BSN to DNP: Program Types and Admissions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 15, 2021

Published January 13, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs prepare nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Nurses who complete a DNP program are eligible to work in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and other kinds of healthcare settings, like private practices as a nurse practitioner (NP). In this article, we review types of DNP programs, requirements to apply, expected cost of a DNP program, length of time to finish a DNP program and the average salary for a person with a DNP.

BSN to DNP basics

Many nurses graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, and use that credential to work in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility or other healthcare institution. Some nurses then choose to attend graduate school to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP. Nurses practicing with a DNP are qualified to perform more types of care and to work more independently, sometimes as a primary care provider. Doctor of Nursing Practice programs intended for nurses who already have BSN degrees are sometimes referred to as " BSN to DNP" programs.

Types of DNP programs

Nurses who attend school for a Doctor of Nursing Practice often choose a specialty to focus on in their studies and career after graduation. While every accredited program includes the essential basic skills for an APRN, some of the types of DNP specialties you might find are:

Nurse practitioner

Some programs are intended to prepare nurses for advanced practice as a clinical nurse practitioner who provides primary and specialty care to their patients. Nurse practitioners might focus on treating patients in a certain age range, such as pediatrics or adult gerontology, or they might emphasize providing certain kinds of care, such as midwifery or oncology.


Nurses who wish to serve in a leadership capacity may wish to enroll in a DNP that focuses on healthcare leadership skills. Graduates of these types of programs often work as healthcare administrators at hospitals or other organizations.

Related: 12 Healthcare Jobs That Pay Well

Public health

A Doctor of Nursing Practice program with a focus on public health helps students prepare for employment with state or local health departments, hospitals or universities, where they work to support a community's health.

Health policy

Some Doctor of Nursing Practice programs offer specialized study in health policy, which refers to the processes and laws that have to do with healthcare systems. DNP students who study health policy often go into politics or work for "think tank" organizations that might influence decisions related to healthcare policies at the local, state or national level.

Related: What Is a Nurse Lawyer? (and How To Become One)


Doctor of Nursing Practice programs with an emphasis on healthcare technology can support DNP students in becoming experts in the various complex technological tools used in providing patient care, managing records and disseminating information. Many DNP graduates with a focus in technology work for the large tech companies that create software for healthcare professionals. Tech-oriented DNP graduates might also work in IT at a hospital or associated university.

Requirements to apply

The requirements to apply to a Doctor of Nursing Practice program vary depending on the institution, but most colleges and universities consider the following criteria when making admissions decisions:

Accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Most DNP programs require incoming students to already have their Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing or a Master of Science in the same field. This requirement helps ensure that new DNP students have the background they need to be successful in a program that can be very rigorous and domain-specific.

Current nursing licensure

Successful applicants to Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are also usually licensed as a nurse in the state where they intend to practice at the time they complete their DNP. Current licensure helps to ensure applicants are familiar with best practices in nursing. Since most DNP programs require clinical hours as part of the course of study, it is also important for students to be qualified to work as a nurse in a healthcare setting.

Undergraduate GPA

The academic rigor of most DNP programs means that the most successful applicants can provide evidence of having done high-quality work in a college or university setting. Most colleges and universities use GPA as a measure of academic success. GPA is often measured on a four-point scale, with a maximum GPA of 4.0. DNP program admission requirements vary, but many programs require a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0.

Related: How To Calculate Cumulative GPA

GRE scores

Some Doctor of Nursing Practice programs require applicants to earn a specific score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). These requirements are often posted on the program's admission website, and minimum acceptable scores can vary.

Essay or personal statement

DNP applicants may also need to write an application essay or statement of purpose to be considered for a Doctor of Nursing Practice program. The personal statement portion of an application can help admissions committees learn more about each applicant as individuals and gauge their communication skills.

Letters of recommendation

Most DNP programs ask for letters of recommendation as part of their admissions process. Nursing schools commonly ask for three letters of reference, and they sometimes specify the kinds of professionals those letters should come from. For instance, an application could specify that letters of reference should come from an academic mentor or professor. In other cases, an application might specify that they want letters of recommendation for the applicant's supervisors in the field.

Related: What Is a Letter of Recommendation?


Some DNP programs also require a personal interview as part of their application process. Interviewers may ask questions about your purpose for pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree, personal characteristics that can help you succeed in a DNP program and reasons you are qualified to participate in a DNP program. Admission interviews for DNP programs may be conducted in person, by phone or online.

Cost to attend a DNP program

Like admission requirements, the cost of attending a DNP program will likely vary from program to program. However, Doctor of Nursing Practice program costs are comparable to other advanced degrees in the healthcare field. DNP students may wish to consider the cost of tuition, fees, housing and textbooks as well as other basic living costs.

Related: Is Grad School Worth It?

How long does it take to finish a DNP?

The length of time it takes to complete a DNP depends on which institution a nurse attends and their chosen specialty, but many take between three and four years of full-time enrollment to complete. Some institutions may offer accelerated versions of the program, which may take less time, and part-time attendance may mean a longer overall enrollment period.

DNP average salary

A Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate working as a nurse practitioner makes an average of $116,665 per year in the U.S. This salary can vary based on location and employer.

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