Top RN to DNP Programs

9 Min Read Published November 7, 2023
Top RN to DNP Programs 2024

If it’s your goal to take on a leadership role in a healthcare organization while providing advanced clinical care, pursuing your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree may be right for you.

RN-to-DNP programs are a fast track to earning your doctoral degree, allowing entry to the advanced coursework required by the rigorous DNP programs without already having earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). 

Depending upon whether you continue working while pursuing your degree or you choose to take courses on a full-time basis, you can go from Registered Nurse to earning your doctorate in three-to-six years.

Fast Facts About DNPs

Salary reports that nurses who hold a DNP earn an average base salary of $112,000 or $55.99 per hour.
Program length 3-6 years, depending on education level,  program, and how fast the student completes their coursework.
  • ADN, BSN or MSN degree

  • RN license

Top 10 RN-to-DNP Programs

Ranking RN-to-DNP programs is not an exact science: The school that is right for one prospective student may be absolutely wrong for another. With that in mind, we’ve based our ranking on the objective measures that we feel will be most relevant and helpful to you. 

Each program included in the list below is accredited and offers high-quality academic outcomes. Other criteria include:

  • Cost of attendance

  • Program length

  • Admission requirements

  • Clinical placements

  • Ranking according to U.S. News & World Report

  • Any additional accolades that the program has received

1. Johns Hopkins University

Topping the U.S. World News and Report’s list of top DNP programs, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing provides BSN- and post-BSN-degree RNs with the knowledge and skills they need to provide top-quality advanced clinical practice in multiple areas of specialization, as well as leadership within their organization. 

There are three- and four-year plans available, as well as online options. Johns Hopkins does not offer a part-time study plan for the DNP tracks. Students who are enrolled in the 4-year plan may be able to work in the first year as a Registered Nurse in settings that offer flexible scheduling. However, once you are in the specialized course and working on your capstone DNP Project you will not be able to maintain employment. 

  • Application Deadline: 
    • Early: November 1st 
    • Priority: January 15th

  • Tuition: $1,939 per credit hour
  • Credit Hours: 78 

  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

  • Contact Phone Number: (410) 955-4766

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

2. Emory University

Recognized as a national leader in nursing education, the Emory School of Nursing’s DNP program prepares students to lead health and healthcare improvements in healthcare systems, non-profits, public health, and policy. 

Its eight different specialty tracks can be earned in 2.5 years, and all but the Family-Emergency NP specialty are available for both full-time and part-time students.

  • Application Deadline: 
    • Round 1: August 1st
    • Round 2: October 16th
    • Round 3: December 15th

  • Tuition: $20,653 per semester or $1,721 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 74

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (404) 727-7980

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

3. Duke University

Duke University’s Doctor of Nursing program is available to registered nurses with an earned Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Graduates become nurse practitioners and are awarded both an MSN and a DNP degree.

The program is offered as a part-time, distance-based, online program with attendance at on-campus activities required for some courses. DNP projects can be conducted where you work.

The program is offered as a part-time, distance-based, online program with attendance at on-campus activities required for some courses. DNP projects can be conducted where you work. Most students are able to complete this program in two years. 

  • Application Deadline: December 1st

  • Tuition: $15,563 per semester (part-time tuition)

  • Credit Hours: 35

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (877) 415-3853

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

4. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt School of Nursing offers Registered Nurses with BSN degrees entry into their DNP program track for Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner/Emergency Nurse Practitioner, or the option of earning their MSN degree with a seamless transition into the DNP Program. Students in the BSN to DNP track will complete the program in 8 semesters while post-master’s DNP will have a track specialized to their experience and previous education. 

The school is included in the top ten of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report DNP rankings. Students attend the DNP intensive every semester throughout the program, as well as specialty block sessions for specialty clinical courses.

  • Application Deadline: 
    • Early: October 15th then rolling admissions

  • Tuition: $1,939 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 65

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (615) 322-3800

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

5. Rush University

Rush University’s Doctor of Nursing Program offers several specialty tracks for advanced practice nursing. These programs are available on a part-time or full-time basis, with most courses offered online. 

Rush University was included in the U.S. World News and Report’s list of top DNP programs. The program can be completed in three and a half years for part-time students and two and a half years for full-time students.

  • Application Deadline: October 2nd

  • Tuition: $1,286 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 62-71

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (312) 942-7100

  • Email Information:

6. Ohio State University

Ohio State University’s BSN to DNP program provides its graduates with a DNP degree, a master’s degree, and eligibility for certification in one of several advanced practice specialties, including Nurse Midwifery, Primary or Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Acute or Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Family, Neonatal or Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. 

All specialties are available on-campus and a few are also available online, while all DNP coursework is completed online. The program can be completed in three years as a full-time student or in four years as a part-time student.

  • Application Deadline: March 1st

  • Tuition: $972.50 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 72

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (614) 292-8900

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

7. University of Pittsburgh 

Ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report’s 2023 Best Nursing Grad School, the University of Pittsburgh’s RN-to-DNP program offers multiple tracks with full-time and part-time options leading to certifications as Clinical Nurse Specialist, Health Systems Executive Leadership, Nurse Anesthesia, Nurse Midwife, and Nurse Practitioner. 

  • Application Deadline: 

    • Priority: February 15th 

    • Final: May 1st

  • Tuition: 

    • Full time: $14,633 per semester

    • Part time: $1,190 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 74

  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Phone Number: (412) 624-4586
  • Email Information:
  • Online Options Available: Yes

8. University of Maryland

The University of Maryland’s RN-to-DNP program is ideal for BSN-degreed nurses interested in a career as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse anesthetist.  

Students are able to specialize in one of eight areas of patient care and will graduate prepared for board certification. 

  • Application Deadline: December 1st

  • Tuition: 
    • Resident: $26,820
    • Non-Resident: $44,051
  • Credit Hours: 80-93 credit hours

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (410) 706-0501 (option #2)

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

9. University of Washington

All University of Washington’s DNP tracks are offered on a full-time basis only. Year one of the program is offered in a 50% in-person, 50% distance learning hybrid format with students required to be on campus one day per week. Core DNP academic classwork is completed with DNP peers across all DNP tracks. 

Year two focuses on track-specific advanced practice nursing foundations and requires in-person attendance with some courses including distance learning methods. 

In the final year, DNP candidates continue clinical training and work with a supervisory committee to complete a DNP final project in collaboration with a local clinical agency or organization.

  • Application Deadline: January 15th

  • Tuition: $944 per credit hour

  • Credit Hours: 93

  • Accreditation: CCNE

  • Contact Phone Number: (206) 543-8736​

  • Email Information:

  • Online Options Available: Yes

10. University of Florida

All of the University of Florida’s RN-to-DNP classes are taught in an online format with periodic required campus visits, in addition to clinical placements within the state of Florida. Specialty tracks offered include Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Dual Pediatric Acute and Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.

  • Application Deadline: February 1st
  • Tuition: $448.73 per credit hour
  • Credit Hours: 75-78
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Contact Phone Number: (352) 273-6400
  • Email Information:
  • Online Options Available: Yes

RN to DNP Program Overview 

Though every school offering an RN-to-DNP program has its own philosophies and goals, there are certain universal aspects that you can expect no matter which program you choose to attend. 

Nurses who have graduated from a Doctor of Nursing Practice program have the education and clinical training necessary to provide advanced practice nursing and to take on leadership positions in the facilities where they work. 

Programs will provide graduates with the following foundational competencies:

  • Practice skills 
  • Organizational and systems leadership for quality improvement and systems thinking
  • Clinical scholarship and analytical methods for evidence-based practice
  • Information systems/technology and patient care technology for the improvement and transformation of healthcare
  • Healthcare policy for advocacy 
  • Interprofessional collaboration for improving patient and population health outcomes
  • Clinical prevention and population health for improving the nation’s health
  • Advanced nursing practice

Application Requirements:

To be accepted to an RN-to-DNP program, applicants will need to have the following:

  • Active RN license in the state your clinicals will take place in
  • Minimum 1-year nursing experience (preferred); some clinical focuses may require a minimum of 2 years of experience 
  • Completed school application with the applicable fee
  • CV/resume
  • Original goal statement or personal essay 
  • Official transcripts sent to the school
  • Prerequisite courses that generally include statistics and natural sciences (some schools also stipulate certain courses must be taken within the last 5 years)
  • Minimum 3.0-grade point average (varies based on program)
  • Three personal letters of recommendation, with at least one from a current supervisor 
  • In-person or phone interview may be required
  • Additional testing may be required for international students 
  • GRE scores may be required
  • Some schools require pre-statistics course within the last 10 years with a minimum 3.0 GPA

Program Cost

The cost of attending an RN-to-DNP program depends upon many variables including, 

  • Reputation of the program 
  • Quality of the faculty
  • Number of specialty tracks offered
  • Program is offered by a private or public institution
  • Online versus hybrid versus in-person instruction
  • Full-time or part-time attendance


While every RN-to-DNP program is different and there will be variations in curriculum based on what track each student is pursuing, there are some fundamental classes that will be included by every school’s faculty, as well as an average of at least 500 clinical hours that need to be completed. Didactic classes include:

  • Evidence-Based Practice 
  • Informatics
  • Statistics
  • Quality Improvement in Nursing
  • Patient Safety
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Care Economics
  • Systems Management
  • Healthy Policy
  • Legal Issues in Nursing
  • Each DNP program also requires the completion of a DNP project. 

FAQs About RN to DNP programs 

What is the fastest DNP program? 

The fastest DNP programs are those that are available for RNs who have already earned their Master of Science in Nursing. Those who already hold MSN degrees are able to complete online DNP programs with as few as 30 additional credits in just over a year’s time.

Do DNPs make good money? 

DNP-degreed nurses receive generous salaries. Though their pay scale depends upon where they work and in what field, most DNPs earn over $100,000 per year.

Can a DNP be called a doctor? 

Though DNPs are officially doctors of nursing and can explain their credentials to patients, most prefer to be called by their name, and some states prohibit professionals outside of Medical Doctors (M.D.s) from referring to themselves as doctors.

Is DNP School Hard?

DNP school is challenging. Students need to be dedicated to their future and the future of nursing.  The curriculum requires that students learn the material covered in the classrooms and that they apply themselves to their clinical practice, but with diligence, you will be able to complete the program and move on to a bright future

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer
Terri Heimann Oppenheimer Contributor

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is a freelance writer and editor who is driven by details. She loves to dive into research, ensuring that the information she provides educates, engages and illuminates. Before starting her own business she spent years working in advertising and raising three kids. Today she lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where her she and her husband enjoy travel, the Jersey Shore, and spoiling their grandchildren.

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