Best Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

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Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty care to patients. They conduct health assessments, diagnose acute and chronic conditions, and create treatment plans. Along with other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners assume leadership roles in healthcare.

Registered nurses can increase their responsibilities and earning potential by enrolling in one of the best nurse practitioner programs. A nurse practitioner degree strengthens graduate students’ patient care, clinical diagnosis, and assessment skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners rank among the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. Nurse practitioners also earn above-average salaries; the BLS reports that APRNs earn a median salary of over $115,000 per year.

In addition to ranking the best NP programs, this article introduces career and salary information for NPs, common NP courses, and scholarships for nurse practitioner students.

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Top 10 Best Nurse Practitioner Programs

Rank School Location
1 The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX
2 Brigham Young University Provo, UT
3 Villanova University Villanova, PA
4 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
5 Emory University Atlanta, GA
6 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
7 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH
8 Duke University Durham, NC
9 Texas State University San Marcos, TX
10 University of Rochester Rochester, NY

FAQ


  • What is a nurse practitioner?

    Nurse practitioners provide specialty and primary care for patients. They conduct health assessments, diagnose conditions, and develop treatment plans.


  • How long does it take to earn an NP degree?

    A nurse practitioner degree typically takes 2-4 years to complete. During an NP degree program, students complete coursework and clinical requirements.


  • What is an APRN?

    APRNs hold a graduate degree in nursing and provide advanced nursing care. Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists qualify as APRNs.


  • What is the difference between a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse?

    Nurse practitioners hold a graduate degree and work as advanced practice RNs. As a result, nurse practitioners typically earn higher salaries and take on more responsibilities than RNs.


Best Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021

Our list ranks the best nurse practitioner programs for 2021. Prospective nurse practitioners can use our ranking to identify programs that fit their interests, career goals, and schedule. By choosing one of the best NP programs, nurses can move into a high-demand role and increase their earning potential.

  1. The University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based on the Austin campus, UT Austin offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose from concentrations in adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, primary care pediatric nurse practitioner, psych or mental health nurse practitioner, and leadership in diverse settings.

    These 45-49 credit programs include nursing core courses, including quality and safety in healthcare, applications of healthcare research, and leadership development for healthcare professionals. Concentrations take 24 credits of courses specific to the knowledge base. For example, the pediatrics option includes courses such as pediatric primary healthcare concepts, and the family practice option offers courses in primary healthcare concepts. All students complete supervised clinical hours with experienced practitioners.

    Applicants must possess a bachelor of nursing degree, as well as a minimum of two years of clinical experience to apply. Students with a general bachelor's degree must possess an associate degree in nursing and relevant work experience. All students must take the GRE and need a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission.

    Texas is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  2. Brigham Young University
    Location

    Provo, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Provo, Utah, BYU offers a generic family nurse practitioner program that leads to a master of science degree.

    The 60- to 63-credit program includes courses such as pharmacology in advanced practice, healthcare policy and finance, diagnosis and management of pediatric and adolescent disorders, and family health. Students choose a thesis, culminating project, or scholarly evidence-based paper, exploring current nursing issues and challenges. The program focuses on clinical practice and research methods. Students develop an elective track under the guidance of faculty.

    Applicants must submit GRE scores. Students must also possess a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited university and a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. BYU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  3. Villanova University
    Location

    Villanova, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Villanova offers a master of science in nursing with a family nurse practitioner track. Students can choose to take core courses on campus or online. Full-time students can complete the program in about two years.

    The flexible course series includes an introduction to professional nursing practice, research and scientific evidence in nursing practice, pathophysiology, and nursing care of women and childbearing families. Students can focus on a variety of healthcare settings. Students finish clinical hours with experienced preceptors, and motivated students may move on to the doctor of nursing practice program.

    Students do not need work experience after earning their bachelor of science in nursing to apply to the master's program. Villanova requires GMAT or GRE scores, but students may apply for waivers if they possess a 3.2 minimum GPA in undergraduate work.

    Villanova is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  4. Vanderbilt University
    Location

    Nashville, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose from a variety of nurse practitioner concentrations, including emergency nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner.

    Students begin with nursing core courses, such as legal and ethical accountability in professional nursing practice, enhancement of community and population health, and fundamentals of clinical practice. Students then take courses in their chose specialty. Students also take placements in approved clinical practices, including independent studies and research practicums.

    The school recommends that applicants possess a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Students with a bachelor of science need a three-credit statistics course to apply. Students with an associate degree in nursing need at least 78 credits to apply.

    Vanderbilt is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  5. Emory University
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose from several nurse practitioner concentrations, including family nurse practitioner, emergency nurse practitioner, women's health nurse practitioner, and pediatric primary care nurse practitioner.

    Students take courses such as evidence-based practice, advanced health assessment, and innovative leadership and policy in advanced nursing practice roles. From there, students choose elective courses based on their focus and specialty. Students must also complete 750 clinical hours, receiving guidance from mentors and faculty. Emory offers multiple clinical sites in the metro Atlanta area. Students may also pursue several dual-degree options, including a master of public health.

    Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree in nursing and a registered nursing license from Georgia or a multi-state license to qualify for admission. Emory is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  6. Stony Brook University
    Location

    Stony Brook, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Stony Brook, New York, Stony Brook offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose between seven concentrations, including women's health nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

    Each track offers a combination of core, research, and clinical courses. Students take core courses designed to introduce vital concepts in their concentration before moving on to research methods. Students then complete pharmacology and clinical courses. The curriculum also prepares students to sit for national certification exams based on their concentration.

    Applicants must possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 in an undergraduate nursing program and a current registered nurse license to qualify for admission. Students without a nursing undergraduate degree may supply a clinical practice portfolio for review. The school prefers students to possess one year of clinical experience prior to enrolling.

    Stony Brook is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  7. Case Western Reserve University
    Location

    Cleveland, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Cleveland, Ohio, CWRU offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose from several nurse practitioner concentrations, including adult-gerontology, pediatrics, and family practice.

    Students take core courses in advanced pathophysiology, theoretical foundations, health promotion across the life span, and development and health promotion in children and adolescents. Many courses happen in a distance-friendly format, and each concentration has its own requirements for work experience and clinical hours. The school requires around 600 clinical hours to complete the requirement, placing students in approved healthcare facilities.

    Students can choose a full-time or part-time track to complete the degree. The application process requires three letters of recommendation, preferably from nursing colleagues familiar with the student's clinical work.

    CWRU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  8. Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Durham, North Carolina, Duke offers a master of science in nursing. Students can choose from several nurse practitioner concentrations, including women's health, psychiatric and mental health, and neonatal care, as well as several acute care choices.

    The program requires 42-49 credits depending on the chosen concentration. Students complete 11 credits of clinical core requirements before moving on to concentration-specific courses. Students complete clinical hours at an approved facility chosen by the student and faculty. The program also offers additional specialty certifications, including cardiology, endocrinology, palliative care, and veterans healthcare.

    Duke does not require standardized tests, but students may send them to strengthen an application. The school prefers applicants to possess a minimum GPA of 3.0. Duke is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  9. Texas State University
    Location

    San Marcos, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in San Marcos, Texas State offers a hybrid master of science in nursing with a family nurse practitioner concentration. Students take courses online with clinical experiences happening in residence in the surrounding communities. Face-to-face weekend intensives encourage students to meet fellow peers and engage in dialogue.

    The 48-credit program includes core courses such as advanced health assessment, theoretical foundations and role development in advanced nursing, and healthcare leadership and finance for advanced nursing practice. Students choose clinical locations in the surrounding area in conjunction with future goals. All students must also take a special course in translational science for evidence-based practice and innovation — a capstone experience for scientific training.

    Applicants must possess a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 or a minimum GPA of 3.0 on the last 60 credits of undergraduate work, as well as a current registered nurse license in Texas. Students also need a minimum of one year of nursing employment for eligibility. The school does not require GRE or GMAT scores.

    Texas State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

  10. University of Rochester
    Location

    Rochester, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Rochester, New York, Rochester offers a master of science in nursing with a nurse practitioner focus. Students can choose from six concentrations, including adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, and family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (offered online).

    All programs begin with a professional core, including advanced physiology and pathophysiology, research principles for evidence-based research, and ethics and public policy in the healthcare system. Students then take clinical specialties specific to each concentration, covering between 48-55 credits. Students must complete over 600 clinical hours at approved healthcare facilities.

    Applicants must possess a current registered nurse license and a professional resume to begin the application. Rochester is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Career and Salary Outlook for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners work in a high-demand, lucrative field. Along with nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners earn the highest salaries in the nursing profession.

According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn a median salary of nearly $110,000 per year. The highest-paid nurse practitioners earn over $184,000 per year. The BLS projects demand for APRNs to grow 45% between 2019-2029.

The earning potential for APRNs varies depending on where they work. Those who work in hospital settings and doctors’ offices earn above-average salaries for the profession. Some roles, however, may require irregular hours or shift care.


Nurse practitioners can pursue certification to demonstrate their expertise and stand out in the job market. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board grant specialty certifications for nurse practitioners.

Career Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10%
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners Less than $82,460 $115,800 More than $184,180

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accreditation for Nursing Degrees

Prospective nurse practitioner students should always choose an accredited school and program. Accredited NP degrees meet the educational requirement for professional licenses and certifications. Choosing an unaccredited program can thus affect a nurse’s job prospects after earning a nurse practitioner degree.

The best nurse practitioner programs hold accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission For Education In Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission On Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Learn more about why accreditation matters in our accreditation guide.

Courses in a Nurse Practitioner Program

Nurse practitioner programs strengthen students’ clinical and research skills. During a nurse practitioner degree, learners study topics like advanced health assessment, clinical diagnosis, and primary care across the lifespan. Students also take specialized courses depending on their concentration. Options available for concentrations include psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, neonatal nurse practitioners, and women’s health nurse practitioners. 

In addition to classroom training, degree-seekers complete hands-on, experiential requirements. The best NP programs connect nursing students with clinical practicum opportunities in various healthcare settings.

While classes may vary depending on the school and concentration, the following list outlines courses commonly found in NP programs.


  • Advanced Health Assessment

    In this course, learners strengthen their assessment skills in areas including mental health assessment and abnormal findings. The course also trains nurse practitioners to order diagnostic tests based on health assessments and interpret their results. Students also learn strategies for working with culturally diverse patients.


  • Advanced Primary Care

    Nurse practitioners learn to provide primary care for various clients. Depending on their specialization, coursework may focus on primary care for populations like adults, children, aging patients, or patients with mental health issues. The course emphasizes the differential diagnosis process, caring for individuals across the lifespan, and primary care settings.


  • Clinical Diagnosis

    In clinical diagnosis courses, learners study the process of evaluating and diagnosing medical conditions. Topics may include health promotion, illness prevention, and managing conditions. Nursing students also learn care strategies, including how to create healthcare management plans.


  • Quality Improvement and Patient Care

    This course trains nurse practitioners to measure patient outcomes and implement improvement plans. Learners study topics like continuous quality improvement methodologies, outcome measurement tools, and data collection in patient-focused settings. The course prepares nurse practitioners for leading roles in healthcare organizations.


  • Evidence-Based Practice

    This course teaches students how to evaluate nursing research and apply it in practice. Students review research in their field and explore the relationship between scholarship and clinical practice. Students also learn how to identify relevant evidence, evaluate nursing research, develop practice-based questions, and measure the impact of evidence-based policies.


Scholarships for Nursing Students


Learners studying how to become nurse practitioners may qualify for scholarships and grants that help pay for their degree. Professional associations, private foundations, and government agencies like the Health Resources and Services Administration offer scholarships for NP students. In addition to the following scholarship opportunities, prospective students can research opportunities based on their specialty, state, or university.


  • AACN Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing awards several scholarships. For example, the Geraldine Polly Bednash Scholarship grants $5,000 to nursing students at AACN-accredited programs. The requirements and application process vary depending on the scholarship.

    Amount: $2,500-$5,000



  • AANP Nurse Practitioner Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The American Association of Nurse Practitioners offers several scholarships for NP students. Applicants must be attending a graduate nursing program, with at least one semester complete. They must also submit transcripts, two references, and a resume.

    Amount: Varies



  • ABC Humane Wildlife Women in STEM Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: ABC Wildlife offers the scholarship to female-identifying graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in STEM programs, including nursing. Applicants must submit an essay response to a prompt.

    Amount: $1,000



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