Best DNP Programs in California

Updated November 18, 2022

Advanced practice nurses in California enjoy above-average salaries and great job prospects. Learn what opportunities are available to DNP-holders and find the top-ranked programs in the state.
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A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the highest degree in nursing (what is called a "terminal degree"). The DNP prepares nurses for some of the most exciting and top-paying leadership roles in nursing.

This guide explores the value of a DNP and how to apply, introduces the best DNP programs in California, and answers your other questions about the degree. Keep reading to learn how a DNP can benefit you.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best DNP programs, making it easier for you to find an option that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: aquality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

Keep reading to learn more about DNP programs, or go straight to our list of the best DNP programs in California.

What Can You Do With a DNP in California?

A DNP degree prepares you to become a nurse anesthetist, to teach nursing, to lead a nursing department, or for other important and financially rewarding roles in nursing. As of 2025, new nurse anesthetists must have a DNP, and the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) advocates for clinical nurse specialist graduates to have doctorates by 2030.

Some of the most common careers with a DNP include:

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia during surgical procedures and provide pain management care afterward. This is one of the most complex and responsible nursing tasks of all.

Chief Nursing Officer

These professionals lead all nursing functions within a hospital or other healthcare setting and represent the nursing function in meetings and organizational strategy setting.

Nurse Researcher

Nurse researchers conduct research studies to identify the best evidence-based nursing practices and how to successfully implement them.

Featured Online DNP Programs

What To Look For in a DNP Program

When comparing the master of science in nursing (MSN)-to-DNP or the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)-to-DNP programs California schools offer, consider the school's quality and reputation, the cost and financial aid options, and the program logistics, including clinical hours. If you plan to work while you study, some schools and programs offer more flexibility or are structured better for your needs than others.

  1. 1

    Program Curriculum

    Unlike physician degrees, DNP clinical programs focus on specific clinical disciplines, such as nurse anesthesia or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) specialties. Other programs focus on areas of nurse leadership, research, or health policy.

  2. 2

    Clinical Experience

    Especially if you plan to attend an online DNP program in California, make sure you can get local clinical placement. Find out what assistance the program offers for placement, since finding and applying for placement is another demand on your time and attention.

  3. 3

    Accreditation

    Program accreditation is the most important quality guideline for DNP programs, which is why this guide only lists accredited DNP programs in California.

  4. 4

    Program Format

    Consider the program structure and timing, including part-time vs. full-time options and program length.

  5. 5

    School Graduation Rate and Certification Pass Rate

    The graduation rate, combined with the certification pass rate, tells you how successful and satisfied students are with the program. At a smaller school, one or two students can skew the rates, so it is a more meaningful metric for larger programs.

  6. 6

    Capstone Project

    As well as considering the capstone project requirements and logistics, consider what topics you want to explore for your project, and discuss these with admissions counselors.

Applying to a DNP Program in California

Once you have chosen the DNP programs in California that you want to apply to, give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Talk with a mentor about your application and, if you can, seek advice from a recent graduate. They can advise you on how to best represent your background and potential and how well you match the school's culture and values. Make sure your references know to expect the request and anything that you would like them to emphasize.

  • Admission Requirements

    Full transcripts of undergraduate and any graduate work; current and unencumbered nursing license; at least two references

  • Admission Materials

    Application with essay or personal statement; citations for any professional publications; resume or CV; copy of your nursing license

  • GPA Requirement

    Most DNP programs require at least a 3.0 GPA.

Why Is DNP Program Accreditation Important?

Accreditation assesses whether graduates of a program are competent to practice safely. Assessors review everything that affects a program's quality, including student outcomes, staff and faculty backgrounds, the approach to teaching, the curriculum, and resources, such as labs, technology, and the library and research facilities. Because this is an objective measurement of a program's quality, states, certifying boards, employers, and other schools all consider accreditation vital. This guide only lists accredited DNP programs in California so that you can review these options with confidence.

  • States do not license graduates of unaccredited programs.
  • Boards only offer certification to graduates of accredited programs.
  • Employers almost never even consider hiring applicants who did not graduate from an accredited program.
  • Accredited schools almost never accept transfer credits from non-accredited programs.
  • Most federal aid is available only to students at accredited programs.

Paying for a DNP Program in California

Earning a DNP takes a considerable investment of time and money, especially if you plan to attend a BSN-to-DNP option. When estimating the cost, consider tuition and fees; if you are eligible or can become eligible for in-state tuition; books and other related expenses, such as travel to clinicals; whether you plan to work and how many hours; and whether your employer has any tuition reimbursement benefits.

Fortunately, you have a variety of financial aid options. In addition to the school's financial aid package, you can apply for grants and scholarships from foundations, associations, and other nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies. The demand for DNPs is high, so you may be eligible for full scholarships or full loan forgiveness from the federal government, in exchange for working for the military, the Indian Health Service, or in designated underserved areas.

Learn More About the Top DNP Programs and Schools

Best DNP Programs in California

California Baptist University

  • Riverside, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The doctor of nursing practice at California Baptist University is among the best of their four doctoral programs. Degree candidates prepare for the top positions in their career field by developing advanced knowledge and skills. These positions often include upper management, academia, and research roles.

Students of the doctoral curriculum examine advanced theoretical and practical approaches and frameworks for nursing practice. Enrollees may have the opportunity to choose a specific concentration, in order to prepare more directly for a certain career path. Completing the program also requires that candidates contribute original research to the field through a written dissertation.

Hands-on experimental work in clinical and laboratory settings is an integral component of the doctoral program. Supervised internships and practicum activities in healthcare settings such as hospitals provide further opportunities for learners to sharpen their skills. These experiential practices help degree candidates bridge classroom learning with real workplace scenarios.

California Baptist University at a Glance:

Location: Riverside, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 78%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 16-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $12,830

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $12,830

Average Tuition
In-state
$32,942
Out-of-state
$32,942
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
11,045
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

Loma Linda University

  • Loma Linda, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ph.D. in nursing at Loma Linda University is among the best of their 44 doctoral programs. Candidates prepare for the most advanced career opportunities in nursing by building a strong understanding of high-level skills and ideas. Graduates commonly pursue positions in research, academia, and upper management.

Students of the doctoral curriculum examine advanced theoretical and practical approaches and frameworks for nursing careers. Degree-seekers may be able to incorporate a specific concentration into their program, helping them customize their coursework for a specific career path. Degree candidates will also complete a dissertation that contributes new discussions based on original research to the field.

Hands-on work through experiments and clinics is also a common component of nursing doctoral degrees. Learners also develop their abilities through internships and practicums in real-world healthcare settings like hospitals and clinics. Experiential programs like these help degree candidates connect what they have learned in the classroom with the actual workplace

Loma Linda University at a Glance:

Location: Loma Linda, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Student-Faculty Ratio: 3-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $26,880

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $26,880

Average Tuition
In-state
$31,680
Out-of-state
$31,680
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
4,462
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

Point Loma Nazarene University

  • San Diego, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Students pursuing a doctoral degree can choose Point Loma Nazarene University's doctor of nursing practice. Candidates gain a highly specialized set of nursing skills and knowledge in order to prepare them to pursue the most important jobs in their field. These positions often include upper management, academia, and research positions.

Doctoral learners study a curriculum in nursing practice that emphasizes advanced practical and theoretical frameworks for the subject. Enrollees may also have the possibility of choosing a concentration in order to focus their studies for a very specific career path. Doctoral programs typically culminate in candidates writing a dissertation based on new research.

Nursing practice programs also typically include noteworthy experimental or clinical requirements. The program also provides learners with opportunities for internships in approved healthcare facilities, including hospitals. These experiential learning activities help candidates apply classroom learning to professional practice.

Point Loma Nazarene University at a Glance:

Location: San Diego, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 74%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,880

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $11,880

Average Tuition
In-state
$36,350
Out-of-state
$36,350
Retention Rate
88%
Admission Rate
74%
Students Enrolled
4,567
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

University of California-Irvine

  • Irvine, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of California, Irvine hosts a high-quality Ph.D. in nursing science as one of its 85 doctoral degree opportunities. The nursing program prepares doctoral degree-seekers for top careers in their field by developing highly specialized knowledge and skills. Many exciting opportunities are available to terminal program graduates, such as high-level management, field research, and positions in academia.

Students in the nursing doctoral program complete a curriculum that focuses on the theoretical and practical frameworks for understanding advanced ideas in the subject. Concentrations are sometimes available to enrollees, allowing them to focus their studies for a specific career path. After finishing coursework, doctoral candidates complete original research and compose a dissertation.

Nursing doctoral students participate in hands-on work in clinics and other experiential settings. Learners often complete an internship or practicum at an approved healthcare environment, such as a hospital or clinic. These experiential learning activities help candidates apply classroom learning to professional practice.

University of California, Irvine at a Glance:

Location: Irvine, California

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 27%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 18-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,442

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $26,544

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,442
Out-of-state
$41,196
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
27%
Students Enrolled
36,908
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

University of California, Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of California, Los Angeles has 89 different doctoral programs available, including a highly-respected DNP program. Degree-seekers prepare for the top job opportunities in nursing as they gain highly-specialized skills and knowledge. These career opportunities can include things like teaching at the college level, engaging in research, and becoming upper management.

Students of the doctoral curriculum examine advanced theoretical and practical approaches and frameworks for nursing. Enrollees may have the opportunity to choose a specific concentration, in order to prepare more directly for a certain career path. The program usually culminates in students completing an original dissertation based on field research.

Enrollees in the nursing doctoral program undertake work in laboratory and clinical settings. Supervised internships and practicum activities in healthcare settings such as hospitals provide further opportunities for learners to sharpen their skills. These experiential practices help degree candidates bridge classroom learning with real workplace scenarios.

University of California, Los Angeles at a Glance:

Location: Los Angeles, California

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 12%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 18-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,442

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $26,544

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,442
Out-of-state
$41,196
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
12%
Students Enrolled
44,371
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

University of California, San Francisco

  • San Francisco, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

A top-ranked Ph.D. in nursing is among the University of California, San Francisco's 25 excellent doctoral programs. The nursing program prepares doctoral degree-seekers for top careers in their field by developing highly specialized knowledge and skills. Graduates commonly pursue positions in research, academia, and upper management.

Doctoral degree-seekers complete a curriculum focused on the major frameworks, ideas, and themes in nursing. Concentrations allow some degree-seekers to further contextualize their studies to a specific career goal. A dissertation consisting of original research in the field is typically required to complete the doctoral program.

Nursing programs also typically include noteworthy experimental or clinical requirements. Practicum and internships in approved healthcare settings like hospitals are another common component of the program. Experiential learning opportunities like these help candidates connect the classroom to the workplace.

University of California, San Francisco at a Glance:

Location: San Francisco, California

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,442

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $26,544

Average Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
3,180
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

University of San Diego

  • San Diego, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Graduate students at the University of San Diego have access to four doctoral degree paths, including the popular doctor of nursing practice. Degree-seekers prepare for the top job opportunities in nursing as they gain highly specialized skills and knowledge. Some of these opportunities include roles in academia, research, and upper management.

Doctoral students develop a strong understanding of in-depth approaches to nursing practice, including its theoretical and practical frameworks. Doctoral degree-seekers may be able to make their coursework more specific for a particular aspect of the field through a concentration. The program usually culminates in students completing an original dissertation based on field research.

Enrollees in the DNP program undertake work in laboratory and clinical settings. Learners may also develop advanced skills in real-world settings like hospitals and clinics through an internship or practicum. These experiential learning activities help candidates apply classroom learning to professional practice.

University of San Diego at a Glance:

Location: San Diego, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 49%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $27,288

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $27,288

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,450
Out-of-state
$50,450
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
49%
Students Enrolled
9,181
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

University of San Francisco

  • San Francisco, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of San Francisco's family nurse practitioner DNP is one of the most popular among its 11 doctoral program offerings. Enrollees in the family nurse practitioner program prepare for top opportunities in their profession by developing an advanced understanding of ideas and practices in their field. These career opportunities can include things like teaching at the college level, engaging in research, and upper management.

The doctoral curriculum explores advanced approaches to work as a family nurse practitioner, emphasizing both theoretical and practical frameworks. Enrollees may have the ability to choose a concentration in order to tailor their coursework and research to a specific career opportunity. The final component of the doctoral program is usually composing a dissertation based on original research.

Family nurse practitioner doctoral students participate in hands-on work in clinics and other experiential settings. Learners may also develop advanced skills in real-world settings like hospitals and clinics through an internship or practicum. These experiential learning activities help candidates apply classroom learning to professional practice.

University of San Francisco at a Glance:

Location: San Francisco, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 64%

Student-Faculty Ratio: 13-to-1

Graduate Tuition In State: $25,740

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $25,740

Average Tuition
In-state
$49,740
Out-of-state
$49,740
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
64%
Students Enrolled
10,636
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
4% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Best DNP Programs in California

Western University of Health Sciences

  • Pomona, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Western University of Health Sciences's doctor of nursing practice is one of the finest of its eight doctoral programs. Degree candidates prepare for the top positions in their career field by developing advanced knowledge and skills. Graduates can choose to pursue career opportunities in upper-level management, cutting-edge research, and academic posts.

The curriculum guides students through the most advanced theoretical and practical approaches to nursing. The opportunity to choose a concentration may also be available to enrollees who wish to specialize their coursework for a specific goal. The final component of the doctoral program is usually composing a dissertation based on original research.

Hands-on work through experiments and clinics is also a common component of DNP programs. The program also provides learners with opportunities for internships in approved healthcare facilities, including hospitals. These opportunities help degree candidates connect what they have learned in classrooms to the real world.

Western University of Health Sciences at a Glance:

Location: Pomona, California

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Graduate Tuition In State: $23,556

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $23,556

Average Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
3,792
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About DNP Programs


Is a DNP required to become a nurse anesthetist?

As of January 2022, all nurse anesthesia programs must be DNP programs. The requirement is not retroactive, so currently licensed nurse anesthetists with an MSN can continue to practice, but new graduates must have their DNP.

How many credits are DNP programs?

The number of credits varies based on the program and specialty, as well as whether the student already has an MSN. Programs range from 30-90 credits, but most are between 33 and 60 credits.

How can you tell a DNP program is accredited?

Programs should state clearly that they are accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). You can check their status with the ACEN or the CCNE lookup tools.

Are DNP graduates doctors?

Yes, DNP graduates are doctors, as are graduates of nursing Ph.D. programs. However, in many healthcare organizations, usually only physicians are called "doctor" during conversations and often on official listings. Instead, your name will be followed with "DNP."


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