Top Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California


Updated December 14, 2022

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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) in California are among the highest-paid nurses in the country. Responsible for caring for patients with urgent and often complex healthcare needs, ACNPs play an essential role within the healthcare delivery system.

The first step in becoming an ACNP is choosing a degree program that aligns with your goals. To help you make the right choice, the following guide highlights the best California acute care NP programs. It also provides valuable details to help you decide and successfully apply.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best acute care nurse practitioner programs 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.

Learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing a program, or go straight to our ranking of the best acute care NP programs in California.

Featured Online NP Programs

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 acknowledge student priorities and how well they prepare nurses for practice. 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 and whether you need to fill any gaps in your experience or education before applying.


ACNPs typically specialize in either adult-gerontology or pediatric practice. Look for a program that offers your preferred specialization. Some programs also offer additional specialization options if you wish to work with a different patient population.

Program Curriculum

It's crucial to select a program that offers a curriculum that aligns with your goals. Make sure the curriculum aligns with your work and family needs. You should also be comfortable with the course delivery format.

Clinical Experience

Clinical rotations are integral to any nursing program and required for both in-person and online degree programs. Every program handles clinical placements differently, though. Find out whether you can arrange a clinical placement close to home and whether the program provides placement assistance.

Some clinical preceptors may charge an honorarium, which can add to the cost of school.


Accreditation is critical, as completing an accredited nursing program is a requirement for licensure in California. Accreditation also indicates that the program curriculum meets the standards of nursing education and will adequately prepare you for practice.

Program Length

Most master of science in nursing (MSN) programs require at least two years of full-time study. However, when you're trying to balance work, family, and school responsibilities and are on a budget, longer programs that require more credits may be more challenging to manage.

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 in terms of course delivery and format supports your success. Find out the format of the online nursing program and whether it offers nursing courses asynchronously or on a schedule. Consider the specific technology requirements too.

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.

Not only does choosing an accredited program ensure a quality education, it:

  • Allows you to apply for a nurse practitioner license in California
  • Ensures you qualify for employment as a nurse practitioner in California healthcare facilities
  • Ensures you can apply for a doctoral nursing program should you pursue a terminal degree in nursing
  • Ensures your eligibility for federal financial aid to cover school costs

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

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.
  1. California State University - Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA

    At California State University – Los Angeles, students can take part in the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) program with an adult specialty. This is a post-master’s certificate, which means students must already hold a master of science in nursing. The course consists of various core courses and a number of optional courses as well.

    • Campus: Los Angeles, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: NLN, CCNE and CBRN
    • Tuition: $7,435
    • Minimum time commitment: 53 credits
    • Online availability: No
    • Degree requirements: Current and unencumbered RN license, MSN, two letters of reference, essay, physical assessment, background check, current CPR card, immunization, skin test (with possible TB test depending on results), one year’s recent work experience in acute care, advanced cardiac life support certification and specialty nurse certification.
    • Programs: Post Master’s Certificate in Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP): Adult Specialty
    • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid
  2. University of California San Francisco School of Nursing

    San Francisco, CA

    The two acute care specializations at the University of California San Francisco are unique in the north of California. They are designed to produce master’s prepared nurses who are able to become nationally certified. Additionally, they offer post-master’s certifications for those who already hold a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Upon completion of the degree, nurses will be true experts in the treatment of patients with acute and complex illnesses. As an advanced practice nurse, you will be able to diagnose and treat patients and often also order tests, prescribe medication and do full examinations.

    • Campus: San Francisco, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: CCNE
    • Tuition: $8,455 per quarter for the post-master’s
    • Minimum time commitment: 2 years
    • Online availability: No
    • Degree requirements: 2 years acute care experience, valid and unencumbered RN license, MSN for the post-master’s option
    • Programs: MS Specialty Area: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG ACNP), MS Specialty Area: Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACPNP) and post-master’s option for both specializations
    • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid
  3. UCLA School of Nursing

    Los Angeles, CA

    The UCLA School of Nursing offers a variety of programs for those interested in the field of acute care NP. Once they have chosen their specialty and completed their courses, they are able to take part in certifying examination. All paperwork for this will be submitted by the UCLA. The course work is both practical and theoretical and is highly intensive. The UCLA is committed to creating the nursing workforce of the future, with highly experienced and trained nurses and this requires dedication from the students.

    • Campus: Los Angeles, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: AACN
    • Tuition: $7,000 per quarter
    • Minimum time commitment: 3 quarters for acute care pediatric nurse, two years for adult/gerontology
    • Online availability: No
    • Degree requirements: Transcripts, current and valid RN license, three letters of recommendation, personal statement, resume, TOEFL if applicable and physical assessment.
    • Programs: Post Master’s in Adult/Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (ACPNP) Post-Master’s Certificate Program, Adult/Gero-Acute Care APN Program: Oncology Specialty
    • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid
  4. San Diego State University

    San Diego, CA

    San Diego State University offers the Advance Practice Nursing of Adults & the Elderly qualification. This specializes in acute and critical care nursing. Students can choose one of two specializations, being the NP and Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) option or the CNS and Nurse Educator option.

    • Campus: San Diego, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: CCNE
    • Tuition: Varies depending on pathway chosen, financial aid is available
    • Minimum time commitment: Varies depending on courses chosen
    • Online availability: No
    • Degree requirements: BSN, GPA of 3.0, GRE, RN license, statistics course
    • Programs: Advanced Practice Nursing of Adults & the Elderly
    • School website: Tuition and Financial Aid

How Online Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Programs in California Work

Online nursing programs differ from in-person ones; acute care nurse practitioner programs offer students flexibility and the ability to further their careers on their schedules, for instance. If you are working full time, the ability to complete coursework when it's convenient might allow you to maintain a better work-life balance.

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

All nursing education programs include an in-person clinical component for online nursing students to provide hands-on training. Online students typically complete their clinicals at a facility near their home or current workplace. Nursing programs usually assist with finding suitable placements.

Applying to an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in California

Every California acute care nursing program has its own admission requirements, such as test scores, experience, 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, prerequisite courses (typically statistics, research methods, physical assessments, and anatomy)
  • Admission Materials: Application, official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, personal statement, letters of recommendation, writing sample, resume or curriculum vitae
  • GPA Requirement: 3.0 or higher

Paying for an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in California

A graduate degree is a significant investment of time and money but one that pays off with an increase in career opportunities and earning potential. However, you still need to consider how you will pay for your nursing education. Several factors can influence your ability to pay out of pocket, including tuition costs (which may be different for in-state vs. out-of-state students), whether you can continue working while going to school, and your financial situation.

Nurses can take advantage of various financial aid options for nurses to earn their MSN and become an ACNP. 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, loan forgiveness programs for nurses, and employer tuition assistance programs.

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

Acute care nurse practitioners in California provide advanced clinical care to patients in critical care settings. Most ACNPs work in hospitals as part of the care team in critical care, emergency, or trauma units. However, they can also work in other acute care settings, like urgent care or surgical care.

California ACNPs are well paid. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a mean annual wage of $151,830, which is higher than the national median wage of $120, 680 for nurse practitioners.

ACNPs specialize in either pediatrics or adult-gerontological care; some programs offer additional specializations. Their general responsibility is to care for patients with critical or acute illnesses, which includes making diagnoses, ordering tests, and prescribing medication.

However, they can also perform specialized, advanced life-saving procedures like intubations, central venous line insertions, and lumbar punctures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acute Care NPs

Can you become an acute care nurse practitioner online?

All online nursing programs include both classroom and clinical requirements. Some programs also have an on-campus residency component. So while you can complete most of the coursework remotely, you cannot become an acute care nurse practitioner entirely online.

What is the fastest way to become an acute care nurse practitioner?

An MSN is the minimum degree for an acute care nurse practitioner. If you do not have a bachelor's in nursing, the fastest route is to enroll in an RN-to-MSN program after 1-2 years of working in the field.

In either case, plan on 6-8 years of education and training to become a nurse practitioner.

Where do acute care nurse practitioners work?

Because they provide advanced care for the sickest patients, acute care nurse practitioners typically work in hospitals. More specifically, they work in intensive or critical care units, emergency rooms, or operating rooms. Some ACNPs work in physicians' offices, trauma centers, and outpatient clinics.

How much do acute care NPs get paid in California?

NPs in California are the highest paid in the U.S., according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual mean wage for NPs in the Golden State is $151,830.

Page last reviewed November 21, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team. 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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