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Top 20 Online MSN-to-DNP Programs for 2021

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is considered an advanced degree in the healthcare field. It’s popular among registered nurses who have already completed entry-level education, such as a bachelor’s degree in nursing, who want to level-up their skills and careers by completing a postgraduate degree.

For many nurses, MSN education represents the ultimate educational goal that will get them the education and experience they’re after. But for some advanced nurses, getting to that dream career level means going beyond an MSN, and this often leads them to the MSN-to-DNP path. At the end of that journey is a Doctor of Nursing practice, which can open up a whole new world of healthcare careers.

In many cases, DNP degrees can be earned online, and this is especially true for applicants who already have a master’s degree in nursing. We wanted to help students understand which MSN-to-DNP programs might be best for them.

About These Rankings

More than 350 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer DNP degree programs, with more than 100 new programs expected to start accepted students over the next few years. While some programs offer multiple ways for students to earn these degrees, MSN-to-DNP paths remain the most common. And, fortunately for MSN degree-holders, it’s still more common for MSN-to-DNP degrees to be offered entirely online than for BSN-to-DNP pathways.

But that leaves dozens of programs for students to sort through before deciding which online MSN-to-DNP school is best for them. To create our ranking, we filtered the 300-plus DNP programs down to just those offered mostly or entirely online, which left us with about 68 programs.

We then narrowed that list to the 20 best based on factors like academic rigor, reputation and cost to determine which 20 give students the best education for the money.

MSN vs. BSN

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss the two main pathways colleges and universities offer for DNP education — MSN-to-DNP or BSN-to-DNP. A BSN is the bachelor’s degree counterpart to the MSN, and many people who have MSN degrees also hold BSN degrees, though that’s not true of everyone.

When it comes to DNP degrees, MSN-holders have some advantages. The two biggest are time to completion and cost. MSN-to-DNP pathways range from just 30 credits to the low-40s, which means students can earn their DNP degree more quickly than those starting with a BSN, which also makes the degree cheaper to earn.

There is at least one possible disadvantage, though whether it’ll be an issue depends on each individual student. Because universities and colleges assume MSN-holders have already established a specialty focus area, as they probably would have done in their graduate program, in many cases, MSN-to-DNP tracks have very little in the way of electives or specializations.

However, another positive for MSN-to-DNP students is simply a numbers game — there are many more of these types of programs than there are BSN-to-DNP tracks, and MSN-to-DNP tracks also tend to offer all of their coursework online, though clinical hours are still required.

Best Online MSN-to-DNP Degrees

While we’re looking at programs that offer all or most of their coursework online, it’s still a positive notion to consider the geographic diversity present in these rankings, as pretty much every region of the country is covered here. Also, where a school is located is important, as most of them do have some on-campus requirements, though these often consist of a couple of days in a multi-year DNP program.

Schools Included in This Ranking

  1. Clemson University
  2. University of Florida
  3. University of Alabama Birmingham
  4. Bradley University
  5. Gwynedd Mercy University
  6. Drexel University
  7. University of Cincinnati
  8. University of Massachusetts Boston
  9. University of Alabama Huntsville
  10. Northwestern State University
  11. Ohio State University
  12. Purdue University
  13. University of Arizona
  14. Southeastern Louisiana University
  15. University of Nevada Reno
  16. Fort Hays State University
  17. Wichita State University
  18. University of Central Arkansas
  19. University of Central Florida
  20. Ashland University

#1 Clemson University

Clemson’s top-rated online MSN-to-DNP earns its spot by virtue of a price that’s just below average but academic rigor that’s anything but average. The 35 credit-hour program includes 100% online delivery of coursework along with a varying number of on-campus immersion experiences required over the life of the degree path.

Students must complete at least 1,000 hours of practice, which can include precepted clinical hours from their MSN program, so some students may need to complete project hours beyond their standard coursework.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 3-6 on-campus immersion experiences
  • Cost Per Credit: $816
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $28,560
  • Credits Required: 35
  • Learn More: Click here

#2 University of Florida

A minimal amount of in-person events are required in the second-ranked University of Florida’s online DNP program. This path is designed for those who already have their MSN and an active Florida APRN license and is completed in five consecutive semesters.

UF also offers a BSN-to-DNP path, and its MSN-to-DNP curriculum is heavily focused on healthcare leadership, including courses in health policy and finance, informatics and more. Students must complete up to 1,000 clinical hours, which can include work done during their MSN program.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Minimal
  • Cost Per Credit: $552
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $19,320
  • Credits Required: 35
  • Learn More: Click here

  1. University of Alabama Birmingham

The online MSN-to-DNP at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) requires 43 credit hours, while some students in the pathway will need to complete 49, depending on their course of study. Annual on-campus orientation and intensives are required, though all coursework is done online.

UAB offers two pathways for MSN degree-holders to earn their DNP degrees, and the right path depends on the individual’s current role and existing education. A pathway for advanced practice nurses can lead to hands-on nursing roles like nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife, while a pathway for nurse executives focuses on business and health administration. The nurse executive program requires 49 credits to graduate.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Annual on-campus orientation and intensive
  • Cost Per Credit: $656
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $28,208
  • Credits Required: 43
  • Learn More: Click here

  1. Bradley University

The No. 4-ranked MSN-to-DNP program on our list is at Bradley University, and it’s designed for senior nurses who want to enhance their understanding of healthcare management, technology, personnel and other areas. It requires 39 credit hours, and students must complete 1,000 hours of clinical work, which can include MSN hours.

Bradley’s program is entirely online, and no in-person residency requirements are in place. Coursework includes data management, health care economics and health promotion in populations.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: No residency requirements
  • Cost Per Credit: $930
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $36,270
  • Credits Required: 39
  • Learn More: Click here

  1. Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Mercy University’s fifth-ranked online MSN-to-DNP requires 39 credit hours for degree completion, and students can complete their work in about two years, if they’re able to attend on a full-time basis.

An in-person executive session is required in the final week of the program, but all coursework is completed online. Students also must complete 400 hours of precepted clinical experience in order to successfully finish this accelerated program.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 1 in-person executive session in final week of program
  • Cost Per Credit: $930
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $36,270
  • Credits Required: 39
  • Learn More: Click here

  1. Drexel University

Drexel University is home to an online MSN-to-DNP that offers students a unique chance to see the world through an optional overseas trip during the spring quarter of their final year in the program. All other coursework is completed online, and initial orientation is also a virtual experience.

The 45 credit-hour program is intended for advanced practice nurses who are considering pursuing executive leadership roles within healthcare systems, and it requires 500 precepted clinical hours in order to complete the program.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Optional global engagement experience
  • Cost Per Credit: $1,051
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $47,295
  • Credits Required: 45
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati offers MSN students multiple options for completing their DNP degree — they can earn their DNP in as few as four semesters by going full time or as many as six if they’re part-timers.

All coursework is done online, but on-campus orientation is required during their first fall semesters, and they must return to campus to defend their final DNP project. An additional 504 precepted clinical hours are required in the program.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: On-campus orientation required during first fall semester and project defense required in final semester
  • Cost Per Credit: $761
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $31,962
  • Credits Required: 42
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Massachusetts Boston

The University of Massachusetts campus in Boston is home to an accelerated MSN-to-DNP program that requires just 31 hours, meaning most students can complete it in just a couple of years.

All coursework is done online, though 400 clinical immersion hours are also required. The curriculum consists of 10 required courses that focus on things like leadership, finance, informatics and more, and students can add one nursing elective that speaks to their interests.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: None
  • Cost Per Credit: $575
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $17,825
  • Credits Required: 31
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Alabama Huntsville

Full-time students can earn their online MSN-to-DNP degree from the University Alabama Huntsville in as little as 28 months thanks to completely online coursework. Part-timers will require more like four years, and each student must attend a two-day on-campus intensive, but that can be done during any spring semester of their tenure in the program, and the location rotates between the three major campuses of Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham).

A total of 12 courses spanning 40 credit hours are required for completion, and those with less than 500 clinical hours earned during their MSN program will need to take an additional course, which could extend their total hours to 46.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 2-day intensive that can be completed at any point of the program at rotating selection of campuses (Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham)
  • Cost Per Credit: $468
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $18,720
  • Credits Required: 40
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Northwestern State University

MSN-to-DNP students at Northwestern State will complete all coursework requirements online, and full-time students should be able to complete the 38 required academic hours in a couple of years.

Degree completion also requires students to earn 180 clinical hours over the course of three classes that will also earn them credits toward graduation, and these clinical hours can be earned from one of more than 200 clinical sites and agencies associated with the NSU College of Nursing.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: None reported
  • Cost Per Credit: $475
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $18,050
  • Credits Required: 38
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Ohio State University

A pair of MSN-to-DNP pathways are available in Ohio State University’s online DNP program. Nursing-minded MSN-holders can opt for the clinical expert track, while management-focused professionals would be better-suited for the nurse executive track. Both tracks require the same number of credit hours, meaning they each can be completed in about two years with full-time study or three for part-timers.

An on-campus orientation is encouraged, but it’s not required. Still, while all coursework is done online, students must visit campus to present and defend their final projects, and they must complete at least 500 clinical hours over the term of their program.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: On-campus orientation recommended but not required; students must visit campus to present final project for degree completion
  • Cost Per Credit: $973
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $35,028
  • Credits Required: 36
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Purdue University

Purdue University’s hybrid MSN-to-DNP program requires completion of 38 credit hours, though a majority of classes are offered entirely online. Non-APRN students will need to complete an additional 20 credits, which consist largely of residency hours.

MSN-to-DNP curriculum at Purdue is dominated by education covering things like informatics, finance, healthcare engineering and related fields.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Hybrid program
  • Cost Per Credit: $950
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $36,100
  • Credits Required: 38
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Arizona

The MSN-to-DNP at the University of Arizona allows students to complete coursework online, while adding on-campus intensives and real-world practicum and clinical residency. A total of 35 classroom credit hours must be completed to earn the DNP, which means students may be able to complete their work in just a couple of years.

Annual intensives, formally the Resident Intensive Summer Experience (RISE), give students the chance to take specialized courses, interact with advisers and build rapport with their program classmates.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Intensives and residency
  • Cost Per Credit: $975
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $34,125
  • Credits Required: 35
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Southeastern Louisiana University

Southeastern Louisiana University’s online MSN-to-DNP program is designed for APRNs looking to develop a skill set beyond their clinical nursing mastery. With all coursework in the path offered online, students can manage their course load while still remaining active nursing professionals.

Orientation and project defense are done online, and students must complete 10 residency credit hours (450 practicum hours) as part of their required 39 hours to earn their degree. A full-time path takes four semesters, but options are available for six- or eight-semester part-time degree completion.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Orientation and project defense required
  • Cost Per Credit: $286
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $11,154
  • Credits Required: 39
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Nevada Reno

Four specialty tracks are available for online MSN-to-DNP students at the University of Nevada Reno — nurse executive, advanced practice, clinical education leadership or health policy — though the total required number of credit hours (30) is the same.

All coursework in the MSN-to-DNP program is done online, but annual meetings, typically two or three days in length, are required and take place on the Reno campus.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Annual meetings (2-3 days) on home campus
  • Cost Per Credit: $1,033
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $30,990
  • Credits Required: 30
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Fort Hays University

All coursework in the MSN-to-DNP degree offered at Fort Hays University is done online, and with just 30 hours required, full-time study can usually be completed in just a couple of years. One day on campus is required each academic year, and additional clinical hours may be required depending on the applicant’s precepted hours accrued at the master’s level.

The program does not currently accept applicants from Tennessee, Utah, Alabama or Washington because of licensure concerns.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 1 on-campus day required
  • Cost Per Credit: $400
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $12,000
  • Credits Required: 30
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Wichita State University

Wichita State University’s DNP program is ideal for advanced practice nurses who hold an MSN and want to dive into in-depth nursing study, as the academic focus is on individuals and families.

A total of 29 credit hours are required to complete the fully online MSN-to-DNP, and students must complete a capstone, which can include a six-credit residency, an evidence-based research project or a practice management course.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: None reported
  • Cost Per Credit: $413
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $11,977
  • Credits Required: 29
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Central Arkansas

The online MSN-to-DNP offered by the University of Central Arkansas is ideal for nursing professionals who want to take their careers to the leadership or administrative level. A total of 32 hours of coursework are required, and the program is designed to be finished in six consecutive part-time semesters.

A pair of on-campus intensive days are required each semester, and clinicals throughout their academic journey will require about 360 hours of fieldwork, possibly expanding the total credits earned to 36, depending on individual choices.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 2 intensives per year
  • Cost Per Credit: $328
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $10,496
  • Credits Required: 32
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida’s 42-credit online MSN-to-DNP path in healthcare executive education includes entirely remote coursework paired with a handful of brief on-campus intensives. No GRE is required, and students attend on a part-time basis.

MSN-to-DNP students are expected to complete 730 clinical hours as part of the program, and additional hours could be required depending on the details of their MSN transcript.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: Multiple on-campus intensives
  • Cost Per Credit: $370
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $15,540
  • Credits Required: 42
  • Learn More: Click here
  1. Ashland University

MSN-to-DNP students in Ashland University’s online DNP program can choose between one of two academic paths — family nurse practitioner or health systems leadership. Students on the family nurse practitioner path will need to complete between 32 and 38 hours depending on their specific course selections, while health systems leadership students require 46 to 54 hours to earn their DNP degrees at Ashland.

Coursework is all online, but students must attend required on-campus residency experiences each semester, and these last between three and four days.

Program Overview

  • On-Campus Requirements: 3-4 day on-campus residency each semester
  • Cost Per Credit: $725
  • Total Expected Tuition Cost: $42,775
  • Credits Required: 32
  • Learn More: Click here

Conclusion

For those who already have advanced training in nursing, there’s typically only one final step they’ll take — getting a doctorate. While it’s definitely a challenging step, the good news is that many MSN-to-DNP degrees can be earned online, and many can even be earned on a part-time basis, which means that committed nursing professionals don’t have to take a break in their careers.