November 3, 2020

Top Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

Nurse Practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses who enjoy the respect of their peers, the admiration of their patients, and an extremely high level of job satisfaction. 

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner requires a significant investment of time and effort. The position requires a minimum of a master’s degree level of education, and it is becoming increasingly common for Nurse Practitioner students to choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. 

If you are beginning to explore becoming a Nurse Practitioner, you likely have many questions about which programs will provide you with the best education and position you for the greatest level of success. 

Top Nurse Practitioner Programs for 2021

School Graduate Nursing Degrees Offered Number of Full-Time Faculty Number of Graduate Nursing Students Tuition 
Johns Hopkins University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 84 788 $1,688 per credit
Duke University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 83 828 $1,838 per credit
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 93 330 $20,352 in-state full time, $41,670 out-of-state full time
University of Pennsylvania Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 102 712 $44,376
Emory University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 93 566 $1,906 per credit
Ohio State University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 95 941

$973 per credit in-state full time, $2,447 per credit out-of-state full time

University of Pittsburgh Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 88 333

$920 per credit in-state full time, $1,098 per credit out-of-state full time

University of Washington Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 80 554

$17,556 per year in-state full time, $30,345 per year out-of-state full time

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 100 394

$1,326 per credit in-state full time, $2,721 per credit out-of-state full time

Vanderbilt University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 140 892 $1,642 per credit

*Source U.S. News and World Report

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Nurse Practitioner Programs: DNP vs. MSN 

One of the first and most important decisions you need to make before applying to a Nurse Practitioner program is whether to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. 

Each can lead to the same job title, but the additional doctorate-level credentials can make a significant difference in the position and type of organization you work within, your marketability, the respect you receive from physicians and other professionals, and the salary that you can earn. 

While obtaining your DNP degree is being encouraged by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties as the appropriate minimum education for nurse practitioners, candidates for Nurse Practitioner education also need to weigh the additional investment of time and money that the terminal degree carries. 

MSN vs DNP Considerations 

Nurse Practitioners who have earned a DNP degree earn approximately $8,000 more per year than do those who choose the MSN degree program.

Why Get a DNP?

  • DNP-degreed nurses have more opportunities for advancement and are looked to for their expertise in practice improvement and innovation in the delivery of care.
  • DNP-degreed nurses are more likely to be promoted into positions of leadership within their organizations. 
  • DNP programs include much of the same coursework and clinical specialization education as MSN programs, with an additional curriculum that is focused on leadership and health policy.

Why Get an MSN?

  • It takes approximately two more years to earn a DNP degree than an MSN degree
  • The additional schooling required to complete a DNP degree is likely to cost approximately $30,000 more per year in tuition. 

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How Long Does it Take to Earn a DNP Degree vs an MSN Degree? 

The amount of time that it takes to earn either of these Advanced Practice Registered Nurse degrees depends initially upon the level of education that the nurse has already achieved. 

Starting Level of Education Time to Earn MSN Time to Earn DNP
Baccalaureate degree (No Nursing Experience) 4-5 years  6-7 years
Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) 3-5 years 5-6 years
Bachelor's of Science in Nursing 2 years 3-4 years
Master of Science in Nursing -- 2 years

Every candidate must begin with an active Registered Nurse license in order to even apply to a program, but RNs can have either an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)

Some applicants may have a baccalaureate degree without having taken nursing classes, in which case an additional year of prerequisite courses will be required no matter whether they pursue the MSN or DNP degree. 

For those Registered Nurses who have their Associate’s Degree in Nursing, the course work required to earn an MSN will take three to five years, while the DNP will take five to six years to complete. 

For those Registered Nurses who have their bachelor's degree in nursing, earning an MSN will take two years, while the DNP will take three to four years. 

Nurses who have already earned their MSN and who wish to earn a DNP can complete the required course work in two years. 

What Will You Learn in a Nurse Practitioner Program? 

Nurse Practitioner programs offer core courses that are applicable to all areas of advanced practice nursing care, as well as classes geared towards individual specialization areas that students designate as their area of concentration and professional focus.  

These are taught through a combination of classroom hours and clinical hours, with an approximate ratio of three hours of clinical training for every one hour in the classroom. 

Clinical hours are offered through rotations through various sites affiliated with the program, though online students who are removed from their selected program’s physical location may coordinate clinical experience through their employer.


The core courses offered include: 

  • Physical assessment and diagnostic reasoning
  • Evidence-based nursing practice
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Healthcare policy and advocacy
  • Advanced physiology across the lifespan
  • Population health in a global society
  • Quality improvement and safety in healthcare systems

Concentration-focused classes will provide additional specifics such as those appropriate for geriatric patients, family health, pediatrics, women’s health, family health, psychiatric/mental health patients, and other specialty areas. 

Those pursuing a DNP degree will take additional coursework focused on topics including ethics, practice leadership, and research design and methodology. 

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Can You Earn a Nurse Practitioner Degree Online? 

Remote learning has become increasingly popular, and online NP degrees at both the MSN level and the DNP level are offered through many of the country’s top Nurse Practitioner programs. 

This has allowed nurses to continue to work and support or care for themselves and their families while at the same time furthering their education and professional opportunities. 

How Much Do Nurse Practitioner Programs Cost? 

The costs of Nurse Practitioner programs vary depending on numerous variables, including whether you choose to attend an in-state public program or a private university, whether you will need to relocate to attend a full-time program where you will need room and board, and whether you are taking the program on a part-time, per-credit basis or a full-time tuition basis.  

The costs for MSN nursing programs can easily reach $60,000 to $100,000, with DNP programs costing almost twice that as a result of the additional coursework required. 

Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities for full-time students to take advantage of financial aid such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) program and nursing scholarships, and for those who are studying part-time or online while working to seek tuition reimbursement from their employers. 

NP Program Prerequisites & Requirements

When you're applying to nurse practitioner programs, prerequisites and requirements will vary depending on the school, but you can expect to generally need the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited college or university
  • An active RN license and work experience, including a specified number of clinical hours
  • A minimum undergraduate GPA (usually a 3.0 or higher)
  • Letters of recommendation (academic and professional)
  • Application essay
  • Current resume or CV
  • GRE scores

Applicants will also need to have taken specific prerequisites, which may include:

  • Statistics
  • Human Anatomy
  • General Chemistry

What are the Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Practitioner? 

Becoming a nurse practitioner provides you with the opportunity to provide nursing care on an entirely different level. Becoming a nurse practitioner offers both personal advantages and benefits that go well beyond the individual. These include: 

  • The ability to work autonomously and independently
  • The ability to treat a wide range of patients, diagnosing conditions, creating treatment plans and referring patients to specialists, as well as interpreting diagnostic tests and prescribing medications
  • An expansive choice of work settings and conditions ranging from the ability to work independently, within the framework of a private practice, in collaboration with a physician or multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals, or even in a rural setting as the sole source of medical care for a community
  • Higher compensation
  • Promising job growth
  • Greater professional respect 

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Nurse Practitioner Program Accreditation

When selecting a nurse practitioner program of any type, you'll want to make sure it's accredited. 

There are two primary accrediting organizations for NP programs:

  1. Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
    1. Provides accreditation for diploma, certificate, and degree nursing programs
  2. Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education(CCNE) 
    1. Provides accreditation for graduate and residency nursing programs

How Do You Become Certified as a Nurse Practitioner?

After completing an accredited nurse practitioner program, you'll need to become certified in whatever np specialty you have chosen. There are different certification organizations depending on what you're specializing in. They include:

  1. American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
  2. American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
  3. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
  4. National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  5. Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  6. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

Each certification board will have different requirements, though all will require you to have completed an accredited nurse practitioner program and to pass a certification exam.

Top Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

There are approximately 400 academic institutions in the United States that offer accredited Nurse Practitioner programs, and all of them provide the training and education needed to ensure you are ready and able to move forward as a Nurse Practitioner. 

If you are interested in pursuing your education at one of the NP programs that has distinguished itself in the most popular NP specialty areas, we have compiled a list of the top five programs for each, as judged by U.S. News and World Report

Top Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs 

1.      Duke University – Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

Duke University’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care offers intensive courses, state-of-the-art simulation techniques and immersion in clinical rotations for patients across all acute care settings including urgent care and emergency departments, hospitalist and intensive care services and step-down units in academic, community or critical access environments. 

2.      University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Tuition: $4,376 per year full time, $1,859 per credit part-time 

University of Pennsylvania’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care program offers the ability to focus on a wide range of services, including general surgery, internal medicine, cardiology, neurosurgery, oncology, trauma and others across the continuum of care, from critical care to discharge. They use a variety of training techniques, including immersive simulation, and also offer a streamlined post-graduate APRN Certificate program for those who have been working with acutely ill patients for a minimum of one year. 

3.      Vanderbilt University – Nashville, Tennessee

Tuition: $1,642 per credit 

Vanderbilt University’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care program is taught by doctorally-prepared faculty using traditional classroom settings as well as live streaming videos, online educational activities, simulated experiences and clinical training. The program offers specialization in cardiology, critical care, nephrology, pulmonology, endocrinology, trauma, rehabilitation and other areas. 

4.      Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, Maryland

Tuition: $1,688 per credit 

Johns Hopkins University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice Adult-Gerontological Acute Care track geared towards improving outcomes for acutely and critically ill older adult patients and provided within the framework of Hopkins extensive resources, clinical sites and faculty. The curriculum includes nursing theory, research, nursing informatics, statistics, and ethics. 

5.      Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Tuition: $1,906 per credit 

Emory University’s Adult/Gerontology Acute Care program focuses on both the care of acutely ill and complex chronically ill patients and their families. Areas of specialty include critical care, trauma surgery, and hospital medicine. 

Top Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Programs

1.      Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

Tuition: $1,688 per credit 

The Adult-Gerontology Primary Care program at Johns Hopkins is offered exclusively for the DNP degree. It will prepare Nurse Practitioners to diagnose and manage both acute and chronic primary health problems in the geriatric population and provide the skills needed to develop, evaluate, advocate and provide leadership at the organizational and system level. 

2.      Rush University, Chicago, IL

Tuition: $1,015 per credit full time, $1,110 per credit part-time 

Rush University’s Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program is a DNP program that emphasizes health promotion, disease prevention and the diagnosis and management of acute and chronic health problems. Both the clinical and classroom experiences are taught in the practitioner-teacher model, largely by practicing nurse practitioners with extensive experience. 

3.      Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

The Duke University Adult-Gerontology NP program is an MSN program that provides opportunities for short-term courses or clinical work in international sites and options for choosing an area of specialization including cardiology, endocrinology, oncology, orthopedics and HIV. 

4.      Columbia University, New York, New York

Tuition: $84,700 per year 

Columbia’s Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP program utilizes an immersion technique that focuses on areas including palliative and end-of-life care and the integration of primary and mental health care. It combines didactic classroom instruction with advanced clinical practice in diverse settings and experiential clinical seminars. 

5.      University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tuition: $920 per credit in-state, $1,098 per credit out-of-state 

The University of Pittsburgh’s Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP program is a DNP program that prepares its graduates for clinician leadership roles responsible for promoting, maintaining and restoring health and the diagnosis and management of both acute and chronic illness in geriatric and adult populations. The program is offered on both a full-time and part-time basis. 

Top Family Nurse Practitioner Programs

1.      Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

The Duke University FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) program is offered both in-person and online. It prepares its graduates to serve as the primary health care provider for patients of all ages and across all primary care settings. Much of the program’s focus is on preparation for advanced clinical practice throughout patients’ lifespan and across the health continuum. Includes pediatric and perinatal care courses and the ability to do clinical work in international sites. 

2.      University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Tuition: $12,570 per year in-state, $24,815 per year out-of-state 

The University of California -San Francisco’s Family Nurse Practitioner program is focused on preparing Nurse Practitioners to be leaders in clinical care, research and policy. It provides extensive hands-on experience working with a wide range of patient populations with complex health care needs, across the lifespan and in a variety of clinical settings. Post-Master’s certificates are available and require 5 quarters of coursework and an additional 560 hours of clinical practice. 

3.      Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Tuition: $1,642 per credit 

Vanderbilt University’s Family Nurse Practitioner program teaches a family-oriented approach focused on health promotion and maintenance. While the program offers a traditional didactic approach, it is particularly well suited to those who are self-directed learners who can take in a significant amount of information in concentrated form. 

4.      University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Tuition: $20,352 per year in-state, $41,670 per year out-of-state 

The UNC-Chapel Hill Family Nurse Practitioner program specifically prepares its graduates for work as advanced practice nurses responsible for health promotion and continuing care for patients who are in need of either acute or stable chronic conditions is included in the curriculum, with an emphasis on holistic care, family and community systems, cost-effectiveness, and collaboration. The program provides opportunities for those with special interests in global and community health to work with vulnerable populations through their clinical settings. 

5.      Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Tuition: $1,906 per credit 

Emory University’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program prepares graduates to meet the needs of individuals across the life span. The program has a strong focus on community-based primary care, offering multidisciplinary experiences in both the classroom and through clinical settings including rural and migrant populations. The program places students in more than 40 community-based sites and private practices to ensure a wide range of exposure and experience. 

Top Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Programs 

1.      Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: 1,838 per credit 

The Duke University Pediatric NP program provides training through all areas of primary health care for children of all ages, including health maintenance and prevention, chronic and acute pediatric illnesses, behavior issues and patient/family education. Clinical practice provides one-on-one experience and is facilitated through work in school-based health clinics, hospital ambulatory settings, health departments and community pediatric practices. 

2.      University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tuition: $44,376 per year full time, $1,950 per credit part-time 

The University of Pennsylvania offers a Nurse Practitioner specialty training program in both acute and primary pediatric care. The Pediatric Acute Care concentrations offered are Chronic Care, Critical Care and Oncology, while the Pediatric Primary program offers comprehensive training in well-child care, sick exams, health counseling, behavior, research education and public policy. 

3.      Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Tuition: $1,642 per credit 

Vanderbilt University offers pediatric nurse practitioner education in both primary and acute care specialization. Those who select the Acute Care path will learn to manage care of patients who require complex monitoring and ongoing management of intensive therapies, while those who choose the Primary Care path will focus on providing care to children from birth to young adulthood in a variety of pediatric primary care settings. 

4.      Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Tuition: $43,990 per year full time, $29,190 per year part-time 

Yale University offers two Pediatric Nurse Practitioner programs, one geared towards Acute Care and the other towards Primary Care. Both are offered as either full or part-time programs and both offer a Post-Master’s Certificate program. Students attend didactic courses, clinical placements and clinical conferences, and concentrations are available in Diabetes Care, Oncology, Gender and Sexuality Health Justice, and Research. Students in the Nursing School are also encouraged to take advantage of other courses offered across the Yale campus. 

5.      University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Tuition: $12,570 per year in-state, $24,815 per year out-of-state 

The University of California-San Francisco offers pediatric nurse practitioner programs for both acute care and primary care specialization. While those pursuing the primary care degree will focus on attaining the knowledge and skills needed to provide primary and chronic illness care from infancy through adolescence, those who choose the Acute Care specialty will focus on those facing chronic, complex acute and critical health conditions. Much of the program’s emphasis lies in  reducing health disparities. 

Top Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs

1.      Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Tuition: $1,642 per credit 

Vanderbilt University’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program was one of the first of its kind in the country. It includes education on treatment for individuals, families or groups with common, acute or chronic mental health programs, providing its graduates with the training to prescribe appropriate medications, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, case management and consultation in a variety of settings. The program offers low faculty-to-student ratios, mentoring and personalized attention. 

2.      Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: 1,838 per credit 

The Duke University Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner program provides the skills needed to deliver psychiatric mental health care to all ages, with an emphasis on underserved communities and rural settings. The program offers immersion in the clinical environment, including emergency departments, inpatient facilities and intensive care services, VA facilities and residential mental health care facilities. Graduates receive certification in telepsychiatry, options for certification in veterans’ health. It also offers a Post-Graduate certificate program for those who are already nurse practitioners. 

3.      Rush University, Chicago, IL

Tuition: $1,015 per credit full time, $1,110 per credit part-time 

The Rush University Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program is an online program that offers a DNP degree that develops knowledge in behavioral and biological treatment of psychiatric disorders within individuals, families and groups across the lifespan and will prepare its graduates to function independently and autonomously. It is available both part-time and full time. 

4.      University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Tuition: $20,352 per year in state, $41,670 per year out-of-state 

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program prepares its graduates to provide for the psychiatric and mental health care needs of individuals, families groups and communities throughout the lifespan and in a broad range of practice and community settings.  The program emphasizes cultural sensitivity and the ability to understand and integrate mental and physical health problems. Students are encouraged to complete their clinical hours in their own communities. 

5.      University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tuition: $44,376 per year full time, $1,859 per credit part-time 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program combines neuroscience with psychotherapy and psychopharmacology for patients from childhood through old age. The program emphasizes a holistic approach and uses a three-semester clinical practicum that rotates students through a wide range of psychiatric populations.

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