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Best MSN-to-DNP Online Programs For 2021


Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you a registered nurse who has earned a master's degree in nursing but who is looking for more? Perhaps you want to change your specialty focus or take your career in a new direction and pursue a leadership position. Have you considered the option of an MSN-to-DNP program? Even the busiest of nurses have an opportunity to pursue a terminal degree by enrolling in online MSN-to-DNP programs. If you are interested in earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice but aren't sure how to get started, you have found the right article! As you continue reading, you will be introduced to the best MSN-to-DNP online programs for 2021 and find helpful information, including the classes students take, the clinical requirements, and how much they cost.


What Exactly Is the Goal of an MSN-to-DNP Program?


The goal of Master of Science in Nursing-to-Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, like the accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs featured in this article, is to prepare nurses for advanced practice roles and, as clinical scholars, skilled in the translation of research into evidence-based practice. Goals for these programs are based on projected outcomes that reflect the application and integration of skills and knowledge obtained in the DNP program. Faculty and staff in post-master's DNP programs prepare nursing students to use analytical methods and translational science to identify, develop, implement, and evaluate practices. They instruct students on strategies to improve healthcare and healthcare delivery systems and act as a practicing scholar by designing, directing, and evaluating system changes that promote safe and effective patient-centered care.


What Are the Different Types Of MSN-to-DNP Degree Specialization Options?


One of the great things about nursing is that there are so many specialty options that there seems to be at least one to interest everyone. Students who pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice, like those offered in the MSN-to-DNP online programs featured in this article, may choose one specialty concentration, or decide to pursue dual degrees. Here are a few examples of MSN-to-DNP degree specialization options.

• DNP-Nurse Midwifery: Provides holistic care to women throughout the lifespan,
• DNP-Family Nurse Practitioner: Cares for patients with various degrees of health and illness, from multiple backgrounds and across the lifespan.
• DNP-Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: Uses knowledge and skills to assess, synthesize, and apply theories, research, and clinical reasoning in the treatment of clients, families, and groups who are experiencing mental health disorders.
• DNP-Nurse Leadership: DNPs who specialize in Nurse Leadership are prepared to meet the complex needs within the healthcare environment by using executive leadership skills with a nursing focus.
• DNP-Adult/Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner: Provides services ranging from disease monitoring and prevention to critical care necessary to stabilize the adult/older adult’s condition and prevent complications.
• DNP-Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner: Provides care for pediatric patients and their families across a broad range of primary needs; conducts health examinations, diagnoses illness and diseases, educates family/caregivers on care.
• DNP-Executive Nurse Leader: Functions in an administrative/executive capacity in nursing and healthcare management, focuses on creating and/or redesigning healthcare delivery systems to meet the demands of the healthcare industry and to promote positive patient outcomes.

Some students in MSN-to-DNP online programs may choose to pursue more than one specialty concentration. Dual specialties can be earned one at a time or concurrently, depending on the availability of programs at each school.


What Are the Easiest and Hardest MSN-to-DNP Degree Specializations?


It is probably safe to say that opinions vary about which MSN-to-DNP degree specializations are the hardest or easiest. All DNP programs include core classes, and each discipline has concentration-focused coursework and clinical requirements. The following are a few examples of degree specializations arranged from easiest to hardest.

1. DNP-Family Nurse Practitioner: The DNP-Family Nurse Practitioner specialty is multi-focused as it includes care for patients of all ages across the lifespan. The fact that this concentration targets no specific age group may lead one to believe it is the most difficult. However, it is ranked as one of the easiest because all other DNP degree specializations build upon the knowledge and skills learned in general family care.
2. DNP-Pediatric Primary Care or Adult/Gerontology Primary Care: These two specialties are age-specific. However, because acute or critical care patients are not included in this patient population, they are considered easier than some of the other MSN-to-DNP degree specializations.
3. DNP- Pediatric Acute Care or Adult/Gerontology Acute Care: To be successful in a specialty that focuses on patients who require acute care, you must first understand and be able to implement primary care services. Acute care builds upon the foundational knowledge of primary care and can be more complex than primary care specialty degrees.
4. DNP-Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: The DNP-PMHNP specialty requires in-depth knowledge of normal and abnormal psychology. Complex mental health conditions and psychopharmacology make this degree concentration challenging.
5. DNP-Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: The DNP-CRNA specialty degree also includes large amounts of complex content. Students often complete the clinical component of the program in conjunction with the didactic coursework, which makes for long, emotionally draining days.

When you enroll in accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs, instead of focusing on which specialty is the most complex or the easiest, consider where you want to see yourself in five or ten years or even longer. Then choose a degree specialty that will help you achieve those goals. With proper planning, time management, dedication, and a strong support system, you can succeed in even the most difficult MSN-to-DNP degree specialty.


Which MSN-to-DNP Degree Specialization Should You Choose?


With so many specialization choices, you may find yourself wondering which one is best for you. If so, how do you decide? One thing I always stressed to new students is the importance of making academic and professional decisions based on their own goals by thinking for themselves and making decisions without undue influence. Although you may value the opinions of others, at the end of the day, it is necessary to choose a specialty that you are passionate about. Here are a few things to think about as you select a specialty concentration.

• What role do you imagine for yourself when you think of completing your DNP? For example, do you wish to pursue a career in healthcare leadership, or is a hands-on clinical role more to your liking? Maybe you want to work in academia or be involved in matters of public health. Once you picture yourself in a specific role, you can begin to narrow the list of possible specialties and choose one that fits your goals.
• If you want a clinical role, what patient population interests you most? If you prefer to work with children, the MSN-to-DNP Pediatric Nurse Practitioner role may interest you. Perhaps mental health issues are something you would like to address in your DNP role. The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online MSN-to-DNP program at Florida State University is an option to consider.
• Do you like the idea of working in a leadership position? There are several options for DNPs who hope to become healthcare leaders. A few examples include these featured accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs: George Washington University- Executive Leadership, the University of Arizona- Executive Health Systems Leadership program, New Mexico State University- Population Health Leadership, and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center- Nurse Executive.

Keep in mind, if you have multiple interests, you are not limited to studying only one specialty. A great way to weigh your options is to speak with an academic advisor at any school you are considering attending. They can help you compare the different specialty options their school offers and will help develop an individualized study plan designed to meet your academic goals.


5 Great Advantages of Pursuing An MSN-to-DNP Program


Since you are considering pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice, you may be wondering about the pros and cons of going from a Master’s in nursing to a DNP. In this section, I will share five great advantages of pursuing an MSN-to-DNP program, like the best MSN-to-DNP online programs featured in this article.

1. You will have the personal satisfaction of earning the highest nursing degree possible. What better reason to have a sense of accomplishment and feeling of self-respect than by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice!
2. You can earn a significantly higher income. Registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing earn an average annual salary of approximately $93,000, with entry-level wages beginning at around $70,000. Nurses who achieve a Doctor of Nursing Practice make from $89,000 to over $200,000 yearly, depending on their chosen specialty and years of experience.
3. More career opportunities: Pursuing an MSN-to-DNP program allows you to earn the highest nursing credential, which will expand the scope of your practice and give you access to more career opportunities.
4. Parity with other healthcare professionals: DNP programs, like the accredited MSN-to-DNP programs online featured in this article, provide students with an academic credential comparable to expert healthcare colleagues. It equips you with the knowledge and skills necessary to become an effective leader and contributor within the interdisciplinary team.
5. You will be prepared for leadership roles within the healthcare industry. An MSN-to-DNP program will help you become proficient in the DNP competencies, qualifying you for various roles, including executive or administrative-level positions in healthcare and nursing. DNPs are considered an excellent choice for executive leadership roles because they are experts in clinical practice as well as healthcare delivery, technology, and policy.


On-Campus MSN-to-DNP OR Online MSN-to-DNP Programs: Which One Should You Choose?


As you research post-master's DNP programs, you will find there are many things to consider. From choosing a specialty concentration, deciding on full-time or part-time enrollment, and weighing the option of working while in school or not, there is a lot to think about. One decision is whether you will attend school on-campus or online.

Whether a prospective student has work or family responsibilities, distance learning has become a popular option among adult learners. Here are a few things to consider that may help you decide which option is best for you.

A crucial factor in making the right decision is knowing your strengths and weaknesses? For some students, switching from on-campus to online learning or vice versa is an easy transition. If you are comfortable with independent learning, the option of online MSN-to-DNP programs could be a good choice for you. However, if you learn better when you have face-to-face interaction with instructors or peers, on-campus classes could be a better fit.

We live in a world full of technology, which makes it easier for people who want to pursue a degree online easier. Being successful in an online DNP program means being tech-savvy. If you are familiar with computers but feel you lack the skills needed to succeed in an online class, don't worry. You can always take an introductory computer course to help improve your skills, or you may opt for in-person learning, at least until you can improve your computer skills.

Keep in mind, everyone learns differently. What works for you may not work for someone else. So, like other important decisions, it is essential to choose the learning option that makes you feel most comfortable.


How Long Are Online MSN-to-DNP Programs?


One of the first questions prospective college students have is, "How long will it take me to get my degree?" The length of time a person spends earning a DNP varies from one person or school to the next. Online MSN-to-DNP programs can take from eighteen months to four years or longer to complete. The most significant factor in determining the length of time to graduate is whether a student enrolls in part-time or full-time study.

The following list provides examples of how long it takes to complete some of our featured programs.

Florida State University offers three options for students who wish to enroll in accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. The programs include thirty-five credit hours and may be completed in as few as five semesters or approximately eighteen months.

Students at Emory University can earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice in four semesters of full-time study or seven semesters of part-time study.

Maryville University is home to another of our featured best MSN-to-DNP online programs. Students can choose the non-specialty Doctor of Nursing Practice track and graduate in as few as twenty months or the DNP-Nurse Practitioner and graduate in as little as three years’ time.

The University at Buffalo offers seven specialty options for students in its MSN-to-DNP programs online. The programs are designed to allow students to graduate in five to seven semesters, depending on their program choice.

Baylor University MSN-to-DNP students who choose part-time study typically graduate after completing eight semesters of study. Full-time students can graduate in as few as five semesters.

The University of Connecticut is home to the first Post-Master's DNP program in the state. The program prepares practitioners to practice at the terminal nursing level with a curriculum focused on the eight essential areas specified by the American Association of Colleges of Nurses. Full-time students usually complete the program in five semesters, while part-time students may take six to seven semesters.

Students enrolled in the MSN-to-DNP Adult/Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program at Mercer University can graduate after six semesters. The program involves fifty-five credit hours, including 780 post-master's practice hours.

Marymount University’s online MSN-to-DNP program takes seven consecutive semesters or twenty-eight months to complete.


How Much Do Online MSN-to-DNP Programs Cost?


It takes careful planning to begin and successfully complete a degree. In addition to planning for work and family responsibilities or obligations, financial planning is a must. The best online MSN-to-DNP programs have an average cost between $16,000 and $70,000. Here are a few examples of some of our featured programs and details about tuition costs.

George Washington University offers fixed-rate tuition for its MSN-to-DNP online programs, helping relieve students of unexpected tuition increases. The university is home to three MSN-to-DNP specialty tracks. The DNP: Nursing Practice track requires thirty-six credits. The DNP: Health Policy track requires forty-two credits, and the Executive Leadership track requires 43 credits. With a per-credit tuition rate of $1,395, students spend between $50,220 and $59,985, depending on their specialty concentration.

The online MSN-to-DNP program at the University of Texas Health Science Center is offered in a part-time format and can be completed in as few as eight semesters. The cost of tuition is approximately $16,536.

Students at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas may choose from the Advanced Practice, or Nurse Executive accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs. The Advanced Practice track includes thirty-one credits, and the Nurse Executive requires twenty-three credits. Tuition rates are determined by the student's residence status. Nevada residents pay $375 per credit hour, and non-residents pay $1,269. Depending on the student's chosen track, tuition ranges from $8,625 to $11,625 for state residents and $29,187 to $39,339 for out-of-state students.

DNP students at Grand Valley State University pay $867 per credit hour. The university offers a DNP-Advanced Practice Nursing concentration with three sub-specialty options: Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Child/Adolescent Primary Nurse Practitioner, Adult/Older Adult Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and the DNP: Health Systems Leadership. The programs require between thirty-five and forty-one credits, costing students $30,345 and $35,547.

Brandman University features Family Across the Lifespan Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner MSN-to-DNP programs online. The programs include thirty-three credit hours of coursework at a rate of $1,185 each, totaling $39,105.

At Missouri State University, MSN-to-DNP students pay the same tuition, regardless of state residency status. The program, one of the best MSN-to-DNP programs online, is accredited by the Missouri State Board of Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The average cost of the program's tuition is $20,662.

Tuition at Union University is $980 per credit hour. The MSN-to-DNP tracks require thirty-eight credit hours, including 660 post-master's clinical hours, bringing the tuition total to $37,240.

If you are interested in an MSN-to-DNP online program but are unsure if you can swing the financial obligations, don't give up yet! Speak with a financial advisor at any school that interests you to find out about any programs for which you meet eligibility. Also, many employers offer education programs or scholarships for employees who wish to earn a higher degree. Applying for federal financial assistance or private loans may help offset some of the expenses related to earning the degree.


What Is the Coursework Like In MSN-to-DNP Online Programs?


The curriculum plans for accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs are usually rigorous. Students are, after all, working to earn the highest nursing degree possible. The programs have classes that are concentration-specific, which means two students attending the same school but choosing different specialties may have very different plans of study.

The following are some examples of coursework for some of the programs featured in this article.

The Ohio State University offers two accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs, The DNP-Clinical Expert and the DNP-Nurse Executive. Both tracks require students to complete a minimum of thirty-six post-master's credit hours. The curriculum is categorized into four components: DNP core courses, supporting electives, clinical immersion experiences, and a final scholarly project.

DNP-Clinical Expert Track Sample Coursework:

◦ Quality Improvement for the Doctor of Nursing Practice
◦ Innovation and Leadership Development for the DNP Nurse
◦ Ethics in Healthcare Practice, Research, and Policy

DNP-Nurse Executive Track Sample Coursework:

◦ Nurse Executive Leadership
◦ Informatics for Leadership in Health and Healthcare
◦ Foundations of Evidence-Based Practice

With the choice of ten MSN-to-DNP online programs, the University of Pittsburgh has something to offer any nurse who wishes to pursue a post-master's degree as a Doctor of Nursing Practice. A few programs offered include Health Systems Executive Leadership, CRNA MSN to DNP Nurse Anesthesia, Clinical Nurse Specialist-Adult Gerontology. Students also have the option of a dual practice role by choosing the Public Policy and Management/Doctor of Nursing Practice dual degree program.

Public Policy and Management/Doctor of Nursing Practice (MPPM/DNP) Sample Coursework:

◦ Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Culturally Diverse Populations
◦ Economics for Public Affairs
◦ Database Management
◦ Data Analytics and Clinical Systems Design
◦ Leadership in Complex Systems
◦ Organizational and Systems Management for Healthcare Leaders

Clinical Nurse Specialist Sample Coursework:

◦ Applied Statistics for Evidence-Based Practice
◦ Human Genetics and Clinical Applications
◦ Management: Geriatric Health Theory

The University of Iowa offers several MSN-to-DNP online program options, including Adult-Gerontology Acute OR Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Acute OR Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Health Systems, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Academic advisors perform a GAP analysis to determine how many master’s level courses may be transferred for credit to meet the seventy-two post-baccalaureate semester hours required to complete the programs.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-DNP Sample Coursework:

◦ Advanced Diagnostic and Therapeutic Procedures for Acute Care
◦ Pediatric Acute care I and II
◦ Graduate Pharmacology Specialty
◦ Health Policy, Law, and Advocacy

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Sample Coursework:

◦ Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing for Advanced Practice Didactic I and II
◦ Psychotherapeutics for Advanced Practice Nursing Across the Lifespan
◦ Pathophysiology for Advanced Practice Nursing

Registered nurses who have earned a master’s degree in any focus area may apply for the online MSN-to-DNP program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This program allows MSN-prepared nurses to earn a DNP but does not offer a change of specialty.

MSN-to-DNP No New Specialty Sample Coursework:

◦ Nursing Information Systems and Technology: Supporting Care and Generating Evidence
◦ Leadership, Policy, and Interprofessional Collaboration: Effecting Change in Complex Health Systems
◦ Theoretical Foundations for Evidence-Based Practice

The University of Arizona’s MSN-to-DNP program is available to applicants who have prior certification as a nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or master's prepared nurse with experience in informatics who wish to pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice without seeking a new practice concentration. Full-time students can complete the thirty-five-credit-hour program in eighteen months, while part-time students typically graduate in thirty months.

Sample MSN-to-DNP Coursework:

◦ Health Policy and Economics
◦ Theories of Leadership and Organizational Management
◦ Statistical Inference for Evidence-Based Practice
◦ Philosophy and Theory for the Doctor of Nursing Practice

At the University of Florida, registered nurses who have earned a master’s degree and hold a current Florida or multi-state RN license and active APRN license may apply to the MSN-to-DNP program. The program curriculum includes thirty-five credits and can be completed in five consecutive semesters.

Sample Coursework:

◦ Advanced Topics in Pharmacotherapeutics in Nursing and Genomics
◦ Nursing Informatics and Information Management
◦ Applied Statistical Analysis
◦ Research Methods and Evidence-Based Practice
◦ Health Policy and Finance in Advanced Nursing Practice

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers seven DNP specialization options for prospective students who enroll in one of its accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs. After choosing their specialty focus, students participate in a combination of coursework, supervised practicum hours, and a scholarly project designed to develop expertise and advanced knowledge and skills in leadership, systems, informatics, program evaluation, and policy. Students in one of these post-master's programs must complete at least fifty-one credits. Eighteen credits may be transferred from the student's MSN degree, which means many students may need as few as thirty-two credits to graduate.

Sample Coursework:

◦ Program Planning, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement
◦ Ethics for Advanced Practice in Health Care
◦ Leadership Foundations: The Discipline of Nursing
◦ Evaluation and Application of Evidence-Based Practice

Liberty University has established its DNP curriculum based on guidelines from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Students learn to apply clinical, theoretical, and administrative knowledge and skills and best practices to design and implement solutions to improve healthcare.

Sample Coursework:

◦ Healthcare Operations and Financial Management
◦ Clinical Prevention and Biostatistics
◦ Theoretical Application for Advanced Practice Nursing
◦ Interprofessional Collaboration and Outcomes Management for Quality



Clinical Training


Supervised clinical practice is an essential part of all Master of Sicence in Nursing-to-Doctor of Nursing Practice programs. Each school can establish its guidelines regarding the number of hours students must complete. Although the requirements may vary, it is typical for all DNP students to complete a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours. Many colleges and universities allow students to receive credit for the clinical hours they achieve in an MSN program. However, that decision is solely at the discretion of the school.

The following are clinical requirements for some of our featured MSN-to-DNP online programs.

Students at Grand Valley State University's MSN-to-DNP online program participate in 405 clinical practice hours and 270 immersion hours. Some students receive credit for up to 360 clinical hours from their master’s program, making the total number of clinical practice hours for the program 1,035.

Rush University offers thirteen specialty concentration options for students in its MSN-to-DNP online programs. Admissions faculty perform a GAP analysis for all students and develop an individualized study plan based on that analysis. Students typically complete thirty-two to thirty-six credit hours, depending on their chosen specialty. All DNP students are expected to complete a minimum of 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours. The clinical hour requirement is met by calculating eligible previous clinical hours, DNP/Specialty Practicum, and Immersion hours.

The MSN-to-DNP programs online at Radford University are accredited through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The programs are offered to registered nurses who are certified as Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Leaders, Nurse Practitioners, and Certified Nurse Specialists. All students must complete at least 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours.

At Augusta University, the MSN-to-DNP program is available to master's prepared nurses who are nationally certified as nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, nurse-midwife, or nurse practitioners. The track includes thirty-seven credit hours and is available in part-time or full-time. Additionally, all students participate in a minimum of 524 post-master's clinical hours.

The MSN-to-DNP online program faculty at James Madison University reviews each applicant's official transcripts to determine a study plan tailored to the prospective student's needs. Students complete thirty-one to forty-six credit hours of coursework, depending on previous courses and related practice hours. All DNP students are expected to demonstrate the DNP competencies outlined in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Practice Nursing recommended by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The Essentials indicate that all DNP programs should include a minimum of 1,000 preceptor-supervised post-baccalaureate clinical hours.

Students in the accredited MSN-to-DNP online program at Saginaw Valley State University complete between thirty-four and thirty-six credit hours of coursework and 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours. Students earn at least three hundred sixty practice hours by completing the DNP project.

Simmons University's MSN-to-DNP students receive credit for MSN-level clinical to help them reach the 1,000 hours of required practice-based research and clinical at sites in their home communities or current workplace.


Admission Requirements


As you research available options for MSN-to-DNP online programs, you will find that admission criteria vary somewhat from school to school. Although there are some differences, general minimum admission criteria are relatively constant. Most schools that offer these programs require the following minimum standards to be met.

◦ An applicant must have earned a Master of Science in Nursing from an accredited nursing program.
◦ Show proof of an active, unencumbered license to practice as a registered nurse.
◦ Prepare and submit a Personal Statement/Essay
◦ Provide Letters of Recommendation: Most schools request two or three letters and prefer the letters to be prepared by individuals with at least a doctorate degree. Letter writers should be able to speak to the applicant’s likelihood of success in MSN-to-DNP programs online.
◦ Prepare a Professional Resume or Curriculum Vitae that outlines academic and professional achievements.


Here is a list of admission requirements at some of the featured accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs shared in this article.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the University of Michigan-Flint is recognized for preparing well-trained graduates, having high-quality, respected faculty, and a world-renowned brand, making it one of the best MSN-to-DNP programs online. The post-master DNP track is available to registered nurses with a master’s degree who are already Nurse Midwives, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, Clinical Nurse Specialists, or Certified Nurse Practitioners. Study plans are individualized and include twenty-eight to thirty-one credit hours.

Sample Admission Requirements:

◦ Be a graduate of a Master of Science in Nursing program (with APRN certification) from a regionally accredited institution.
◦ Current unencumbered license as an advanced practice registered nurse
◦ Have an overall undergraduate grade point average of at least a 3.2 on a 4.0 grading scale
◦ Preference is given to applicants with at least one year of experience working as a Registered Nurse

Georgia State University strives to prepare students in its MSN-to-DNP online program who utilize evidence-based knowledge to implement quality improvement initiatives, promote effective patient care, and improve patient outcomes. Students develop knowledge and skills related to leading technology essential for clinical and operational healthcare practices.

Sample Admission Requirements:

◦ Possess a Master of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited nursing program
◦ Cumulative MSN grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 grading scale
◦ Provide documentation of the number of precepted clinical hours or supervised residency hours while enrolled in a master’s nursing program
◦ Submit three letters of recommendation, preferably from individuals with a doctoral nursing degree

The University of North Colorado’s MSN-to-DNP online program is designed for practicing MSN/APNs with flexibility in mind. The program is formatted as a two-year plan of study, including forty-four credit hours, at least 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours, and a DNP Scholarly Project.

Sample Admission Requirements:

◦ Submit official transcripts from each regionally accredited college or university where any degree was earned or is in progress
◦ Be a graduate of an accredited MSN program
◦ Provide a Personal Statement that outlines future interests and goals related to nursing with a two-page maximum
◦ Submit a current curriculum vitae or resume

Andrews University offers accredited MSN-to-DNP online programs with Family Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator specialty. Students in this program complete fifty-six credits

Sample Admission Requirements:

◦ Minimum MSN grade point average of 3.25 on a 4.0 scale
◦ Provide two letters of professional recommendation
◦ Goal Statement (500 words maximum) that identifies an area of focus and how the program will help the student achieve their goals
◦ Complete an undergraduate/graduate Statistics course with a grade of “B” or higher

Applicants who wish to enroll in one of the online MSN-to-DNP programs at Jacksonville University may choose an Advanced Practice or Leadership specialty concentration. The Advanced Practice Track is designed for APRNs who wish to broaden their advanced practice specialties with a clinical focus on populations and individuals. The Leadership Track promotes executive-level skills and is an excellent option for registered nurses and APRNs who work in areas such as administration and academia within healthcare systems.

Sample Admission Requirements:

◦ Submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities ever attended
◦ Provide a Statement of Intent
◦ Submit a copy of your current RN or APRN license
◦ Cumulative grade point average of 3.3 or higher on all nursing coursework (Applicants with a GPA lower than 3.3 may be required to submit GRE/GMAT scores.)

The accredited online MSN-to-DNP program at the New Mexico State University is available to APRNs and non-APRNs who possess a Master of Science degree in Nursing. Students may choose from the MSN-to-DNP with no specialty focus or the DNP-Population Health Leadership focus. The university is also currently developing a DNP-Nurse Anesthesiology degree concentration with a focus on rural health and health disparities, which is targeted to begin in January 2023.

Sample Admission Criteria:

◦ Master's degree in Nursing from a nationally-accredited nursing program
◦ Minimum MSN grade point average of 3.0
◦ Provide verifiable documentation from the MSN program detailing the total number of supervised clinical hours completed
◦ Participate in an admission interview conducted by the program director and/or faculty



Interesting Facts You Need to Know About the Best MSN-to-DNP Online Programs Featured in This Article


It is a good idea to get to know facts about the schools where you plan to apply. Ask questions and get answers. Here are a few facts about some of the MSN-to-DNP online programs featured in this article.

• Liberty University offers rolling admission and eight-week courses making it easy for prospective students to get involved in classes as soon as they are accepted to the program.

• The University of Toledo is a regionally accredited university that has been active since 1872. Although the university is smaller than some traditional four-year schools, it offers many of the same resources as larger schools, including an E-Library and E-Tutoring.

• Emory University has a community of over 14,000 nursing alumni worldwide, over half of which are MSN-to-DNP program graduates.

• George Washington University is a participant of the Yellow Ribbon Program, a provision of the G.I. Bill that provides assistance with education expenses for qualifying veterans.



FOLLOWING ARE THE 50 BEST MSN-TO-DNP ONLINE PROGRAMS IN THE NATION FOR 2021


1. The Ohio State University - Columbus, OH

Concentrations: Nurse Executive and Clinical Expert



2. University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

Concentrations: Health Systems Executive Leadership (Nurse Specialty Role Major), Health Systems Executive Leadership / Master of Public Policy & Management MPPM (joint degree), CRNA MSN to DNP Nurse Anesthesia, Adult-Gerontology, and Nurse Practitioner ( Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan), Pediatric Primary Care, Psychiatric Mental Health, Neonatal



3. University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA

Concentrations: Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Health Systems, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Acute Care, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Primary Care, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



4. University of Illinois at Chicago - Chicago, IL



5. Duke University - Durham, NC



6. University of Michigan-Flint - Flint, MI



7. University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ

Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Executive Health Systems Leadership, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Informatics



8. University of Florida - Gainesville, FL



9. University of Wisconsin-Madison - Madison, WI



10. The George Washington University - Washington, DC

Concentrations: Executive Leadership, Nursing Practice , and Health Policy



11. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston - Houston, TX

Concentrations: Nurse Practitioners/Clinical Nurse Specialists, Nurse Executive, Nurse Anesthetist, and Nurse Informaticists



12. University of Nevada, Las Vegas - Las Vegas, NV

Concentrations: Nurse Executive and Advanced Practice



13.University of Tennessee Health Science Center - Memphis, TN

Concentrations: Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Midwifery



14. Emory University - Atlanta, GA



15. Maryville University - St. Louis, MO

Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



16. Grand Valley State University - Grand Rapids, MI

Concentrations: Advanced Nursing Practice and Health Systems Leadership



17. Rush University Medical Center - Chicago, IL

Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Advanced Public Health Nursing, Transformative Leadership: Population Health, and Transformative Leadership: Systems



18. Brandman University - Irvine, CA

Concentrations: Family Across the Lifespan Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



19. Florida State University - Tallahassee, FL

Concentrations: Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



20. University of Missouri-Columbia - Columbia, MO

Concentrations: Clinical Nurse Specialist - Adult Gerontology, Clinical Nurse Specialist - Pediatric, Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric & Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner- Primary Care, and Nursing Leadership & Innovations in Health Care



21. University at Buffalo - Buffalo, NY



22. Baylor University - Dallas, TX

Concentrations: Executive Nurse Leadership, Family Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Nurse-Midwifery, and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner



23. University of Connecticut - Storrs, CT



24. Seton Hall University - Nutley, NJ

Concentrations: Direct Care-Advance Practice and Indirect Care-Health Systems Administration



25. University of Massachusetts Boston - Boston, MA



26. Radford University - Radford, VA

Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Leadership, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



27. Augusta University - Augusta, GA

Concentrations: Post-Master's DNP (No Concentration) and Nurse Executive



28. Creighton University - Omaha, NE

Concentrations: Nursing Administration & Leadership



29. East Tennessee State University - Johnson City, TN

Concentrations: Executive Leadership, Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner



30. Northern Michigan University - Marquette, MI

Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner



31. University of Louisville - Louisville, KY

Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner



32. University of North Florida - Jacksonville, FL

Concentrations: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and Generic Post-MSN to DNP



33. Kent State University - Kent, OH



34. University of New Mexico - Albuquerque, NM

Concentrations: Clinical and Nurse Executive Organizational Leadership



35. The College of Saint Scholastica - Duluth, MN



36. James Madison University - Harrisonburg, VA



37. Georgia State University - Atlanta, GA



38. University of Northern Colorado - Greeley, CO



39. Clarke University - Dubuque, IA



40. Liberty University - Lynchburg, VA

Concentrations: MSN to DNP and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner



41. Mercer University - Atlanta, GA

Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and DNP (Post-masters) - No Concentration (Generalist)



42. Marymount University - Arlington, VA



43. Union University - Jackson, TN

Concentrations: Executive Leadership, Nurse Anesthesia (For Licensed CRNAs), and Family and Family Psychiatric-Mental Health



44. Andrews University - Berrien Springs, MI

Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner



45. Jacksonville University - Jacksonville, FL

Concentrations: Advanced Practice and Leadership



46. Mississippi University for Women - Columbus, MS



47. New Mexico State University - Las Cruces, NM

Concentrations: Population Health Leadership



48. Saginaw Valley State University - University Center, MI



49. Simmons University - Boston, MA

Concentrations: Nurse Leader



50. University of Toledo - Toledo, OH


View Ranking Methodology



What Kinds of Career Opportunities Exist For MSN-to-DNP Graduates?


The nursing industry involves a diverse group of professionals with a broad range of skills and knowledge specific to their chosen specialties. Graduates of accredited MSN-to-DNP programs find career opportunities based on their degree specialization. Here are a few examples of career opportunities for graduates of these programs.

• Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Specializes in the care and treatment of newborn infants affected by complex health issues including prematurity and congenital abnormalities; may work independently in specialty practice or hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
• Clinical Nurse Specialist: May provide direct patient care and serves as an expert consultant for nursing staff; has an active role in improving healthcare delivery systems and promoting positive patient outcomes; often work in management positions and may develop policies and procedures independently or as part of an interdisciplinary team.
• Chief Nurse Executive: Is typically involved with advising leaders and senior management about matters regarding best nursing practices; may help establish compensation plans, create retention programs, manage nursing budgets, and represent nurses on corporate levels.
• Health Policy Expert: Evaluates potential and current policies regarding health and healthcare within communities and organizations; has a primary objective to understand how current healthcare policies currently affect society and the possible outcomes of future healthcare policies.
• Healthcare Entrepreneur: Uses knowledge, training, and medical experience to create and develop independent businesses within the healthcare industry; relies on the use of business systems, creativity, problem-solving skills, and successful investing to promote effective healthcare services.
• Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: Is responsible for administering anesthesia to patients who will undergo medical procedures; performs assessments before administration of anesthesia, during the procedure, and during recovery; works in collaboration with an anesthesiologist and the interdisciplinary care team.


Where Do MSN-to-DNP Graduates Work?


Much the same as MSN-to-DNP graduates have various job titles, they work in diverse settings, as well. A Doctor of Nursing Practice may work in a specialty practice, hospital, home health or hospice, correctional facility, public health, or academia. Some DNPs work for state or federal government agencies, act as healthcare lobbyists or perform clinical research. The great thing about the nursing industry, especially for those with a DNP, is that the foundational knowledge and skills can be used in various positions making flexibility and versatility possible.


How Many Hours Do MSN-to-DNP Graduates Work?


The number of hours MSN-to-DNP graduates work depends on the type of job they have and whether they are employed part-time or full-time. Part-time employees may work twenty to thirty hours each week, while full-time employees typically work forty. Schedules may vary from one type of facility to another. For example, graduates of online MSN-to-DNP programs may work in an administrative position and work a typical 8-to-5 schedule during the week. Others may work in clinical roles requiring split shifts, extended shifts, or rotations.


Average Salary For MSN-to-DNP Graduates


One of the perks of earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice is the income potential. MSN-to-DNP graduates earn from $89,000 to more than $220,000, depending on their chosen specialization. As reflected in the chart below, Nurse Researchers and Assistant Directors of Nursing are on the lower end of the earning scale but still earn handsome salaries. Certified Nurse Anesthetists, Chief Nursing Officers, and Chief Executive Officers earn higher wages, ranging from $188,000 to $220,000.

Many employers offer benefits packages that can be worth thousands of dollars. These packages may include benefits such as paid vacation or sick leave, employer-matched retirement plans, insurance, and continuing education stipends. Additionally, with continued experience, most DNPs can expect pay raises. Of course, the amount of the raise and frequency are at an employer’s discretion, but they are certainly worth mentioning.

APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) $60.53 $125,910
2 Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP) $60.92 $126,710
3 Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) $52.07 $108,300
4 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) $90.61 $188,470
5 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) $56.27 $117,050
6 Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) $56.00 $116,490
7 Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) $58.30 $121,270
8 Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PACNP) $54.55 $113,460
9 Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP) $59.97 $124,730
10 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) $65.37 $135,970
11 Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) $54.96 $114,320
Non-APRN Specializations Per Hour Per Year
1 Assistant Director of Nursing (ADON) $44.57 $92,700
2 Chief Nursing Informatics Officer $58.09 $120,830
3 Chief Nursing Officer $72.06 $149,880
4 Clinical Nurse Educator $49.51 $102,990
5 Dean Of Nursing $48.84 $101,580
6 Director Of Clinical Operations $54.55 $113,470
7 Director Of Nursing $48.84 $101,580
8 Hospital Chief Executive Officer $110.26 $229,350
9 Nurse Researcher $43.10 $89,650


What Is the Job Outlook Like For MSN-to-DNP Graduates?


On June 11, 2021, the Association of American Medical Colleges published data that suggested the United States could see a shortage of physicians between 37,800 and 124,000 by 2034. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that a lack of nursing faculty at nursing schools across the United States limits student capacity. These factors, coupled with society's increased awareness of the importance of preventive medicine, an aging baby-boomer population, greater incidence of acute and chronic illnesses and disease, and global health issues such as COVID-19 and the opioid crisis, suggest the need for well-equipped healthcare professionals has never been more dire. This data is a strong indication that the job outlook for DNP graduates, like those who complete online MSN-to-DNP programs, is quite promising.


The Bottom Line


If you have reached a place in your nursing career where you are ready to pursue a terminal nursing degree and earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice, the best MSN-to-DNP online programs for 2021 are a great place to get started. With good income making potential and a favorable job outlook, this could be a perfect time to begin your journey toward a DNP.


Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.