Best Nursing Programs in California

Becoming a nurse is a great way to help others and find a rewarding career. Here, we outline top California nursing programs.

May 25, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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California Nursing Schools

Nursing programs in California prepare students for many healthcare careers. California RNs with an associate degree can advance their careers by enrolling in RN-to-BSN programs. These programs often run fully online. Applicants need active nursing licenses and specific undergraduate prerequisites. Coursework covers health assessment and community-based nursing.

Some nursing programs in California offer career-aligned specializations. Graduates can work in areas such as emergency rooms or labor and delivery. Degree-holders may also work as clinical nurse supervisors or nurse case managers.

This page lists the best nursing programs in California. Read on to learn about degree costs and specialization options.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Programs

What is the fastest way to become a nurse in California?

Aspiring RNs can enter the profession as soon as possible by earning an associate degree. Nurses with a bachelor's degree in another subject should research two-year master's programs.

Can you become an RN in two years?

Full-time learners can complete an associate degree in two years. A state-approved program qualifies licensure candidates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam.

How much does a two-year RN make?

As of Nov. 2021, an entry-level RN in California earns $63,240. Salary varies by specialty and employer. California ranks fourth in the nation for the highest nursing salaries.

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Why Get a Degree in Nursing?

RNs make a difference in their patients' lives and significantly impact the healthcare field. They give medication, develop care plans, and work with families. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for RNs to increase by 9% from 2020-2030. This amounts to about 194,500 job openings annually during this time.

Many California nursing programs run asynchronously fully online. Enrollees do not commute to campus and can complete coursework around their schedules. This benefit allows them to continue their careers while furthering their education.

How Much Does a Nursing Degree Cost?

Tuition varies by school, degree type, and program length. Students pursuing an RN-to-BSN degree at a public college pay about $20,000 in tuition, as of Nov. 2021. Learners at private schools may pay significantly more. Degree-seekers should budget for other expenses, such as books and class materials.

Many online California nursing programs provide scholarships and other financial aid. Prospective students can research this aid on program websites or by contacting admissions advisors. Learners can also research nursing scholarships online. Deadlines and eligibility requirements vary.

How Much Do Nursing Majors Make?

Top-earning nurses earn more than $116,000 annually, according to the BLS. RNs living in California earn more than nurses in other states. Other states with top-paying positions include Hawaii and Massachusetts.

RNs with bachelor's degrees can increase their salary potential by enrolling in MSN programs. These two-year degrees qualify graduates to work as nurse anesthetists, midwives, or practitioners. These professionals earn median annual salaries of $117,670. RNs who want to further increase their salary can become MDs. Physicians and surgeons earn more than $208,000 annually.

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Specializations for Nursing Students

Many California nursing programs offer specializations. Sometimes called tracks or concentrations, they train enrollees for specific nursing careers. Specializations also prepare RNs for MSN programs. Students complete core curriculum followed by upper-division coursework.

See below for common specializations in nursing programs in California. Keep in mind that options vary by school. These differences can affect graduates' career trajectories. Students can contact their prospective schools' admissions advisors for more information.

  • Healthcare Leadership

    Degree-seekers take courses in project management, positive psychology, and leadership theory and practice. They also study emotional intelligence and organizational management. Graduates can work as managers or mentors for healthcare providers or public health agencies.
  • Healthcare Management

    Healthcare management focuses on the field's laws and regulations, delivery systems, and financial management fundamentals. Learners become experts in organizational management and ethics. Experienced professionals instruct courses, giving students an insider's view into successful management techniques. Graduates work as nurse managers, overseeing their department and its staff.
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  • Psychology for the Healthcare Profession

    Nurses help patients adapt to injuries or diagnoses. This task requires them to understand human psychology. This specialization features courses in abnormal psychology, social psychology, and crisis counseling and intervention. Coursework examines the intersection between psychology and religious belief.

How to Become a Nurse in California

California RNs need an associate or bachelor's degree from a state-approved program. Nursing programs in California provide the academic knowledge and hands-on training needed for licensure. Out-of-state RNs can transfer their license by submitting it and relevant academic transcripts to the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). These RNs also complete a criminal background check.

Nursing in California involves maintaining patients' medical records, discussing treatments with physicians, and operating medical equipment. Responsibilities vary by employer, job site, and specialty. Popular specialties include neonatology and public health. RNs may also work as healthcare consultants.

Licensure for Nurses in California

Students can pursue nursing programs at the associate, bachelor's, or master's levels at 140 California colleges and universities. Learners need a degree to earn an initial license. The BRN recommends that learners apply for their initial license 6-8 weeks before graduation.

Candidates submit transcripts and complete a fingerprint background check. They must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Authorized testing centers offer the exam six days per week. Recent graduates starting jobs may need interim permits.

California RNs must renew their license every two years. Requirements include 30 continuing education credits. The BRN waives this requirement for active-duty military RNs. California charges fees for initial licenses and renewals. Nurses renewing their licenses must complete criminal background checks.

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Best Nursing Programs in California

  1. University of California-Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA



    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

    Irvine, CA



    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

    Fullerton, CA



    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

    Long Beach, CA



    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

    San Diego, CA



    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

    Chico, CA



    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

    San Bernardino, CA



    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

    Fresno, CA



    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

    San Jose, CA



    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

    San Francisco, CA



    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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