The Best Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs Online

by NurseJournal Staff

Direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs are designed specifically for non-nurses. Learn more and explore some of the top-ranked programs.

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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but finding a primary care physician to provide that preventive care can prove challenging in many areas of the country. States and healthcare organizations have turned to other independent medical providers, including nurse practitioners, to serve on the front lines of patient care. Researchers have found that nurse practitioners account for more than a quarter of primary care providers in some rural areas, and that number continues to grow as physicians seek more lucrative careers in urban areas or specialize in high-demand fields.

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Demand for well-trained advanced practice nurses in all specializations remains high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 31% growth for all nurse practitioner jobs through 2026, with a median salary of $103,880. Nurse practitioners may provide primary care services or specialize in areas of pediatrics, psychiatry, or emergency care. Direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs for non-nurses allow for expedited entry into this exciting career. Read on to learn about the educational requirements for state licensure, typical course requirements, and financial assistance resources.

Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs Overview

Admission requirements, prerequisite courses, credits required for graduation, and clinical experiences will vary among different direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs. Also, the licensing and practice requirements for nurse practitioners differ from state to state. Be sure to carefully evaluate your state’s licensing requirements and choose schools that meet the educational standards for the location in which you plan to practice.

What is a Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Program?

Many nurse practitioner programs cater to students who have worked as a registered nurse and have earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As the need for more advanced practice nurses grows, schools have designed direct-entry programs that allow career changers to complete a rigorous and comprehensive nursing education without the need to start from square one with a bachelor’s degree.

Programs welcome applicants with undergraduate degrees in subjects other than nursing; however, schools often require students to complete prerequisite courses in anatomy, biology, and statistics before beginning their master’s coursework. Clinical practice remains a critical component of these programs, and distance students should plan on completing these requirements at healthcare facilities near their home.

Admission Requirements for an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs for non-nurses require students to demonstrate academic ability through standardized test scores and undergraduate GPA requirements. Though these programs welcome students from all academic fields, potential nursing students should plan on completing prerequisite classes before delving into advanced nursing courses.

Admission to nurse practitioner programs remains competitive. One admission requirement, the personal essay, offers students an opportunity to share their reasons for pursuing a nursing career and their professional goals. Additionally, schools will often require a resume as well as professional and academic letters of recommendation. While some programs may require completing some healthcare training and licensure, others do not.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Program?

Once students have completed any prerequisite courses, they can expect to spend two to three years in their direct-entry online nurse practitioner program, with additional time after for supervised practice. The time needed to graduate varies depending on the curriculum and individual school requirements, as well as the amount of time students can commit to their studies each semester. Most schools require 68 to 72 credits, and many accelerated programs require full-time attendance. Some institutions allow students to progress at their own pace by allowing them to take additional classes each semester.

Other schools offer cohort programs with all students progressing through the curriculum together. Cohort programs allow students to build strong personal and professional bonds with their classmates but often follow a regimented course sequence that does not allow for additional classes. Some programs may prepare students to earn their registered nurse license after one year and allow them to work as nurses while completing their coursework.

Explore the Best Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs and Schools

Northeastern University View School Profile Boston, MA

Candidates searching for direct entry nurse practitioner programs for non-nurses online should look at Northeastern University. The school’s master of science (MS) in direct entry nursing allows learners to earn a bachelor’s after 64 credits. Candidates can then pursue their registered nurse (RN) license by passing the National Council Licensure Exam. Learners will gain full-time experience as an RN but may enroll in nonclinical classes during this time with approval.

Candidates then complete four semesters to earn their MS in one of seven specialties, including neonatal, psychiatric mental health, and primary care practice. This master’s requires 36-42 credits, depending on the focus, and prepares degree seekers for the National Certification Exam in their specialization.

Prerequisites for admission include chemistry, microbiology, and statistics classes and a bachelor’s. Candidates need a 3.0 GPA and must submit recommendation letters and a personal goal statement.

Concentrations Offered for a Direct-Entry Online Nurse Practitioner Degree

Family Nurse Practitioner

In family practice, the nurse practitioner assumes a primary care role for children and adults in the family. Health promotion, preventative care, and chronic disease management comprise the bulk of the practice, as well as diagnosing and treating common illnesses. Clinical practice often takes place in primary care physician offices and includes patient assessment, intervention, and community nursing.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Family Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners specialize in the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of a variety of mental health conditions. These specialists may work in inpatient or community mental health facilities and provide care to individual patients or through group therapy. Treatment may include medication management in addition to other psychotherapeutic therapies.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric nurse practitioners provide primary care services to patients from birth through age 18. They educate parents on topics of child development, nutrition, parenting, and disease prevention, in addition to treating common childhood illnesses and providing annual well-child checkups. These practitioners may encounter any number of illnesses during their careers, so preparation includes an interdisciplinary approach to medical care. Often, they work in cooperation with a pediatric physician.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Example Courses for Online Direct-Entry Nurse Practitioner Programs

Required courses vary from school to school and often depend on the selected concentration. The classes below represent general courses that many programs offer as part of the nursing foundation coursework, and some schools may include clinical or practicum experiences. Online students should work with their teachers and nursing school to arrange for supervised hands-on learning opportunities in facilities close to your home.

  • Pharmacology: This course, which covers how medications interact with disease and organ systems to treat patients, provides practical application of biology and chemistry principles. Students learn the characteristics of major classifications of drugs and how to evaluate the risk versus benefit analysis to effectively and safely treat patients.
  • Epidemiology: With a focus on the research and analysis of disease frequency and distribution form the core of epidemiology courses, students use critical-thinking skills to devise appropriate research methodology and interpret data using qualitative and quantitative tools. The course often includes researching particular public health concerns, such as infectious disease, genetics, or disease risk factors.
  • Pathophysiology: Students use their knowledge of human anatomy and physiology to evaluate disease symptoms and progression caused by the disruption of normal body functions. Students consider biological, environmental, and genetic theories on the cause and mechanisms of selected disorders and determine effective treatments to block or reverse disease progression.
  • Differential Diagnosis: This course combines the theories of classes such as pathophysiology, anatomy, and pharmacology and helps students apply that knowledge to diagnosing patients and creating a treatment plan. Instructors may use a variety of case studies as part of the course and ask students to evaluate symptoms to uncover the underlying condition.
  • Healthcare Policy: Healthcare includes complex systems and regulations. This course examines issues such as ethics and law, economics, effectiveness, and public demand. Students analyze historical approaches to healthcare regulation and delivery, as well as contemporary issues, such as the impact of repealing elements of the Affordable Care Act or how public health initiatives improve outcomes in a population.

Internship Component

All direct-entry online nurse practitioner programs include required clinical experiences, with accrediting boards requiring at least 500 hours of direct hands-on learning. Clinical rotations may include a variety of practice areas, but students who plan to set their focus on a specialty area should expect to spend much of their required internship hours working in their chosen field. Students work under the direct supervision of a nurse practitioner who serves as a mentor and a teacher to evaluate their work and offer suggestions for improvement.

Online students can arrange to complete these hours at facilities near their home. Clinical experience provides prospective nurse practitioners the chance to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained during their education and their ability to treat patients with respect and dignity.

Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse: Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Most states require candidates to complete a master’s or doctoral-level nurse practitioner program and attain entry-level certification from a national agency. Some states also require nurse practitioners to hold a registered nurse license before they apply as a nurse practitioner. Applicants must have a background check and pay any licensing fees.
  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Graduates of accredited nurse practitioner programs may sit for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) exam and certification as a family nurse practitioner. The entry-level certification includes 150 questions covering patient assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning and evaluation, and competency with common family nurse practitioner procedures.
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner: The AANP offers this national certification in emergency medicine. The exam measures competency for nurse practitioners in the care of all ages of patients, from prenatal through frail elderly. Students must demonstrate the ability to screen and diagnose patients in addition to effectively managing their treatment and understanding the legal and ethical obligations and practices. Applicants must have documented 2,000 clinical practice hours as a family nurse practitioner in the past five years, completed a postgraduate degree in emergency care, or completed an approved fellowship.

Accreditation for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Many states and professional organizations require students to complete their education at a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Both organizations offer an independent review of a school’s curriculum, faculty, facilities, and student performance. State licensing boards rely on accreditation to ensure applicants have studied courses essential to providing quality patient care.

In addition to specialized nursing accreditation, schools should also have earned regional or national accreditation. While several national accreditation bodies have formed, regional accreditation agencies remain the oldest and most recognized in the field. Students planning to transfer credits or continue their studies at a higher degree level should ensure their school holds institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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Job and Salary Outlook

Job Opportunities for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners often find work in healthcare settings as part of an integrated care team that includes physicians, nurses, case managers, and other professionals. They may work in physician offices, hospitals, inpatient skilled nursing facilities, or outpatient rehabilitation centers. Twenty-one states allow nurse practitioners to practice without physician oversight in private practice. Some nurse practitioners may also teach at the university level or work in medical research, as both occupations may offer full-time positions or part-time work to supplement their full-time career.

MSN or DNP Required
High Demand

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners treat a variety of patients for acute or chronic conditions, ordering tests, prescribing medication, and evaluating responses to treatment. Depending on state licensing laws, they may work in cooperation with a physician or an independent provider.
Salary $92,790-$127,030*
Job Outlook 52% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Nurse Practitioners
MSN or DNP Required
High Demand

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

With a specialization in psychiatric medicine, these advanced practice nurses assist patients in the management of a variety of mental health disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, or schizophrenia
Salary $120,000*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
MSN or DNP Required
High Demand

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

These specialists may provide preventative care to women in addition to offering family planning and prenatal care. They often handle routine health screenings and may coordinate care plans with a physician.
Salary $93,020*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners
MSN Required
High Demand

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

These nurse practitioners may work in walk-in clinics, urgent care, or private practice environments. They evaluate patients’ symptoms to recommend treatment or further testing and referral to a specialist.
Salary $120,000*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Acute Care Nurse Practitioners
MSN Required
High Demand

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Pediatric specialists work exclusively with children from infancy through adolescence. They offer treatment of common childhood illnesses in addition to educating parents on child development, necessary immunizations and health checks, and management of chronic conditions.
Salary $81,410-$152,160*
Job Outlook 52% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
*SOURCES: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey, PayScale, American Association of Nurse Practitioners

How Much Do Nurse Practitioners Make?

Demand for nurse practitioners remains high across multiple industries such as physician offices and consulting services. The industry you choose to work in can impact your annual salary significantly. As the table below shows, the field of personal care services offers the highest median wage, while physician offices, one of the most popular employers for nurse practitioners, offers a lower median salary.

Nurse Practitioner Salaries by Workplace Setting
Industry Annual Mean Wage
Personal Care Services $139,460
Physician Offices $105,730
Outpatient Care Centers $111,690
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $111,850
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services $132,200

Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

Nurse practitioners must complete ongoing continuing education (CE) throughout their careers. CE is required for state licensing and ensures that providers stay up to date on changes in research and treatment opportunities. Professional organizations offer the option to complete CE courses through webinars, seminars, and conferences, in addition to networking with other nurse practitioners, participating in leadership roles, and taking part in outreach efforts. Membership can enhance your resume and offer access to job boards and professional development services.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners: AANP helps nurse practitioners stay up to date on advances in healthcare, changes in legislation and regulation, and professional development resources. In addition to receiving access to free CE modules, members enjoy discounts on insurance and conference fees.

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners: This organization offers 50 chapters across the county (including an e-chapter), with additional special interest groups devoted to specific health concerns. Members may attend conferences, take part in CE courses, and receive the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health: NPWH advocates for the profession in both national and state legislative bodies. Members receive access to a variety of resources and self-study materials for CE, as well as weekly updates on policy, healthcare, and industry news.

Financing Your Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Earning a master’s degree from a direct-entry online nurse practitioner program represents an investment of time and money. Financial aid options include grants and student loans, often available at low-interest rates through the ED. Many communities offer grant or tuition assistance programs to students who commit to practicing in high-need or medically underserved areas, and the federal government offers several loan forgiveness programs for nurse practitioners meeting practice requirements.

Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. Not only does the federal government rely on this form when awarding grants or setting loan terms, but many state and school programs also use the information to determine financial aid awards.

Scholarships for Nurse Practitioner Students

Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: This competitive scholarship, awarded by American Addiction Centers, assists students pursuing a mental health or substance abuse training program at the undergraduate or graduate level. Full-time and part-time students must have a 3.2 GPA or higher and submit a first-person essay.

Amount: $2,500-$5,000

AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: This scholarship gives special consideration to students enrolled in graduate classes, including accelerated nursing programs. Students must be enrolled at an American Association of Colleges of Nursing member school and submit letters of recommendation, awards and honors, and published articles. The organization presents awards quarterly.

Amount: $2,500

Tylenol Future Care Scholars

Who Can Apply: Students must be enrolled in a health education program, including nursing, with one or more years remaining. Employees of Johnson & Johnson and related affiliates, as well as their dependents, may not apply. The committee considers college academic record, community or volunteer service, and the content of a personal essay.

Amount: $5,000-$10,000

NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Students must be citizens of the United States and enrolled in or accepted to an accredited nursing program. The program bases awards on financial need. In exchange for funding, recipients agree to work at approved facilities in areas experiencing a critical shortage of healthcare providers upon their graduation.

Amount: Amount varies

F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled or accepted in accredited graduate programs to become a healthcare provider may apply for this program. Recipients agree to serve one year of active duty as an officer for each year of educational support.

Amount: Full tuition and a monthly stipend

Madeline Pickett (Halbert) Cogswell Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution awards two scholarships annually to students enrolled in accredited nursing schools. Students must be members, descendants of members, or eligible for membership in the DAR.

Amount: $2,500

A Nurse I Am

Who Can Apply: Cherokee Uniforms awards this annual scholarship to students attending an accredited school of nursing. The application includes a 300-word essay with a new prompt each year. The program seeks to encourage new nurses to enter the healthcare field.

Amount: $2,000

Stephanie Carroll Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care offers this annual award in memory of a NADONA employee. Students must attend an accredited nursing school with a focus on geriatrics. The application includes an essay, and recipients must commit to practicing in a long-term care facility for two years.

Amount: $2,500

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