Best DNP Programs in California

March 8, 2022 , Modified on May 19, 2022 · 6 Min Read

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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Best DNP Programs in California

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

  • Azusa Pacific University
    Location

    Azusa, CA

    APU offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree within its nursing school. The program integrates faith and Christian values to support DNP graduates in their mission to develop health policy and maintain a high quality of care for patients.

    Core coursework includes wellness, statistical analysis, pathogenesis, program evaluation, and social ethics. Students also study translational research, informatics, spirituality and health, and organizational leadership. Students culminate their studies with a translational research project and an intensive campus experience each semester in Monrovia, California. The program aligns with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and 1,000 hours of clinical residency are required for the completion of the degree.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: Monrovia, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; WASC Senior College and University Commission
    • Tuition: $1,125 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Copy of professional certifications/registrations; transcripts; proof of advanced practice clinical hours; personal statement; research papers; interviews
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 2-3 years
    • On-Campus Requirements: Online with low residency requirements
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 83.75%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Brandman University
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Brandman's doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program is designed for registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are preparing for leadership roles in clinical practice. The program utilizes a technology-enriched, educational approach to develop already existing talents and skills while advancing knowledge in research and innovative technology.

    The Brandman DNP provides four different routes of entry to the program, making it exceptionally versatile for someone in any level of their nursing career: one route is for the APRN with a master of science in nursing (MSN); another is for the APRN with an MSN who chooses either a psychiatric mental health or family across the lifespan concentration; the third route of entry is for the RN with a bachelor of science in nursing; and the fourth is for the RN with an MSN not in advanced practice.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: Irvine, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $1,175 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Official transcripts; current resume; RN or APRN licence/national certification; goal statement; recommendation letters; personal interview
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 1-3 years
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: Not available
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • California Baptist University
    Location

    Riverside, CA

    CBU, based in Riverside, California, offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. Nurses who graduate from this doctoral program will significantly impact healthcare outcomes as part of the interdisciplinary, practice-focused degree.

    Significant courses students take include organizational systems leadership, health policy and advocacy, and innovation in quality and safety. Students may choose to opt into the family nurse practitioner concentration. Typically, students take 12-21 credits in DNP practicum and project requirement courses.

    The flexible program, based mostly online, does require 3-4 on-campus residencies over the course of the degree.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: Riverside, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $650 per unit
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; California registered nurse (RN) license; prerequisite courses; practicum hour verification
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Six semesters
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 84.57%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • California State University-Fresno
    Location

    Fresno, CA

    Tuition

    $6771

    Fresno State, based in Fresno, California, has a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree which requires on-campus intensives prior to each semester and the completion of 1,000 clinical hours.

    The program takes five semesters to complete. Students take first-semester coursework in the role of diversity and social issues in healthcare, application of biostatistics to populations, and theories in advanced nursing practice. Later semesters explore health policy and economics, evaluation in nursing education, and evidence-based teaching in nursing. Classes may be taken both synchronously and asynchronously.

    Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation and a written statement about their personal and professional nursing goals.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: Fresno, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (pending)
    • Tuition: $7,635 per semester
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; California registered nurse (RN) license; reference letters; statement of purpose
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Five semesters
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.08%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • California State University-Fullerton
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    Tuition

    $8274

    CSUF offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) in nurse anesthesia through a partnership with the Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia (KPSA). The program is a three-year, nine-semester sequential academic/clinical graduate program and designed for nurses with a bachelor's degree.

    All courses must be taken in Pasadena at the Kaiser Permanente location. The program totals 109 credits, and coursework involves health assessment, epidemiology, informatics, anesthesia, and pharmacology.

    The CSUF program prepares graduates not only for success in the nursing field but also for anesthesia certification. Students receive supervision during clinical hours to ensure mastery of general and regional anesthesia.

    • Program: DNP Nurse Anesthesia
    • Campus: Fullerton, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs
    • Tuition: $8,253.61 per semester plus KPSA program fees
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's or master's in nursing; minimum 3.2 GPA; registered nurse (RN) license; Critical Care Registered Nurse-Adult Certification; GRE analytical writing score
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Three years
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.55%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Loma Linda University
    Location

    Loma Linda, CA

    LLU's nursing school offers a bachelor of science to doctor of nursing practice (BS-to-DNP) program for students who already hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. The program takes almost four years and offers a Christian education focused holistically on the body, mind, and spirit within nursing.

    The LLU curriculum prepares registered nurses (RNs) to become independent advanced practice primary care providers who improve patient health outcomes. Graduates demonstrate clinical judgment abilities, systems thinking, and responsibilities for planning, implementing, and evaluating the evidence related to patient and population healthcare.

    The program does not allow students to opt-out at the master's level.

    • Program: BS-to-DNP
    • Campus: Loma Linda, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $840 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; RN license; three recommendations; personal statement
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Three years and nine months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.56%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • Point Loma Nazarene University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    The Christian-affiliated Point Loma Nazarene University's doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program prepares students for the highest levels of nursing practice. The hybrid DNP program provides two bridge options: the 24-month master of science in nursing (MSN) to DNP and the 48-month bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to doctorate.

    PLNU features coursework to help students move into prominent roles in the complex healthcare industry with once-a-semester intensives in San Diego. The curriculum follows PLNU values that supports holistic care for clients' needs. Coursework covers synthesizing evidence, information technology, and creating change within healthcare systems.

    • Program(s): MSN-to-DNP; BSN-to-DNP
    • Campus: San Diego, California
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $1,160 per unit
    • Admission Requirements: Registered nurse (RN) license; one year of experience; resume; transcripts; reference letters; example of scholarly work; professional goals statement
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months for MSN-to-DNP; 48 months for BSN-to-DNP
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 82.5%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of California-Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    Tuition

    $15014

    The Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing provides a post-master's doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree with curriculum available as both synchronous and asynchronous. Coursework covers topics of clinical judgment, analytical methods, and solutions to complex care issues.

    The two-year post-master's degree allows for hybrid and online studying and only one on-campus session each quarter for flexibility. Graduates learn to design quality metrics to improve healthcare outcomes and synthesize data from research to inform recommendations and policy. Students must complete 510 hours of clinical practicum prior to graduation and a DNP scholarly project.

    The program also offers a track for DNPs who wish to concentrate as a family nurse practitioner (FNP).

    • Program(s): DNP; DNP-FNP
    • Campus: Irvine, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (pending)
    • Tuition: $9,025 per quarter
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree in nursing; 3.0 GPA; registered nurse (RN) license; transcripts; resume; one year of experience; prerequisite statistics course; personal history statement; statement of purpose; three letters of recommendation
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.07%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of California-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $15002

    UCLA offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) which students may complete in a total of seven quarters or two years. Students may do a majority of the coursework online but come to campus five times each quarter.

    The UCLA curriculum prepares students to advance in the nursing profession and navigate complex healthcare systems with instruction in leadership skills, healthcare education, informatics, health policy, research, and the translational sciences.

    Prospective applicants must hold an advanced practice national certification in one of these specialties: nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse executive. Graduates complete a final DNP scholarly project.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: Los Ángeles, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $17,486 per academic year for California residents; $32,588 per academic year for nonresidents
    • Admission Requirements: Master's degree in nursing; minimum 3.0 GPA; registered nurse (RN) license; 500 clinical hours; advanced practice nurse certification; resume; statement of purpose; three letters of recommendation; upper-division statistics prerequisite
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 95.56%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  • University of California-San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    UCSF's seven-quarter doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree allows students to gain a foundation in scientific and theoretical nursing concepts and practices.

    The curriculum prepares students for leadership roles and knowledge of evidence-based practice and evaluation strategies. Graduates explore methodology relevant to clinical practice and evaluate organizational systems as they relate to change, health policy, patient advocacy, quality improvement, and safety.

    Three in-person immersions are required, and all students must have 500 hours of post-master's nursing experience. The coursework is taught in a cohort model, sequentially, and students take classes such as critical appraisal of evidence-based practice, project implementation and evaluation, and methods and measurement for translational practice inquiry.

    • Program: DNP
    • Campus: San Francisco, California
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
    • Tuition: $11,442 per semester
    • Admission Requirements: 3.4 GPA; registered nurse (RN) license; statistics prerequisite; resume or CV; three recommendation letters; proof of clinical hours; goal statement
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Seven quarters
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 95.83%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

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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