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Find the Best Online MSN to NP Programs

Discover the available paths to becoming an NP, program requirements, and top schools in our guide to earning your certification after an MSN.


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A group of four diverse female healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurse practitioners, engaged in discussion in a hospital corridor.

You know the diagnosis. You’ve seen it a dozen times or more, but you’re not allowed to say anything because you’re not a nurse practitioner. You know how much more you have to offer and what it takes to move up the ladder, but where do you start?

Now that you’ve identified your goal of becoming a nurse practitioner you need to research potential online MSN to NP programs that will meet your scheduling and financial needs. The path ahead may be challenging, but we’re here to help. We’ve spotlighted some quality online MSN to NP programs below to give you an idea of what to expect. We’ve also broken down the various paths you can take to become a nurse practitioner and the requirements for online MSN to NP programs. Finally, we’ve answered some of the most common questions prospective NP students ask. Ready to live up to your nursing potential? Keep reading to get started.

Spotlighting Online MSN to NP Programs

Diving right into the nitty-gritty details can get overwhelming, so we’ve started with an overview of what online MSN to NP programs can look like. To do so we’ve highlighted three quality programs and outlined potential courses, program length, and clinical expectations.

Drexel University

Drexel University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice is a great alternative for APRNs looking for something more practice-based than other research-related doctoral degrees. It’s one of the best online MSN to NP programs that is CCNE-accredited. The program prepares students to design evidence-driven healthcare delivery approaches, execute established steps of evidence-based practice, appraise healthcare systems’ delivery processes, propose policy initiatives, appraise practice dilemmas, make decisions in practice settings, utilize information systems/technologies to analyze health outcomes, and demonstrate advanced specialty and role competence.

Along with various courses, the program requires 1,000 precepted clinical hours which are built into the track each student chooses (Advanced Clinical Expert or Nurse Executive/Leadership Expert). Additionally, students will complete a rigorous DNP project centered around improving healthcare processes and outcomes through carefully planned practice change. Since the program is organized into four 10-week quarters per year (as opposed to the traditional two-semester system), students can finish this degree in under two years.

Grand Canyon University

Another one of the best quality online MSN to NP programs is Grand Canyon University’s Post-Master’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certificate that can be completed online or through evening classes in under a year. The program helps students advance to the role of primary care provider and prepares them to earn their DNP if desired. Only two on-campus experiences are required, one that takes three days, and another that takes two. In addition to classroom instruction, the online FNP certificate program requires a 675-hour supervised clinical/practicum that students can complete in a local family health-focused clinical site or community-based primary care setting. A total of 37 semester credit hours are needed for completion.

This program covers several core competencies, including comprehensive primary care management, performance and interpretation of head-to-toe health assessment, basic concepts and principles of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, advanced physiology, and pathophysiology principles, and well visits across the lifespan and the development of the nurse-patient relationship for optimum patient education, counseling, and screening.

University of Cincinnati

When researching online MSN to NP programs, consider the online, CCNE-accredited Post-Master’s Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate from the University of Cincinnati. It is designed for students who have already completed a Master of Science in Nursing and have at least one year of work experience as a nurse. Students can choose to attend this online program full- or part-time and will not be required to visit campus. Transfer credits are an option, with the remaining courses taken asynchronously. Upon graduation, students will have met the criteria for taking both the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) and AANP (American Academy of Nurse Practitioners) certification exams.

Students in this certificate program are not eligible for scholarships or financial aid, but payment plan options are available. Students who work are advised to reduce their working hours during the semesters that they complete their FNP internships, which require about 12 hours a week.

Paths to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner After Your MSN

There are two ways that you can become a nurse practitioner if you already have your MSN. The first is to pursue a nurse practitioner graduate certificate, and the second is to earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice, the most advanced degree a nurse can receive. Below we’ll analyze both options and highlight their differences.


Those looking into online MSN to NP programs will find graduate certificates that teach a specific set of skills and offer in-depth knowledge on a specific topic. Certificates are not as broad as a degree and take less time to complete. The nurse practitioner certificate from Herzing University, for example, consists of 33 semester credits and can be completed online in a year and a half or less of full-time study.

Students in the program take courses such as Advanced Pathophysiology, Advanced Pharmacology, Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning, and others focused on specific patient populations. Students also complete several hundred hours in a clinical placement with an experienced professional. The courses and clinical experience will help students prepare for the FNP certification exam given by either the ANCC or the AANPCB.


A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree in nursing, or the highest degree of education a practicing nurse can earn. It is different from a Doctor of Nursing Science or a PhD in Nursing which are more focused on research and theory rather than practice. A DNP program is designed to produce leaders in nursing who have the highest level of expertise and work either in a clinical setting or a leadership role upon obtaining the required credential.

A DNP program helps students take well-researched suggestions and theories and translate them into action steps that can be applied in a clinic or institution while taking into consideration stakeholders, unit culture, organizational behaviors, financials, and measurable outcomes. A post-master’s DNP program typically takes two years to complete, requiring around 45 semester credits and hundreds of hours of clinical practice. Students will also complete a DNP project that is focused on identifying a practice problem and implementing the solution.

Requirements of an Online MSN to NP Bridge Program

Now that you’ve read about some top programs and read up on the different paths to becoming a nurse practitioner, we want to dive into the individual requirements that you must complete throughout your program to qualify for the nurse practitioner certification exam. The exact number of clinical hours and specific coursework may vary depending on your chosen degree program.

Clinical Hours

Though we can’t state exactly how many clinical hours are required across the board for every program, we can tell you that “a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours must be included in the FNP program,” that students take, according to the ANCC. Most degrees will require more than that, such as the 1,000 post-baccalaureate precepted clinical hours that Drexel University requires for its DNP students, or the 672 hours required by the University of Cincinnati.

Demonstration of Mastery

Passing the nurse practitioner certification test is a demonstration of a certain level of mastery on its own, but before that can happen, students must learn to be proficient in many areas including, but not limited to, health assessment, research application, clinical management, and health promotion/disease prevention. Those who choose to become a nurse practitioner through a DNP program will also need to complete a multi-layered DNP project.

Required Coursework

Though courses will vary depending on the program that you choose, nurse practitioner programs must have graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology for their students to be eligible to take the nurse practitioner certification exam. Internship courses are also required across all programs to help students reach the required number of clinical hours.

Specialty Competencies

Sometimes certificate programs only offer students the option to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), which means students will receive general education for all populations throughout the life span. However, other programs, especially those coupled with an MSN or doctoral degree, encourage students to pick a specialty area based on the population the student wants to work with. These specialty areas include adult/gerontology primary or acute care, pediatric primary or acute care, psychiatric mental health, emergency/crisis, neonatal, nurse-midwifery, education, informatics, and women’s health. If you choose a specialty, you’ll need to take additional courses and complete appropriate assessments that show you are competent to work with these specific populations.

Answering Your Questions About Online MSN to NP Programs

Below we discuss the most pressing concerns you might have as you start the process of moving from a nurse to a nurse practitioner.

Are there 12-month online FNP programs available online?

Yes! These are considered accelerated programs, meaning students will need to be able to study full time and complete 37-40 credits in a year. These programs are best for self-motivated and dedicated students. Typically, an accelerated schedule looks like two full days of classes and one or two full days of clinical practice every week, which doesn’t include time needed to work on projects or complete assignments. Students will be able to find programs that provide most of the coursework online, and students will most likely be able to complete their clinical hours locally. Research each program of interest to see if campus visits are required.

Can I complete an online BSN to NP?

Yes. However, an online BSN to NP doesn’t mean that every component is available online. Those studying to become a nurse practitioner may find that their classes are available online, but clinical hours must be completed in person at an approved facility. Often, those hours can be completed locally at an approved institution, but students will need to research the individual program they are considering to be sure. In addition, some online programs require students to visit campus once or twice throughout the year.

How long is an NP program after earning an MSN?

The length of any online MSN to NP programs depends on the student. Those who can study full time can typically earn their nurse practitioner certificate in a year and their DNP in about two years, while those who study part-time will require additional semesters. Other individual factors, such as acceptable transfer credits, can also affect the length of your program.

Is it possible to become an NP without an MSN?

Yes, it’s possible to become an NP without a Master of Science in Nursing, but not without master’s-level work. Those who get their BSN and then pursue a nurse practitioner graduate certificate can meet the eligibility requirements for the nurse practitioner certification exam through their courses and clinical hours. Students can also skip the MSN entirely and opt to take a BSN to DNP program. Be aware that there is talk of requiring nurse practitioners to have a doctorate by 2025.

What are the admission requirements for online NP programs?

Admission requirements for online NP programs depend on where the student is starting. To be admitted to online MSN to NP programs, students should have completed their MSN at an accredited institution, taken statistics and research methods courses, maintained a 3.0+ GPA, have a current RN license, and verifiable clinical hours. Additional requirements include the application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, resumes, and goal statements.

What is the shortest available online NP program?

An FNP program is considered short if it can be completed in less than 16 months. However, there are some online MSN to NP programs that can be completed in as few as 12 months. These accelerated programs must be taken full-time and are considered intensive.