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Top California Nursing Schools and Programs

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Advertisement 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.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Schools, Licensing Requirements, and Resources

Students exploring online nursing programs in California can review this guide to learn more about available opportunities in the state. Readers can explore information on common coursework, online program formats, licensing and certification, state requirements, and nurse employment trends and salaries in California, along with professional resources for nurses in the state.

This guide allows readers to delve into the differences between registered nurses (RNs), certified nurse assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and nurse practitioners (NPs).

Why Attend Online Nursing Programs in California?

California offers many viable opportunities for individuals interested in nursing. The Golden State offers professionals some of the highest salary opportunities in the country, along with online nursing programs, which enable learners to earn their degrees in a flexible, convenient format.

California features tuition costs right in the middle of the U.S. range, ranking 25th in tuition rates. These affordable figures allow degree-seekers to take advantage of more opportunities for their education to offset the high cost of living in California, which sits at the second-highest cost of living in the country.

Advertisement 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.

Featured Online Programs

How to Become a Nurse in California

Graduates from California nursing schools can pursue many different positions in the field. Nursing career paths often require similar education credentials but diverge regarding licensure, procedures, and costs. Moreover, your specific type of online nursing degree affects the positions you can pursue after graduation. For example, those with associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) and bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees may qualify to sit for the RN licensing exam, but many employers prefer RNs with a bachelor’s degree.

  • 1. Choose the Path That’s Right for You

    Different levels of professional nursing roles require different levels of education. All types of nursing require at least an ADN. Students should decide whether they want to become an advanced nurse or eventually teach nursing to college students, as these roles require further education. Candidates for nurse anesthetist, psychiatric nurse, flight nurse, and neonatal intensive care nurse positions must have at least a BSN. A nursing student who aims to become an NP, nurse educator, or clinical nurse specialist must hold a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Higher-level positions may best suit applicants who obtain a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree

  • 2. Earn Your Nursing Degree

    Students applying to nursing programs in California must decide whether they want to earn their degrees online or in a traditional, campus-based format. Each has its benefits and drawbacks and holds a particular appeal for specific students. When comparing California nursing schools, students should learn about each program’s prerequisites. Some require students to complete clinicals, fellowships, or internships as part of their degrees. Different programs may have different durations, so prospective enrollees should make sure they are willing and able to undertake the necessary time commitment.

  • 3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License

    On-campus and online nursing degrees require specific exams. Prospective RNs must take the NCLEX-RN, while aspiring practical/vocational nurses must pass the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-RN takes six hours to complete and costs $200. The NCLEX-PN takes five hours, and also costs $200. Online nursing graduates who want to become nurse aides must pass the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program, which costs $100 and comprises a two-hour written (or oral, if reading in English is difficult) portion and a 25-minute skills demonstration.

    Online nursing degrees provide graduates with most of the information they need to pass their licensing exams, but students should still plan to spend 2-3 months reviewing exam materials. Licensure does not guarantee a nursing job, but it does qualify you for employment in several different fields.

Online Nursing Degree Programs in California

Professionals can pursue online nursing degree opportunities at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, which provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue careers across nursing specialties after graduation. Nursing students can determine what level of education they need to meet the specific licensing or certification requirements for their specialty.

What Courses Are Part of an Online Nursing Degree Program in California?

Nursing students explore many course topics, depending on their degree level and school. Students at the bachelor’s level usually focus on foundational, introductory topics in nursing, while master’s students explore more advanced concepts, and doctoral degrees allow learners to focus on the most specialized topics in the field.

Health Assessment

Degree-seekers focus on understanding the unique healthcare needs of patients across the lifespan, including neonatal care, pediatrics, geriatrics, and adult patient care.

Human Anatomy and Physiology

Students review the functional and anatomical functions of the human body, focusing on nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems, along with the basic functions of the human body.

Pharmacology for Generalist Nursing Practice

This course explores the major classifications of drugs, focusing particularly on pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics. During the course, students learn how to teach individuals and communities about different medications.

How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?

Degree-seekers in California can explore online opportunities across several colleges and universities, allowing them to use flexible formats to their advantage as they continue working while earning their degree. Some institutions feature fully online nursing programs, while others offer hybrid opportunities, which combine online coursework with on-campus components. These programs allow students to still experience on-campus learning while enjoying the flexibility of online requirements.

Many colleges and universities feature online programs that follow the same formats as on-campus counterparts. However, students can also enroll in accelerated online programs, which allow them to complete more credits during a semester to graduate sooner. Since online programs usually parallel on-campus offerings, students complete the same course content; experience the same admissions criteria; and enjoy the same licensing, certification, and career opportunities as on-campus programs.

Nursing Licensure in California

Professionals can pursue many licensing opportunities across nursing specialties in California. Nurses in California work under restricted practice. Laws in restricted practice states require career-long supervision, team management, or delegation from another health provider to allow them to provide patient care across settings and patient populations.

NPs working in California can prescribe and administer prescription drugs or devices as long as they are consistent with their educational background and the nurse has maintained clinical competencies. NPs in the state can prescribe schedule II-V controlled substances under the direct supervision of a licensed physician.

State Requirements by Nursing Type

Nursing students in California can refer to the following table to understand the different licensing and certification opportunities they can consider across levels in the nursing field.

  • Certified Nurse Assistant

    An individual interested in becoming a CNA must complete a board-approved, accredited degree or relevant training program, including a minimum of 60 hours of classroom training and 100 hours of supervised training. As long as training requirements meet state code, students can often complete them in a standard employment environment. Potential CNAs can meet equivalency requirements if they have previously completed part of an LPN, LPT, or RN program. Additionally, healthcare workers with military training can often qualify based on the extent of their experiences.

    After meeting the educational and training requirements for licensure, CNA candidates must complete and pass the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program examination, passing both the knowledge and skills tests. Test-takers can choose between oral and written formats. Candidates for certification by equivalency must obtain approval from the Department of Public Health before they register to take the examination.

    California Licensure Requirements

    • Education: Board-approved degree or training program
    • Additional Clinical Hours: N/A
    • Exams: National Nurse Aide Assessment Program
    • Renewal Frequency: Every two years
    • Continuing Education: 48 hours within the two-year renewal period

  • Licensed Practical Nurse

    Professionals who want to pursue careers as LPNs in California should enroll in a practical nursing program, including at least one year of coursework along with practical experience components. In addition to earning a degree, candidates for licensure must become CPR certified.

    LPN candidates in California must ensure they earn their degrees from board-approved programs that have gone through an approval process with the licensing agency for the state. Candidates’ training programs should consist of 1,530 educational hours with a minimum of 576 hours of theory and 54 hours of pharmacology.

    Once individuals complete their training or educational programs, they must complete and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Candidates for licensure must also provide fingerprints and pass a criminal background check before they can obtain their license to practice.

    California Licensure Requirements

    • Education: Practical nursing degree from an approved and accredited program
    • Additional Clinical Hours: N/A
    • Exams: NCLEX-PN
    • Renewal Frequency: Every two years
    • Continuing Education: 30 credits during each renewal period

  • Registered Nurse

    Aspiring RNs in California can start their path to becoming RNs by earning ADNs or BSNs. California also allows nurses who hold a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) credential to advance to RN status after completing 30 credits of nursing courses. RNs without a degree who obtain licensure through the LVN pathway can not always move out of state and continue with RN licensure, due to each state’s distinct RN requirements.

    After earning a nursing degree, candidates for RN licensure must complete and pass the NCLEX-RN examination. RNs must renew their licenses every two years and complete 30 continuing education credits during each renewal period. These experiences allow them to regularly develop their knowledge and skills in the field to continue providing the highest quality of care.

    California Licensure Requirements

    • Education: ADN or BSN
    • Additional Clinical Hours: N/A
    • Exams: NCLEX-RN
    • Renewal Frequency: Every two years
    • Continuing Education: 30 credits during every two-year renewal period

  • Nurse Practitioner

    Becoming an NP in California allows professionals to take advantage of the highest salary opportunities for the profession and enables them to choose their ideal patient population. The first step to becoming an NP in the state is earning a graduate degree. The California Board of Registered Nursing requires candidates for NP certification to hold a master’s degree at minimum, preferably pursuing a specialization in their desired specialty of nursing.

    A student’s graduate program must maintain accreditation from the National League of Nursing or any other accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. After earning a graduate degree, NP candidates can pursue a national certification in their desired specialty area of practice. California recognizes the following classifications for national certification: NP, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, public health nurse, and psychiatric/mental health nurse. After earning national certification, individuals can apply to receive their NP certificate.

    California Licensure Requirements

    • Education: Board-approved graduate program
    • Additional Clinical Hours: If pursuing the psychiatric/mental health nurse career, individuals must satisfy two years of supervised clinical experience providing psychiatric and mental health counseling services
    • Exams: None, but must obtain national certification in a specific nursing specialty
    • Renewal Frequency: Every two years
    • Continuing Education: 30 credits from an approved provider every two-year renewal period

Online Nursing Degree Programs and Licensing in California FAQ

  • What Is a Good Specialty for Nursing?

    Nurses can consider many specialties to pursue, based on their professional and personal goals. Individuals who want to explore high salary opportunities can pursue roles as certified nurse anesthetists, while those interested in working with pregnant women can consider going into nurse midwifery.

  • Is California a Good State for Nurses?

    California offers the highest salaries and employment rates for RNs in the United States. The Golden State also features the highest salaries and second-highest employment levels for NPs in the country.

  • How Long Does it Take to Get an RN License in California?

    The length of time it takes to obtain an RN license in California depends on the level of nursing education candidates choose to pursue. Those earning an ADN typically take around two years, while BSN students take four years.

  • How Long Does it Take To Get a California Nursing License by Endorsement?

    Candidates for nursing licenses by endorsement in California can consider two pathways for their licenses. The first path takes about 24 hours, and the other can take 6-8 weeks. The longer path requires requesting a fingerprint card, while the shorter path requires submitting electronic fingerprints through Livescan.

  • Does an Online Nursing Degree Have the Same Value as an On-Campus Degree?

    In most online programs throughout California, students experience the same course content as their on-campus counterparts, allowing them full access to the same quality of education as students who pursue traditional in-person enrollment.

California Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends

In the section below, students exploring online nursing programs in California can review available nursing career opportunities, along with salary data compared to nearby states.

Across the nursing field, professionals can practice at several levels, including entry-level roles and more specialized positions that allow them to provide care for a specific patient population. Generally, California features some of the highest salaries and projected job growth rates.

Nurse Salary and Projected Job Growth in California, by Type

Annual Mean WageProjected Job Growth(2016-2026)
Certified Nurse Assistant$35,22015.4%
Licensed Practical Nurse$56,20017.0%
Registered Nurse$106,95016.2%
Nurse Practitioner$133,78035.1%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Projections Central

Annual Mean Nurse Wages in Nearby States

Certified Nurse AssistantLicensed Practical NurseRegistered NurseNurse Practitioner
U.S.$29,580$47,050$75,510$110,030
Oregon$33,230$53,240$91,080$110,010
Nevada$35,130$57,140$85,620$112,540
Arizona$31,450$54,090$77,000$110,750
Hawaii$35,770$50,930$98,080$120,570

Source: BLS

Certified Nurse Assistant


CNAs based in California earned an annual mean wage more than $5,000 higher than the U.S. figures in 2018. The BLS projects a job growth rate for the profession in California of 15.4%, which outpaces the national rate for all employment. Compared to the nearby states of Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii, California features the second-highest salary amounts for the occupation, behind only Hawaii by about $500.

Licensed Practical Nurse


In California, LPNs earned mean annual wages in 2018 that reached nearly $10,000 higher than the United States’. Compared to nearby states, California enjoys the second-highest salary opportunities behind Nevada by less than $1,000. California also boasts the second-highest employment level for LPNs in the U.S., with 64,000 LPNs practicing in the state.

Registered Nurse


California’s RNs earned an annual mean wage of $106,950 in 2018, which ranked significantly higher than the U.S figure of $75,510. Compared to the nearby states of Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon, RNs in California experience the highest mean salary opportunities by nearly $10,000. California also offers the highest salary opportunities in the entire U.S. and the highest employment levels for RNs.

Nurse Practitioner


NPs working in California enjoy annual mean wage amounts of $133,780, which come in more than $20,000 higher than the mean wage amounts for NPs in the United States. NPs in California experience the highest salary opportunities compared to nearby states, exceeding the second-highest nearby state’s salary by more than $10,000. In addition to offering the highest salaries compared to nearby states, NPs in California experience the highest salary opportunities in the entire U.S., along with the second-highest employment levels for the occupation.

Nursing Resources for California


  • California Nurses Association Functioning as an organization of RNs in California, the California Nurses Association advocates for patients across settings and populations to promote the highest quality of care in the state.

  • California Association for Nurse Practitioners Serving more than 22,000 NPs across California, CANP aims to advance the nursing profession and provide quality healthcare.

  • California Board of Registered Nursing The California Board of Registered Nursing advocates for and protects the safety and health of the public, ensuring that RNs in the state practice at the highest possible level.

  • American Nurses AssociationCalifornia Committed to enhancing the well-being and health of citizens across California, ANAC aims to advance the nursing profession in the state and provide members with professional development opportunities.

  • California Nursing Students' Association A constituent chapter of the National Student Nurses' Association, the California Nursing Students' Association serves more than 5,000 members, providing them with educational, professional, and developmental growth opportunities.

Jump to Another State

Advertisement 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.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.