The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

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Updated December 14, 2022

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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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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Credit: Nitat Termmee / Moment / Getty Images

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are key players in 21st-century healthcare. As a fast-growing group of skilled, in-demand healthcare providers, the prospects for finding a well-paying position as a nurse practitioner 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 path as an NP have much to be optimistic about.

If you have a bachelor's degree in another discipline and have decided that becoming a nurse practitioner is a smart career move, 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 nurse practitioner.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online direct-entry nurse practitioner 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 6 Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

  • 1. Cedarville University
  • 2. Saint John Fisher College
  • 3. Regis College
  • 4. American International College
  • 5. Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi
  • 6. Wheeling University


Learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing a program or go straight to our ranking of the best online direct-entry nurse practitioner programs.

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 for both the exam process and clinicals 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.

Featured Online NP Programs

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

This guide only lists accredited direct-entry nurse practitioner 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.

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

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

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

#1 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Cedarville University

  • Cedarville, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cedarville University offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) that integrates a Christian perspective in its nursing curriculum. The program requires 41-44 credits, including a class in the biblical and theological foundations for graduate study. Students must complete 600 clinical hours. Degree-seekers also complete four on-campus experiences during their clinical specialty courses. Learners can enroll full time or part time.  

  • Program: MSN - family nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Cedarville, OH
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $623 per credit 
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 36 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 83.2% first-time pass rate 
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $56,530 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Tuition
In-state
$31,122
Out-of-state
$31,122
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
79%
Students Enrolled
4,302
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#2 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Saint John Fisher College

  • Rochester, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Saint John Fisher College, a Catholic-sponsored school established in 1948, offers several direct-entry nurse practitioner programs. One option includes an online master of science in nursing (MSN) with a primary care family nurse practitioner concentration. Online learners complete 600 clinical rotation hours locally. The program requires one pre-clinical immersion. 

  • Program: MSN
  • Campus: Rochester, NY
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,003 per credit 
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; current RN license; one year of current experience in a clinical setting; currently employed as an RN in a clinical setting
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 94.6% first-time pass rate 
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $95,740 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Tuition
In-state
$34,340
Out-of-state
$34,340
Retention Rate
88%
Admission Rate
64%
Students Enrolled
3,618
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
13% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#3 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Regis College

  • Weston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Based in the Boston area, Regis College offers a direct-entry nurse practitioner (NP) program. Unlike most direct-entry NP programs, this Catholic college does not require GRE scores or on-campus residencies. Learners can complete the program fully online. Students can transfer up to nine credits from a regionally accredited institution. 

  • Program: MSN - family nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Weston, MA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • Tuition: $990 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 28 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.2% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $86,620 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Tuition
In-state
$42,650
Out-of-state
$42,650
Retention Rate
89%
Admission Rate
79%
Students Enrolled
3,194
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#4 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

American International College

  • Springfield, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

American International College serves over 2,800 students. The school offers several high-demand graduate programs, including a fully online master of science in nursing (MSN) designed for working RNs. The 46-credit MSN with a family nurse practitioner concentration accepts applications throughout the academic year. Enrollees begin this direct-entry NP program in the fall semester.

  • Program: MSN
  • Campus: Springfield, MA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $800 per credit 
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; personal interview
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 88% first-time pass rate 
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $67,600 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Tuition
In-state
$36,930
Out-of-state
$36,930
Retention Rate
69%
Admission Rate
65%
Students Enrolled
2,891
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
18% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#5 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi

  • Corpus Christi, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Part of the Texas A&M University system since 1989, A&M-Corpus Christi offers a family nurse practitioner degree. The program prepares students for the national certification exam in this advanced nursing specialty. Learners complete this 49-credit master of science in nursing (MSN) degree part time. The program runs fully online. During a culminating capstone, enrollees complete clinical practice in multicultural and rural settings. 

  • Program: MSN - family nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Corpus Christi, TX
  • Type: Public 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $9,976 annually for Texas residents; $21,728 annually for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92.8% first-time pass rate 
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $104,450 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Tuition
In-state
$4,719
Out-of-state
$14,695
Retention Rate
60%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
11,452
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
33% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#6 The Best Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Wheeling University

  • Wheeling, WV
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Established in 1955 as a Catholic institution, Wheeling University offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) that prepares students for careers as advanced practice family nurse practitioners. Designed for working RNs, this direct-entry NP program runs fully online. Students can complete their clinical rotations locally. 

  • Program: MSN
  • Campus: Wheeling, WV
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $550 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
Average Tuition
In-state
$29,090
Out-of-state
$29,090
Retention Rate
46%
Admission Rate
68%
Students Enrolled
798
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
40% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

How Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs Work

Online direct-entry nurse practitioner 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 a registered nurse.

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 nurse practitioner 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 as little as 500 to as many as 1,000 hours.

Applying to an Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Program

Each online direct-entry nurse practitioner 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 nurse practitioner 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 nurse practitioner career track is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. between 2021-2031, and the median salary for NPs is reported to be $120,680, according to 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 a nurse practitioner.

There are many possible NP specializations, such as:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Focuses on patients across the lifespan and are generally employed in primary care, private practice, and internal medicine settings
  • Adult-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
  • Psychiatric 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


How 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.

How 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.

Can 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.

What 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: November 8, 2022

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


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