FAQ: How long is an FNP program?


Answer: The length of time it takes to complete a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) degree program will depend on several factors. In order to become a licensed FNP, registered nurses (RNs) must earn either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Post-Master’s Certificate in the specialty. These credentials each require a different time commitment, which varies based on school, program, and the level of nursing education students possess at the time of enrollment. Additionally, FNP programs can be pursued on either a full- or part-time basis. Full-time programs generally span fewer semesters than part-time programs, but require students to take more classes per term.

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Depending on their current level of education, RNs have a number of different degree paths to choose from when it comes to pursuing FNP certification. Those who possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can enter into a BSN to MSN program, or earn their doctorate in the specialization through a BSN to DNP program. RNs with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or nursing diploma have several options available to them, including RN to MSN, RN to DNP, and Bachelor’s to MSN or DNP programs (if they also have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field). Finally, master’s-trained nurses who wish to obtain FNP certification as their first or second APRN specialty can opt for a MSN to DNP program, or pursue a post-MSN certificate in the concentration.

To learn more about these different FNP degree paths, as well as how long each program typically takes to complete, see the sections below.

FNP Program Length by Educational Background and Desired Degree Track
Time to Completion
Current DegreeDesired DegreeFull-TimePart-Time
RN + ADN (or Nursing Diploma)MSN30 to 36 months 36 to 48 months
RN + Non-Nursing BachelorsMSN20 to 24 months24 to 48 months
RN + BSNMSN15 to 24 months24 to 48 months
RN + MSNCertificate12 to 16 months16 to 24 months
RN + MSN + APRN CertificationCertificate8 to 12 months16 to 24 months
RN + ADN (or Nursing Diploma)DNP4 to 5 years5 to 7 years
RN + Non-Nursing BachelorsDNP3.5 to 4 years4 to 7 years
RN + BSNDNP3 to 4 years4 to 7 years
RN + MSNCertificate + DNP~ 2 years2 to 4 years
RN + MSN + APRN CertificationCertificate + DNP~1.5 to 2 years2 to 4 years

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) FNP Programs

An MSN has traditionally been the standard entry-level credential for all APRNs, including family nurse practitioners. There are several different paths students can take to earn an MSN in the FNP specialty, based on their current level of education. Traditional MSN programs are designed for licensed RNs who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from a CCNE- or ACEN-accredited institution. This particular FNP pathway, often referred to as a BSN to MSN program, can generally be completed in 15 to 24 months of full-time study. Part-time options are also available, for students who wish to take a smaller course load each term. Those pursuing a BSN to MSN-FNP program part-time can expect to graduate in anywhere from 24 to 48 months.

For RNs who do not possess a BSN, some schools offer RN to MSN programs with an FNP specialization. These particular programs can be broken into two different categories based on their admission requirements. Traditional RN to MSN programs accept registered nurses who have earned an ADN or, in some cases, a diploma in nursing. Sometimes called ADN to MSN programs, these typically require around 30 to 36 months of full-time study, or 36 to 48 months for students enrolled on a part-time basis.

The second type of RN to MSN pathway goes by several different names, but is most commonly referred to as a Bridge RN to MSN program. These programs, also known as Bachelor’s to MSN or RN BA/BS to MSN programs, are for licensed RNs who hold both an ADN and a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Since students in this particular degree track will have already completed undergraduate general education courses as part of their previous bachelor’s program, they are typically only required to take a few BSN-level “bridge” courses before beginning the MSN curriculum (usually between one and three additional classes). As such, Bridge RN to MSN programs are typically shorter than traditional RN to MSN programs, ranging from 20 to 24 months for full-time students, or 24 to 48 months for part-time students.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) FNP Programs

Along with MSN-FNP programs, there are options for students interested in pursuing their doctorate alongside FNP certification. Licensed RNs who have earned their BSN, and want to pursue a DNP without completing a separate MSN program first, can enroll in a BSN to DNP program. Full-time post-baccalaureate DNP programs typically take around three to four years to complete. Students pursuing the program on a part-time basis might graduate in anywhere from four to seven years, depending on how many courses they take each term.

RNs or APRNs who already possess an MSN, and want to earn FNP certification through a doctorate program, can enroll in one of two MSN to DNP pathways, based on the focus of their previous master’s program. MSN to DNP-FNP with a New or Second Specialty programs are open to any master’s-trained RN, whether their MSN is an APRN concentration or non-APRN field, such as nursing administration or clinical nurse leader. MSN to DNP with a Second Specialty programs, on the other hand, are only for currently certified APRNs looking to earn a second certification as an FNP alongside their doctorate. Students in either path can expect to complete their DNP in approximately two years of full-time study, or two to four years of part-time study. Current APRNs may be able to graduate in slightly less time than RNs pursuing their first certification, as they will have already completed certain required MSN-level courses in their previous master’s program, and can typically transfer these credits towards the MSN to DNP-FNP requirements.

While not as common as BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP programs, there are also DNP-FNP programs designed for RNs with an ADN (or, in some cases, a diploma in nursing) who want to jump straight into a doctorate program without first completing a BSN or MSN degree. These RN to DNP programs typically require nurses to possess an ADN for admission; however, some accept RNs with a nursing diploma. Schools may also offer RN to DNP programs that require a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to an ADN (on OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we classify these as Bachelor’s to DNP-FNP programs). In general, RN to DNP-FNP programs will be the longest of the three DNP pathways discussed in this section. A full-time program may take over four years to complete, while part-time programs can require up to six or seven years.

Post-Master’s Certificate FNP Programs

Another option for master’s-trained nurses looking to obtain FNP certification is to earn a Post-MSN Certificate in the specialty. Much like MSN to DNP-FNP programs, FNP certificate programs fall into two categories: New or Second Specialty (any MSN accepted) and Second Specialty (APRN certification required). Typically, any RN or APRN with an MSN can enroll in a New or Second Specialty program, no matter if they specialized in an advanced clinical focus or an indirect care concentration (e.g. nursing administration, leadership, or education). Second Specialty programs are only open to current APRNs who have already earned certification in another specialty, and now wish to become certified as an FNP. For APRNs, these two types of programs are essentially the same. The main difference is that Second Specialty programs do not accept non-APRNs, as they often only offer FNP specialty courses online, not core nurse practitioner courses.

Either Post-MSN pathway will take students roughly 12 to 16 months to complete on a full-time schedule, and some programs may even offer curricula that allow APRNs to graduate in as little as eight months. Part-time students can typically complete a Post-MSN FNP Certificate program in around 16 to 24 months of study. As with DNP-FNP programs, APRNs are often able to transfer credits from their MSN program towards the certificate requirements and/or waive certain courses they already completed, thus allowing them to graduate in less time than non-APRNs.