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California Nursing Schools and Programs

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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Nurses can pursue lucrative healthcare roles in California. With high-ranking salaries, more job openings than any other state, and some of the most favorable working conditions, the Golden State continues to welcome nursing professionals. Nursing schools in California offer an ideal place to launch your career.

RN employment

RN Job Growth
16.7% growth from 2018-2028

Annual Salary for California Nurses
$120,560 SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact State?

Why Attend a Nursing Program in California?

California has more registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (NPs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), and certified nurse assistants (CNAs) than any other state. RNs and NPs earn more in California than anywhere else, and the state is home to all 10 of the best-paying metropolitan areas.

California also features the best prospects for job growth. The state has one of the most severe shortages of qualified nurses, with one study suggesting that nursing programs have only produced about 50% of the total number of nurses needed to meet the demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a shortage of more than 44,000 nurses by 2030, making it less challenging to find a job here than in other states.

The state’s strict nurse-to-patient ratio regulations have fostered significant demand in the sector. Depending on their specialty, nurses may have 1-8 patients in their care. Mandated ratios have been linked to higher job satisfaction among nurses and reduced burnout rates, along with improved patient outcomes.

California is not a right-to-work state, allowing nurses to freely form and join unions. The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals represents more than 32,000 nurses.

Featured Online Programs

Nursing Program Requirements in California

NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.7%
State Nursing Board: California Board of Registered Nursing

Becoming a licensed nurse in California begins with education. All prospective nurses must complete a pre-nursing program approved by the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), ensuring the program adheres to California’s statutory and regulatory requirements.

Upon graduation, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN). To take the exam, apply with the BRN 6-8 weeks before finishing school. The application requires candidates to submit photos, fingerprints, and transcripts. After passing the fingerprint background check and receiving approval, prospective nurses can register for the computerized exam, offered six days a week.

Because the licensing process can be lengthy, California allows new graduates to apply for interim permits, allowing them to practice with supervision while they await test results. Expect to wait up to 12 weeks for application approval to receive license.

Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) states allow nurses to practice in other NLC states on a single license. While California is not an NLC state, pending legislation could change the state’s status. Licensed RNs in California who wish to practice in other states can apply for licensure by endorsement, which amounts to another single state license. California nurses may hold as many single state licenses as necessary.

  • Certified Nurse Assistant

    CNAs support nurses in providing patient care, including basic hygiene and clinical services, such as monitoring vital signs. CNAs may work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or with home health agencies. Some nurses begin their careers as CNAs to gain experience while attending nursing school.

    CNA Program Requirements:

    • Application Requirements: Must be older than 16
    • How Long to Complete: 6-12 weeks
    • Accrediting Bodies: California Department of Public Health

    California Licensure Requirements:

  • Licensed Vocational Nurse

    LVNs are entry-level nurses who provide basic nursing care under the supervision of a physician or RN. Other states refer to these professionals as licensed practical nurses or LPNs. They work in hospitals, clinics, surgical centers, doctors’ offices, home care, correctional facilities, or public health sites, such as vaccination or blood donation centers.

    LVN Program Requirements:

    • Application Requirements: Must be 17 years old; completed grade 12 or equivalent; grade of C or better in required coursework (varies by school)
    • How Long to Complete: 1-2 years
    • Accrediting Bodies: California Nursing Board; Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing; California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians

    California Licensure Requirements:

    • Education: Graduate from a state-approved LVN program
    • Exams: National licensing examination for practical (vocational) nursing
    • Renewal Frequency: Two years
    • Continued Education: 30 hours of continuing education every two years

  • Registered Nurse

    RNs provide patient care in many settings, including hospitals, schools, and correctional facilities. They assist physicians, administer medication, check vital signs, and provide education to patients.

    RN Program Requirements:

    • Application Requirements: Minimum 2.0-3.0 GPA depending on school; essay or personal statement; letters of recommendation; satisfactory score on Test of Essential Academic Skills
    • How Long to Complete: 2-4 years
    • Accrediting Bodies: California Board of Registered Nursing; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

    California Licensure Requirements:

    • Education: Associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN); an LVN can complete a 30-unit RN course; military members who have the required clinical and education experience can take the NCLEX-RN
    • Exams: NCLEX-RN
    • Renewal Frequency: Two years
    • Continued Education: 30 hours of continuing education every two years

  • Nurse Practitioner

    These advanced practice nurses focus on managing health conditions and disease prevention. Other advanced practice nurses include certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or certified registered nurse anesthetist. As of 2021, NPs in California can practice independently within the scope of their training and license. Most provide primary care to specific populations, such as adult-gerontology or pediatrics. California law allows NPs to practice in clinics, hospitals, group practice, and home health and hospice care settings.

    NP Program Requirements:

    • Application Requirements: BSN; current RN license; two years of work experience; 3.0 GPA with C average in specific courses; interview; recommendations; resume
    • How Long to Complete: 6-8 years
    • Accrediting Bodies: BRN; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing; National League for Nursing

    California Licensure Requirements:

    • Education: Master’s degree or higher
    • Exams: Competency-based exam as determined by specialty
    • Renewal Frequency: Two years
    • Continued Education: 30 hours of continuing education every two years

Salary and Job Outlook for Nurses in California

Nurses in California are among the highest paid in the United States. However, the cost of living in the Golden State also remains high, with the state ranking fourth behind Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and New York.

Still, California is the most populous state, which contributes to strong healthcare demand. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that California will see a significant shortage of nurses by 2030, with approximately 44,500 open positions.

Nursing Level Average Salary Projected Job Growth
Certified Nurse Assistant $39,280 14.3%
Licensed Vocational Nurse $64,090 15.1%
Registered Nurse $120,560 16.7%
Nurse Practitioner $145,970 30.5%
Sources: BLS and Projections Central

Highest Paying Cities for Nurses in California

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Registered Nurses

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas Median Salary for RNs
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara $155,980
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward $155,170
Vallejo-Fairfield $150,850
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade $137,040
Salinas $132,650
Source: BLS

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Practitioners

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas Median Salary for NPs
Vallejo-Fairfield $186,100
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward $174,390
El Centro $152,830
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade $146,190
Napa $144,480
Source: BLS

Nursing Programs in San Diego

Prospective nurses who want to work in California can consider working and living in the San Diego-Carlsbad area. RNs in the city and its surrounding metro area earn a strong salary of $111,620.

Nurses can pursue an education in San Diego at one of their many reputable nursing programs. San Diego City College, San Diego State University, and Point Loma Nazarene University offer nursing programs, and several of the city’s hospitals, including Scripps La Jolla, UC San Diego Health, and Sharp Memorial, have received the prestigious Magnet designation. This distinction allows nurses to work in some of the best facilities in America.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an RN in California?

It typically takes two years to complete an ADN program, which prepares you to take the NCLEX-RN exam and qualify for an RN license. A BSN takes four years of full-time study to complete. Part-time study extends degree and licensure timelines.

How do I become an RN in California?

California requires each nurse to complete an ADN or a BSN program from an accredited college or university. You must also pass the NCLEX-RN for licensure. Applying for a license requires submitting your transcripts, fingerprints, and test results to the state. You may work under supervision with an interim permit while waiting for application approval.

What is the best nursing college in California?

Identifying the best nursing school in California depends on your goals and priorities. When evaluating schools, look for high first-attempt NCLEX-RN pass rates. Prospective nurses should also explore master’s-level specialization availability, post-graduation employment rates, and bridge programs to identify their top nursing school in California. View some of the top-ranked California nursing programs by degree type here.

How much is nursing school in California?

Tuition rates vary considerably throughout the state, based on public versus private status, course delivery, and residency. ADN programs at California community colleges can range from $2,600-$14,000 per year, plus expenses for books, lab costs, and fees. Expect tuition for a four year-degree to start at $40,000 and reach well over $100,000 at some private colleges.

Resources for Nurses in California

  • California Board of Registered Nursing The California BRN licenses nurses in the state. They oversee and maintain the quality of nurses and nursing practice to ensure public health and safety. Nurses apply for licenses through the agency and can find detailed information regarding license requirements, renewal information, and state practice guidelines on its site.

  • California Nurses Association Originally founded as a labor union for California nurses in 1903, the CNA became part of National Nurses United in 2009. It is now the largest union and professional association in the country, with more than 170,000 members. The organization offers scholarships, continuing education opportunities, and career resources. CNA advocates for improved working conditions and patient care.

  • United Nurses Associations of California UNAC is a union of 32,000 healthcare professionals committed to improving access to equitable healthcare and empowering caregivers. The organization supports political action and advocacy; provides continuing education and professional development opportunities; and collaborates with local organizations through volunteer projects. Members can also access scholarships and conferences.

  • California Nursing Students' Association This chapter of the National Student Nursing Association focuses on giving student nurses from nursing schools in California access to educational, leadership, and professional development opportunities. In addition to scholarships and mentorship programs, CNSA hosts conferences, opportunities for advocacy, and networking events.

Nursing in Surrounding States

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