Nurse Practitioner Program Rankings – The Ultimate Guide

Nurse practitioner education is subject to stringent requirements and regulation because of the amount of responsibility that nurses take for other people’s health. While many types of higher education must be evaluated using highly subjective ranking systems based on graduation rates, costs, and other variables, nursing programs must first be evaluated on their ability to teach nursing students to keep their patients safe and healthy.

To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to earn a Master of Science in nursing degree from an accredited college or university. The most prominent accrediting body for nursing programs is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, which is approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education. An accrediting agency must have a thorough and diligent process for confirming that a college provides the necessary skills and knowledge for nurses who will have people’s health, and possibly even lives, in their hands.

While there are many agencies and publications that rank the quality of colleges based on various metrics, the accreditation status of school is really a make-or-break indicator of whether the school is worthwhile. Only after making sure that a school is accredited should you do further research into its programs.

The Accreditation Process

One of the biggest accreditation agencies for higher education in the U.S. is The Higher Learning Commission, which is affiliated with regional accreditors all over the country. The Higher Learning Commission describes their process for evaluating a college in great detail on their website. Here is a brief outline of their rigorous approach to confirming a college or university’s quality:

  • Letters of Inquiry and Intent: The college must submit a letter to the Commission presenting basic evidence that the college may qualify for accreditation. After a pre-application interview, the college must then submit a letter of intent, explicitly stating their choice to continue to pursue accreditation.
  • Preliminary Information Form: In this form, the college or university must “provide evidence that it meets the Eligibility Requirements.” This document must be a well rounded, info-packed argument as to the college’s high quality and standards of education. Since the commission only reviews these submissions three times per year, it is important that the institution submitting the application gets it right the first time. After this step, another letter of intent, confirming the institute’s choice to pursue accreditation, is required.
  • Self-Study and Comprehensive Site Visit for Candidacy: The institution must evaluate its own programs, governance, relationship with community, and long term goals, and submit the results of its study to the Commission. A representative of the Commission will then visit the institute and evaluate the claims made in the self-study, and if they are found to be accurate, the procedure can move forward.
  • Candidacy: If all of the above goes well, the applicant is awarded candidacy, which lasts for four years, with an additional on-site evaluation after two years.
  • Initial Accreditation: Once the above steps have been completed and the institution has proved itself to be consistently satisfactory throughout the several-year process, it can be awarded accreditation.

Only after confirming the accreditation status of the schools you consider should you turn to third-party ranking systems as a judge of program quality.

Program Rankings for NP Programs

There are a number of organizations that provide rankings of different nursing programs, including nurse practitioner programs. You might try reading about the rankings and learning a little more about what’s available in different programs. You can learn a little bit more about nurse practitioner programs and other nursing school rankings by reading about what makes a school seem “good”. Here are some of the rankings available:

U.S. News & World Report: One of the most anticipated rankings of all things college is that done by U.S. News & World Report. You can start out by looking at the best graduate school rankings, which have a number of helpful categories in the medical category. You can find medical programs, and nursing programs, and more.

U.S. News uses peer reviews to help determine program rankings, as well as including information about standardized test scores, number of students accepted, and other factors.

National Institutes of Health: When it comes to funding for different programs and schools, the National Institutes of Health can provide helpful rankings and information. You can get information about which schools and hospitals are receiving grant money. This can be helpful in allowing you to see which schools and teaching hospitals have potential and can possibly help you decide which program to attend. This can be especially helpful if you want to get some nurse practitioner experience at a teaching hospital.

StudentsReview: If you are looking for advice from fellow students about which program to consider, you can get it at StudentsReview. If you are considering a nurse practitioner program, you can check at this ranking site to learn what other students have to say about various programs. Some of the reviews are quite in-depth and can provide you with solid, detailed information about different opportunities.

Princeton Review: For those willing to buy a book with rankings, the Princeton Review’s Best Colleges publication can be helpful. Get reviews of different schools and programs, including those with an emphasis on health care — including nurse practitioner programs. Find out which schools have good health care and medical programs, and get ideas of where you can go for some training.

Should You Rely on Rankings?

While rankings can be a helpful tool for learning more about a program, it is important to realize that rankings aren’t the be all and end all. Finding the nurse practitioner program that works best for you depends on your own needs and interests. Additionally, you might find that some of the “top” programs don’t meet your needs or your schedule requirements. Money can also be an issue. You need to be able find a program that works for your budget.

When deciding which program to attend, you should take some things into account, depending on how important they are to you. Here are some things to consider when choosing a nurse practitioner program that works for you:

  • What can you afford?
  • What types of financial aid do you qualify for?
  • Does the program offer your preferred specialty?
  • Are there opportunities for direct interaction with instructors?
  • Does the school offer career placement services?
  • How much time do you have for NP studies?

Location may also be a factor in your decision, though with online programs, you won’t necessarily need to move to finish school. However, thinking ahead to where you might want to live and be licensed to practice working can have its benefits, as some locations offer much better salaries than others for RNs. The top five best paying states for RNs are depicted in the graph below.

You will need to decide what your priorities are as you look for a program. If being able to study on your own schedule is most important and money is also near the top of your list, it is a good idea to look into online nurse practitioner programs. However, if prestige is important to you, and you want to interact with your instructors in person, you might consider a school that is ranked higher.

However, if you are a good nurse practitioner, studying your material and doing well when you engage in practical experience, you needn’t go to an expensive nurse practitioner program. Doing well no matter where you are is better than doing a mediocre job at an Ivy League school.

While nurse practitioner rankings can be helpful in helping you assess different qualities in various programs and schools, you shouldn’t automatically assume that your best option is to attend the #1 program in the rankings; in fact, sometimes rankings do not turn out the same. The #1 program listed by U.S. News & World report might be different from what is listed in the Princeton Review. On top of that, students posting reviews online might be able to shed more light on what’s really going on at a school.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is most important to you, and choose a nurse practitioner program that fits your need. Rankings can help, but don’t rely on them too much.

The Best Online Nurse Practitioners Degrees

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who provides primary and specialty care to patients. A nurse practitioner is responsible for administering both nursing and wider healthcare services; and, they are licensed to prescribe medications. Becoming a nurse practitioner requires the completion of a master's degree program. Below are the most popular colleges offering online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees.

Walden University RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP
RN to MSN: Psychiatric Mental Health NP
Walden University - The Walden University Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program offers study in the advanced methods of practicing nursing throughout the healthcare industry. Registered nurses with bachelors in nursing are able to obtain their diploma in an accelerated format. Students can also specialize in various aspects of nursing, including Adult Gerontology, Adult Gerontology Acute Care, and Nurse Leadership.
South University MSN: Adult-Gerontology NP
RN to MSN: Family NP
RN to MSN: Nurse Education
South University - The South University Master of Science in Nursing program features a Family Nurse Practitioner specialization designed for Registered Nurses that wish to advance their skills, manage their patients care, and make critical decisions using evidence-based information. The program is conveniently offered online. For RNs looking to make a career jump, South University also offers an accelerated RN to MSN program with specialized tracks in adult health and nurse education.
Purdue University MSN
MSN: Nurse Administration
MSN: Nurse Education
MSN: Nurse Informatics
Purdue University - The Purdue University MSN and BSN to MSN programs offers students the opportunity to explore nursing methods in a dynamic healthcare environment. Courses include Advanced Nursing Roles, Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Nursing, and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in a Diverse Community. MSN specializations are offered in nurse administration, nurse education, and nurse informatics.
Liberty University DNP
Liberty University - The Doctor of Nursing Practice specialization at the Liberty University is designed around a conceptual and clinical framework. Graduates learn advanced nursing methodologies, including clinical practice, teaching, research, and scholarship. The degree program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
Simmons College MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner
RN to MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner
Simmons College - For students who want to advance their careers and quickly accomplish life goals, Simmons College offers two degrees to help students become nurse practitioners. The first allows students to specialize as Family Nurse Practitioner while the second program is an accelerated option for registered nurses interested in family nurse practice. Both degrees are accredited and through online courses, they can be accomplished in two years.
Georgetown University MSN: Midwifery and Women's Health
MS: Family Nursing Practice
MS: Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nursing Practice
Georgetown University - Graduates of the Georgetown University online MS of Nursing in Midwifery and Women's Health will have more than just a degree to their name upon completion. Students will have the skill and knowledge to help advance their profession, and medicine as a whole, while serving as sponsors of the well-being and overall health of each of their patients.
Catholic University of America Doctor of Nursing Practice
Catholic University of America - At the Catholic University of America, students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program will participate in an online format that confers an advanced degree in the management of healthcare. Graduates leave CUA with the education and confidence to tackle the most pressing medical management challenges.
Grand Canyon University MSN: Nursing Education
MSN in Nursing Leadership
MSN/MBA in Leadership
MSN in Nurse Informatics
Grand Canyon University - The Grand Canyon University College of Nursing and Health Sciences provides students with a variety of master's programs tailored to meet the students specific interests. Specializations include Education, Leadership in Health Care Systems (also available as an MBA).

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