Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated July 1, 2024
Edited by
Learn what to look for when considering nurse practitioner programs in California. Find out why accreditation is important, how to finance your degree, and more.
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Acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) are essential to our healthcare system. An ACNP is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who cares for patients with serious, urgent, and complex health needs.

ACNPs who practice in California are among the country’s highest-paid nurse practitioners (NPs). Because of the breadth of care they provide — routinely treating hurt, distressed, and vulnerable people — the journey to becoming an ACNP takes time.

The first step in becoming an ACNP is choosing a degree program that aligns with your goals. ACNPs can choose from two specialty tracks: adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNP) and acute care certified pediatric nurse practitioners (CPNP).

Learn about the best ACNP programs in California, including what to look for and how to apply. Discover what you can do as an ACNP in California.

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Learn More About the Best Acute Care NP Programs and Schools in California

#1 Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

University of California-Los Angeles

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$11,442
  • Out-of-state$41,196
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate14%
  • Students Enrolled44,589
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment94%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

California State University-Los Angeles

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$5,742
  • Out-of-state$17,622
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate76%
  • Students Enrolled26,745
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

University of California-San Francisco

  • Location-markerSan Francisco, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$0
  • Out-of-state$0
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled3,201
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment69%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

California Baptist University

  • Location-markerRiverside, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$33,930
  • Out-of-state$33,930
  • Retention Rate76%
  • Acceptance Rate80%
  • Students Enrolled11,317
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in an Acute Care NP Program in California

We rank the best ACNP programs based on criteria that reflect the students’ priorities and how well the programs prepare nurses to work in acute care settings. The following metrics contribute to our rankings. As you evaluate different programs, consider the following points to determine which will best meet your needs and help you achieve your goals.

Admission Requirements

Reviewing admission requirements lets you know whether you qualify for the program. Before applying, know what experience and certifications you may need.


AGACNPs and CPNPs are the two specialties available to ACNPs. AGACNPs work with adult and geriatric patients with acute or complex conditions. CPNPs work with patients with acute and chronic illnesses or injuries from birth to adulthood.

Program Length

Most APRN programs require at least two years of full-time study. However, since many nurses choose to get their degrees while working full-time, they may attend the program part-time. Depending on the schedule, completing the program could take 3-4 years.

School Graduation Rate

A higher graduation rate indicates that the school provides the resources and services to support students throughout the program. It can help you gauge your likelihood of finishing the program successfully.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Choosing a program that matches your needs can greatly impact your success. Depending on the program’s offerings, you can choose in-person, online, or a hybrid format.

If you opt for an online program, remember that not all online learning is created equal. Learn more about the online nursing program’s format, specifically whether the courses are asynchronous (recorded) or synchronous (live).

Consider specific technology requirements that you need to complete your courses. Ensure you have a solid internet connection and any required software (e.g., videoconferencing applications).

Why Is Acute Care NP Program Accreditation Important?

Nursing school accreditation means that an independent organization has evaluated the program to ensure it meets the standards for quality nursing education. Evaluators consider the program’s coursework, faculty, outcomes, and other factors to confirm that graduates are adequately prepared for nursing practice.

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredit acute care NP programs. Choosing an accredited program ensures you receive a quality education and:

  • Allows you to apply for a nurse practitioner license and certification in California
  • Ensures you qualify for employment as an NP in California healthcare facilities
  • Ensures you can apply for a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program should you pursue
  • Ensures your eligibility for federal financial aid to cover school costs

How Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California Work

California’s online ACNP programs offer students a faster, more flexible schedule without compromising the quality of coursework. Students can choose their own pace and gain advanced nursing skills and responsibilities.

Online nursing programs differ from in-person ones because students can attend lectures and group meetings from anywhere.

While every student’s experience may vary, students can prepare for online school by researching the program’s start dates and curriculum so they can plan their schedules and establish a routine.

The number of clinical hours needed in an ACNP program may vary by state In California, APRNs must complete 500 clinical hours of supervised direct patient care, as established by the California Code of Regulations,

Clinical hours are mandatory and provide the hands-on experiences practitioners need to properly care for patients.

Most nursing education programs include an in-person clinical component for online nursing students. However, depending on the state, students can complete some clinical hours online through patient simulations.

California residents typically complete their clinicals at a facility near their home or current workplace. Out-of-state nurses may have to arrange clinicals in their state approved by the online program. The programs may assist with finding suitable placements.

Some online programs require students to attend in-person scheduled lectures and discussions, but overall, expect to attend courses with work you complete independently.

Applying to an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in California

Typical admission requirements for a California ACNP include test scores, relevant experience, a minimum undergraduate GPA, and more. Once you’ve identified a program that aligns with your goals and experience, review the admission requirements and application process to ensure you meet the deadlines and submit the correct materials.

  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program, current valid registered nurse (RN) license
  • Admission Materials: Completed application, official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, personal statement, letters of recommendation, writing sample, resume or CV
  • GPA Requirement: 3.0 or higher

Paying for an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in California

Paying for an ACNP degree is a significant investment. Pursuing higher education is only getting more expensive, creating a national challenge in the nursing community and beyond.

Several factors can influence your ability to pay out of pocket, including tuition costs (which may differ for in-state vs. out-of-state students), application, certification, and miscellaneous fees.

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement; however, they may only cover a portion of your tuition. You may also have to pay out of pocket first, and then your employer will reimburse you.

Nurses can also take advantage of various financial aid options to earn their ACNP degree. Individual programs typically offer merit and need-based scholarships and grants, and you can apply for federal financial aid programs that provide grants and loans.

Other options include private grant and scholarship programs for nurses, and loan forgiveness programs. Some nursing loan forgiveness programs fully pay your tuition, fees and other educational costs. After graduation, you must work in a critical nursing or facility shortage area for a few years.

What Can You Do as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in California?

In 2023, California NPs were granted full practice authority, which means they can practice at their full scope without a supervising or collaborating physician.

ACNPs in California can assess, diagnose and treat patients with acute and chronic illnesses. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the top diagnoses treated by AGACNPs are:

  • Hypertension
  • Heart Failure
  • Diabetes

The top diagnoses treated by CPNPs are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Migraines
  • Otitis media (ear infections)

ACNPs in California provide advanced clinical care to patients in acute and critical care settings. According to the AANP, the top clinical settings for AGACNPs are:

  • Hospital inpatient units
  • Hospital outpatient clinics

The top clinical settings for CPNPs are:

  • Outpatient clinics
  • Private group practices
  • Hospital inpatient units

California has one of the highest salaries for ACNPs.The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an average annual wage of $161,540.

Frequently Asked Questions About ACNP Programs

Yes. You can become an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) online. However, programs involve direct, supervised, in-person clinical hours at selected facilities.