25 Best Nursing Programs in California 2021

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Registered nurses (RNs) are in high demand in California — and California nurses earn the highest average salaries in the country. Over 300,000 RNs work in California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On average, they earn more than $113,000 per year. A 2020 report from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) projects that demand for California nurses will grow between 2020 and 2035.

Full-time students typically need four years to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Current RNs can complete their BSN in as little as one year through an RN-to-BSN program. Nurses can also consider accelerated nursing programs in California, which help students complete their degree and enter the workforce faster.

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Our list ranks the best nursing schools in California to help prospective nursing students find the right fit for their career goals. This article also explores common nursing courses, California licensure requirements, and scholarships for California nursing students.

Top Nursing Schools in California

What Can I Do With a Degree in Nursing?

A nursing degree prepares graduates for an RN license and career paths like critical care nurse, pediatric nurse, and public health nurse. Nurses conduct health assessments, work with physicians to care for patients, and educate the public about health problems. They also record medical histories, observe patients, and administer treatments.

RNs care for patients in a variety of healthcare settings. They work in hospitals where they provide acute and chronic care, in emergency rooms supporting patients with urgent needs, and in doctors’ offices. Some nurses provide home care for patients. Many nurses work unusual hours, including nights and weekends.

Within the nursing field, professionals can specialize their training with a BSN and work experience. Professional certifications also help nurses demonstrate expertise in areas like addiction nursing, cardiovascular nursing, and rehabilitation nursing. Earning a graduate degree can also help nurses move into leadership roles in healthcare settings.

Graduate Degree Options for a Career in Nursing



Nurses can pursue a graduate degree to advance their careers and increase their earning potential. With a master of science in nursing (MSN), nurses can work as nurse practitioners (NPs), nurse educators, and clinical nurse specialists. A graduate degree offers specialized training to help nurses increase their expertise in a specific nursing area.

Advanced practice nurses like NPs, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists can earn high salaries. While the median annual salary for advanced practice nurses sits at $115,800 nationally, in California these nurses earn even higher salaries. California NPs earn an average annual wage over $138,000, while nurse anesthetists in the state make over $227,000 per year on average, according to the BLS.

In addition to graduate programs, nurses can advance their careers by gaining professional experience, earning certifications, and joining professional organizations.

Accreditation for a Degree in Nursing



Before applying to nursing school, prospective nurses should check the accreditation status of the school and nursing program. Accredited schools meet the highest standard for educating students. Colleges and universities submit data on their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements to independent accrediting agencies to receive accreditation.

Accreditation benefits nurses in important ways. Only an accredited nursing degree meets licensing requirements in many states, and students at unaccredited schools cannot apply for federal financial aid. Nurses generally need an accredited degree to get hired or apply to graduate programs. Prospective students can research the accreditation status of a school or program through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Specialized nursing accrediting agencies grant accreditation to programs that follow the best practices for training nurses. The best nursing schools in California hold programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

FAQ


  • How do I become a nurse in California?

    Nurses in California need an RN license issued by the state. California licenses candidates with an associate degree in nursing or BSN from an accredited program.


  • Are nurses in demand in California?

    According to a 2020 report by UCSF, demand for nurses in California is projected to grow between 2020 and 2035.


  • What is the yearly salary for an RN?

    Across the country, nurses earn a median annual salary of over $73,000.


  • How much do nurses earn in California?

    In California, RNs earn over $113,000 per year, making California the nation’s highest-paying state for nurses.


What Are the Requirements for a Degree in Nursing?

Prospective nursing students should ensure that they meet the admission requirements for nursing programs before applying. In general, BSN programs do not expect prior nursing experience. Most require a high school diploma and SAT or ACT scores. Applicants may also need to provide recommendation letters, a resume, and a personal statement.

Many top nursing schools in California also offer RN-to-BSN programs. This track, designed for RNs who do not hold a bachelor’s degree, helps nurses advance their careers. Applicants to an RN-to-BSN program generally need a current RN license and a nursing diploma or associate degree. Programs may also ask for NCLEX-RN test scores.

Courses in a Nursing Program



Nurses take several years of coursework to gain the knowledge and skills required for healthcare careers. Nursing programs typically cover topics like evidence-based care, health assessments, and nursing leadership. In these classes, nursing students strengthen their patient care and clinical skills.

Enrollees also gain hands-on clinical experience. Programs generally require a practicum plus clinical training. Nursing students work under an experienced supervisor to apply their knowledge.

This section includes sample course descriptions for a nursing program. While the exact courses vary depending on the program, this sample curriculum covers common classes in a nursing degree.

Introduction to Nursing
Most nursing programs begin with a course introducing students to the nursing field. Learners explore the fundamental concepts in nursing, including patient care, nursing theories, and ethics. The class also examines professionalism in nursing, the role of nurses in the healthcare system, and the history of nursing practice. During an introductory class, students begin to examine nursing research and clinical skills. For RNs pursuing an RN-to-BSN degree, the course helps nurses transition into the program.
Basic Nursing Care
Nurses rely on their basic knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology to care for patients. In courses on basic nursing care, degree-seekers explore how the body works and the core areas of patient care. Topics can include nursing care across the lifecycle, evidence-based care, and common diseases. The course prepares nurses for advanced classes in their program and choosing a specialization such as acute care, critical care, or emergency nursing.
Clinical Nursing Skills
During a nursing program, learners strengthen their classroom and clinical skills. In this course, nurses apply their knowledge in healthcare settings. They learn how to conduct health assessments, examine mental health, and communicate with healthcare professionals in a clinical setting. Many programs include a practicum or internship to test clinical skills in a supervised setting. Working under a preceptor, nursing students interact with patients and strengthen their clinical abilities.
Health Promotion Across the Lifespan
Although many nurses specialize their training in fields like pediatrics or gerontological nursing, many programs include courses on health promotion across the lifespan. Students learn how to educate patients of different ages on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They also examine data on health information literacy, health behaviors, and factors shaping health and illness. Depending on the program, learners may also study common diseases and conditions that increase mortality rates.
Leadership in Nursing
Many nursing programs incorporate courses on leadership in nursing care and management in a healthcare setting. Nurses learn about different theories of leadership as they relate to healthcare delivery and patient care. The class may also cover case management, the role of nurse leaders, and assessing quality in nursing. Leadership coursework prepares graduates for supervisory positions in healthcare settings. Training in nursing leadership can also prepare nurses for a graduate program.

Certifications and Licensure for Nursing Majors



Practicing nurses in California must apply for a license from the California Board of Registered Nurses. Nurses who complete a degree from one of the best nursing schools in California meet the educational requirement for an RN license. First-time RN applicants also must take the NCLEX-RN exam. At the advanced practice level, nurses can also apply for specialized licenses.

California RN License


Nurses in California must apply for an RN license from California Board of Registered Nurses. Candidates for the license must meet educational requirements set by the state, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and submit an application. California licenses first-time nurses with exam scores. RNs licensed in other states can apply for a reciprocal license.

California Nurse Practitioner License


As advanced practice nurses, NPs must apply for a license in California. The license allows NPs to diagnose conditions, manage health needs in primary care, and prescribe drugs to patients. Applicants must submit an online NP applicant identification form or mail a completed application to the California Board of Registered Nurses.

California Clinical Nurse Specialist License


Clinical nurse specialists generally hold an RN license and a master’s degree. In California, like other states, clinical nurse specialists must apply for a license. Candidates for the license can submit an applicant identification form online or apply by mail. The license requires applicants to report prior convictions or disciplines.

Professional Organizations for Nursing Students



Professional organizations can help nursing students transition from their program into the workforce. Many of these organizations offer networking opportunities through conferences and local events. They also provide career advice and host job boards with openings in California. By researching professional organizations, students can also find scholarship opportunities.


  • ANA California The state chapter of the American Nurses Association, this association promotes nursing advocacy skills through its guided programs in the Advocacy Institute Learning Center, the Advocate Network, and the Advocacy Fellowship. Members can also learn about local legislation, nursing campaigns, and news in the field. The nursing expert list, new in 2021, connects members with nursing experts.

  • California Nurses Association CNA, a local chapter of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, represents RNs in California. The organization connects nurses throughout the state and acts as a labor organization to advocate for nurses. CNA also provides information on job openings in California and offers continuing education classes.

  • California Association for Nurse Practitioners CANP represents over 26,000 NPs working in California. The association promotes the profession and offers advice and practice standards resources. NPs can meet through local chapters and events, attend webinars to brush up on their skills, or earn continuing education credits. CANP also hosts a job center.

  • California Emergency Nurses Association California's branch of the ENA advocates for emergency nurses and provides professional and educational resources. Members can access career and clinical information, read the association's blog to stay current in the field, join a local chapter, or attend meetings to network with other California emergency nurses. The organization also offers scholarships.

Scholarships for Nursing Students

Nursing students in California qualify for many scholarship opportunities to pay for their education. Professional associations, government agencies, and private foundations in California all support nursing students through scholarships. In addition to the following opportunities, students attending nursing programs in California can apply for national scholarships.

Health Professions Education Foundation Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development awards multiple scholarships to support nursing students. The associate degree nursing scholarship program funds nurses pursuing an RN license, while the BSN scholarship funds BSN students. Recipients agree to practice in California for 12 months after earning their degree.
Amount: Up to $10,000

California Emergency Nursing Association Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development awards multiple scholarships to support nursing students. The associate degree nursing scholarship program funds nurses pursuing an RN license, while the BSN scholarship funds BSN students. Recipients agree to practice in California for 12 months after earning their degree.
Amount: Up to $10,000

California Emergency Nursing Association Scholarships

Who Can Apply: California ENA offers two scholarships: the Daniel Kelleher Scholarship and the Terri Sturgill Entry-Level Nursing Scholarship. Applicants must be enrolled in an entry-level RN program or a BSN program. The scholarships require proof of active enrollment, a resume, and a letter of intent stating the applicant’s commitment to emergency nursing and involvement in ENA.
Amount: $500-$1,000

Past Presidents Parley Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Legion Auxiliary Department of California offers a scholarship for nursing students. Recipients must be a veteran, the spouse of a veteran, or the child of a veteran pursuing a nursing degree from an accredited program. Scholarship winners receive priority in future rounds of the scholarship if they continue to show academic success.
Amount: $2,000

California State PTA Continuing Education Scholarship

Who Can Apply: School nurses qualify for the California State PTA scholarship. The award helps current school nurses return to school to advance their education. Applicants provide two reference forms and letters, including a reference from the applicant’s unit, council, or district PTA president and a reference who can speak to the candidate’s volunteer experience.
Amount: $500

CNA Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The California Nurses Association offers several scholarships for California nurses living in different counties. The Alameda County Scholarship supports Alameda county residents, while the Martha Horton Scholarship funds nursing students in Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Humboldt, Mendocino, Contra Costa, or Solano counties. The Region 10 Gannon Scholarship supports nurses in Los Angeles county.
Amount: Varies

25 Best Nursing Programs in California 2021



  1. University of California-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UCLA's School of Nursing offers five nursing degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. The school reports that graduates achieve high pass rates on nursing licensure examinations.

    The pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing prepares undergraduates for registered nurse (RN) licensure. The master of science in nursing (MSN) master's-entry clinical nurse program serves students with non-nursing bachelor's degrees. The MSN advanced practice program and the doctor of nursing practice program typically suit advanced nursing students seeking new skills and career or salary advancement. The doctor of philosophy in nursing program serves aspiring nursing researchers or professors, rather than clinicians.

    One of the best nursing schools in California, UCLA ranks ninth in nursing research according to the National Institutes of Health. UCLA maintains a topnotch biomedical library, a Center for Vulnerable Populations Research, a Center for American Indian/Indigenous Research, and an Education Center for the Advancement of Gerontological Nursing Science.

    UCLA is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  2. University of California-Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    One of the top nursing schools in California, UCI's Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), a master of science in nursing (MSN), and a master's-entry program in nursing for second-degree students (MEPN).

    At the doctoral level, UCI offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. A pre-licensure program, the BSN emphasizes research, theory, and practice. This program uses clinical rotations, high-tech simulation equipment, and a research-driven curriculum. UCI maintains an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio in clinical courses and labs.

    Serving aspiring administrators, teachers, researchers, and practitioners, the MSN program focuses on research-based practice, health advocacy, and leadership. The MEPN, one of the best accelerated nursing programs in California, serves candidates with prior bachelor's degrees in another discipline and reduces master's degree graduation timelines. The DNP also qualifies graduates for leadership, advocacy, and advanced practice roles. Ph.D. graduates typically become researchers or professors.

    UCI is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  3. California State University-Fullerton
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Focused on educating nurses to provide healthcare to diverse populations, CSUF's School of Nursing values compassion, interconnectedness, growth, and excellence. Among the top nursing schools in California, CSUF offers 15 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral nursing programs.

    Entry-level programs include a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and an associate degree in nursing. CSUF offers campus-based, distance, and jump-start options for registered nurse BSN students.

    The school's master of science in nursing program features several tracks, including leadership, nurse educator, school nursing, and women's healthcare, plus a school nurse services credential option. Learners can also pursue a doctor of nursing practice.

    CSUF is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  4. California State University-Long Beach
    Location

    Long Beach, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Devoted to student-centered learning, diversity, transculturalism, and internationalism, CSULB's School of Nursing offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), master of science in nursing (MSN), and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) for students with various educational backgrounds and career goals. Graduates go on to work as nursing practitioners, nurse educators, clinical nurse specialists, and public health nursing administrators.

    Available as a traditional BSN, a registered nurse BSN, and an AS-to-BSN, CSULB's BSN programs prepare graduates for professional nursing careers. The school's MSN program offers several tracks, credentialing graduates for careers as advanced practice nurses or nurse practitioners in fields such as family nursing, pediatric nursing, and psychiatric nursing. CSULB also features a Nursing and Healthcare Systems Executive Management Program.

    The DNP curriculum offers concentrations in anesthesia, management/administration/

    leadership, community health nursing, and midwifery. Additional DNP track options include clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner. The DNP program's practicum experience involves 1,000 clinical hours.

    CSULB is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  5. San Diego State University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Since 1953, SDSU's School of Nursing has prepared students for careers leading and transforming nursing care. The school's nursing programs emphasize professional practice, academic rigor, and mutually beneficial community partnerships.

    SDSU's bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs serve incoming freshmen, transfer students, and registered nurses. Second-degree bachelor's students can also pursue SDSU's BSN. All BSN candidates participate in an international experience, spending two weeks or more in another country.

    SDSU also offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) program for advanced nursing students seeking leadership, teaching, or research careers. The MSN features two concentration options: advanced practice nursing of adults and the elderly and nursing leadership in healthcare systems.

    SDSU's nursing programs are accredited by the Commision on Collegiate Nursing Education and approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing. One of the top nursing schools in California, SDSU is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  6. California State University-Chico
    Location

    Chico, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Chico State's School of Nursing offers an on-campus, basic bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program serving aspiring registered nurses (RNs). This pre-licensure program takes five semesters, or 2.5 years, and admits 40-student cohorts each spring and fall semester. Graduates qualify for RN licensure and public health nurse certification in California.

    Chico State's BSN comprises120 total credits, including 48 general education pathway requirements, 12 concurrent core course credits, and 60 major option course credits. Candidates with an accredited associate degree in nursing may reduce the major option course requirements to 44 credits by transferring credits and qualifying for advanced placement RN-to-BSN status.

    Applicants must successfully complete the Test of Essential Academic Skills and demonstrate a cumulative 3.0 minimum GPA and a 3.0 or higher in four science and four foundation area prerequisite courses.

    Chico State's nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Chico State is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  7. California State University-San Bernardino
    Location

    San Bernardino, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    One of the best nursing schools in California, CSUSB offers several nursing programs, including a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), an RN-to-BSN program, and a master of science in nursing (MSN). CSUSB's nursing students can participate in community service opportunities, work-study programs at nearby hospitals, and CSUSB's student nursing organization.

    The school's BSN program prepares aspiring registered nurses (RNs) for California's RN licensure examination. The degree is also a foundation for students planning to pursue advanced degrees in nursing. The RN-to-BSN degree usually serves RNs with two-year nursing degrees who seek continuing education and career advancement. CSUSB's competitive BSN programs admit two cohorts per year.

    The hybrid MSN program includes both online and in-person sessions. Enrollees usually seek careers as administrators, researchers, or nursing educators. Concentration choices include advanced community health nursing, population health for clinical nurse leaders, and nursing education. Students complete practicum experiences at CSUSB partner agencies or facilities.

    CSUSB nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. CSUSB is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  8. California State University-Fresno
    Location

    Fresno, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The School of Nursing at Fresno State's College of Health and Human Services offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), school nursing credential, master of science in nursing (MSN), and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

    BSN students participate in clinical placements at nearby facilities, including Valley Children's Hospital, San Joaquin Gardens, and Community Hospitals of Central California. Applicants need a minimum score of 75% on the Test of Essential Academic Skills plus a 3.0 minimum GPA.

    Fresno State's MSN program prepares graduates for careers as primary care/nurse practitioners in family nursing. The nursing department also offers a school nurse services credential program. The DNP program, Fresno State's most advanced nursing degree, cultivates competency in nursing teaching and leadership.

    Fresno State is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  9. San Jose State University
    Location

    San Jose, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    SJSU offers cohort-based undergraduate and graduate nursing programs serving aspiring nursing clinicians, leaders, scholars, and teachers. The school's full-time bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program prepares new nursing students for registered nurse (RN) licensure or continuing education. BSN students acquire knowledge and skills in fields including pediatrics, gerontology, mental health, and community health nursing. SJSU's BSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and qualifies graduates for public nurse certification and RN licensure examination in California.

    The nursing school also offers BSN pathways for licensed vocational nurses and RNs seeking bachelor's-level degrees. SJSU's full-time, hybrid master of science in nursing program features both nurse educator and family nurse practitioner tracks. The doctor of nursing science serves working professionals and runs primarily online.

    SJSU is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  10. University of San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    USF's School of Nursing and Health Professions offers undergraduate and graduate nursing programs rooted in USF's Jesuit values and focused on pragmatic problem-solving, innovative solutions, transformational leadership, and evidence-based practice. USF offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), master of science in nursing (MSN), and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

    Customized based on student goals and background, USF's BSN curriculum takes 2-4 years depending on enrollees' prior coursework. Through clinical rotations and USF's Clinical Skills Lab and Simulation Center, this hands-on BSN program emphasizes clinical skills development. Learners can participate in scholar programs, including the Martín-Baró Scholars Program or the St. Ignatius Institute.

    USF offers an MSN program for registered nurses seeking career or salary advancement and a master's-entry MSN program for students with bachelor's degrees in other fields. The DNP program options include concentrations in executive leadership, population health leadership, family nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

    USF is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

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