mental health practices; can specialize in patient populations, such as veterans or adolescents

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Direct-Entry NP Programs

question-mark-circleHow long is a direct-entry NP program?

Direct-entry NP programs can range from 24-36 months, depending on whether you attend part or full time.

question-mark-circleHow do I become a nurse practitioner without a nursing degree?

To become a nurse practitioner without a prior nursing degree, you must enroll in a direct-entry NP program. You will then be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN part-way through the MSN program.

question-mark-circleCan you work part time while completing an online direct-entry NP program?

Some programs discourage students from working during an online direct-entry NP program due to the accelerated nature, heavy course load, and clinical training required for successful completion.

However, many employers do require some RN experience before applying.

question-mark-circleWhat is the fastest way to become a nurse practitioner?

The fastest way to become a nurse practitioner is through a full-time direct-entry NP program.

Page Last Reviewed: April 8, 2024

Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.

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