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One of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States, nurse practitioners (NPs) assess, diagnose, and interpret medical tests, prescribe medications, and collaborate in the care of their patients. They work with physicians and other healthcare workers in general hospitals, outpatient care clinics, physicians’ offices, psychiatric and substance abuse facilities, home healthcare facilities, and other industries like business support services and professional or political organizations. Nurse practitioners earn an average income of $129,480.

Nurse practitioner programs require 40 to 52 course credits and take up to three years. The average yearly tuition is $20,513.

How to Choose a Nurse Practitioner Program

Choose your area of study

Consider your personal and career goals before applying to a nurse practitioner program. Your career goals and interests will influence your final choice.

Fields of study in nurse practitioner programs focus on two main categories: acute and primary care. Subcategories include general or specific populations, such as pediatrics or gerontology.

Primary care focuses on preventative services, wellness visits, and chronic illness treatment. Acute care treats immediate illnesses and health conditions such as head injuries, broken limbs, heart attacks, and bacterial infections.

Areas of focus:

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGCNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
  • Emergency Care Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
  • School Nurse Practitioner (SNP)

Research schools and programs

Begin the application process by researching accredited programs and institutions. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is the accrediting body that determines the credibility and quality of nursing programs. Accreditation not only validates the quality of the program but can also impact your ability to transfer credits or receive financial aid.

To learn about the program, attend an in-person or online information session or open house and contact the program administrator.

Prepare for tests and applications

Most nursing programs utilize a digital application process or NursingCAS, an online application system that allows students to apply to multiple schools or programs through a single system.

Standard application materials include:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A resume or CV
  • A personal statement
  • Application fee

You’ll also need proof of a valid registered nurse (RN) license in the state you intend to study. An RN license is required to participate in the clinical portion of coursework. Some programs require drug screening, a background check, and proof of immunizations.

Short-listed students advance to a video or in-person interview portion of the application process.

Select your program

Review your needs and goals before making your final decision, especially if more than one school or program accepts your application. Set parameters for logistical needs, including full-time or part-time enrollment, in-person or online coursework, and synchronous or asynchronous online classes.

Each state has different licensing requirements — even online classes have on-campus, in-person components one to three days out of every semester. This can add a logistical component if you are considering an online or in-person out-of-state nurse practitioner program.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Nurse practitioners are in high demand. If employed, your employer may participate in a tuition reimbursement program. These programs are often performance-based and involve a post-graduate work contract.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Contact an admissions counselor to learn more about financing options such as scholarships, work-study programs, and grants specific to your degree program.

Best 50 Accredited Nurse Practitioner Programs

Best Nurse Practitioner Programs_2024 badge

Emory University

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing

Duke University School of Nursing

Villanova University

Purdue University

SUNY Upstate Medical University

NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing

Seton Hall University

University of Texas at Austin

GW School of Nursing

University of Detroit Mercy

BYU College of Nursing

James Madison University

Texas A&M University School of Nursing

Stony Brook School of Nursing

University of Michigan

Mount Carmel College of Nursing

Texas State University

University of Rochester School of Nursing

Lewis University

Fairfield University

Barry University

University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

Florida International University

Jacksonville University

Columbus State University

University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies

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How we rank schools

This list focuses on graduate programs in nursing, including master’s degrees, but it also includes some bachelor’s and doctoral-level programs. Most master’s degree programs award a Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degree. We reviewed programs that are offered online, in-person, and in hybrid formats.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits bachelor’s, master’s, and residency programs in nursing that meet high standards of quality for nursing education. In addition to CCNE-accredited programs, this list also includes programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which accredits all levels of nursing programs, including doctorate programs.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Nurse Practitioner Program?

Graduates of a nurse practitioner program develop advanced knowledge of disease prevention, health promotion, therapeutic techniques, and pharmacology. They also learn resource management, patient advocacy, and critical information literacy skills to evaluate evidence-based knowledge.

A nurse practitioner program can take two to three years to complete. Full-time or part-time enrollment, practicum and clinic hours, and online options can affect the length of time.

Each area of study requires 300 to 500 clinical hours. Program participants must graduate to be eligible to sit for the licensing exam specific to their area of focus.

Potential courses you’ll take in a nurse practitioner program

  • Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology. Students learn to assess acute and chronic health problems to understand clinical and pharmacological interventions. With an emphasis on chronic conditions and genetic changes that underlie various disorders, this course examines homeostasis in health, how disease disrupts that homeostasis, and the body’s maladaptive or adaptive response.
  • Advanced Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Nurses develop advanced knowledge of the therapeutic use of major drug classes and learn to develop evidence-based treatment regimens appropriate to the patient. Also discussed are the mechanisms of action, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, research, and evidence-based treatment guidelines for acute and primary care settings. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Strategies in Health Care. This course examines adaptations of cognitive therapy designed to treat a broad spectrum of disorders. Students learn about the link between thoughts and emotions through observation, didactic, and experiential techniques. This course focuses on depression, anxiety, phobias, substance, obesity, marital problems, sexual dysfunction, and psychosomatic disorders.
  • Professional Role Issues for Nurse Practitioners. This course focuses on social, economic, health, and professional factors influencing community healthcare delivery. Students learn through lectures, discussions, readings, and projects.

Nurse Practitioner Degree Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a nurse practitioner program?

Apply for a nurse practitioner program through the school or program website or NursingCAS if the school or program is a participating member.

Many institutions do not charge an additional fee if they require a secondary application after your preliminary acceptance. Speak with an admissions counselor or program administrator before applying to ensure you have the correct materials.

How much does a nurse practitioner program cost?

The average yearly tuition cost for a nurse practitioner program is $20,513. This cost does not include lab or tech fees, uniforms, tools, or course material. Housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses are additional costs to your program fees.

Many students continue working part-time during their studies to offset some costs, and financial support from scholarships or grants may reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

How long does it take to earn a nurse practitioner degree?

A nurse practitioner program requires 40 to 52 course credits and takes two years of full-time study to complete. Three-year programs are available for students whose work and home schedules don’t allow as much opportunity for study and for students who want to take more time with the coursework.

Any requisite practicums, clinic hours, and lab work can add time to your completion schedule, as will licensing exams.

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