Top Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

9 Min Read Published November 7, 2023
Top Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs 2024

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)  provide an advanced level of care in the hospital or other clinical/healthcare settings. They strive to improve healthcare through evidence-based practice at the individual patient and systems levels. Read on to learn about the top clinical nurse specialist programs.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Fast Facts About Clinical Nurse Specialists

Salary $99,148 per year, $45.81 per hour via Payscale
Program length 1-4 years
Requirements
  • A minimum of two years of nursing experience
  • GRE if applicable
  • Professional resume or curriculum vitae
  • Unencumbered, active RN license in the state of practice

Top Clinical Nurse Specialist Programs

Choosing a CNS program is a very large decision. Nurse.org has compiled a list of some of the best online and in-person programs for 2023. This list takes numerous factors into consideration including location, graduation rate, cost, credit hours, as well as other factors.

1. The University of Texas at Austin 

The Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist program focuses on perspectives of both health restoration and health promotion, while developing skills in case management. This concentration area focuses on physiological and psychosocial theories, concepts, and research underlying self-care and growth needs of individuals. 

  • Tuition: $13,640 per semester
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 1 to 2 years
  • Contact Information: 512-471-7927 or nugrad@nursing.utexas.edu

2. Saint John Fisher College 

Adult/Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist is offered at Saint John Fisher College as well as post-master’s certificate in the same discipline. This program is offered exclusively on campus. 

  • Tuition:  $1,003 per credit 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 2  years
  • Contact Information:  cdonegan@sjfc.edu or (585) 899-3788

3. University of Detroit Mercy

The University of Detroit Mercy offers an Adult-Gerontology CNS. The program is 100% online and offers advanced principles in adult learning for teaching roles. The 2016-20 Detroit Mercy graduating classes achieved a 100% pass rate across the national certification exams for the Adult-Gerontology CNS.

  • Tuition: $1,493 per credit
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: Minimum 3 years
  • Contact Information: 313-993-1828 or gradnursing@udmercy.edu

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

4. Alverno College 

Adult-Gerontology CNS is the only program offered by Alverno College. While a small program, it prepares students to provide advanced care across the age continuum from illness to wellness and from acute care to primary care.

  • Tuition: $1,098 per credit
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Contact Information: 414-382-6000 or admissions@alverno.edu

5. Indiana University -Purdue University - Indianapolis 

The Adult-Gerontology CNS program follows a traditional semester format. Core courses are taught online, asynchronously with the exception of five on-campus lab days for advanced physical assessment. On-campus days are required further into the program. This is important to keep in mind when applying for this program. 

  • Tuition: $607 per credit
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 2 to 3 years
  • Contact Information: (317) 278-5699 or kelblake@iu.edu

6. University of Pennsylvania 

The University of Pennsylvania offers three different Clinical Nurse Specialist tracks including Pediatrics, Neonatal, and Adult-Gerontology. Students can earn an MSN CSN in a year for full-time study while experiencing clinical placements at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Penn Health System, both ranked top in the nation. 

  • Tuition: $45,248 per year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 1 to 3 years
  • Contact Information: (215) 898-8281

Popular Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

9. Johns Hopkins University 

This program allows students to earn their DNP as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, which is considered a terminal degree for the field. There is no part-time option and all students are required to maintain full-time status for the four-year duration of the program. The online DNP CNS track includes three mandatory and two optional course immersions in person. Additionally, Hopkins offers one of the only critical care CNS programs in the country. There are currently three track options: Adult-Gerontological Health, Adult-Gerontological Critical Care, and Pediatric Critical Care.

  • Tuition: $56,340 per year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 4 years
  • Contact Information: 410-955-4766 

8. University of Washington 

The University of Washington offers two DNP CNS programs: Pediatrics and Women’s Health. This is one of only a couple of Women’s Health CNS programs in the country, Offered exclusively as full-time programs, students graduate in 9 semesters and are board eligible. 

  • Tuition: $925 per credit
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Contact Information: 206.543.8736

9. University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee 

Students can earn a DNP CNS terminal degree in three tracks at the University of Wisconsin including pediatrics, women’s health, and adult-gerontology. 

  • Tuition:  $27,045 per semester
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Contact Information: (414) 229-5047 or uwmnurse@uwm.edu

10. Rush University 

Rush University offers three DNP programs for interested students: pediatrics, adult-gerontology, and neonatal. The cohorts are kept intentionally small to optimize clinical placement and classroom experience. 

  • Tuition:  $1,224 per credit 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Program Length: 2 to 3.5  yearsContact Information: elizabeth_m_miranda@rush.edu or (312) 942-7100
How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist >> CNS vs NP >> Highest Paying Nursing Jobs >>

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Clinical Nurse Specialist Program FAQs

  • What qualifications do I need to be a clinical nurse specialist?

    • Individuals must be licensed Registered Nurse with the appropriate bedside clinical experience. This experience is generally between two and five years before gaining acceptance to a CNS program. 
  • How do I become a clinical specialist?

    • To become a CNS, you first must graduate from an accredited nursing program and earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing and pass the NCLEX. Then after gaining the appropriate bedside experience, you will need to apply and gain acceptance to a CNS program with specialization. Finally, individuals must pass the CNS national examination.
  • Are clinical nurse specialists in demand?

    • Yes! With the increasing complexity of patient healthcare needs, the unprecedented reliance on technology, and the urgency to provide a culture of safety for patients and families, the CNS role provides a unique opportunity to meet the healthcare needs of the nation. 
Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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