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How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

These helpful FAQ can guide you down the path from nursing school to certification.

If you’re earning an MSN online with a nurse practitioner specialization—or are planning to—congratulations! All signs point to a career outlook that’s brighter than ever.

In the coming years, jobs for advanced nursing degree holders are projected to grow at a much faster than average rate, with 62,000 new jobs added to the workforce between 2018–2028. The mean total income for full-time NPs in 2018 was $113,930.1


What’s fueling this growth in nursing careers? An aging population, a projected physician shortage, and an increasing number of nurses nearing retirement age are combining to create more abundant nurse practitioner opportunities.

As you complete your nursing school degree program online, you’ll be ready to pursue certification for your specific nurse practitioner specialization: adult/gerontology primary care (AGPC-NP), adult/gerontology acute care (AGAC_NP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), or psychiatric-mental health (PMH-NP). If you’re like many master’s degree in nursing candidates, you may have questions about the exams. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What are nurse practitioner national certification exams?

Each national certification exam is a competency-based examination that tests clinical knowledge in specific focus areas. Each autonomous national nursing certification board assesses entry-level nurse practitioner knowledge and practice competencies required to provide safe and quality healthcare. There are several national certification boards that offer the exams necessary for credentialing AGAC-NPs, AGPC-NPs, FNPs, and PMH-NPs:

  • The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) tests Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, and Family Nurse Practitioners.
  • The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) tests Adult-Gerontology Acute Care and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NPs.
  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) tests Adult-Gerontology Acute Care, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care, Family, and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners.

A nurse practitioner who is certified by one of the national certification boards has successfully met the requirements for certification by the respective board. Certification boards do not license individuals as NPs. In order for an individual to be licensed as an NP, individuals must meet the requirements as set forth by their state nursing board.

Do all graduates of nurse practitioner programs have to take a national certification exam to become certified as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioner requirements are set at the state level, meaning each state’s nursing board has the authority to set forth the requirements for licensure. It’s best for individuals to check with their state board of nursing for certification and licensure requirements; however, the vast majority of states require individuals to be certified by a national certification board (i.e., meet the requirements of the certification board including passing one of the national certification exams).

Is there one exam that’s better or more widely accepted than the others?

Individuals must assess which national certification exam best fits their needs, as well as which national certification exams are accepted by their state’s nursing board. Individuals should check with their state board of nursing for specific certification and licensure requirements. Further, it is recommended that individuals visit each of the certifying agencies’ websites.

What’s the cost of the exam?

The costs of the AANP, ANCC, and AACN exams vary, from around $300 to $400. Students who join the AANP, ANCC, or AACN professional associations approximately six months prior to graduating may be eligible to receive examination discounts and/or student rates for membership.

How will my accredited university help prepare me for the national certification exams?

Walden University, No. 1 in master’s of science in nursing graduates in the United States,2 offers its students a wide range of preparation opportunities. Key pieces of that process include:

  • Rigorous case studies throughout the coursework that offer MSN students an opportunity to use evidence-based practice to hone their skills.
  • In-depth field experience opportunities in specialty areas uniquely designed for students to focus on the application of academic concepts to patient care situations.
  • Renowned doctorally prepared teaching faculty who are expert practitioners in their disciplines and are dedicated to students’ acquisition of the knowledge and skills necessary to make a difference in the healthcare system as a nurse practitioner.

With an online MSN degree and the proper certifications and licenses in hand, you can join the trusted cohort of healthcare providers visited by more than 1.02 billion patients each year.3 Whether you’re just starting your MSN program or are getting ready to take your certification exam, a rewarding nurse practitioner career is waiting for you.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with four nurse practitioner specializations. Expand your career options and earn a degree online in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

2Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP code 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,