The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Updated November 18, 2022

Looking for a higher salary and more professional autonomy as an RN? An MSN can get you there. Learn about the best RN-to-MSN programs in California.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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Are you an RN with an ADN who wants a higher salary, an even greater impact, and more autonomy? An MSN can prepare you to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse educator.

This guide explains how you can take this next step. Keep reading to learn about the best RN-to-MSN programs California has to offer, how to apply, and how to pay for it.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best RN-to-MSN 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.

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

What Can You Do With an MSN?

An MSN degree prepares you for some of the most potentially rewarding jobs in nursing, including work as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse administrator, nurse educator, or clinical nurse specialist. It also prepares you for a DNP, the highest possible nursing degree.

Most MSNs earn six-figure salaries. Even though California is a restricted practice state for NPs (they must practice under a physician's supervision), they still have more autonomy than RNs.

If you have an ADN degree and experience working as a nurse, many MSN programs in California offer an RN-to-MSN option. These programs often take three years, compared to the typical two-year MSN, and let you earn an MSN without having to earn a BSN first.

Advanced Nurse Practitioner

MSN required

Most advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are NPs, and most of these are family practice NPs. NPs can work in hospitals, independent practices, clinics, or other healthcare settings.

Like physicians, they are licensed to assess patients, order medical tests, diagnose conditions, and prescribe treatments. However, their studies focus on one particular population, such as neonatal, pediatric, or adult-geriatric, or family practice.

Nurse Consultant

MSN or DNP required

Nurse consultants work in any number of healthcare or healthcare-related settings, such as insurance, pharmaceutical companies, government, or law firms that take medical cases.

One of the most popular nurse consultant jobs is legal nurse consulting. Nurses advise law firms about nursing practice in cases of alleged misconduct or malpractice, and may appear as expert witnesses.

  • Salary: $60,000-$100,000/year, for legal nurse consultants, according to April 2022 Payscale data
  • Job Outlook: 32% from 2020 to 2030 (for all medical and health services manager jobs) per the BLS

Nurse Consultant

MSN or DNP required

Nurse consultants work in any number of healthcare or healthcare-related settings, such as insurance, pharmaceutical companies, government, or law firms that take medical cases.

One of the most popular nurse consultant jobs is legal nurse consulting. Nurses advise law firms about nursing practice in cases of alleged misconduct or malpractice, and may appear as expert witnesses.

  • Salary: $60,000-$100,000/year, for legal nurse consultants, according to April 2022 Payscale data
  • Job Outlook: 32% from 2020 to 2030 (for all medical and health services manager jobs) per the BLS

Research Nurse

MSN or DNP required

If you like research, statistical analysis, writing, and identifying the best evidence-based practices, working as a research nurse might be for you.

Research nurses improve nursing by identifying and analyzing the impact of different nursing practices. They may work in academia, research hospitals, or for pharmaceutical and other healthcare firms.

What To Look For in an RN-to-MSN Program

With so many RN-to-MSN options in California, how do you choose? Cost (tuition and other fees), the logistics of attending school and completing clinical hours, the school's quality and reputation, and, of course, whether it offers the type of degree that interests you are all vital considerations.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    Checking admission requirements not only gauges how likely you are to get in, but what the school values in students and what kind of backgrounds your classmates will have.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    MSN programs are specialized, unlike undergraduate degrees. If you know what kind of degree you want, the choice is straightforward. If you are unsure, switching specialities is easier if you can transfer within the same school.

  3. 3

    Clinical Experience

    Find out about clinical placement assistance and options. Does the school provide placement, or are you responsible for finding your own? If you attend an online MSN program in California, make sure you can get a clinical placement local to you.

  4. 4

    Accreditation

    Accreditation is so vital that this guide lists only accredited MSN programs in California. Unaccredited programs are an unnecessary risk of your time and money.

  5. 5

    Program Length

    The ideal length depends on your background, other responsibilities, and finance. If you plan to attend and work full time, make sure you can get flexibility during clinicals.

  6. 6

    School NCLEX Pass Rate

    Even though you are looking at MSN programs in California, NCLEX-RN pass rates tell you about a nursing school's overall quality and indicate its reputation. However, in a small school, one or two students can skew scores, so the pass rate is best for comparing medium and larger schools.

  7. 7

    School Graduation Rate

    The graduation rate, along with board pass rates, is an excellent indicator of student success and satisfaction with the program.

Applying to an RN-to-MSN Program

After choosing the right MSN program in California for you, apply. Plan ahead by talking to your references so that they can speak to your strengths, and asking someone you trust to review your application. Ask them to check not just for mistakes, but for how accurately the letter represents you.

  • Admission Materials

    Current and unencumbered RN license valid for your clinicals' location; two or three references; resume/CV; application with essay or personal statement; undergraduate transcripts

  • GPA Requirement

    Most schools require a 3.0 GPA or higher, but if you are borderline, other qualifications (exemplary work record or a second language) can help. Discuss your case with the admissions staff.

  • Other Requirement

    Most programs require or strongly prefer at least one year of experience.

Why Is RN-to-MSN Program Accreditation Important?

Among MSN programs in California, accredited programs are the only programs worth considering. This guide and website list only accredited programs. Accreditation is a confirmation that graduates of a program are qualified to safely practice nursing, so it protects both you and your future employers.

  • States license only graduates of accredited programs.
  • Boards accept only applications from graduates of accredited programs.
  • Employers will rarely even consider graduates of unaccredited programs.
  • Almost no accredited schools accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs.
  • Most federal scholarships and loans are available only to attend accredited programs.
  • Risking your time and money at an unaccredited school is not worth it.

Paying for RN-to-MSN Programs in California

While an MSN degree may provide higher earning power, it is still a big investment. The direct costs of tuition and fees are obvious, but consider other factors such as the program length, whether you qualify or can qualify for in-state tuition, whether you can work while studying, and travel costs for clinicals or on-campus requirements.

Because of the demand for NPs, there are a number of federal financial aid options, including loan forgiveness and scholarships, often in exchange for working in an underserved area once you graduate.

Other sources of financial aid include scholarships and grants from associations and nonprofits, corporations, and, of course, the school you will attend. Your employer might offer help with costs, possibly in exchange for a commitment to work for them once you graduate.

Learn More About the Best RN-to-MSN Programs Schools in California

#1 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

San Jose State University

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

San Jose State University, a public college, offers graduate degrees on campus. Learners can choose from the institution’s 71 master's degrees. These programs provide instruction from qualified faculty, all of whom dedicate their careers to student success.

Prospective nurses should consider applying to the school's master of science in nursing with a concentration in family nurse practitioner program. Coursework offers the advanced training that enrollees need to prepare for roles in management and research. Degree-seekers benefit from a thorough graduate student experience, including professional development opportunities.

The school charges California enrollees $7,176 a year. Out-of-state degree candidates pay $16,680. Of the institution's enrollees, 73% rely on some of form of financial aid like loans or scholarships. Degree-seekers also appreciate the school's 64% school graduation rate.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
64%
Students Enrolled
36,085
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#2 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University, Fresno

  • Fresno, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in nursing can explore California State University, Fresno for its master of science in nursing. The program prepares students for high-level jobs in their field. Many enrollees use financial aid to fund their education here.

The institution charges California students $7,176 per year. About 89% of degree-seekers lower the cost of tuition by using scholarships and other forms of financial aid. Loans are also available to help pay for all or part of the degree, with about 27% of enrollees taking them out in some amount.

A master’s degree produces highly skilled nurses, which a bachelor’s degree alone cannot do. Graduates enter the job market ready for managerial and research positions. Degree-holders can also command higher salaries. They may also work toward a terminal degree in their field, such as a Ph.D.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
58%
Students Enrolled
24,298
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#3 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

University of San Francisco

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

The University of San Francisco administers an on-campus master of science in nursing program. The private college offers a choice of 48 master's programs in various fields, enrolling learners seeking to advance their education and careers. Key program features include rigorous and accredited curricula and highly qualified instructors.

Aspiring RNs should consider applying to the school's master of science in nursing program. Coursework builds on the undergraduate experience to prepare enrollees for managerial and leadership roles. Learners examine a variety of issues in the field and can probably work with faculty on areas of particular interest.

Tuition costs $25,740 annually. Paying for tuition is a big concern for degree-seekers, and many rely on loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. Among the institution's enrollees, 91% receive some form of financial aid. The college reports a 75% degree-completion rate.

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

#4 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University, Chico

  • Chico, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Students with a nursing degree should consider California State University, Chico's master of science in nursing degree. Enrollees receive advanced training in nursing, preparing them for managerial positions with higher pay. Graduates can also use the master’s degree to pursue research jobs or enter a doctoral program.

The public institution offers 35 different master's degrees, including the top-ranked master of science in nursing. Faculty focus on student success with strong academics and mentorship opportunities.

Based on college data, the institution admits applicants at a rate of 72% overall. Enrollees complete courses that focus on advanced training for specialized jobs. The school provides additional resources like tutoring, career advisors, and financial aid opportunities.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
84%
Admission Rate
72%
Students Enrolled
17,110
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#5 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Point Loma Nazarene University

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

Learners with a bachelor’s degree in nursing may be drawn to Point Loma Nazarene University’s reputation for rigorous academic programs. A state leader in graduate education, the school offers nine master's degrees. One option includes a master of science in nursing. Students receive a traditional graduate school experience marked by scholarship and extracurricular opportunities.

Highly qualified professors who serve as mentors teach the courses. The curriculum combines practical and theoretical instruction to give learners a significant understanding of the field. This degree provides the preparation learners need to advance their nursing careers and command higher wages.

The school charges about $11,880 in tuition per year. Learners can make their degree more affordable with financial aid such as scholarships, grants, and loans. In addition to academic support from faculty, enrollees benefit from support services like tutoring and professional development events.

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

#6 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University, Sacramento

  • Sacramento, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California State University, Sacramento is a public college recognized for its graduate degrees. The institution offers 40 master's programs in various fields, enrolling learners seeking to advance their education and careers. Key program features include rigorous and accredited curricula and highly qualified instructors.

The master of science in nursing program, among the top-ranked degrees available on campus, may especially appealing to learners interested in the nursing field. Enrollees receive advanced preparation for roles in management, research, and specialized positions. Degree-seekers immerse in intensive academic training and benefit from support systems such as career services to prepare for life after college.

California degree-seekers pay $7,176 a year for tuition, while those living out of state pay $16,680. Degree-seekers can contact the financial aid department to see how much aid they can receive, as the school awards tuition to 85% of learners. One factor that attracts people to this college is that about 55% of enrollees finish their programs once they start.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
82%
Students Enrolled
31,992
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
38% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#7 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Samuel Merritt University

  • Oakland, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Degree-seekers can choose from a variety of affordable programs at Samuel Merritt University, including one designed for graduates with a bachelor's in nursing. The Oakland-based college offers a master of science in nursing with high-quality instruction and career preparation. Financial aid programs can help make this degree more affordable.

California residents pay about $51,313 per year in graduate tuition. Loans provide another option to 55% of enrollees.

A master’s degree produces highly skilled nursing professionals, which a bachelor’s degree alone cannot do. Graduate degree-holders often pursue jobs in management, research, and development. A terminal degree like a doctorate is one avenue that graduates may pursue.

Average Tuition
In-state
$47,928
Out-of-state
$47,928
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,029
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
14% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#8 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Western University of Health Sciences

  • Pomona, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Graduate students can prepare for career advancement by enrolling in the master of science in nursing program at Western University of Health Sciences. Degree-seekers can pursue the top-ranked degree in Pomona. The school excels at graduate education, offering about six master's programs.

Degree-seekers with a bachelor's degree in nursing  or a related field can apply, but the department may review other applications. Enrollees study advanced nursing concepts and complete original research. Recessions and other economic downturns historically favor highly educated people.

Tuition costs about $23,556. Many learners consider the cost of tuition a barrier to getting a master’s, but financial aid such as grants and scholarships can help make the degree more affordable. Federal loans provide prospective students with another way to pay for this degree.

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

#9 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

University of California, San Francisco

  • San Francisco, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Bachelor's degree-holders in nursing may find University of California, San Francisco worth a second glance as they explore master’s programs. The school counts its top-ranked master's entry program in nursing among 22 master's programs. 

Qualified professors who can serve as mentors teach the curriculum. Classes cover high-level concepts that give learners deep insight into the field and professional best practices. This education is flexible enough for degree-seekers to explore career advancement, a career change, or terminal programs such as a Ph.D.

The tuition rate for California learners is $11,442. Out-of-state enrollees pay $26,544 per year. Contact the institution's financial aid department to see what financial aid the school offers to help make tuition more affordable. Enrollees take classes on an attractive campus with state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.

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

#10 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

San Francisco State University

  • San Francisco, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

San Francisco State University, a public college, enrolls learners in 67 master's programs, giving bachelor’s degree-holders the opportunity to enhance their education and skills in various fields. Degree-seekers benefit from rigorous academic programming that is among the best in the nation.

Students interested in expanding their career options should consider applying to the school's master of science in nursing program. Coursework prepares enrollees for advanced careers in areas like management and research. Learners examine a variety of issues in the field and can probably work with faculty on areas of particular interest.

California students pay less than their out-of-state peers, with respective tuition rates of $7,176 and $16,680 a year. Degree-seekers can fund their education in part or full using loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. About 77% of the institution's learners use some form of financial aid. The school's graduation rate is 57%, which is another reason that students like this program.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
80%
Admission Rate
67%
Students Enrolled
29,032
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
39% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#11 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University, Stanislaus

  • Turlock, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The master of science in nursing at California State University, Stanislaus is a well-established program that attracts many students interested in this field. The Turlock-based institution hosts 14 master's degrees, including the master of science in nursing that ranks highly among similar offerings.

Applicants with a bachelor's degree in nursing or a related field can apply. Other qualified degree-seekers may also want to explore the curriculum. The program explores advanced nursing concepts and provides the opportunity for original research. Many employers want candidates with advanced credentials such as a master’s degree.

Degree-seekers in California pay $7,176 in graduate tuition, and those who do not live in California pay $16,680. Many learners help afford their tuition by finding scholarships and grants. Many degree-seekers receive loans in order to help cover all or part of their tuition.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
89%
Students Enrolled
10,974
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#12 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Azusa Pacific University

  • Azusa, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Azusa Pacific University's master of science in nursing program enrolls students with a bachelor's degree in nursing. Learners pursue this master’s for more in-depth understanding of nursing from a school that develops top-ranked programs. A respected master’s degree can open doors to careers in management, development, and research.

The school is a private institution located in Azusa. Graduate students pursuing a master's here can choose from 27 different programs, including the master of science in nursing. Enrollees benefit from faculty mentorship and the opportunity to pursue research experience.

The institution admits applicants at a rate of around 67%, but rates vary between programs. Enrollees complete required classes and may have the option to choose elective coursework. In addition to resources like tutoring and career advising, students can access a helpful financial aid department.

Average Tuition
In-state
$39,640
Out-of-state
$39,640
Retention Rate
80%
Admission Rate
67%
Students Enrolled
9,297
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
30% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#13 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Loma Linda University

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

A private college, Loma Linda University is recognized for top-ranked graduate programs available on the college’s Loma Linda campus. Learners with a bachelor's degree can pursue one of 64 master's programs. Students like the programs’ rigorous and accredited curricula and topnotch faculty instruction.

There are many other reasons learners interested in nursing should apply to the school's master of science in nursing program. Coursework emphasizes the theoretical and practical skills required for roles in management and research. In addition to lectures and assignments, real-world skill-building is an important part of the curriculum.

Tuition costs $26,880 a year.

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

#14 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California Baptist University

  • Riverside, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California Baptist University enrolls degree-seekers with a bachelor's degree in nursing in its master of science in nursing program. Enrollees gain an affordable, topnotch education. The school delivers the program on campus in Riverside. The rich curriculum blends theoretical and experiential learning experiences. Financial aid helps make this degree accessible to those without the means to pay out of pocket.

California residents enjoy an affordable tuition rate of $12,830 per year. An average of 98% of degree-seekers reduce tuition by using scholarships and other financial aid awards. Degree candidates can also explore loans, which about 69% of enrollees use.

A bachelor’s program alone cannot provide students with advanced career preparation in nursing, which is why they turn to a master’s. Graduates leave the program with a credential that can lead to managerial and leadership jobs. Some graduates  continue their education with a doctorate or other terminal degree.

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

#15 The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

Mount Saint Mary's University

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

Mount Saint Mary's University specializes in top-ranked degrees available in Los Angeles. Degree-seekers can choose from 25 master's programs covering a variety of fields. Learners benefit from rigorous academic programming that is among the best in the nation.

The school’s master of science in nursing is worth consideration for students interested in nursing. Enrollees receive the preparation they need for roles in management and research. In addition to lectures and assignments, real-world skill-building is an important part of the curriculum.

Tuition costs $11,964 annually. Around 100% of students receive loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to help cover costs. The school's graduation rate is 65%, which is another reason that learners like this program.

Average Tuition
In-state
$41,592
Out-of-state
$41,592
Retention Rate
72%
Admission Rate
90%
Students Enrolled
2,855
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About RN-to-MSN Programs


Is RN to MSN worth it?

RN-to-MSN programs in California are not cheap. They take time and commitment. However, with an MSN, you can earn considerably more and will have increased professional autonomy.

How long does it take to bridge from RN to MSN?

RN-to-MSN programs in California generally take about 36 months, though some may take 40 or even longer. However, this is still faster than the BSN-to-MSN route. If you have concerns about the pace, talk to the school.

What's the highest paid type of nurse in California?

Nurse anesthetists earn a median of $232,540 in California, compared to $151,830 for nurse practitioners and $124,000 for RNs, according to the BLS. (Keep in mind, though, that the cost of living in California is higher.) However, starting in 2025, new nurse anesthetists must have a DNP.


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