What is a DNP? A DNP is a doctorate level degree for the clinical practice of nursing, with DNP meaning, literally, Doctor of Nursing Practice. The DNP, like a PhD in nursing, is a terminal degree. This means there is no other nursing degree that is considered to be higher than either the DNP or the PhD in nursing.
The two degrees are not the same, however. The DNP is designed to meet the needs of nurses who want to practice at an advanced level or move into an administrative position, while the PhD in nursing is a research-based degree intended to create scientists who will add to the knowledge base in the nursing field by performing research related to nursing.
Earning a DNP allows nurses to sit for certifications and practice as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Although the APRN designation currently requires only a master’s degree, that is changing. Soon, nurses who wish to fill some of the most in-demand nursing careers, such as Nurse Midwife (CNM), Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), and Nurse Practitioner (NP) will be required to hold a doctoral-level education. Having a DNP allows nurses to obtain better positions and earn higher pay as APRNs.
Methodology: Ranking the Best DNP Degree Programs
For the Value Colleges ranking of the best traditional, on-campus DNP programs in the US, VC editors looked for a few basic criteria. Schools must have both regional and program accreditation for their nursing schools, and we well-respected by peers and students. We used four main criteria for the ranking:
- National Reputation
- Student Satisfaction
- Salary Potential
For these numbers, we used data from IPEDS, College Scorecard, Niche, and U.S. News & World Report’s nursing school ranking. With these factors in mind, students can feel confident they are getting the best value return on their investment.
1. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina offers a Doctor Of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program that is designed to train nursing professionals to the highest levels of direct clinical preparedness. UNC-Chapel Hill offers BSN to DNP programs as well as MSN to DNP programs. The BSN to DNP programs is offered in five areas of concentration and on a full-time basis. The required credits depend upon the student’s selected specialty.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was established in 1789 and holds the distinction of being the flagship school within the University of North Carolina system. UNC-Chapel Hill’s 700+-acre campus is situated in a university town and is home to nearly 30,000 students. The school offers students more than 500 different student organizations. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of three institutions of higher learning that stake claim to being the oldest public school in the country.
2. University of Virginia
The University of Virginia School of Nursing offers two Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree pathways — the Post BSN to DNP program and the Post MSN to DNP program. The University of Virginia’s DNP degree programs are recognized among the best DNP programs in Virginia and throughout the country. The BSN to DNP programs are available for students attending part-time or full-time and require practicum hours that exceed 1,000 to graduate.
The University of Virginia was established in 1819 and holds the distinction of being the flagship institution of higher learning for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The school’s 1,600+-acre campus is located in a small city and is home to more than 24,000 students. The school operates with fourteen schools/colleges. Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence author, founded The University of Virginia.
3. University of Michigan
The University of Michigan School of Nursing offers two Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program pathways — the DNP Leadership pathway and the DNP Clinical pathway. UM’s clinical path allows students to select from six related specialties; while the Leadership pathway prepares degree graduates to become the next generation’s health care leaders and public policymakers. US News has recognized the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing programs among the best DNP programs in the country.
The University of Michigan was established in 1817; about twenty years before Michigan was adopted as a state. UM operates an arboretum that covers more than 15,000 acres. The school’s 3,100+-acre campus is home to more than 46,000 students for the degree programs offered by the university’s thirteen schools/colleges. The University of Michigan is recognized among the most elite research institutions of higher education in the nation.
4. University of Washington
The University of Washington School of Nursing offers an advanced nursing degree program that fast tracks students studying for their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree to graduate as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). The University of Washington’s three-year DNP degree program requires each student to make a full-time commitment to the program. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits UW’s best DNP programs.
The University of Washington was established in 1861 and holds the distinction of being a sea-grant and space grant institution of higher education. The school’s 700+-acre urban campus was originally in downtown Seattle but is now situated in the Puget Sound region of Seattle. The University of Washington consistently ranks among the top universities in the country and is often viewed as a Public Ivy school.
Program: DNP – FNP
5. Northeastern University
Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences/School of Nursing offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program that prepares graduates as the clinical experts required to manage the complex healthcare system. Full-time and part-time students must complete 30 credit units to graduate. Coursework for Northeastern University’s DNP degree program includes Applied Epidemiology, Health Care Finance, Health Advocacy & Policy Making, and Health Informatics, to name a few.
Northeastern University is a private institution of higher education that was established in 1898 at a YMCA in Boston, MA. The school’s urban campus is home to more than 25,000 students and more than 1,600 academic staff members. NEU operates with campuses across the country and the world. Northeastern University is best known for its innovative cooperative education program that connects students with paid positions in work settings related to their field of choice.
6. Columbia University
Columbia University School of Nursing offers a three-year post-baccalaureate to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program that includes a mentored residency over two semesters. Columbia’s BSN to DNP programs are recognized among the best DNP programs in New York State and the country. Columbia’s BSN to DNP programs allow students to opt from five specialties — Midwifery, Family Nurse Practitioner, Mental Health Practitioner, Gerontology Care, and Pediatric Care.
Columbia University was established in 1754 as King’s College. The school’s campus is located on the Upper Westside on the island of Manhattan and is home to more than 33,000 students. Columbia University consists of four undergraduate colleges/schools and fifteen graduate/professional colleges/schools. Columbia University has been recognized among the top ten institutions of higher learning in the world. Columbia University holds the distinction as being the 5th oldest university in the country and the oldest in the state of New York.
7. Rutgers University
Rutgers University’s School of Nursing offers eleven areas of concentration in its on-campus BSN to DNP programs. These include Midwifery, Leadership, Women’s Health, Primary Care Gerontology, Acute Care Gerontology, Emergency Care Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Anesthesia, among others. Degree candidates graduate prepared to become the next generation of health care leaders using informatics and data management skills. Most DNP specialty paths offer an option to earn one’s HIV Care certification.
Rutgers University was established in 1766 as Queen’s College and is recognized among the 9 colonial schools established prior to the Declaration of Independence. Rutgers is a space-grant, sea-grant, and land grant university that operates with 3 campuses throughout the Garden State — New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, NJ. Rutgers University proudly holds the distinction as the 8tholdest institution of higher learning in the country and the largest in the state of New Jersey.
8. Washington State University
Washington State University’s College of Nursing offers several Post-Masters to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program that leads to the specialties of a DNP in Population Health, a DNP Psychiatric Mental Health, and a DNP Family Nurse Practitioner. While WSU’s best DNP programs are offered with a hybrid delivery option, the coursework mostly requires students to attend campus classes and labs. Students attending full-time finish the program in 1-2 years, while part-time students typically complete the program in 2-3 years.
Washington State University was established in 1890 as a public institution of higher learning. Washington State University holds the distinction as being among the oldest land-grant universities in the nation. The school operates with several campuses in the state of Washington as well as an online distance-learning program. WSU’s serves more than 30,000 students system-wide. Washington State University is among the oldest universities considered a land grant school.
Program: DNP Hybrid
9. Arizona State University
Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing & Health Innovation offers 8 specialty concentrations for its Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree pathway. These specialties focus on gerontology, pediatric care, innovation leadership, and women’s health, to name a few. ASU’s hybrid DNP degree programs have received accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). US News recognizes Arizona State University among the best DNP programs in the United States.
Arizona State University was established in 1885 as a public institution of higher learning. The school operates with 5 branch campuses across the greater Phoenix area as well another four larger academic facilities serving regional areas of Arizona. The school offers more than 340 undergraduate programs plus more than 390 professional certificates and graduate degrees. Arizona State University is recognized among the largest universities in the country in terms of enrollment.
10. Fairfield University
Fairfield University’s Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing & Health Studies offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice – Family Nurse Practitioner degree program that is offered only on-campus. Fairfield University’s BSN to DNP programs require new degree candidates to complete 72 credit units. Additionally, degree candidates are required to complete at least 1,000 hours of practicum work; where 50 hours equals 1 credit unit. Coursework focuses on population health, health care finance, leadership, and several DNP immersion courses.
Fairfield University was established in 1942. It is a private institution of higher learning and research that was founded by the Society of Jesus and a member school of the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities. The school’s 200+-acre suburban campus is home to more than 5,100 students studying from the schools five colleges/schools. US News recognizes Fairfield University among the top regional universities in the northern U.S.
11. University at Buffalo
The University at Buffalo School of Nursing offers both BSN to DNP programs and MSN to DNP degree programs. The BSN to DNP programs offer students the opportunity to select from four separate specialties – Family Nurse Practitioner (97 credit units), Gerontology Primary Care (82 credit units), Nurse Anesthetist (124 credit units) and psychiatric Mental Health (94 credit units). Degree application requirements include a Registered Nurse (RN) license, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a minimum of 1-year experience working as a professional Registered Nurse.
The University at Buffalo was established in 1846 and is a member school of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. The school operates with two campuses in Amherst and Buffalo, NY. The school’s suburban campuses are home to more than 31,000 students studying for varying academic degree levels from thirteen colleges/schools. SUNY Buffalo boasts the largest endowment, enrollment, and research funds of all the schools within the SUNY system.
12. Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University’s Bolton School of Nursing offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program that offers students two DNP elective pathways — The Educational Leadership pathway and the Practice Leadership pathway. CWRU’s School of Nursing is recognized among the leading innovators of the best DNP programs in the country. The coursework is delivered in intensive, three-day workshop formats, which allow working learners the opportunity to continue to work while studying for their DNP degree.
Case Western Reserve University was established in 1826 as a private institution of higher education. The school’s campus is just a few miles from Cleveland’s downtown and home to nearly 12,000 students. Case Western Reserve University operates with eight colleges/schools in the areas of Arts & Sciences, Dentistry, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing and Social Sciences. The Wall Street Journal recognizes Case Western Reserve University among the top 40 universities and colleges in the nation.
13. George Mason University
George Mason University’s School of Nursing offers BSN to DNP programs as well as MSN to DNP programs in only on-campus delivery formats. The BSN to DNP option requires the completion of 72 credit units for each of its four areas of concentration. MSN to DNP program also requires the completion of 72 credit units but allows for up to 30 credit hour transfers from past-earned graduate-level coursework. All DNP degree candidates must complete a graduate-level Practice Inquiry that demonstrates proficiency in the essentials of an advanced nursing practice doctoral student.
George Mason University was established in 1949 as a branch campus of the University of Virginia. It wasn’t until 1972 that George Mason University became an independent institution of higher education. The school operates with five campuses (one in South Korea) and serves more than 35,000 students. George Mason University is named in honor of the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Program: BSN-DNP or MSN-DNP
14. University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus
At the University of Colorado Anschutz, students can take their nursing career to the maximum potential by enrolling in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program available. Students have two pathways with this program to earn their DNP. First, they can opt into the BS to DNP track that expedites those nurses with only a Bachelor degree to take on the Doctoral program. The second track is the Masters to DNP program, where someone with a current Masters in Nursing can enroll and begin the program. Because of this program flexibility and the accelerated pace option for those with only a Bachelors, students are finding this program at the University of Colorado Denver to be one of the best BSN to DNP programs around.
The College of Nursing at the University of Colorado Anschutz has several accreditations that include the Higher Learning Commission and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. This program is administered on campus to give students the interaction they need and clinical experience to become experts in their field.
15. University of South Florida
At the University of South Florida, nursing students who are looking to embellish their career are seeking out the Doctor of Nursing Practice program that is currently offered. With a curriculum that is embedded in clinical rotations and research, students find the program to be exactly what they need to advance their career. Students can enter the program through a BSN to DP or MS to DP options, offering flexibility, as well. Due to the nature of the curriculum and reputation of this program, students are finding this to be one of the best DNP programs in the Southeast.
As the University of South Florida, the College of Nursing carries several accreditations from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs. The DNP has also gained approval from the Florida Board of Nursing. Students who pursue this degree will receive a highly reputable education that will benefit them in their career.
16. University of Maryland – Baltimore
With the growing need for nursing professionals in the healthcare field, students are turning to programs such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice program offered at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Students have a variety of concentrations to choose from in this program which includes Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthesia, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Because of these career options, more students are looking at this program as one of the best DNP programs on the East Coast.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore, students will experience this program on-campus in the traditional setting. They also have several tracks that include either a BSN or MSN track that prepares them and gives them entry into the program. Nurses with one specialty in their BSN have the option to take on a different specialty with this program.
17. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
At the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, nursing professionals are flocking to the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. With a curriculum founded in clinical rotations and in-depth research, students gain access to the most recent studies in their field and have the ability to build upon this research. This program is an extension of an MS in Nursing program that builds upon leadership skills and the student’s ability to identify the areas of research. Because of this curriculum, students see a big return on their investment, making this one of the best DNP programs available.
At the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, students are met with a faculty that is currently working with research in their field and are professionals in the industry. Also, this institution is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, ensuring that students receive the highest quality education in their field.
18. New York University
The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at New York University is one of the more popular and best BSN to DNP programs available to nursing students in the state of New York. Students can obtain a specialty in Adult-Gerontology, Acute Care NP, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP, Psychiatric-Mental Health NP, or Pediatric NP, allowing them to expand their education to fit their career goals. Students can also enter this program with a Master’s Degree, who are looking for certification as one of these NPs.
At New York University, students are enrolled in this program through the traditional on-campus option, because of their need to be hands-on and experience the clinical environment in their area of specialty. Students who complete this program are expected to become leaders of improvement projects and healthcare facilities that implement change and influence health policy at various levels of organizations.
19. Oregon Health & Science University
The Doctor of Nursing Practice program offered at Oregon Health and Science University gives students the option to pursue six different concentrations with their program, making them experts in their specialty. These concentrations are Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthesia, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner for Adult-Gerontology, Nurse-Midwifery, Psych mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Students who graduate from this program are ready to work in their field, based upon the curriculum and experience required. Because of this, the DNP at Oregon Health and Science University is one of the best DNP programs available to nursing students on the West Coast.
The Alumni from Oregon Health and Science University is made up of over 11,000 students who have been successful in their careers following graduation from the OHSU College of Nursing, since its founding in 1910. This school of Nursing has been listed by U.S. News & World Report in the top 20 for nursing programs in the nation.
20. George Washington University
At George Washington University, students taking the Doctor of Nursing Practice program are experiencing a program that is hybrid in nature. While some of the courses require on-campus meetings, some of these courses are being made available to students online, allowing them to be more flexible with their schedules but still meeting the clinical hour requirement of the program. Students have the option to choose from several concentrations including, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP, Family NP, Executive Leadership, Nursing Practice, or Health Policy. Because of this flexibility and variety offered by its curriculum, this is one of the best BSN to DNP programs available.
At George Washington University, students have access to a variety of centers and initiatives that give them an experience other institutions cannot provide, with eight options for students to obtain resources from.
21. Binghamton University (SUNY)
The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Binghamton University, a SUNY institution, offers students residing in the state of New York access to one of the more recognized nursing institutions in the state. With this program, students are able to make the choice to pursue becoming a Nurse Practitioner or a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Their specialty options include family health nursing, community health nursing, family psych mental health nursing, and primary care adult-gerontology nursing depending on their functional role choice. Students have the choice to pursue this program at full-time or part-time status, making it one of the best DNP programs available to students.
The Decker School of Nursing located at Bingham University is accredited by the New York State Board of Regents, and the DNP program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
22. Marquette University
The Doctoral of Nursing Practice program at Marquette University gives students the ability to pursue a program that is offered in flexible formats, with some courses and clinical hours required in-person, and some courses available online for the student’s convenience. Students have the ability to enter the program either by the completion of an MS in Nursing or by the successful completion of a BSN. Because of this, the DNP at Marquette University is one of the best BSN to DNP programs available.
At Marquette University, students have access to faculty that are experts in their field and provide this insight to students. Students are also able to choose a concentration that includes Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Nurse Anesthesia, Pediatric Primary Care, Pediatric Acute Care, and Dual Pediatric Primary and Acute Care. This program was rated as one of the top 50 Best Value DNP Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
23. University of Central Florida
At the University of Central Florida, nursing students are advancing their careers and making changes in their field with the help of the UCF Doctor of Nursing Practice program. This program allows students to experience and analyze clinical situations that they would be responsible for after graduation. They are also required to study these facilities and determine ways to enhance their leadership for positive health innovation. Because of this in-depth experience and hands-on curriculum required by the University of Central Florida, many students are noting this program to be one of the best DNP programs available.
The University of Central Florida is ranked as one of the leading best-value university choices by both The Princeton Review and Kiplinger. Forbes has also recognized the University of Central Florida as one of the more affordable options for students in the Southeast.
24. University of Cincinnati
At the University of Cincinnati, students who are looking to obtain a Doctor in Nursing Practice have two options to choose from in their program; the BSN to DNP program that is offered on campus, or the MS to DNP program that is available online for students who already have a graduate degree in Nursing. Students who choose the BSN to DNP option have the ability to gain the necessary skills they need to be leaders, researchers and implement the necessary change in health policy once they graduate. Because of this curriculum, many choose this to be one of the best BSN to DNP programs available.
At the University of Cincinnati, students receive an accredited curriculum through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. the DNP in Nurse Anesthesia is accredited through the Council of Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.
Program: BSN to DNP
25. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
At Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, students who gain entry into the DNP program are MS in nursing graduates who are looking to expand upon their skill set and move into a position where implementing positive health policies and procedures are essential at the local, state, and national level. Students are prepared to take their knowledge from clinical rotations in this program and utilize them to benefit their patients and public health post-graduation while working on campus or online. Because of this rigorous curriculum, this program is one of the best DNP programs available for students in Texas.
When students pursue Texas Tech University for their DNP program, they are provided access to faculty members that are leaders in their field and have years of research experience to share with their students. The College of Nursing at Texas Tech University has accreditation through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, as well as the Texas Board of Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Program: DNP Hybrid
How is the Job Market for DNP Nurses?
A Doctor of Nursing Practice also called a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, is a type of graduate-level degree pursued by nurses. The degree is typically abbreviated to DNP. The DNP is a type of degree, not a job title like nurse practitioner. Although a nurse practitioner may obtain a DNP, he or she will not be called a doctor of nursing practice.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, DNP jobs such as nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, and nurse practitioner are in high demand. These occupations are expected to grow 26% between 2020 to 2028. Compare this to 13% for all health practitioners who diagnose illness and treat patients, and 5% for all occupations overall.
A breakdown of DNP jobs by occupational title shows that the expected growth rate is 16% for nurse midwives, 17% for nurse anesthetists, and 28% for nurse practitioners. The actual number of new jobs is much higher for nurse practitioners than for midwives or anesthetists, not only because of the higher rate of growth, but because there were a lot more nurse practitioner jobs to start with.
In addition to the most obvious DNP jobs, graduates of DNP programs are qualified for many other health care careers, such as health care executives, nursing faculty, health care lobbyists, and clinical researchers. The job outlook for political scientists, which includes lobbyists, is only 5%. The expected growth rate for medical scientists is 8%, for health care managers 18%, and for nursing faculty 20%.
How Much Can I Make With a DNP?
The average DNP salary ranges from around $73, 000 to $167,000, depending on the job. Not surprisingly, DNP graduates who go into education or research tend to make less money. The median pay for postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers is only $73,490. Researchers tend to fare a bit better, with median pay of $84,810 for medical scientists.
Many graduates enjoy a DNP salary that exceeds $100,000 per year, however. Health services managers earn a median salary of $99,730 per year—and the highest 10 percent earned over $182,600 in 2020. Political scientists—including lobbyists—earn a median of $117,570 per year, and nurse midwives earn a median of $103,770 per year.
The most common career paths for DNP graduates are nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist (formerly a master’s level specialty). Nurse anesthetists are the most well-paid, with a median salary of $167,950. The median salary for nurse practitioners is $107,030.
MSN to DNP: How Long Will It Take?
According to the BSN, the typical DNP program takes 3-6 years to complete, depending on whether the program is full-time or part-time. Full-time programs typically take between 2.5 to 3 years, but students who choose an accelerated program can shave some time off their MSN to DNP. How long? As much as 16 months. Most accelerated programs take between 20 to 24 months to complete. Maryville University, for example, has an online MSN to DNP program that can be completed in 20 months. Wilmington University’s accelerated MSN to DNP also takes about 20 months.
These time frames assume, of course, that the student has already earned an MSN. Most programs require completion of the MSN degree in order to begin the DNP program. DNP programs that accept students with bachelor’s degrees take longer to complete.