I’ve written before about the number of online nurse practitioner programs cropping up across the country. While online education can mean an affordable, flexible way to advance your nursing carer it also brings questions about quality. Will employers value an online NP degree as highly as one attained at a bricks and mortar institution. Will you fare well as a student without face-to-face relationships with classmates and professors?

So called diploma mills are colleges or universities that grant a large number of degrees based on sub-par education. Online schools are prime for diploma mill status as their enrollment isn’t limited by building walls. Rather, they can enroll large numbers of students with comparatively little overhead. Nurse practitioners receiving degrees from such institutions may find that they have difficulty getting certified or becoming employed after graduation, wasting valuable time and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

So, how do you tell if your university is a diploma mill? Understand these five qualities about the institution.

1. Accreditation Status 

Both your nurse practitioner program and the college or university you attend absolutely must be accredited. One group of AGNP students at Mount Mary College in South Dakota learned this the hard way. The school failed to meet accreditation standards leaving 14 AGNP students with a diploma but ineligible for certification. Here’s a little more in depth F.A.Q. on how to make sure your school and program are appropriately accredited so you’re assured you can use your degree.

2. Super Easy Application Process

Quality masters degree programs have a selection criteria representative of the level of degree and profession you’re looking to achieve. If the nurse practitioner school you’re applying to seems to have very few admissions criteria, requiring little more than your name, address and a transcript, you can expect that the quality of education will be low. Like you, your classmates haven’t been vetted. And, if the university isn’t vetting prospective students, it’s likely they are admitting individuals who should not be qualified to move forward in a masters degree program. A nurse practitioner career is serious business. Your school’s application process should be one that selects for students who are well positioned to succeed in that type of career.

3. Little Faculty Interaction 

Interaction with faculty is key to a quality education. Even in online NP programs, there should be plenty of opportunity to interface with professors whether by virtual office hours, interactive lectures or discussion boards. Schools that offer little of no interaction with faculty sacrifice quality of education.

4. Flat-fee Tuition Structure

Diploma mills are notorious for offering flat-fee tuition or on a per-degree basis. In contrast, most reputable universities charge by credit hour, by course or by semester. NP programs that ask students to pay up front or that offer dubious ‘deals’.

5. Poor Performance on NP Certification Exam

Before you can use your nurse practitioner degree, you’ll need to pass a national certification exam. Ask schools what percentage of their graduates pass the national certification exam on the first attempt. Ideally this number should be well above 90%. If not, the school is not doing a very good job of preparing students for nurse practitioner practice.

6. Little Support with Clinical Placement

Part of your nurse practitioner education will be hands-on patient care in the clinical setting. Some schools require NPs to identify clinical preceptors on their own, without much support from the institution. Other universities take responsibility for making sure each NP student has a site. Be wary of schools that have little support for nurse practitioner students when it comes to identifying clinical sites.

Not all online programs are diploma mills. There are plenty of reputable, quality online nurse practitioner programs that prepare students well for practice. Given the time and financial investment you’re making in your career, it’s important to do your due diligence in selecting a nurse practitioner program. Ask for references. Talk with faculty and admissions staff about the program. Know what you’re getting into and develop a feel for the quality of the programs to which you apply. If you don’t, you might be getting yourself into a sticky situation come graduation.


You Might Also Like: 5 ‘Extras’ that Make a Standout Nurse Practitioner Program¬†


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2 thoughts on “7 Ways to Make Sure Your NP School Isn’t a Diploma Mill”

  • Susan E Hofmann says:

    This is a fantastic article for any RN going to seek an advanced degree. The issue of #6 Lack of Help with Clinical Placement has been discussed in NP forums online. Starting in 2019, per CCNE guidelines, all schools must provide clinical placement per accreditation standards, NOT the student. Research “The Sawyer Initiative.” Read up and be in the know.

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