The country’s growing demand for health care services will increase the need for nursing professionals who have advanced knowledge to manage and train the next generation of nurses.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. health care system could see more than 175,000 positions open each year for registered nurses and nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Nurses who have advanced degrees can serve in roles such as administrators or other leaders within health systems, or they may serve as educators.

Penn State World Campus offers two online nursing graduate degree programs that can provide the knowledge and skills to help nurses advance their careers.

The Master of Science in Nursing prepares nurses for leadership or educator positions.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest level of clinical nursing practice for nurses, in which they expect to apply research to the practice and be leaders and experts in their fields.

The graduate programs, which are offered in collaboration with the Penn State College of Nursing, are currently accepting applications for admission.

The decision to apply to graduate school in nursing is one that takes careful deliberation. Here are some tips and answers to frequently asked questions about the graduate nursing programs to help you as you prepare to apply.

What are the online graduate programs in nursing at Penn State?

Our graduate nursing portfolio consists of a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.

Master of Science in Nursing

The Master of Science in Nursing can prepare students for leadership positions or educational positions, such as in higher education or health care settings. The core curriculum of the online MSN program covers the principles of health care policy and the leadership skills needed to influence positive changes in health care. Students can choose one of two options, nurse administrator or nurse educator.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a professional, practice-focused degree designed to prepare highly qualified nurses to be leaders who deliver expert nursing care and ultimately improve health care outcomes. Students will complete several benchmarks, culminating in an oral presentation of a project.

What factors should be considered when evaluating different graduate school nursing programs online?

  • Accreditation: The online master’s and doctoral degree programs are part of the graduate nursing program through the Penn State College of Nursing, which is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
  • Academic quality: Faculty from the Penn State College of Nursing teach in the online programs, and they are respected researchers and scholars in the field. Faculty from the College of Nursing advise graduate students and can serve on the doctoral committees for students.
  • Certification: The curriculum in the nursing programs can help prepare students for national certification as a nurse leader/executive or nurse educator.
  • Flexibility and convenience: The courses are offered in an online format, which typically allows students to complete their assignments on a week-by-week basis. This flexibility gives students the chance to work and complete their course assignments when it is convenient for them.
  • Student resources and services: Students have access to a dedicated student affairs office, technical support, the University’s library system, clubs and organizations, and more.
  • Penn State community: Students will be part of a powerful community with networking opportunities among faculty, fellow students, mentors, and alumni. The Penn State Alumni Association is the largest dues-paying alumni association in the country.

Why continue your education with an MSN?

The MSN is an advanced degree that gives nurses a chance to specialize in a particular area of the field or take on a leadership role as a way of advancing their nursing career.

At Penn State World Campus, students can choose one of two options to focus their studies:

  • Nurse administrator: These courses focus on organizational leadership, healthy policy, and evidence-based health care delivery to prepare MSN students for leadership and administrative roles. The curriculum is designed to prepare students for national certification as a nurse leader or executive.
  • Nurse educator: This option provides students knowledge about evidence-based teaching and learning principles, curriculum development, and evaluative techniques. The curriculum can also help prepare students for national certification as a nurse educator.

What are the requirements or prerequisites to apply for the MSN?

There are several items applicants need for their application to the online MSN program:

  • A bachelor's degree in nursing from a program accredited by a national accrediting agency for nursing
  • A current license to practice professional nursing in the United States

Applicants must include the following materials in their applications:

  • Official transcripts from each institution attended
  • GPA and test scores
  • Two references and a personal statement

How long does it take students to complete the online MSN?

Full-time MSN students may complete the program in two years.

Does the MSN program require practicum hours?

The program requires 270 practicum hours.

Do I need to find my own practicum site in the MSN?

Yes. Students should take advantage of their knowledge of appropriate agencies and their local network to identify practicum sites that would be most beneficial in reaching individual goals.

Some students choose to complete practicum requirements at their place of employment, and other students identify alternate practicum sites. 

What is a DNP?

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a professional, practice-focused degree designed to prepare highly qualified nurses to be leaders who deliver expert nursing care and ultimately improve health care outcomes. Students will complete several benchmarks, culminating in an oral presentation of a project.

What are the requirements or prerequisites to apply for the DNP?

Applicants can apply for the DNP program from two paths, a bachelor’s program or a master’s program. Students must have the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing from a regionally accredited institution
    • Students entering from the post-master’s route have a master’s degree with a major in nursing from a regionally accredited institution
  • A current license to practice professional nursing
  • A GPA of 3.5 or higher and B+ or better on subsequent course work

Here is what you need to include in your application:

  • Official transcripts from each institution
  • Statement of purpose
  • Three references, a vita listing professional experience and other qualifications, and a writing sample

How long does it take to complete the DNP program?

Students in the MSN to DNP track usually take two years full-time or three years part-time.

The BSN to DNP track is only offered full-time, and it generally takes eight semesters over three years to complete.

What kinds of benchmarks or examinations are involved in the DNP?

There are several times that students in the DNP program will need reach benchmarks, similar to those kinds of progress indicators that a resident doctoral student would need to complete. They are:

  • Qualifying examination portfolio: This consists of a statement of a student’s career goals, unofficial transcripts of all graduate student work at Penn State, and a DNP project plan.
  • Comprehensive examination: This marks progression into the DNP project phase after the completion of the appropriate course work. Students will submit a written project proposal to their doctoral committee and do an oral presentation of the proposal.
  • Final oral presentation: This presentation of the DNP project is administered by the student’s doctoral committee. Students will give a public presentation, which will be followed by a private session of questions and responses about the project.

Does the DNP require a presence on campus at Penn State?  

The DNP program requires two separate three- or four-day intensive sessions at the University Park campus or the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, during the program. Students will work closely with their faculty adviser to plan for these experiences.

Are practicum hours required in the DNP program?

A total of 1,000 hours of post–B.S. practicum are required in the DNP program. Students may transfer 550 hours of practicum (if applicable) from the master's program. The remaining hours are accomplished through various courses in the DNP curriculum that include practicum hours as part of the course work. Practicum hour plans will be developed in consultation with the course faculty member and with the approval of the DNP faculty adviser.

Do I need to find my own clinical/practicum site in the DNP?

Yes. Students should take advantage of their knowledge of appropriate agencies and their local network to identify practicum sites that would be most beneficial in reaching individual goals.

Some students choose to complete practicum requirements at their place of employment, and other students identify alternate practicum sites. 

When is the deadline to apply?

The MSN and DNP programs are accepting applications for admission in the summer and fall 2021 semesters, and the deadline to apply is March 1. Students who are accepted can choose to start taking courses in the summer semester, which starts May 27, or in the fall semester, which starts August 23.

Interested in more information about these nursing programs?

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about the graduate programs offered online.