Earning a Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree Online

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Nurse practitioners diagnose patients, prescribe treatments, and act as primary care providers. As advanced care registered nurses, nurse practitioners earn high salaries and assume high-responsibility positions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 36% increase in nurse practitioner jobs between 2016 and 2026, and these workers earn a median salary of over $103,000 a year. The growing demand for nurse practitioners, plus their high earning potential, attracts many motivated individuals to the profession. Online nurse practitioner programs allow current nurses and professionals to earn their degrees in a relatively flexible, accessible format. This article explains how to become a nurse practitioner.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree?

Nurses interested in advancing their careers benefit from earning a nurse practitioner master's degree. Prospective students can enroll in specialized programs, such as online family nurse practitioner programs or online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs, to prepare for a career in advanced nursing. As a growing field with high demand, nurse practitioner programs also attract professionals considering a career change. Many programs offer prerequisite training for applicants with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field.

Why Get a Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree?

Pursuing Specialization

Working nurses who want to pursue specialized career opportunities benefit from enrolling in nurse practitioner programs online. Nurse practitioners specialize in a field, such as family care, prenatal care, or psychiatric care. Within a specialization, students complete clinical hours to gain hands-on experience and take specialized coursework.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Online nurse practitioner programs help nurses advance their careers, positioning them to earn higher salaries. Also known as advanced practice registered nurses, nurse practitioners can provide primary care for patients. A master's degree from a nurse practitioner program lets graduates pursue higher-level, higher-responsibility positions in healthcare.

Online Learning Technology

Online nurse practitioner programs rely on the latest communication technologies to train nurses. These online resources let nursing students arrange coursework around other responsibilities. Gaining experience with online communication technologies may benefit nurse practitioners who use distance medicine technologies to care for patients.

Prerequisites for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Nurse practitioner programs set prerequisites to ensure incoming students can succeed while taking graduate-level coursework. When researching schools, prospective students should make sure to double check all requirements.

    • Work Experience: Many programs prefer applicants with work experience. Applicants must hold an RN license, and most programs also require a bachelor's degree to enroll. Work experience helps prospective students demonstrate their nursing skills. Many online NP students continue working while completing their degree.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Nurse practitioner programs may request test scores, such GRE, MAT, and/or NCLEX scores, to evaluate applicants. This requirement varies by program.
    • Coursework: ost nurse practitioner programs set prerequisite courses for admission, including basic classes in nursing. Students with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field typically need to complete these courses before enrolling in a master's program. Additionally, programs often set a minimum GPA requirement for a student's prior college-level work, which typically ranges from 2.5-3.0 GPA. Some programs also set minimum grade requirements for certain prerequisite classes.
    • Recommendations: Prospective students often submit 1-3 letters of recommendation written by former teachers and/or supervisors. These letters should speak to an applicant's ability to succeed at the graduate level. Applicants should give writers at least three weeks' notice to complete these letters.
    • Essays: Some programs request an essay or personal statement from nurse practitioner applicants. A program may ask applicants to explain why they want to pursue an online nurse practitioner degree or describe their background in healthcare. Applicants can use essays to further highlight their strengths.
    • Interviews: Online nurse practitioner programs may use interviews to learn more about an applicant's background and their qualifications for a master's program. During interviews, applicants can also ask detailed questions to learn more about a program and its faculty members.
    • International Students International students interested in taking nurse practitioner programs online may need to provide additional materials during the application process, including translations of any transcripts. Many programs also require TOEFL scores or other proof of English language proficiency.

How Much Can I Make with a Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree?

Nurse practitioners stand as some of the highest-paid nursing providers. Many specializations offer median salaries above $100,000. The BLS reports that the 10th-percentile salary for nurse practitioners stands at around $75,000 per year, while the 90th-percentile salary exceeds $145,000. Nurse practitioners often specialize in areas such as neonatal care, family care, or psychiatric care, and all nurse practitioners must hold a graduate degree.

Traditional Careers for Nurse Practitioner Master’s Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Nurse Practitioners

Median Pay: $103,880

Job Growth: 36%

Also known as advanced practice registered nurses, nurse practitioners often act as primary care providers. They provide advanced nursing care for patients, including specialty care. Nurse practitioners assess patients, diagnose problems, and create treatment plans to improve patient health. They may specialize in areas such as pediatric health or geriatric health.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioners

Median Pay: $98,000

Job Growth: N/A

Neonatal nurse practitioners provide care for premature and full-term infants. They diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medications, and create treatment plans. Neonatal nurse practitioners typically work in a hospital setting, coordinating with physicians and nurses to care for infants.

Family Nurse Practitioners

Median Pay: $92,000

Job Growth: N/A

Family nurse practitioners provide primary care for children and adults. They diagnose diseases, prescribe medications, order medical tests, and create treatment plans. They may work with a physician or act as a primary care provider, depending on the state.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Median Pay: $101,000

Job Growth: N/A

Psychiatric nurse practitioners care for patients with psychiatric disorders. They can treat conditions like ADHD and anxiety or substance use disorders. Nurse practitioners also care for patients with mood disorders, working with psychiatrists to help patients.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for Nurse Practitioner Graduates

After earning a nurse practitioner degree, graduates can also pursue related careers in other areas of healthcare. For example, a nurse practitioner may meet the qualifications for less traditional careers, such as physician assistants. These careers draw on many of the same skills as nurse practitioners.

Career Stats Description

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Median Pay: $59,410

Job Growth: 15%

Dietitians and nutritionists counsel patients on food and nutrition. They help people manage diseases, provide guidance on healthier lifestyles, and promote overall health. Most positions require a bachelor's degree, and many states require a license.

Skills Overlapped: Patient-centered treatment, research abilities, analytical skills

Audiologists

Median Pay: $75,920

Job Growth: 21%

Audiologists diagnose hearing, balance, and ear problems. They create treatment plans, conduct research on the causes of hearing problems, and administer treatments. Audiologists also fit patients for hearing aids and must be licensed to practice.

Skills Overlapped: Diagnostic skills, communication and patient care, problem-solving skills

Physician Assistants

Median Pay: $104,860

Job Growth: 37%

Physician assistants work with physicians and surgeons to provide medical care for patients. They examine patients, order diagnostic tests, and create treatment plans. Physician assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, and most of these workers hold a master's degree.

Skills Overlapped: Strong patient skills, diagnostic abilities, nursing backgrounds

Speech-Language Pathologists

Median Pay: $76,610

Job Growth: 18%

Also known as speech therapists, speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders. They work in schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Most positions require a master's degree.

Skills Overlapped: Strong critical-thinking, analytical, and diagnostic skills

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree

Most nurse practitioner students pay for their degree through a mix of savings, loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Graduate students can see whether they qualify for federal financial aid by filling out the FAFSA each year. Choosing an accelerated option can save students money on tuition, while a part-time option may allow learners to continue working while earning their degree. Nurse practitioner students also benefit from many targeted scholarship opportunities.

Scholarships for Online Nurse Practitioner Students

Many professional organizations offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants for students attending accredited online nurse practitioner programs. Some opportunities cover tuition plus additional educational expenses. Many schools also offer institutional scholarships to nursing students.

What to Expect from an Online Nurse Practitioner Master’s Program

Nurse practitioner online programs train nurses to diagnose and treat patients. Each program sets its own graduation requirements and curriculum, which typically includes an internship to gain clinical experience. Nurse practitioner students usually complete their degrees in 2-3 years, and many online programs let students continue to work while enrolled. The following section covers major milestones, coursework, and timelines for earning an online nurse practitioner degree.

Major Milestones

  1. Orientation

    2-3 years before graduation

    Many nurse practitioner programs begin with an orientation where students learn about the program and meet faculty members and other students.

  2. Choose a Specialization

    2 years before graduation

    Students choose their specialization towards the beginning of their nurse practitioner program. Potential specialties include family, women's health, and neonatal care.

  3. Coursework

    1-3 years before graduation

    Students complete classes throughout their program. Courses provide advanced nursing skills and knowledge and often incorporate clinical components.

  4. Internship

    1-2 years before graduation

    Nurse practitioner students complete an internship with a required number of clinical hours. Students work under a preceptor who monitors their progress.

  5. Graduation

    2-3 years after enrolling

    After meeting all graduation requirements, nurse practitioner students can file their intent to graduate. Most online programs invite graduates to walk in their on-campus graduation.

  6. National Certification Test

    After graduation

    Nurse practitioner graduates qualify for the national certification test, administered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board. All 50 states recognize this certification.

Coursework

Nurse practitioner online programs set their own curriculum to educate future nurse practitioners. However, many schools incorporate similar classes, including the courses listed below.

Advanced Health Assessment

Nurse practitioner students expand their health assessment skills through coursework and clinical experience. Students train to conduct health assessments for children and adults, relying on simulations, human models, and clinical experiences.

Evidence-Based Methods and Practices

Courses that cover evidence-based practices strengthen research and critical analysis skills. Nurse practitioner students also gain knowledge related to the best practices in patient care and different models for improving patient outcomes.

Nursing Theory for Advanced Practice

Master's students in nursing study different theories about healthcare and put theoretical models into practice. Participants learn about research techniques, method modification based on evidence, and theories behind different health outcomes.

Primary Care of Adults

Students planning to work as family nurse practitioners or women's health nurse practitioners benefit from classes on primary care. Students learn how to integrate assessment and theory when caring for adults. This course also covers chronic and acute nursing.

Epidemiology for Nurse Practitioners

Students studying epidemiology learn about the connections between diseases, public health, and nursing practice. This course also details monitoring the spread of diseases and caring for patients with diseases.

Degree Timelines

Online nurse practitioner programs offer multiple enrollment options, including part-time, full-time, and accelerated tracks. Students can choose a program that best fits their needs.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3-5 years

Nurse practitioners may choose a part-time path if they plan to continue working full time while earning their degree or if they have other family responsibilities. On a part-time track, students complete 1-2 classes per term. Part-time students also meet clinical hour requirements, which working nurses can complete at their current place of employment.

Full-Time

2-3 years

Full-time nurse practitioner students earn their degree in 2-3 years. Students complete around 40 credits of coursework and meet the program's clinical hour requirements. Online programs usually allow nurses to work while earning their nurse practitioner degree.

Accelerated

2 years

On an accelerated path, nurse practitioner students can earn their degree in as little as two years. Accelerated students typically take several classes per term while meeting clinical hour requirements. This option may not appeal to professionals who need to work full time while pursuing their master's degree.

Licenses and Certifications

Nurse practitioners often pursue licenses and certifications to demonstrate their expertise and qualify for better job opportunities. While nurse practitioners must hold an RN license, many also complete board certification in their specialization. For example, nurse practitioners can earn certifications related to family, neonatal, and women's healthcare. Board certification helps nurse practitioners stand out in the job market, and some employers only hire board-certified nurse practitioners. Common certification requirements include holding an accredited degree, passing an examination, and taking regular continuing education credits to maintain credentials.

    • Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner: Nurse practitioners specializing in family medicine can earn board certification. This credential requires a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program. Candidates must pass a 150-question exam covering prenatal, pediatric, and family medicine.
    • Board Certified Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: This certification recognizes qualified neonatal nurse practitioners. Candidates must hold a master's degree or higher from an accredited nurse practitioner program and a current RN license. Some states may require this certification to practice.
    • Board Certified Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner: Women's health nurse practitioners earn board certification by passing an examination and holding a graduate degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program. Certified nurse practitioners must renew their credential every three years.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations help students enrolled in online nurse practitioner programs transition into the workforce. These organizations offer professional development support, networking opportunities, and career centers with job postings. Many organizations provide scholarship and grant support for nurse practitioner students. Experienced nurse practitioners also rely on professional organizations for continuing education programs. These resources help nurse practitioners stay current in their field.

  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners: AANP hosts conferences and events with networking opportunities, publishes research and professional development resources, and offers continuing education opportunities. The association also provides a career center and scholarship opportunities for students.
  • American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners: AAENP provides resources for emergency nurse practitioners, including networking events and publications. Members also receive discounts on certifications and access to the Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal.
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners: NAPNAP offers educational tools, networking opportunities, and publications to pediatric nurse practitioners. The association offers a student discount on membership, which provides access to discounts, a job center, and patient education resources.
  • Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health: NPWH offers clinician and patient resources. The association provides courses, hosts events, and publishes a clinical journal.
  • American Nurses Association: Founded in 1896, ANA represents millions of registered nurses working across the country. The association provides certifications, publishes research, and offers networking opportunities for members.
  • Clinical Resources for NPs: AANP offers clinical resources for nurse practitioners based on their therapeutic area. These resources include practice tools, research, and digital clinical reference tools.
  • AANP Education: AANP education resources include continuing education opportunities, educational tools, and student resources. This site also offers publications and scholarships to support students.
  • Practice Information by State: AANP provides information on the practice requirements for nurse practitioners in every state. This site connects nurse practitioners with the resources they need to maintain their license in any state.
  • Clinical Advisor: A site with resources for nurse practitioners, Clinical Advisor offers case studies, news, and drug information to keep practitioners up to date in their field.
  • NP Job Center: AANP runs a job center for nurse practitioners, which includes job alerts, the ability to upload a resume, and interview tips.