The Top Nursing Schools in California

February 21, 2022 , Modified on May 6, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Learn how becoming a nurse in California can lead to great job opportunities. Explore the top-rated schools that can help you achieve your career goals.

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NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The Top Nursing Schools in California
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Exploring the best nursing schools in California for your educational needs can be a daunting task. This page contains information about the top schools in California. It also details how to select programs that fit your career goals and learning style, earning potential for nurses, and licensing requirements.

Aspiring nurses can also explore options for advanced programs and increased earning potential. Keep reading to learn more about the top nursing schools and programs in California.

The Best Nursing Schools in California

The list below includes the best nursing programs in California. Students may want to spend some time thinking about what they need in a program, which can provide some direction when exploring school options.

Our Methodology: We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best nursing schools in California, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

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How to Choose a Nursing Program in California

Aspiring nurses in California gain access to many programs across the state. However, applicants should identify what they value in a school to narrow down their options. For instance, students should look at tuition rates. This may also influence their decision about attending classes in person or online.

Students considering online programs may also want to explore field experience requirements and program length. Many nursing degrees offer accelerated options that allow students to launch their careers quickly.

Other important factors include pass rates for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), acceptance rates, nursing school and program accreditation, and financial aid options.

Why Become a Nurse in California

According to the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), there are more than 330,000 RNs and over 14,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) who hold an active license. Despite a large number of active professionals, BRN data projects an increase in demand for nursing professionals over the next 10 years.

While the cost of living is higher than other states, students can access financial aid opportunities for nurses only available to California students. The Cal Grant is a California-specific financial aid option that does not need to be paid back. To qualify, students must hold one year of residency, U.S. citizenship, and enroll in classes at least part time. For the Cal Grant, applicants should not hold a bachelor's degree.

Students should also note that California participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). Issued NLC licenses allow nurses to practice in multiple states. Additionally, California is not a right-to-work state, which means that nurses do not need to join a union as a condition of employment.

Salary and Job Outlook for Nurses in California

The cost of living in California is higher than in many other states throughout the country at 146.9%, which varies throughout the state. For instance, Los Angeles and San Francisco rank among the most expensive places to live in California. These RNs earn over $120,000 on average, while the national median hovers at $75,330, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

BRN data also indicates that practitioners in the 75th percentile earn over $150,000 annually. However, RNs often go on to earn advanced degrees. California NPs earn $145,970 on average, while NPs earn $114,510 on average nationwide, according to the BLS.

Students can enroll in the nursing program of their choice as projected employment should increase by 16.7% between 2018 and 2028.

Students interested in maximizing their earning potential may want to consider programs in cities that offer the highest salaries. The table below includes the top-paying metropolitan areas in California for RNs. In addition to top salaries, graduates can launch their career working for prestigious institutions.

Highest-Paying Cities for Nurses in California
Top Paying Metropolitan Areas Average Salary for RNs
San Francisco — Oakland — Hayward $149,200
San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara $146,870
Vallejo — Fairfield $142,140
Sacramento — Roseville — Arden-Arcade $134,350
Salinas $132,160
Source: BLS

Steps to Becoming a Nurse in California

RN requirements in California include completing the mandatory coursework, participating in field experiences, taking the NCLEX exam, and applying for licensure.

Students should note that there are many practitioners in California, which may cause longer waiting periods to get approved for licensure.

RN Requirements

Future RNs can take several pathways to begin their careers. Students interested in entering the workforce quickly can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which requires about two years of full-time attendance and qualifies graduates to take the NCLEX exam.

This educational path does not include general education requirements and focuses primarily on the practical RN skills. Graduates typically begin working while earning their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Students interested in leadership opportunities often earn their BSN and enter the workforce directly after graduation. This educational path requires four years with full-time attendance.

Similar to other states, RNs must renew their license every two years in California unless a practitioner is called to active duty for the military.

APRN Requirements

RNs considering the next step in their career can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which requires a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Students with a BSN can apply directly to an MSN, complete their field experience, and apply for licensure after graduating.

ADNs interested in qualifying for advanced positions can enroll in BSN-to-MSN programs. They provide required coursework in an accelerated format. Similarly, schools may also offer BSN-to-DNP programs for qualified students interested in earning a terminal degree. DNP graduates also need to complete the state exam and provide proof of clinical hours to get their license.

While accelerated programs appeal to practitioners' long-term goals, students also need to consider APRN programs' intensity.

Other Top Nursing Programs in California

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing in California


Is California good for nurses?

Factors that determine whether or not a student should launch their nursing career in California are personal. For instance, practitioners may not mind the high cost of living given the climate and other amenities California has to offer. Other practitioners may consider benefit packages and opportunities for advancement.

RNs in California can choose from a lot of highly rated programs. Graduates can access high salaries at very prestigious hospitals and private practices. Additionally, practitioners can take comfort in knowing that California needs more skilled professionals in the field, including RNs and APRNs.

Is it hard to get a job as a nurse in California?

California is experiencing a shortage of RNs and NPs. Practitioners should note that they may need to explore less popular cities to find the best opportunities, as many job-seekers consider more popular parts of the state.

Highly prestigious institutions may require more experience or possess higher standards for candidates. Other factors could include NCLEX scores, applicants' GPA, or letters of recommendation.

Is nursing in demand in California?

The demand for licensed nursing professionals has increased throughout the country, including California. Students should note that the healthcare industry relies on nursing professionals at all levels in every speciality.

For instance, students who go on to earn an advanced degree qualify to become NPs, nurse educators, nurse administrators, or even nurse anesthetists. The healthcare industry also continues to give more responsibilities to nursing professionals, which increases their value in all institutions.

Students should also pay attention to the number of professionals in the field close to retirement. This shows areas of the field that would benefit from highly motivated and skilled professionals eager to fill these openings.

How much does it cost to get a California nursing license?

RN examination applications for students who graduated in California costs $300, while applicants from another state or U.S. territory pay $350. International applicants must pay $750. However, the repeat examination application costs $250 for all applicants.

Processing periods for licenses can exceed eight weeks. Therefore, students may want to get a temporary permit, which costs $100.

Other miscellaneous costs may include manual fingerprint card processing, which costs $49, and certified copies of students' school transcripts at $50. Practitioners applying for advanced licenses pay between $300-$500. Temporary permits for these licenses cost $150, excluding the temporary clinical nurse specialist application, which costs $30.

Students may also want to think about the cost to maintain their licenses. RNs pay $190, while advanced roles range from $125-$172.

Related Resources

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NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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