The Best California Online Nurse Practitioner Programs and Requirements

By NurseJournal.org staff



Table of Contents


California requires nurse practitioners (NPs) to practice under the supervision of a licensed physician or surgeon. California is one of only 22 states in the country with this requirement. Many other states with oversight requirements allow NPs to work without supervision after a set time period or after earning licensure.

NPs in California differ from registered nurses (RNs) in the various roles they undertake. This includes working as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and psychiatric/mental health nurses. NP programs in the Golden State prepare RNs for advanced practice in these and other areas. Prospective advanced practice nurses must pursue graduate education, earning a master's in nursing or a doctoral degree that prepares RNs for advanced practice.

This page details how to become an advanced practice nurse, including a ranking of the best nurse practitioner programs in California. Keep reading to learn more about NP requirements and salary and employment trends in the state.

Best California Online Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs

Rank University Degree Programs
1 University of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA NP
2 California State University, Dominguez Hills - Carson, CA NP
3 Samuel Merritt University - Oakland, CA NP

University of Southern California

Located in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California was founded in 1880. The school graduated its first class in 1884, which consisted of three students. Today, nearly 50,000 students study at USC, with retention and six-year graduation rates staying above 90% in recent years. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits USC.

The university delivers a master of science in nursing that focuses on family nurse practitioner concepts. Candidates take classes in pathophysiology, pharmacology, research, and health policy and complete 784 hours of clinical work. Learners must earn 49-51 credits and participate in two resident intensives to earn this degree.

Campus Los Angeles
Type Private
Accreditations Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; California Board of Registered Nursing
Tuition $1,928 per unit
Admission Requirements Bachelor of science in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; RN license; 12 months of clinical fieldwork; prerequisite statistics course; resume or CV; personal statement; recommendation letters
Minimum Time Commitment 21 months
On-Campus Requirements Yes
Program Master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner
School site Tuition | Financial aid

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Founded in 1960, California State University, Dominguez Hills now enrolls over 14,000 students annually. The university also holds accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and ranks 33rd for top public schools and 72nd for regional universities in the West on U.S. News & World Report's lists.

CSUDH students may earn a master of science in nursing for family nurse practitioners by completing 48 units and 576 clinical hours with a certified nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, or doctor. Since the degree focuses on outpatient care, students cannot complete clinical experiences at hospitals. Graduation also requires at least one campus visit every semester.

Campus Carson, CA
Type Public
Accreditations Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; California Board of Registered Nursing
Tuition $2,082 for 0-6 units; $3,588 for six or more units
Admission Requirements RN license; two years RN experience; bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; interview; prerequisite courses in statistics, nursing research, health assessment, and pathophysiology
Minimum Time Commitment 36 months
On-Campus Requirements Yes
Program Master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner
School site Tuition | Financial aid

Samuel Merritt University

Located in Oakland, Samuel Merritt University was founded in 1909 and currently educates around 2,000 learners. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits SMU.

Its master of science in nursing with a family nurse practitioner specialization requires 49 units, including coursework in advocacy, health assessment, and acute care. Degree-seekers also complete three, 210-hour practicums and participate in on-campus intensives.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia accept this program for in-state nursing practices. Graduates may qualify to take national certification exams for family nurse practitioners. Online students and alumni benefit from virtual events provided by SMU, such as the post-professional graduate nursing webinar.

Campus Oakland, CA
Type Private
Accreditations Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Tuition $1,387 per unit
Admission Requirements RN license with experience; bachelor's in nursing; two references; prerequisite course in statistics; goal statement; criminal background check
Minimum Time Commitment 20 months
On-Campus Requirements Yes
Program Master of science in nursing - family nurse practitioner
School site Tuition | Financial aid

Requirements to Become a Nurse Practitioner in California

Aspiring NPs in California must complete the following requirements:

  • Hold a valid RN license. To earn an NP license, applicants must already hold a California RN license in good standing. California's Board of Registered Nursing defines an NP as an RN who possesses additional preparation and skills in physical diagnosis, psycho-social assessment, and management of health-illness needs in primary health care, and who has been prepared in a program that conforms to board standards. This means prospective NPs must first meet all the requirements of RNs.
  • Earn a graduate degree in nursing. Advanced practice nurses in California must hold a graduate degree in nursing prior to applying for licensure. Students must graduate from a board-approved program which covers specific subject and learning areas. Learners must take at least 12 semester credits in clinical practice, supplemented with at least one hour of theory instruction per three hours of clinical study.
  • Pass the required exam in a specific specialization area. The exam varies depending on a nurse's specialization area. In California, NPs can earn credentials through five approved agencies: the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, the National Certification Corporation, and American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Each agency holds its own requirements and guidelines. The table below outlines the requirements for the state's most in-demand specialties.
  • Submit an application to the California Board of Registered Nursing. In addition to completing a standard application form, applicants must submit documentation of their education, supervised practice during their program, and proof of passing a credentialing exam in their specialization.
  • Develop a standardized procedure or protocol with a supervising physician or surgeon. In California, NPs must work under the ongoing supervision of a licensed physician or surgeon. Although the supervising physician does not always need to be physically present, he or she must collaborate with the NP on standard operating procedure and protocol, which includes the nurse's scope of authority to prescribe medications and provide treatment.
  • Maintain a valid license. NPs in California must renew their license every two years. Upon first issuance, nursing licenses are valid for the applicant's first two birthdays. From that point on, NPs must renew their license every two years. Advanced practice nurses must maintain a valid RN license in addition to their advanced practice certificate. The RN license renewal requires a $190 fee. The NP certificate renewal requires an additional $150 fee. Other specialties, such as nurse midwife or nurse anesthetist, require slightly different fees.
  • Complete continuing education (CE) requirements. During each two-year period, NPs must complete at least 30 CE hours. The board must approve all CE courses and offers a list of acceptable options.

In-Demand Nursing Specialty Eligibility Requirements in California

Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

Years of Experience: 2-5 years

Clinical Hours Required: 1,750 hours over two years, with 875 hours occurring over the previous year. Alternatively, nurses can complete 2,000 hours over five years, with 144 occurring over the previous year.

Continuing Education: Complete the Continuing Education Recognition Point Program, which includes 100 points in different categories.

Other: In place of CE, licensees may opt to renew their license by exam instead.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC)

Years of Experience: N/A

Clinical Hours Required: The academic program must include at least 200 didactic clock hours and 600 clinical clock hours.

Continuing Education: Certificate-holders must complete an assigned CE plan during each three-year renewal period.

Other: N/A

Certified Perioperative Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS-CP)

Years of Experience: 2 years

Clinical Hours Required: 2,400 hours over two years as a practicing clinical nurse specialist in a perioperative setting.

Continuing Education: Licensees must complete 125 Professional Activity points and complete 1,000 clinical hours in the practice setting over the five-year certification period.

Other: N/A


Salary and Career Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), California ranks as the nation's highest-paying state for NPs. In 2018, NPs in California earned an average salary of $133,780, over $23,000 more per year than the occupation's national average. RNs also tend to earn the most in California, with an average salary surpassing the national average.

NPs working in the San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward area earn the highest average salaries, with the Vallejo-Fairfield area coming in a close second. Fortunately, some of the most in-demand NP careers also serve as some of the top paying, including the neonatal nursing field. California ranks second in the country for the highest employment rates of NPs, with a projected job growth rate near the national average.

RN vs. NP Salary and Projected Job Growth in California
  Registered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
California Mean Salary $106,950 $133,780
U.S. Mean Salary $75,510 $110,030
California Job Growth 16.2% 35.1%
U.S. Job Growth 14.8% 36.1%

Source: BLS, Projections Central


California Metropolitan Areas With the Highest Mean NP Wages
  Salary Employment
San Francisco - Oakland - Hayward, California $150,790 2,100
Vallejo - Fairfield, California $145,400 150
Salinas, California $140,610 120
Modesto, California $135,330 190
Los Angeles - Long Beach - Anaheim, California $135,230 4,110

Source: BLS