The Top Nursing Schools in California

February 21, 2022 , Updated on July 27, 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.

#1

University of California-Los Angeles

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 12%
Graduation Rate 92%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

The University of California, Los Angeles offers several undergraduate and graduate programs for experienced RNs. The programs train nurses to address the healthcare needs of diverse populations. 

One of the top-ranked nursing schools in California, UCLA provides a rigorous curriculum in classroom and clinical settings. The school operates the UCLA Medical Center, a state-of-the-art hospital with various specialty clinics.

Details:

  • Program(s): Bachelor of science in nursing; MSN – master's entry clinical nurse; MSN – advanced practice registered nurse; doctor of nursing practice; and doctor of philosophy
  • Campus: Los Angeles
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: BSN: $13,804 per year for California residents, $31,026 per year for out-of-state students; MSN: $25,831 per year for California residents, $38,076 per year for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: BSN: High school or GED diploma; MSN: an accredited bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, and prerequisite coursework
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: N/A
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#2

University of California-Davis

School Information
Location Davis, California
Admission Rate 39%
Graduation Rate 87%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

The University of California, Davis offers the master's entry program in nursing (MEPN) to prepare enrollees for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The program provides non-nursing majors with a pathway to earn a master of science in nursing.

Students complete 92 units of coursework in 18 months as part of a cohort. One of the best nursing schools in California, UC Davis charges a flat tuition rate for all students.

Details:

  • Program: MEPN
  • Campus: Davis
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $116,862 program fee 
  • Admission Requirements: A bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; and minimum 2.7 GPA in prerequisite science coursework
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 18 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 90% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: N/A
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#3

University of California-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

The University of California, Irvine enrolls students without a nursing degree in the master's entry program in nursing (MEPN). The two-year program leads to a master's in nursing science and prepares enrollees for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

The program includes clinical simulations. One of the top nursing programs in California, the MEPN offers clinical rotations at UCI Health.

Details:

  • Program: MEPN
  • Campus: Irvine
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $3,814 per semester for California residents; $7,896 per semester for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: A bachelor's degree; minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA; and prerequisite coursework
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 87.5% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: N/A
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#4

Point Loma Nazarene University

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 75%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Point Loma Nazarene University offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) that prepares enrollees for RN licensure in California. The BSN offers a faith-based curriculum that emphasizes servant leadership.

Students complete a year of prerequisite courses as pre-nursing majors before they enter the program. Coursework covers nursing fundamentals and how to work with various populations. Enrollees complete more than 1,100 clinical hours. 

Details:

  • Program: BSN
  • Campus: San Diego
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $20,200 per semester 
  • Admission Requirements: First-year students apply for one year of prerequisite courses as pre-nursing majors
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 4 years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 82.5% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $85,210 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#5

San Diego State University

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 34%
Graduation Rate 73%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

The bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at San Diego State University enrolls first-year students, transfer students, and those who hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree. Enrollees learn how to care for various populations such as children and the mentally ill. 

Degree-seekers receive hands-on experience throughout their training. Learners complete an international experience to explore local populations and their challenges.

Details:

  • Program: BSN
  • Campus: San Diego
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,871 per 6.1 credit for California residents; out-of-state learners pay an additional $396 per unit 
  • Admission Requirements: First-year students need a minimum 3.0 GPA in A-G coursework, and a minimum B grade in algebra, biology, and chemistry prerequisites; transfer students need a minimum 3.2 GPA and prerequisite coursework
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 4 years for first-year students
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.9% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $87,380 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#6

University of San Diego

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 49%
Graduation Rate 81%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

The University of San Diego offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) program with three tracks. Learners choose from nursing informatics, executive nurse leader, and adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist.

Enrollees can also pursue a dual track: adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist/executive nurse leader. All degree-seekers complete clinical experiences. USD ranks among the most affordable nursing programs in California.

Details:

  • Program: MSN
  • Campus: San Diego
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $925-$1,640 per credit 
  • Admission Requirements: A bachelor of science in nursing; a minimum 3.0 GPA; an unencumbered, active California RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: N/A
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: NA
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: N/A
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#7

California State University-Fresno

School Information
Location Fresno, California
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 56%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Fresno State offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) that emphasizes practice in rural settings and serving clients from various cultural backgrounds. The curriculum focuses on areas such as health maintenance, counseling, and management of health problems.

Students complete clinical experiences in interdisciplinary practice settings. RNs attending one of the best nursing schools in California can culminate the program with a thesis or project.

Details:

  • Program: MSN 
  • Campus: Fresno
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education 
  • Tuition: $2,082 per 0-6 units for California residents; out-of-state students pay an additional $396 per unit 
  • Admission Requirements: A bachelor of science in nursing from a program accredited by the National League for Nursing or the CCNE or a non-nursing bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; prerequisite coursework
  • Minimum Time Commitment: N/A
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.1% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $102,410 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#8

California State University-Chico

School Information
Location Chico, California
Admission Rate 72%
Graduation Rate 67%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Aspiring nurses can enroll in Chico State's bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to prepare for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and RN certification. Students can complete the accelerated program in 2.5 years. 

The curriculum provides a mix of theoretical classes and clinical courses taught at medical facilities. Graduates can apply for a public health nurse certificate upon graduation from one of the top nursing programs in California. 

Details:

  • Program: BSN
  • Campus: Chico
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,726 per 0-6 units for California residents; out-of-state students pay an additional $396 per unit 
  • Admission Requirements: A high school diploma; at least 30 credits for transfer students; official transcripts; and Test of Essential Academic Skills scores
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 30 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.3% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $95,800 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#9

California State University-Stanislaus

School Information
Location Turlock, California
Admission Rate 89%
Graduation Rate 59%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Stanislaus State operates one of the most comprehensive nursing schools in California. Students can complete the RN-to-BSN program entirely online. However, the program includes an on-campus orientation and clinical requirements.

RNs enroll as part of a cohort. They complete 35 units in 12 months. The program requires 90 community health clinical hours over a 10-week summer session. The nursing school offers other programs, including an on-campus MSN - family nurse practitioner. 

Details:

  • Program: RN-to-BSN; accelerated second BSN; LVN-to-BSN; MSN - family nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Turlock
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: BSN: $19,200 total program tuition fees
  • Admission Requirements: All school transcripts and RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes 
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.2% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $99,450 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#10

California State University-Los Angeles

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 48%
Graduation Rate 52%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 33% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

At Cal State LA, students choose from four undergraduate nursing programs, including the traditional bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). The BSN prepares students for RN licensure in three years. Students attend classes on campus and complete clinicals in the Los Angeles County area.

One of the best nursing schools in California for transfer students, the college accepts up to 70 transfer units from a community college. Undergraduates can also pursue the one-year full-time RN-to-BSN degree.

Details:

  • Program(s): BSN traditional program; RN-to-BSN; AD-to-BSN collaborative; accelerated BSN
  • Campus: Los Angeles
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $6,782 per semester for California residents; out-of-state students pay an additional $396 per unit 
  • Admission Requirements: BSN traditional: Prerequisite coursework; minimum cumulative and prerequisite 3.25 GPA; and Test of Essential Academic Skills scores
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 36 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.4% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $87,550 for bachelor's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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Featured Online MSN Programs

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 average registered nursing salary in California is higher than anywhere else in the United States. The cost of living in California is also higher than in many other states throughout the country. For instance, Los Angeles and San Francisco rank among California's most expensive places to live. 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).

Salary 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

Find Nursing Programs in Other States

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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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