When you first start researching the different types of nursing degrees, your search results can prove overwhelming.
After all, there are so many types of nursing certifications you can attain. CNA, RN, BSN, MSN, FNP – the many nursing programs look like a fine alphabet soup!
A nurse practitioner has completed an advanced-level (master’s or doctoral) program beyond their initial registered nurse (RN) training.
In a nurse practitioner program, people gain significant fieldwork experience in diverse clinical settings and can typically specialize in an area like neonatal care, psychiatric care, or women’s care.
All nurse practitioners must pass a rigorous national certification exam, and many collegiate programs also stipulate dissertations or independent research projects.
So what can a nurse practitioner do?
They can order, conduct, and analyze lab results, like x-rays or MRIs. They can provide counseling and general patient care, as well as prescribe medications and treatments.
Nurse practitioners can diagnose acute and chronic ailments, like high blood pressure, concussions, and infections.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best nationally ranked nurse practitioner programs in the United States. These schools were chosen as they are among the top-ranked in the US News best NP schools list.
While these universities offer standard specializations, many are home to unique global education opportunities, state-of-the-art facilities, and other assets not seen elsewhere in the country.
Boston College Connell School of Nursing (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Boston College enrolls nearly 300 graduate nursing students and maintains an intimate 1:4 faculty-to-student ratio.
The school offers four pathways to a DNP, and unique to the Connell School of Nursing is a 100% full tuition remission for full-time PhD students!
Connell only recently launched its DNP program in 2019.
Rather than requiring students to compose a dissertation, students in the DNP program design an evidence-based project geared to improve a specific healthcare outcome for a particular patient demographic.
Called “projects with a purpose,” an example includes a self-monitoring tool for monitoring symptoms of COVID-19.
The master’s program engages students in a social justice-oriented curriculum. Nursing students can specialize in areas like women’s health or adult-gerontology primary care.
Regardless of their selected pathway, all nursing practitioner candidates complete fieldwork among three to six clinical sites, such as the Addiction Treatment Center of New England, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Boston Children’s Hospital.
UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing (Sacramento, CA)
One of UC Davis’ best nursing program assets is its host of simulation suites.
In addition to a home health simulation suite and a 15-room primary care simulation suite, the school also features an eight-bed hospital ward, intensive care unit, and realistic waiting room.
Nurse practitioner students practice skills across all simulation suites to gain confidence before entering authentic clinical settings.
The DNP Family Nurse Practitioner Degree Program is a three-year hybrid program that prepares advanced-level practitioners to engage in evidence-based care.
It recently launched in the summer of 2022 and is already attracting candidates who seek leadership roles in their future careers.
Nursing students attend scheduled synchronous sessions weekly and engage in four required on-site immersive activities in Sacramento throughout the three years. These immersive activities can last up to five days.
University of Alabama School of Nursing (Birmingham, AL)
Men, in particular, may gravitate toward UAB’s School of Nursing; for the fourth consecutive year, UAB has been named the Best School for Men in Nursing.
The school’s nursing faculty is 17.5% male, while the national average of peer institutions is 8.4%.
Students passionate about conducting research within their nursing program will also be encouraged to learn that UAB receives the second-highest amount of research funding from the NIH (among public schools in the United States).
The MSN nurse practitioner pathway at UAB positions students in four on-campus intensives during their last four semesters of the program.
Students can specialize in one of nine nurse practitioner specialties.
Two of these specialties are ranked by the U.S. News & World Report for 2023: Family Nurse Practitioner in 7th and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in 8th.
Nursing students who choose the women’s health nurse practitioner pathway may participate in initiatives like the Nurse-Family Partnership, where they accompany highly-trained nurses on visits to pregnant people during all stages of pregnancy.
University of Michigan School of Nursing (Ann Arbor, MI)
Nursing students can pursue in-person and online nurse practitioner degrees at U of M! Online degrees have proven effective in preparing students to pass the required nursing license exams; in fact, 100% of the recent online cohort passed their board certification tests!
Those admitted to the online program must only visit campus for three days each term. These visits focus on hands-on skill-building, experiential learning, and performance evaluations.
One of the nursing school’s flagship programs is its combined nurse-midwifery and primary care family nurse practitioner degree.
Ranked 2nd of its kind by the 2023 U.S. News & World Report, it is one of several award-winning programs at the University of Michigan.
What kind of classes might nurse practitioner candidates take at U of M? In “Advanced Health Assessment for Advanced Practice Nurses,” participants examine the intersection of developmental, sociocultural, and biopsychosocial contexts regarding healthcare outcomes.
Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing (Atlanta, GA)
Nurse practitioner candidates at Emory University can specialize in one of five pathways.
In the family nurse practitioner (FNP) pathway, nursing students gain 600 hours of supervised clinical experience, with particular emphasis on managing acute episodic issues and long-term care of stable but chronic illnesses.
From cardiology and neurology to orthopedics and palliative care, FNP candidates can complete rotations in various settings.
Women’s health/gender-related nurse practitioners focus on increasing healthcare access for women and minority populations.
All courses are online, though there are several in-person intensives. Students can even attend this program from out of state, and clinical experiences are not limited to Atlanta, Georgia.
Emory also maintains one of the few neonatal nurse practitioner programs in the country and is currently the only one of its kind in Georgia.
Graduates of this program can enroll part-time or full-time in an “executive online” format, wherein students attend campus twice a semester for simulations, laboratories, and other experiential learning opportunities.
The University of North Carolina School of Nursing (Chapel Hill, NC)
UNC is home to one of the best nursing schools in the nation, and its BSN to MSN hybrid program is half-online and half-in-person.
Within its adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner option, graduate students complete five clinical rotations in advanced diagnostic reasoning and healthcare management.
Unique to UNC’s nurse practitioner program is an oncology focus. These nursing students complete additional hours in oncology settings to learn how to better prevent and manage cancer in adults.
The psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program is another highlight of the UNC School of Nursing.
Students concentrating in this realm will gain experience conducting group and individual therapy in different modalities, managing complex psychiatric disorders, and promoting community well-being.
Regardless of which pathway students choose, they can take comfort in knowing that their proximity to some of the best hospital systems in the southeast guarantee invaluable fieldwork experiences.
The UCSF School of Nursing (San Francisco, CA)
One of the best nursing schools on the west coast, UCSF offers an MS nurse practitioner degree, which can be completed in two years.
Many UCSF nursing students opt to pursue the pediatric nurse practitioner-acute care pathway, which aims to provide family-centric care to meet the needs of young people.
Nurse practitioner candidates in this field will complete rotations in pediatric cardiac units, emergency departments, and other settings.
UCSF also operates a neonatal nurse practitioner degree, which requires 600 mentored practice hours for licensure in California.
These students focus primarily on illnesses apparent during birth and reducing healthcare disparities across racial and socioeconomic demographics.
Over in the adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner pathway – the only one in northern California – degree candidates train in various hospital departments, like the trauma unit, emergency department, and transplant unit.
A nurse practitioner degree at UCSF is, at its core, interdisciplinary. Students benefit tremendously from exposure to different settings and patient populations.
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (Nashville, TN)
Vanderbilt’s adult-gerontology nurse practitioner pathway is among the best-ranked in the United States.
Graduate nursing students score significantly higher than their competitors at peer institutions on national examinations and have more concentrations to choose from, including rehabilitation, endocrinology, and nephrology.
Nursing candidates complete field experiences at various locations in Nashville, including ambulatory care centers, university student health centers, and even prisons.
Many of Vanderbilt’s advanced nurse practitioner degrees are offered in an online or hybrid format.
The neonatal pathway is offered exclusively in a modified distance learning format so that working nurses do not have to interrupt their employment or relocate to Nashville to pursue a higher degree.
Many candidates apply to Vanderbilt’s nurse practitioner programs because they want to work exclusively with women.
The women’s health/gender-related nurse practitioner track connects students with opportunities to manage both low- and high-risk pregnancies, assist in family planning, and provide general gynecologic care.
While this curriculum is offered online, those without a prior nursing education background need to complete a “PreSpecialty year” within a daily commute of Nashville, Tennessee.
Duke University School of Nursing (Durham, NC)
With several #1-ranked nursing programs in the U.S. News & World Report, Duke University’s School of Nursing allows family nurse practitioners to specialize in areas like HIV.
Students spend at least 725 clinical hours engrossed in skills-based work. In the Center for Nursing Discovery, for example, nursing students can engage in simulations focused on conducting advanced procedures and managing complex illnesses.
Duke boasts the only pediatric nurse practitioner (acute care) degree program in North Carolina.
This seven-semester program is distance-based, though students have abundant opportunities to engage in clinical experiences close to their home location.
Another claim to fame is the nursing school’s women’s health nurse practitioner program, which grants short-term clinical opportunities in domestic and international sites.
Group learning experiences take place each semester, and coursework focuses on addressing issues like infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and veteran women’s health.
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Philadelphia, PA)
Rivaling peer institutions like UNC and Duke, Penn’s School of Nursing claims the #1 nursing school ranking worldwide!
They have held this honor since 2016. This ranking is banked on Penn’s rigorous and innovative curriculum, expert staff, and overall research contributions.
In addition to its current rankings, the school has a long list of “firsts.”
They started the first privately funded nursing research center in the U.S., the first nursing doctoral degree in the Ivy League, and they are one of the first nursing schools to use simulated patients.
With over 1,250 students, Penn maintains one of the highest enrollments for a U.S. nursing school.
Half of these participants are enrolled in the BSN pathway, while 416 are enrolled in the MSN, and others are pursuing a doctorate or PhD.
Recent cohorts achieved a 100% pass rate for the AMCB certification exam – Penn is one of only 13 nationwide programs to achieve this distinction.
Many nursing students gravitate to Penn because of its research reputation.
Nurse practitioner candidates can earn project funding through the Hillman Scholars program starting in the first year. Also unique to Penn is its focus on community engagement.
Nurse practitioner candidates in all specialty areas participate in various community outreach programs, which inevitably expose them to how intersecting forces like socioeconomic status, age, and ethnicity can affect access to healthcare and healthcare outcomes.