How Long is Nurse Practitioner School?

Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC

Being a Nurse Practitioner is a highly sought-after role for both employers and aspiring healthcare professionals. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the nurse practitioner demand to grow by 26% between 2018 and 2028 and reporting an average nurse practitioner salary of $115,800 per year it’s no surprise that it’s such as popular career choice. So how long is nurse practitioner school? Well, this depends on where you’re starting from, what your end goal is, and how much time you have to devote to it. There are multiple different ways to become a nurse practitioner depending on your current level of education and professional experience, and nurse practitioner program length can get pretty individualized. Here we will cover the different pathways to becoming a nurse practitioner and how long it will take you to get there.

Nurse Practitioner Programs: What You Need to Know?

Do you have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and are looking to switch careers to become a nurse practitioner? Or are you a seasoned nurse who is hoping to use your expertise to provide the next level of care to your patients? Whether you are new to nursing or have enough experience to precept new grad RNs with your eyes closed, there is a nurse practitioner path for you. Most nurse practitioner programs offer an online option or component and you can choose part-time or full-time depending on your personal desires. Keep in mind that even if you do an online program you will still need to make time for in-person clinical training. Depending on your specialty and degree you will be required to complete between 500 and 1000 hours of supervised hands-on clinical care during your education. Sometimes this means having to juggle 24 hours of clinical care per week on top of classes. While this may seem daunting, most programs offer part-time and full-time options as well as online components. This means that you have the luxury of tailoring your nurse practitioner schooling to your needs. Admission requirements for nurse practitioner school will vary depending on the school and program, but check out our admissions and prerequisites guide for different degree programs to get an idea of what you will need.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Nurse Practitioner Degree?

→ RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner Program Length

Prior to the BSN, the RN diploma (or associates degree in nursing) was the highest level of training for nurses. Now the BSN has become the standard level of education for many institutions hiring nurses. Even if you have 20 year’s experience you may be finding that you need to take your education to the next level. But what if you don’t want to stop at a BSN and want to sue your skills and experience to be a nurse practitioner? Fortunately for you, there are RN to MSN programs that train you as nurse practitioner. You’ll complete the courses you would have done if you did an RN to BSN program and then also complete the necessary courses to graduate with your MSN. Your curriculum will likely include classes such as advanced pharmacology, advanced health assessment, statistics, advanced pathophysiology, research methods, clinical decision making, and didactic courses specific to your specialty (or population focus). You can view the curriculum for Simmons University as an example. One of the most common questions soon-to-be students ask when applying for RN to MSN-NP programs is, “how long do you have to go to school to be a nurse practitioner?” Whether you decide to be a family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP), neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), or pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) you can expect your RN to MSN nurse practitioner program to be about 30 to 36 months full time or 36 to 48 months part-time. Remember, you’ll also be required to complete supervised hands-on clinical training specific to your specialty during this time. Some schools will coordinate your clinical placements for you, while others require you to find your own.

Here are some examples of RN to MSN programs:

Southern New Hampshire University RN to MSN Online Program
Simmons University RN to MSN Online Program
Chamberlain University RN to MSN Program
The University of Arizona RN to MSN Online Program

→ BSN to MSN Nurse Practitioner Program Length

If you have already earned your BSN and want to become a nurse practitioner, then an MSN degree is the next step for you. This is the more traditional path to becoming a nurse practitioner, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier! You can expect your time to be occupied with coursework and clinical experiences that will prepare you to care for patients at the advanced practice level. Now that you’ve earned your BSN you may be asking yourself, how long does nurse practitioner school take? This can vary, but typically BSN to MSN programs are about 15 to 24 months full time or 24 to 48 months part-time. Some of this depends on the school and what they offer their BSN students. For example, Boston College has an option where eligible BSN juniors can begin taking MSN courses during their senior year and complete their MSN during one additional academic year. Keep in mind that your courses will vary a little based on your specialty, but nurse practitioner program length for different specialties will likely be the same. Entry into MSN programs is competitive, and you will likely need a BSN GPA of 3.0 or above, glowing letters of recommendation, and will likely have to take the GRE. Check out Duke University to see an example of an FNP curriculum.

Here are some other examples of BSN to MSN programs:

University of California BSN to MSN Program
Western Governors University BSN to MSN Online Program

→ Direct Entry MSN Nurse Practitioner Program Length

Are you ready for a career change? Do you want to be a nurse but are hoping to provide care at the level of the nurse practitioner? The great news is that you can do this WITHOUT spending time earning your BSN first. Direct Entry MSN programs are designed for people who have their bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and want to become a nurse practitioner. If this sounds like the program for you be sure to check out some school’s websites as the programs can vary in length and entrance requirements. Pre-requisites are required for almost all direct entry MSN programs. You will likely need to have taken classes in science fields such as biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, statistics and more, so make sure you know what you need to complete before you apply. So how many years of schooling is required to become a nurse practitioner? On average nurse practitioner program length when doing a direct entry MSN program will be about 20 to 24 months full-time or 24 to 48 months part-time. Some programs like Northeastern will require you to work as an RN for a couple years during the program which makes it a little longer. This is not the norm, but just make sure to check what your curriculum will look like so you’re not caught off guard after applying.

Here are some other examples of Direct Entry MSN programs:

Georgetown University Direct Entry MSN Program
Johns Hopkins University Direct Entry MSN Program
Regis College Direct Entry Online MSN Program

→ BSN to DNP Nurse Practitioner Program Length

The doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) degree has become the terminal degree for nurse practitioners. With the complex nature of the US healthcare system, various healthcare authorities have been re-working how healthcare professionals need to be educated and trained. If you have your BSN and want to be a nurse practitioner at the highest level of education, a DNP may be the degree for you. Like BSN to Ph.D. programs you will likely earn your Master’s degree along the way, however, a DNP is geared more towards clinical practice whereas a Ph.D. is geared more towards research. Not only will you complete course work and clinical experience to practice as a nurse practitioner in your chosen specialty, but as a DNP nurse practitioner, you may also be better trained to engage in nursing leadership, evidence-based practice, and quality improvement. You will have the flexibility and training to work in nursing management, direct clinical care, teaching, and more. Admission requirements often involve you taking the GRE exam and having completed your BSN with a 3.0 GPA or above. Some programs (but not all) like the University of South Alabama require some prior nursing experience. In addition to filling out the application, you will likely need to obtain letters of recommendation and copies of previous transcripts. Nurse practitioner program length for a DNP degree after earning your BSN will take between 3 to 4 years full-time or 4 to 7 years part-time.

Here are some examples of BSN to DNP programs:

University of South Alabama Online BSN to DNP Program
Vanderbilt University BSN to DNP Program
University of Virginia BSN to DNP Program

→ MSN to DNP Nurse Practitioner Program Length

If you have already earned your MSN and are a practicing nurse practitioner but are looking to get that terminal degree in clinical practice, then look no further than an MSN to DNP program. With your background as a nurse practitioner, you will be able to continue your clinical work and be faculty at a university once you earn your DNP. Additionally, you may have the opportunity to add a specialty onto your nurse practitioner training. For example, if you are an MSN educated FNP and wish to also be trained as a WHNP, you may have the option of adding this on during your DNP training depending on your school. DNP trained NPs are required by credentialing bodies to complete 1000 hours of supervised hands-on clinical care which is more than you needed during your MSN, so you can expect this to be a part of your education as well. However, most programs will honor the clinical hours you completed while earning your MSN so you may only need to complete an additional 400 to 500 hours. MSN to DNP programs typically take about 1-2 years full time and 2 to 4 years part-time. If you’re adding on an additional specialty it may take a little longer.

Here are some examples of MSN to DNP programs:

Sacred Heart University MSN to DNP Online Program
Regis College MSN to DNP Online Program
University of Minnesota MSN to DNP Program

→ Post-Master's Certificate Nurse Practitioner Program Length

As we all gain more experience in our personal and professional lives it is only natural that our passions will evolve. Seeing certain clinical cases may have sparked your interest in a different type of nurse practitioner specialty. Does this mean you need to spend your time and money earning another master’s degree? Definitely not! You are already a qualified nurse practitioner and many of the courses you took during your MSN are not going to change between specialties. Post-Masters certificate nurse practitioner programs enable you to get the educational and clinical training to switch specialties. Admission requirements involve you having an MSN degree and providing past transcripts. Additionally, you will likely need to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and provide letters of recommendation as well as a professional reference. While you have already completed clinical hours for your MSN, you may need to complete additional hours in your new specialty to earn your post-master’s certificate. Please refer to individual programs for exact requirements. Completing your post-masters certificate nurse practitioner program will take between 12 to 16 months full-time and 16 to 24 months part-time.

Here are some examples of post-master’s certificate nurse practitioner programs:

Vanderbilt University Post-Master's Certificate Nurse Practitioner Program
University of California San Francisco Post-Master's Certificate Nurse Practitioner Program
The University of Texas Post-Master's Certificate Nurse Practitioner Program

Conclusion: So, How many Years of Schooling will you Need to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

It depends! How long nurse practitioner school takes is up to you. Your educational and professional background as well as whether or not you want to study part-time or full-time all influence how long your journey to being an NP will be. To be a nurse practitioner you are required to earn at least an MSN and most programs require a GRE test score and a bachelor’s GPA (where applicable) of 3.0 or above. Additionally, depending on your program type you may need to take certain perquisites. Be sure to do your due diligence before application deadlines roll around so that you know what you need to do to apply and see our blog section for more nursing advice!

Frequently Asked Questions Answered

What is the fastest way to become a nurse practitioner?

There is no fastest way for everyone to become a nurse practitioner. That being said, to be a nurse practitioner you will need a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in nursing at the very least. With this information in mind, doing a BSN to MSN program may be the fastest…especially if you have the option to complete your MSN in 1 year after your BSN.

Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.