How to Choose the Best Nurse Practitioner Degree

Choosing a career as a nurse practitioner offers you an exciting and rewarding career where you can both help others and never have to worry about finding a good job. Whichever specialty you choose as a nurse practitioner, you will always be able to find good paying work; the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that job demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 31% by 2024, which is a very high growth rate.

To get your career going as a nurse practitioner or NP, you need to decide what your specialty will be and where you will get your degree. To become an NP, you need to earn at least your Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN. An MSN is an advanced postgraduate degree for registered nurses who want to become an advanced practice nurse, such as a nurse practitioner. This degree with takes two to three years to complete.

You also can choose to earn your DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) degree. A DNP is a terminal, post-graduate nursing degree that addresses the vital skills that are needed to translate evidence-based care into practice. You can choose to focus on a clinical or research setting, depending upon your career goals. This degree will take four to six years after your MSN degree.

After you earn your degree, you then need to be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center in your specialty. You must have graduated from an accredited NP program with an MSN or DNP and have completed 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours.

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What Is Your Area of Interest?

As you are considering an education to become a nurse practitioner, you need to decide which area of the field is of most interest. You can then select your university program based upon which specialty you want. Some of the most common and in demand NP specialties are:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner: Manage care of families in a primary care setting, such as a doctor’s office or urgent care center.
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: Manage care of young children in a primary care or acute care setting.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Provide specialized care for newborns and premature babies in an acute care setting.
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: Provides primary care for women throughout their lifespan.
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Acute: Provides direct patient management for adult and senior patients in acute care settings, such as in a hospital.
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Primary: Provides direct patient management for adult and senior patients in a primary care setting.

There are other subspecialties in the NP field as well, and you can obtain certification in the through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Some of these specialities are:

  • Endocrine/Diabetes
  • Renal/Urology
  • Perinatal
  • Long-Term Care
  • Orthopedics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pulmonary
  • Pediatrics
  • Gerontology
  • ER/Trauma
  • Post-Partum
  • Psychiatric
  • Critical Care

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Many MSN and DNP programs are offered today with a mostly online component. You may take most of your required classes online from the comfort of your home. Whether you choose to take your classes online or on a campus depends on your needs. There are some NP students who would rather take their classes in person and interact personally with professors and fellow students.

However, those who have many family and work obligations may decide to earn an online MSN; this offers you a higher degree of flexibility on when and where you take your classes. Obviously, you do not need to reside close to where you take your classes online. However, remember that many MSN and DNP programs online will require some number of campus visits.

Remember that both online and campus programs to become a nurse practitioner will require you to complete approximately 500 clinical hours at a local hospital or health care clinic. You need to coordinate this internship with a local health care center as well as your supervisor in your degree program.

Some of the online nursing programs that are recommended include:

Chamberlain University

The online Master of Science in Nursing for Family Nurse Practitioner program at Chamberlain University can be earned in as few as eight semesters. It features 100% online coursework, integrating theory and practical application with online discussion boards, clinical experiences, and simulations.

All graduates of this program are ready to sit for their national certification examination as a family nurse practitioner. This program includes these core courses:

  • Population Health, Statistical Principles, and Epidemiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Physical Assessment
  • Leadership and Role of the Advanced Practice Nurse

This program also includes practicum courses, each of which contains 125 practicum hours that must be completed within seven weeks. Each student must find an appropriate practicum site and preceptor.


  • University Type: Non-profit
  • Campus Location: Downer’s Grove, Illinois; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, work study, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Classes start every eight weeks, so students do not need to wait long to begin their studies

Drexel University

This is a CCNE-accredited Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program that is designed for the experienced nurse with a bachelor’s degree. The coursework is made to introduce you to primary nurse practitioner care for the individual or family across their lifespan.

The primary focus is on wellness care and managing acute and chronic illnesses. Also, clinical strategy critical analysis and interventions in health promotion and health maintenance are studied.

Important features of this program are:

  • Accredited by the Commission Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Synchronous (live) online courses provide each student with a highly interactive method of learning that will both challenge and engage all students
  • All faculty are highly experienced and board certified in their healthcare specialty
  • After the program is completed, each student is eligible to site for their FNP certification through the AANP or ANCC.

Each student is required to attend two on-campus intensives in Boston. One of them is in the summer of the second year, and the other is in the fall of the third year; each intensive features a required clinical course that you must complete.


  • University Type: Non-profit
  • Campus Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, work study, internal and external scholarships; reduced partner and military rates are available
  • Other Information: Must have a minimum 3.0 GPA from your BSN program to be considered for admission

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers an FNP program that prepares nurses with a BSN degree to provide primary care to children, adolescents, and adults, for both chronic and acute illnesses and diseases.

This program challenges each nursing student to consider their new approach to how we provide health care. It is one that is well grounded in the biomedical and social factors that influence the well-being of each patient. This degree program has been designed to teach nurses to provide integrative care with other professionals, including doctors, social workers, case managers, and pharmacists.

Nurses in the USC online program can balance both personal and professional obligations as they complete their education. The nursing program is offered in both fulltime and part time programs. The full-time track can be completed in only 21 months, and the part-time track takes 33 months.


  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: Los Angeles, California; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: MSN-FNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, work study, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Program is offered in both part-time and full-time formats.

Grand Canyon University

The MSN program at Grand Canyon University prepares you to become a primary care provider, teaching you essential skills in health promotion; illness prevention; diagnosis and treatment for people of all ages and populations.

Each student in this 2.5-year program will participate in two campus intensive programs in Phoenix. These experiences offer you the chance to collaborate with peers, develop hands-on nursing skills, and to practice for your national certification examination. Also, you will learn how to perform comprehensive health assessments, perform suturing and wound care, splinting and casting.

Classroom instruction online and on campus includes radiologic interpretation, management of chronic and acute illnesses, and analysis of case studies. The clinical practicum experiences further allow students to collaborate with expert faculty to select a primary or family care clinical site in their area.


  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: Phoenix, Arizona; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN; MSN
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, work study, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Students may transfer up to 12 credit hours, or up to ⅓ of the total 53 credits required for graduation

Duke University

Duke University’s School of Nursing offers both an MSN and DNP program that can be earned mostly with distance learning technology. Duke adopted online education programs 20 years ago; the school possesses a strong track record in using innovative approaches to teaching nursing students online.

The MSN program is offered in the following specialties:

NP – adult-gerontology – acute care

  • NP – adult-gerontology – primary care
  • Nursing informatics
  • NP – pediatrics – acute care
  • NP – pediatrics – primary care
  • NP – neonatal
  • NP – women’s health

NPs also can earn certificates on cardiology, endocrinology, HIV/AIDs, oncology, and orthopedics.


  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: Durham, North Carolina; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, fellowships, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Students can qualify for military tuition discounts and tuition assistance


As you narrow down which university program and which NP specialty you want, it is very important to ensure that the program and university are properly accredited. Accreditation means that a well known and respected accreditation body has conducted an evaluation of the school and program, and ensures that it meets all standards of a high-quality nursing education.

The most respected and best-known accreditation body in the field of nursing generally is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which features the accreditation agency the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE. This organization is recognized by the United States Secretary of Education as a respected national accreditation agency for nursing programs. If your nursing degree program has been accredited by the CCNE, you know that it has met the highest possible nursing education standards.

You also should be sure that the university itself is accredited by one of the   six regional accreditation associations that are recognized by the US Department of Education:


Earning a master of science degree or doctor of nursing practice degree to become a nurse practitioner is an excellent health care career choice that will help you to improve lives and to enjoy a financially rewarding career.