How Long Is Nurse Practitioner School?

A nurse practitioner helps a patient stand up.

Across the country, nurse practitioners work as skilled leaders and collaborators. They’re versatile professionals delivering primary, acute, and urgent care to diverse patient populations. Not surprisingly, many individuals aspire to advance into rewarding roles as nurse practitioners. To reach that goal, they naturally want to know how long nurse practitioner school is. They also want to learn details about the education requirements and salary for nurse practitioners.

How to become a nurse practitioner depends on an individual’s education and credentials. First, nurse practitioners need to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). They also need to obtain a registered nurse (RN) license. A further step on the journey to becoming a nurse practitioner is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Why Become a Nurse Practitioner?

For those who’ve chosen the nursing profession, becoming a nurse practitioner is a rewarding next step. For instance, nurse practitioners have more autonomy in their work as well as the option to focus on a particular clinical area. In addition, they can serve as a primary care practitioner for patients, serving many of the same functions of a physician. This includes prescribing and administering medications.

The Journey to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

The path to becoming a nurse practitioner is a rewarding one, calling for an initial investment of time and effort. Because nurse practitioners share many of the same responsibilities as physicians, they must have an advanced education in addition to clinical work and licensure. When considering how long nurse practitioner schooling is, aspiring nurse practitioners should consider the following factors:

Obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

An important precursor to becoming a nurse practitioner is completing a BSN degree. This is typically a four-year program, which can be completed online or in person. The time it takes to complete can depend on the program itself, but the BSN provides the necessary foundation of knowledge and experience for the MSN to build upon.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing

An important next step to becoming a nurse practitioner is earning an MSN. How long is nurse practitioner school? The time to complete a nurse practitioner degree program will depend on whether the student attends classes part time or full time. The MSN degree program will usually take two to four years to complete in addition to the time it takes to first complete a BSN degree. The MSN degree will cover various subjects, such as advanced health policy, research, and health assessments. An MSN program also features a clinical component in which students get hands-on experience applying their knowledge for a set number of hours to complete the degree.

Gaining Licensure

After completing the MSN degree program, students must gain licensure in the state of practice. Each state has its own nurse practitioner exam that must be passed to practice in that state. Students can take time during their degree program to plan ahead and prepare for whichever state exams they wish to take.

Nurse Practitioner Career Options

Nurse practitioners often choose to specialize in areas of patient care. These include family nurse practitioner (FNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP). Which nurse practitioner specialty is right for you?

Family Nurse Practitioner

An FNP focuses on the needs of children and their parents. The role encompasses a broad scope of work that falls under the umbrella of primary care. FNPs can work in most health care settings due to the generalist nature of the role. Some FNPs choose to specialize in treating certain conditions, such as diabetes or chronic pain.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

PMHNPs primarily focus on patients’ psychological needs. While they’re able to also treat patients’ physical needs, they’ll also conduct assessments and evaluate prescribed treatments for patients’ mental health. Nurse practitioners in this position most often work in inpatient settings due to the need for consistent monitoring of their patients.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

The position of an AGACNP focuses on long-term comprehensive care. This type of care is typically, but not exclusively, for older patients. AGACNPs will assess, diagnose, and plan what the care needs of a patient will be in coordination with the patient’s family as needed. Nurse practitioners in this role typically work in inpatient or long-term care clinics but may also coordinate the transition of care for patients as their needs change.

Nurse Practitioner Salaries

Given that nurse practitioners have more education and typically more experience than RNs, they often earn a higher salary than RNs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary for nurse practitioners was about $118,000 as of May 2021. The top-paying states were California, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts. The BLS also projects that between 2020 and 2030, employment growth for nurse practitioners will be 52%.

Get on the Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a nurse practitioner means helping and healing, and that can make a big difference in the world. A key way that nurse practitioners serve patients is by filling physician gaps in different regions, such as in rural areas of the United States. The path to becoming a nurse practitioner differs for each individual: How long nurse practitioner school is depends on where individuals are in their professional and academic career. No matter where you are in your journey toward taking on this significant role, HPU's online MSN program can equip you to advance your career and support patients in need as a nurse practitioner.

Recommended Readings:

Nursing Job Growth: Opportunities for Advancement

How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Major Role in Addressing the Growing Physician Shortage in the U.S.

Non-Bedside Nursing: 8 Alternatives Beyond the Bedside


American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, Statement on NP Students & Direct Care Clinical Hours (March 23, 2020)

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Planning Your Nurse Practitioner (NP) Education

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, The Path to Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Health eCareers, How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Practitioners