Best Online DNP Programs in 2023

The highest-paid specialization in nursing is the certified registered nurse anesthetist, which has a mean hourly wage of $98.93 or a median annual wage of $203,090 (BLS, 2022). To become one, you should have a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, which is the highest level of education available for practice-based training in nursing.

As a nursing practitioner, you can advance your career by taking the best online DNP programs. Upon completion of a DNP program, graduates are equipped to assume leadership positions in healthcare organizations, engage in advanced clinical practice, influence healthcare policy, and contribute to the improvement of healthcare systems.

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In this guide, you will find all the essential information that you need to know about online DNP programs as identified by the team. We have also identified the top DNP programs offered by colleges and universities today so we can help you choose the best program that fits your advanced nursing practice plans.

Best Online DNP Programs in 2023 Table of Contents

  1. What is a DNP program?
  2. What to Look for in an Online DNP Program
  3. What are the requirements for an online DNP program?
  4. What can you do with an online DNP degree?
  5. Top Online DNP Programs

What is a DNP program?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program is a terminal professional degree program designed for registered nurses (RNs) who wish to advance their knowledge and skills in the field of nursing practice. Although a universal DNP standard is yet to be implemented, the DNP is considered the highest level of education in nursing practice, emphasizing the application of evidence-based practice, leadership, and advanced clinical expertise.

Between 2015 and 2022, the total number of registered nurses with a DNP increased from 0.6% to 1.6% of all registered nurses (Journal of Nursing Regulation, 2021). The primary goal of an online DNP program is to prepare nurse leaders and advanced practice nurses to address complex healthcare challenges and improve patient outcomes.

The doctor of nursing practice online curriculum typically focuses on areas such as advanced nursing theory, healthcare policy, healthcare economics, quality improvement, advanced clinical practice, and leadership and management principles. It is distinct from a research-focused doctoral degree in nursing, or a PhD, which is more oriented towards generating new knowledge through research and preparing nurse scholars for academic and research roles.

DNP programs often offer specialized tracks or concentrations to cater to specific areas of advanced nursing practice, such as nurse anesthesia, nurse practitioner, nurse midwifery, psychiatric-mental health nursing, and more. These programs usually include a combination of coursework, clinical practicum experiences, and a scholarly project or a doctoral capstone project.

How long does it take to complete a DNP program?

The length of time required to complete online DNP programs can vary depending on various factors, including the program structure, enrollment status, and individual circumstances. Generally, DNP programs can be completed in 3 to 4 years of full-time study. Part-time options may be available, which would extend the duration of the program.

The specific curriculum of the online DNP program, as well as any prerequisites or additional requirements, can also influence the program’s duration. There are different DNP tracks available, including BSN to DNP, MSN to DNP, MS to DNP, and direct entry. Based on the 2022 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, among DNP graduates in 2022, 57% took the MSN to DNP track while 13% took the BSN to DNP track (AACN, 2022)

Some online DNP programs may have a more intensive or comprehensive curriculum, while others may offer flexibility in course sequencing or allow students to transfer credits from previous graduate coursework, which can impact the overall timeline.

How much does an online DNP program cost?

Costs of online nursing doctoral programs can vary widely depending on several factors, including the institution offering the program, its reputation, program structure, and other factors such as residency status and additional fees. The team checked the cost per credit of selected institutions offering online DNP programs. If you enter an online DNP program with a BSN degree, you have to complete a portion of the master’s curriculum so the cost will range from $26,490 to $254,260.  If you enter a DNP program with a completed MSN, the average cost of the DNP program will range from $17,660 to $169,510.

It is also important to consider additional expenses beyond tuition, such as fees for technology, textbooks, course materials, and clinical requirements. Some programs may have additional costs for clinical practicum or residency experiences, which may require travel and accommodation expenses.

Financial aid options, scholarships, and grants can help offset the cost of tuition. It’s advisable to explore the availability of financial aid programs, scholarships specifically for nursing students, and any assistantship or fellowship opportunities that may be offered by the institution or external organizations.

Source: AACN 2022

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What to Look for in an Online DNP Program

When choosing an online DNP program, several important considerations can help you make an informed decision. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Accreditation. Ensure that the DNP nursing degree you are considering is accredited by a recognized accrediting body. Accreditation ensures that the program meets quality standards and prepares you for professional practice. To date, 341 DNP programs have been accredited by CCNE (AACN, 2022).
  • Specialization options. Determine if the program offers the specialization or focus area that aligns with your professional goals and interests. Some specializations include health policy, family nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse health practitioner. Consider the available tracks or concentrations and assess whether they provide the depth and breadth of knowledge you seek in your advanced nursing practice.
  • Clinical Experiences. Assess the clinical placement opportunities of the program and ensure they align with your career goals. Consider the quality and variety of clinical settings available, the availability of preceptors, and the support services provided in arranging the online nursing degree programs clinical placements.
  • Cost and financial aid. Consider the cost of the program, including tuition, fees, and other expenses. Research the availability of financial aid, scholarships, or assistantship opportunities that can help alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a DNP degree. In most accredited institutions, financial aid is provided for DNP students in the form of a partial scholarship and federal loans.
  • Flexibility and schedule. Consider the structure and schedule of the online DNP program. Determine whether it is offered on a full-time or part-time basis and if it can accommodate your current work or personal commitments. The advantage of online programs is that it offers flexibility in terms of location and scheduling. In 2020, online DNP programs were 66% of all DNP programs (AACN, 2022).
  • Program outcomes and graduation rates. Review the outcomes of the online DNP program, such as graduation rates, certification exam pass rates, and employment rates of graduates. These indicators can give you insights into the effectiveness of the curriculum and the success of its graduates.

What is the difference between a DNP and a Nursing PhD?

The DNP is a practice-focused degree that emphasizes advanced clinical practice, leadership, and evidence-based practice. It prepares nurses for roles in advanced practice nursing, healthcare leadership, policy advocacy, and improving healthcare outcomes. Online DNP programs aim to enhance the clinical knowledge and skills of advanced practice nurses, emphasizing the application of evidence-based practices to improve patient care and outcomes. In 2022, among registered nurses, 0.9% took nursing a PhD program while 1.6% took DNP (Journal of Nursing Regulation, 2023).

The PhD nursing programs online, on the other hand, is a research-focused degree that emphasizes the generation of new knowledge through scientific research and scholarly inquiry. It prepares nurses for roles in academic teaching, research, and leadership in the field of nursing. PhD programs in nursing focus on research methodologies, data analysis, and scholarly writing. They equip nurses with the skills to conduct independent research, contribute to the development of nursing theory, and advance the scientific knowledge base in the field.

Why is accreditation important in an online DNP program?

When planning to enroll in online DNP programs, it is crucial to choose those that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) to ensure that you receive a quality education, meet eligibility requirements for certification and licensure, and maximize your professional opportunities. Accreditation ensures that the program meets or exceeds specific standards of quality and educational rigor. It provides assurance that the program has undergone a comprehensive evaluation by an external accrediting body and has been found to meet the established criteria for delivering high-quality education.

Accreditation adds credibility and recognition to the DNP programs online and the degree earned. Accredited programs are generally recognized and respected by employers, professional organizations, and licensing boards. Many advanced practice nursing roles require certification, such as nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist certifications. Accreditation is often a prerequisite for certification eligibility, even in direct entry MSN programs and online masters in nutrition programs. Certification boards typically require applicants to have completed an accredited program to ensure that graduates have received a quality education.

total DNP programs accredited by CCNE

What are the requirements for an online DNP program?

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of nursing doctoral programs specifically DNP increased from 13 to 156, which is more than tenfold. And from 2010 to 2013, the total number of DNP programs climbed from 156 to 254 (AACN, 2023). While there is an impending shortage among nurses due to their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, this career path is still being pursued by many healthcare practitioners.

The specific requirements for an online DNP program can vary depending on the institution offering the program. However, here are some common requirements you may encounter:

  • Undergraduate or graduate degree. Applicants typically need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from an accredited program. Some programs may accept applicants with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) if they offer a BSN-to-DNP pathway. If you’ve completed a 6 month LPN program online or the best accelerated nursing program, inquire with the school about what you should need to do or submit to qualify. Specific GPA requirements may vary, just as the definition varies when identifying what is a BSN and its concentrations. Based on a 2022 survey of DNP graduates, 57% earned their MSN before taking the DNP program while 13% had a BSN (AACN, 2022).
  • Transcripts. Applicants must provide official transcripts from all previously attended colleges and universities, demonstrating completion of the required nursing degrees, which are either BSN, MSN, or other related degrees.
  • RN license. In the US, there are nearly 4.2 million registered nurses in 2022 (AACN, 2022). Applicants must hold a current, active, and unrestricted registered nurse (RN) license in the jurisdiction where clinical experiences will occur. Some programs may also require applicants to hold an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license.
  • Work experience. Programs may require applicants to have a certain amount of clinical experience as a registered nurse or advanced practice nurse. The required work experience can vary but is typically at least one to two years, which is typical even for those who have a public health degree.
  • Letters of recommendation. Most programs require letters of recommendation, typically from healthcare professionals who can speak to the academic abilities of the applicant, clinical competence, and potential for success in a doctoral program.
  • Personal statement or essay. Applicants often need to submit a personal statement or essay explaining their career goals, reasons for pursuing the DNP degree, and how the program aligns with their professional aspirations.
  • Resume. A current CV or resume is typically required, outlining the applicant’s educational background, work experience, certifications, professional memberships, research or scholarly activities, and any leadership roles.
  • Interviews. Some online DNP programs may require applicants to participate in an interview as part of the application process. This may be conducted in person or remotely via video conferencing.

Source: American Association of Critical-Care Nurses 2023

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Get personalized degree recommendations that will help you find a program that will match your goals and dreams.

The website is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.

What can you do with an online DNP degree?

From 2020 to 2021, total number of practitioners enrolled in DNP programs increased from 39,530 to 40,834 (AACN, 2022). Earning an online DNP can open up a wide range of career opportunities and leadership roles in nursing and healthcare. In fact, based on a study, the primary reason for seeking a DNP degree is to gain knowledge, skills, competencies, and confidence in performing advanced nursing practice.

Here are some potential career paths and roles you can pursue with a DNP degree:

  • Advanced Practice Nurse. With a DNP degree, you can become an advanced practice nurse (APN) in various specialized roles such as a nurse practitioner (NP), nurse anesthetist (CRNA), nurse midwife (CNM), or clinical nurse specialist (CNS). As an APN, you will provide advanced and specialized healthcare services, diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, and manage patient care.
  • Healthcare Consulting. DNP-prepared nurses can work as healthcare consultants, providing expertise and guidance to healthcare organizations. They may assist with quality improvement initiatives, process optimization, implementation of evidence-based practices, and organizational change management.
  • Public Health. DNP-prepared nurses can contribute to public health initiatives and population health management. They can work in public health departments, community health organizations, or global health agencies, focusing on preventive care, health promotion, disease prevention, and addressing public health challenges.
  • Nursing Leadership and Administration. A DNP educational leadership degree prepares you for leadership and management roles in healthcare organizations, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. You can pursue positions such as nursing director, chief nursing officer (CNO), nurse manager, or healthcare executive. These roles involve overseeing nursing departments, developing and implementing policies, managing budgets, and ensuring the delivery of high-quality care. MSN MBA dual degree programs may also lead students to this role.
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy. DNP-prepared nurses are well-positioned to influence healthcare policy and contribute to the development of healthcare systems. You can work in government agencies, professional organizations, or policy think tanks to advocate for healthcare reform, shape healthcare policy, and improve access, quality, and equity in healthcare.

increase in number of practitioners enrolled in DNP programs

Top Online DNP Programs

The team evaluated the DNP online programs of various institutions and identified the following top online DNP programs based on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (ANA) essentials call for a transition to competency-based education (ANA, 2023). These online DNP programs are also accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is officially recognized as a national accreditation agency by the U.S. Secretary of Education. CCNE is an independent accreditation agency that contributes to the development of public health.

The following online doctorate in nursing programs provides the best curriculum for advanced practice.

Georgetown University – Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Georgetown University School of Nursing (GUSON) integrates advanced nursing science with organizational leadership and ethics to prepare nurses to improve patient care delivery in an increasingly complex healthcare system. The online, distance-based DNP programs emphasize ethical leadership and prepare students to enhance the accessibility and quality of care for underserved populations. GUSON offers a post-master’s DNP, designed for APRNs or nurses in advanced nursing positions with a master’s degree.

The BSN to DNP program is intended for registered nurses who already possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The post-master’s DNP program is intended for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) or nurses who are already working in advanced nursing roles and have a master’s degree.

Saint Mary’s College: Doctor of Nursing Practice

Saint Mary’s College offers a predominantly online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. By combining the student-centered approach of Saint Mary’s with a curriculum that includes courses on data analytics and social entrepreneurship, you will be prepared to devise solutions to unmet healthcare needs and lead meaningful change in a complex system.

The DNP program offers two tracks which include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP). Upon completion of the program, regardless of course, you will be eligible for licensure as a nurse practitioner. Due to the program’s emphasis on social entrepreneurship, you will graduate prepared to make a difference in the lives of patients, whether you’re assuming a leadership position, operating within an existing healthcare setting, or running your own clinic.

Bradley University: Online Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is just one of the programs offered by Bradley University. Among the programs accredited by the CCNE are the master’s degree program in Nursing and the Post-Graduate APRN Certificate program. The DNP program of Bradley University prepares nurses to do more than expand clinical leadership and expertise. Nurses taking up the program are trained to lead change, innovate, and educate the next generation of nurses.

BSN entry courses include Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP, Family NP, and Psychiatric Mental Health NP, while the Leadership Program is an MSN entry course.

Northern Illinois University: Doctor of Nursing Practice

The DNP program of Northern Illinois University helps nursing professionals advance in their careers by providing the training needed to become leaders in their profession. NIU offers various degree paths towards earning a DNP, for both bachelor’s and master’s degree holders.

The online DNP program allows students to study at their own pace. Clinical placements and internships is automatically coordinated by the preceptor coordinator by leveraging partnerships with local health organizations. There are also dedicated scholarship funds for qualified students.

Maryville University: Doctor of Nursing Practice

The online Doctor of Nursing Practice program offered by Maryville University is for both advanced practice nurses who have completed their MSN and want to pursue leadership positions, and also for those who wish to become a nursing practitioner while earning their DNP program.

Ideal for experienced nurses, the DNP program is for those who want to advance their careers by earning the highest credential in nursing practice education. There are five nurse practitioner specializations to choose from which can be earned in as little as 20 months.

Source: American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2021

Online DNP Program: Making Advanced Nursing Practice Accessible

Most advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) which include nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and certified RN anesthetists have a DNP. As a nurse, earning a DNP offers more opportunities for career advancement. It also lets you develop expertise in advanced clinical practice that only a few practitioners get to master.

The demand for healthcare services will continue to grow, and so is the need for advanced practice nurses to meet these needs and participate as key members of healthcare teams. As millions of Americans gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the nursing career path will continue to grow. Now is the best time to earn your DNP so you take part in providing this crucial service to communities. Carefully choose among the top DNP programs and start your journey toward a rewarding career.



Find The Best Degree Match

Get personalized degree recommendations that will help you find a program that will match your goals and dreams.

The website is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.