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Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner Online Program

Samuel Merritt University is now offering $10,000 scholarships to all first-time, full-time MSN-FNP online applicants. See Scholarships expandable below for eligibility and details.


  • Online

Program Duration

  • 20 Months (Five Semesters)

Upcoming Deadlines

Fall Application

Spring Application

Summer Application

A Flexible, Convenient Way to Expand Your Nursing Speciality

Family nurse practitioner positions are on the rise. These skilled and diverse specialists are trained to deliver a wide variety of patient services, and also often serve as a primary care provider in under served communities. The Samuel Merritt online MSN-FNP program focuses on working as a Primary Care provider in outpatient settings.  


What we look for:

  • A diverse cohort of professionals who are dedicated to serving in urban, rural, and multicultural settings where health-care service scarcity is a major issue
  • An interest in working with underserved populations
  • Compassion
  • Interpersonal/interprofessional communication
  • Teamwork
  • Critical thinking
  • Responsibility

Featured Events

Program Requirements & Info

Admission to online MSN FNP program is competitive. Applicants are considered for admission based upon the following criteria:

  • Must be a registered nurse with a baccalaureate degree in nursing and an unencumbered license (nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis)
  • Demonstrate an interest in working with underserved populations;
  • Can provide two letters of reference;
  • Conversational skill in a second language is highly desirable.

You can apply to SMU through the Central Application Service for Nursing Schools (NursingCAS). With your application you will also need to submit:

  • Official transcripts from other educational institutions

  • Two letters of reference

Application Deadlines
We offer three start dates per year for the online MSN FNP. Application deadlines for each term are as follows:

  • Summer term – Apply by March 1
  • Fall term – July 1
  • Spring term – November 1

Where You Can Study With Us
Our online program is approved for nurses licensed and residing in:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Texas*
  • Virginia

*Samuel Merritt University (SMU) is not regulated in Texas under Chapter 178 of the Texas Education Code; the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) approves and regulates SMU’s programs in California where the University is physically located and where it has legal authorization to operate; SMU’s student grievance policy, process, and procedures can be found on page 146 of the Student Handbook.

Due to clinical and state compliance requirements, authorization for offering this online program is being sought on a state by state basis. If the state you reside in is not on the previous list, it means authorization is not yet in place. Check back periodically for state approvals.

Take Advantage of our Advance Your Practice $10,000 Scholarship

Enroll in Fall 2022 and receive $10,000 toward your Online MSN FNP or DNP FNP degree.

This scholarship was created to help support nurses that are interested in advancing their practice and careers. Students who enroll in the Fall 2022 Online MSN FNP or DNP FNP program will be awarded this $10,000 scholarship.

The Advance Your Practice Scholarship is available to full-time students in the Online MSN-FNP and DNP-FNP programs. The scholarship is awarded evenly across each term of the program rather than as a lump sum.

To apply to our MSN FNP program, you must be a registered nurse with an unencumbered license. You must be licensed in and a resident of one of the following states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Virginia

You must also hold a baccalaureate degree in nursing from a regionally accredited college or university (or foreign equivalent). In addition, you must provide:

  • A completed application form and pay the $70 application fee
  • Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
  • Evidence of recent clinical practice experience as a registered nurse
  • A goal statement that describes your academic and career goals
  • Two letters of reference that address your clinical capabilities and aptitude for the program
  • Complete a criminal background check and, if required, a drug test
  • If you are an international student, you may be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination. You must achieve a minimum score of 100 on the internet-based TOEFL.

You must also have access to a personal computer and basic computer skills in order to access and navigate the university’s course management system, Canvas.

Application Fees
Application fees are payable to Nursing’s Centralized Application Service (NursingCAS). Samuel Merritt University does not charge an additional admission fee.

Non-Refundable Deposits and Fees
Students offered admission pay a non-refundable tuition deposit of $350 to secure their seat in the class.

Application fees and tuition deposits are non-refundable, whether or not the student withdraws in the first week of the term.

Tuition Calculator
There is a tuition calculator that provides a detailed summary of annual tuition, all fees for the program, and a cost estimator for the entire program.

Tuition Calculator

Your nursing education at Samuel Merritt University is an important and valuable investment in your future.  Not only will you have the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career in health care, but Samuel Merritt University graduates have a loan default rate of less than one percent.  This means that students who borrowed to attend Samuel Merritt University have found employment in their chosen field that allows them to pay off their loans. 

Samuel Merritt University is proud to offer a variety of ways to assist in funding your education including scholarships and student loans. The first step in applying for financial aid at SMU is to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

SMU offers scholarships and an assortment of resources for funding opportunities outside of the program. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of financial need. A limited number are awarded for academic merit. Scholarships for Nurses include:

  • Sharon Clark Diaz
  • Employee Campaign
  • Marshall Steele, Jr.
  • Hitchcock Heydman
  • Henry & Bernice Bigge
  • Faculty Scholarship
  • Alumni Scholarship
  • Elks of the Year
  • William Breslin

In addition to the cost of tuition, books and fees, financial aid can also cover other indirect educational costs, so the total cost of attendance includes:

  • Books and Supplies
  • Room and Board
  • Personal Expenses
  • Other fees as determined by program/college

Once you receive your financial aid package, check this budget against your actual living expenses and we can make necessary adjustments to meet your needs.

Detailed information about financial aid, budgeting, total cost and application processes are available on the webpage.

We realize that the financial aid process can be difficult and overwhelming.  We are here to help.  Financial Aid staff can assist with budgeting, understanding your awards and understanding the process.  The SMU staff is committed to each and every prospective student and enrolled student.  We have an open door policy and are available via phone or email. or 510-879-9200

Sequential Course Curriculum     Course Descriptions

Curriculum, Courses, and Clinicals

The MSN FNP with online coursework and clinicals in your community consists of 49 units, available in a full-time format that takes as little as 20 months of study to complete.

The program combines interdisciplinary core courses, specialty courses, and hands-on experience. Course content aligns with the highest national standards, including those established by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

This is an example of curriculum and credit hours. Updates and changes are frequently made in order to stay current. Please consult your department chair for the most current curriculum in your program.

Clinical Experience

In addition to online coursework, you will complete three semesters of precepted clinical practicum hours. You are also required to attend two on-campus intensives at the Sacramento campus.

You will work with our clinical coordinator to secure appropriate practicum and internship sites in your community. You’ll also have access to our network of master’s-prepared and qualified clinical preceptors.

After completion of the MSN FNP, you will be conferred a Masters degree in Nursing and  eligible to sit for state and national certification.

Graduation, Retention, and Employment Rates

Graduation Rates*        
2017-2018 Cohort      83%
2016-2017 Cohort      82%
2015-2016 Cohort      87%

*% of Entering Cohort that Graduated Within 150%  of Expected Time

First-Year Retention Rates**
2020-2021     82%
2019-2020     83%
2018-2019     90%
2017-2018     92%
2016-2017     87%
5 year average     86%

**% of Cohort Retained First to Second Academic Year in Program

Employment Rate in the Profession (within one year of graduation)**
2019-2020 graduating class      100%
2018-2019 graduating class       98%
2017-2018 graduating class     100%

**Employment data only includes graduates who responded to SMU Alumni Survey; employment rate not necessarily representative of graduates who did not respond to SMU Alumni Survey.

National Certification Pass Rates (First-Time Takers Only)
2017-2018 graduating classes   79%

FNP Degree Comparison

  • Semesters 
    • MSN Online
    • DNP
  • Months
    • 20 MSN Online
    • 36 DNP
  • Total Units
    • 49 MSN Online
    • 65 DNP
  • Tuition Per Unit
    • $1,387 MSN Online
    • $1,269 DNP
  • Total Tuition (without health insurance and fees)
    • $67,963 MSN Online
    • $82,485 DNP
  • Financial Aid
    • Eligible for Federal graduate loan programs MSN Online
    • Eligible for Federal graduate loan programs DNP
  • Start Dates
    • January, May, and September MSN Online

    • January, and September DNP
  • Location of Clinical Experiences
    • At clinics and hospitals near where you live. SMU offers contract assistance and management of clinical placements MSN Online
    • At clinics and hospitals near where you live. DNP practice hours are separate from FNP clinical hours. SMU offers contract assistance and management of clinical placements DNP
  • Instructional Delivery
    • Online with two face-to-face, on-campus learning experiences of three days each (6 total days) MSN Online
    • Online with 3 face-to-face on-campus learning experiences of three days each time (9 total days) DNP
  • Can One Work While in School
    • It is possible to work during semesters 1 & 2, but not while on clinical placements in semester 3, 4, & 5 MSN Online
    • It is possible to work during semesters 1 -6, but not while on clinical placements in semester 7 - 9 DNP

These frequently asked questions are general to the degree options to become an FNP, not specific to Samuel Merritt University.

Why is the profession changing to the DNP for Nurse Practitioners?

Nearly all health care professions that diagnose, manage and care for patients have clinical doctor degrees, for example physicians, dentists, physical therapists, and optometrists. The increasing complexity of the types of patients being cared for and the complexity of the health care system are demanding increased education and training for nurse practitioners. The profession is committed to ensuring that future nurse practitioners are well-prepared to excel and provide the care that people need and the profession has concluded that the doctoral degree is the best way to accomplish that. Currently within the accreditation bodies for FNP programs in the United States, there is 100% agreement about the DNP as the entering degree for all APRNs.  ((


How does the DNP curriculum differ from the MSN curriculum to prepare me for practice as an FNP?

While the FNP coursework is the same for both degrees, the generalist classes are not.  The DNP Essentials ( and MSN Essentials ( differ in the following way: The focus in the DNP is towards utilizing evidence based practice to improve healthcare in practice sites as well as the nation overall.  The focus is on not only the patient but the population as a whole. 


Is a DNP required to become a Family Nurse Practitioner?

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) has announced that by 2025 the DNP degree for nurse practitioners will be the terminal degree.


If I receive an MSN degree will I have to go back to school if the DNP becomes required?

While one cannot predict what states may require in the future, based on the experience of other professions that changed to the doctor degree, it is not likely states will require currently licensed FNPs with an MSN degree to return to school to obtain the DNP degree given the cost to the nurse practitioner and societal needs for access to care. That said, typically states do not provide the final determination of the professional degree.  It is the certification boards for APRNs and accreditation boards for SoN that drive this change. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners has stated that in the shift to DNP, “It is important, however, that the transition to clinical doctoral preparation for NPs continues to be conducted so that master’s-prepared NPs will not be disenfranchised in any way.”


What are my options to become an FNP if I already have my MSN?

Currently, an RN with an MSN degree can choose a DNP program to become an FNP, enter an MSN program as a certificate (non-degree) student, or obtain a second MSN degree in an FNP program. In contrast to the MSN degree to become an RN, the MSN FNP degree curriculum builds on the professional role, health policy role, and research role of the FNP. Therefore, the MSN FNP has a broader foundation in how an FNP can be relevant in FNP practice.    


What are my options to become an FNP if I am an RN with a BSN degree?

As an RN with a BSN degree, you can choose an MSN or a DNP degree path to become an FNP.


What are my options to become an FNP if I am an RN with an Associate degree?

You can complete an RN-to-BSN program (SMU RN to BSN Program) and then enter either an MSN or DNP program to become an FNP.  If you are an ADN with a non-nursing undergraduate degree and many years of practice you may be able to provide evidence of how you meet the AACN BSN Essentials through your work, scholarship, community service, and approach to care of the patient in all settings.  This approval is based on specific requirements of each university’s School of Nursing.

Are there any differences in practice opportunities or scope of practice for an MSN-prepared FNP compared with a DNP-prepared FNP? Are there changes known or under consideration in the future?

The AANP identified eight issues that need to be addressed for a smooth transition to the DNP for nurse practitioners. Included was, “Issues related to parity must be addressed to include providing reasonable methods for currently prepared NPs to obtain the DNP, if desired, and to prevent discrimination in reimbursement.”  (From: AANP Position Statement, 2013;


Are salaries different for FNPs based on the degree?

This depends on the employer.  For example, if you are an RN seeking advancement in your position to expand your professional capabilities, your employer will recognize your advanced degree as preferential thus an increase in income.  If a DNP FNP and a MSN FNP are new graduates from programs they most likely will be paid the same.


Does payment from Medicare, Medicaid/Medi-Cal, or private insurers differ based on the degree?

Not at this time. 

Samuel Merritt University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501; 510.748.9001.

The master's degree program in nursing at Samuel Merritt University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, 655 K Street NW, Suite 750, Washington, DC., 20001.

Master's Accreditation
Initial Accreditation Date: April 21, 2001
Most Recent Accreditation Date: November 2, 2020
Accreditation Term Expires: June 30, 2031
Last On-Site Evaluation: November 2020
Next On-Site Evaluation: Fall 2030

Master of Science in Nursing– Family Nurse Practitioner Program Technical Standards

The mission of Samuel Merritt University is to produce highly skilled and compassionate family nurse practitioners (FNP). Students are expected to develop a robust healthcare knowledge base and requisite clinical skills, with the ability to appropriately apply knowledge and skills, effectively interpret information, and contribute to patient-centered decisions across a broad spectrum of clinical situations in all settings. The following technical standards, in conjunction with the academic standards, are requirements for admission, promotion, and graduation. The term “candidate” refers to candidates for admission to the FNP Program as well as current FNP students who are candidates for retention, promotion, or graduation.

These requirements may be achieved with or without reasonable accommodations, the cost of which will be borne by the institution. These standards should not serve as a deterrent to any candidate with disabilities who desires to pursue FNP education. Candidates with disabilities bring unique perspectives which contribute to the diversity of the student population and will create a diverse health care workforce of culturally competent practitioners who can meet the needs of their patients. Candidates with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Disability Resource Center immediately to begin a confidential conversation about possible accommodations necessary to meet these standards. Fulfillment of the technical standards for graduation from the FNP Program does not guarantee that a graduate will be able to fulfill the technical requirements of any specific clinical position.

Technical Standards

Observational Skills

A candidate must acquire information as presented through demonstrations and experiences in foundational sciences. In addition, a candidate must be able to evaluate a patient accurately and assess relevant health, behavioral and medical information.  Candidates must be able to obtain and interpret information through comprehensive assessment of patients, correctly interpret diagnostic representations of patient physiologic data, and accurately evaluate patient conditions and responses. 

Communication Skills

Candidates must exhibit interpersonal skills to enable effective caregiving of patients, including the ability to communicate effectively with all members of a multidisciplinary health care team, patients, and their families in person and in writing. Candidates must be able to clearly and accurately record information in English and accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal communication.

Patient Care Skills

Candidates must perform physical examinations and diagnostic maneuvers. A candidate should be able to perform or direct basic laboratory tests (urinalysis, wet mount, etc), diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (venipuncture, placement of catheters and tubes, lumbar puncture, suturing, etc), and interpret electrocardiograms and imaging studies.  A candidate must be able to provide or direct general care and emergency treatment for patients, and respond to emergency situations in a timely manner; examples of emergency treatments reasonably required of a family nurse practitioner include, but are not limited to, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, administration of intravenous medications, application of pressure to arrest bleeding, opening obstructed airways, and performance of obstetrical maneuvers.  Candidates must meet applicable safety standards for the environment and follow universal precaution procedures.

Intellectual-Conceptual, Integrative, and Cognitive Skills

Candidates must be able to learn through a variety of modalities, including but not limited to, classroom instruction; laboratory; small group, team and collaborative activities; individual study; preparation and presentation of reports; and use of computer technology.  A candidate must effectively interpret, assimilate and understand the complex information required to function within the FNP curriculum including, but not limited to, the ability to comprehend three-dimensional relationships and understand the spatial relationships of structures; effectively participate in individual, small group, and lecture learning modalities in the classroom, clinical and community settings; learn, participate, collaborate and contribute as a part of a team; synthesize information both in person and via remote technology; interpret causal connections and make accurate, fact-based conclusions based on available data and information; formulate a hypothesis, investigate the potential answers and outcomes; and reach appropriate and accurate conclusions. A candidate must be able to find sources of knowledge and acquire the knowledge through various modalities, and possess the ability to be a life-long learner. 

Behavioral Attributes, Social Skills and Professional Expectations

A candidate must be able to exercise good judgment, promptly complete all responsibilities attendant to the diagnosis and care of patients, and develop mature, sensitive, and effective relationships with patients. The skills required to do so include the ability to effectively handle and manage heavy workloads, function effectively under stress, adapt to changing environments, to display flexibility, and to learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent in the clinical problems of patients. Candidates are expected to exhibit professionalism, personal accountability, compassion, integrity, concern for others, and interpersonal skills including the ability to accept and apply feedback and to respect boundaries and care for all individuals in a respectful and effective manner regardless of gender identity, age, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or any other protected status. Candidates should understand, and function within, the legal and ethical aspects of the practice of medicine, and maintain and display ethical and moral behaviors commensurate with the role of a family nurse practitioner in all interactions with patients, faculty, staff, students and the public. Interest and motivation throughout the educational processes are expected of all candidates.


Tal Sraboyants

Tal Sraboyants

MSN, NP-C Co-Director of the FNP Program
Catherine Tanner

Catherine Tanner

MSN, FNP-C Interim Co-Director of the FNP Program
Shelitha Campbell. Update 2023

Shelitha R. Campbell

DNP, FNP-BC Co-Director of the FNP Program

Nikki Love

MSN, FNP-BC Instructor

SMU Perspectives