So You Want to Be a Nurse Practitioner? Choose the Right Program

Marie Napolitano, PhD, FNP; Tracy A. Klein, PhD, FNP


October 22, 2012

In This Article

Sources of NP Program Information

Program Web sites. Valuable information can be gleaned from a NP program's Web site. At a minimum, the Web site provides an overview of the NP program. The more information provided, the better the understanding of the program and the easier it is to compare different programs. Look for the school's mission statement, which signifies the values of the school, how long the program has existed, and whether it is a public, private, or faith-based institution. Information is typically provided about the faculty, such as whether the program has an NP director and the clinical and teaching background of the faculty.

The program of study and course descriptions, showing the layout of the curriculum over semesters or quarters, can be compared with national standards for NP education such as the AACN Essentials of Doctoral Education, or the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) Core and Population Competencies for programs such as the adult-gerontologic acute care NP. Information about the requirements for a scholarly project, such as Capstone Projects, should be visible.

If the Web site does not provide sufficient information, the applicant should call and speak with the program director or a program faculty member in the applicant's area of interest. Other staff may be able to provide information on operational aspects, including clinical sites and preceptors. Impressions from conversions with faculty, including their accessibility to prospective students, may be useful in the decision to apply to that program.

Program rankings. Applicants seeking information beyond what is available in program brochures or Web sites often turn to online college rankings. Among other measures, such rankings consider faculty peer assessments and statistical evaluation of financial and faculty data. Student satisfaction is not typically included in the rankings for graduate nursing programs. This does not mean that the rankings do not identify quality programs, but considerably more information should be sought by potential applicants.

Costs. Tuition and fees are typically listed on a program's Web site. However, these published figures may not include costs such as equipment, books, lab fees, uniforms, and clinical fees. If the program is located at a distance from the student's home, additional costs for travel, lodging, and state license fees could be incurred. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 mandates that schools post net cost calculators on their Web sites based on students' individual circumstances to assist students in evaluating the total actual costs for a given educational program.[2]

Financial aid sources include private, public, and institution-based funding. Private funding sources include scholarships from professional organizations such as Sigma Theta Tau, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Foundation, state nurses' associations, or personal employers. Public sources for graduate nurse education funding include the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which provides funding for nurses seeking advanced education who plan to practice as faculty. Financial aid resources from the educational institution vary depending on your program of study, state of residence, and whether the program is public or private. Contact the school's financial aid office directly for more information and required forms as well as important deadlines for submission.

Curriculum delivery. An NP program's curriculum can be delivered in 3 ways: traditional classroom, online, or a blend (hybrid) of online and classroom learning. Online programs deliver courses and teacher-student communications using Web-based modalities. These programs may require short-term visits to campus, such as a week at the beginning of the program and a week at the end of the program.

Blended or hybrid programs require time on campus for courses and other activities. For example, a program may require the student to be present on campus for 1 intensive weekend per month, with the remainder of the coursework being completed online.

Traditional in-class programs still exist but are rapidly being converted to online and blended delivery modalities. The preapplicant should consider his or her preferred style of learning and ability to travel and complete in-person requirements, and also should inquire about availability of technological support for students.

Also important may be the length of the program and the number of credits required per semester or quarter. Some programs are shorter in length but require more credits (or courses) per semester or quarter, which may be difficult to complete if the student is also working and has other personal responsibilities. Some mandatory courses may only be offered once a year, and some programs do not offer core courses during the summer terms. This can extend the duration of the program beyond what was originally anticipated.