The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

November 12, 2021 , Modified on May 25, 2022 · 6 Min Read

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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The Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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. California State University - San Marcos
    Location

    San Marcos, CA

    This program may be completed part time or full time. The program is for nurses in San Diego who want to enjoy a nursing career as an educator, nurse in advanced practice, or a general nurse that has management and leadership roles in an acute care facility. This MSN program will give you a strong foundation in theory and research inquiry.

  2. Dominican University of California
    Location

    San Rafael, CA

    This nursing program offers you an associates to master’s degree program that consists of one year of bridge work, and then you begin the graduate program. Some of the classes taken are nursing research, nursing informatics, transitions and leadership, statistics and community health. You can complete this RN to MSN bridge program in two years.

  3. University of San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    This program will train you to become a clinical care nurse. You will be read to assume responsibility for healthcare outcomes. You will be able to design, implement and evaluate patient outcomes at the point of care. In this program, you will learn how to provide care at the point of care to people of many ages. You also will synthesize data and knowledge to evaluate the optimum outcomes for the patient.

  4. University of San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    This bridge program allows you to go from an RN to an MSN in about three years. This school also has a program that allows you to enter with a bachelor’s degree from another speciality and earn your MSN. This program will give you a general foundation in nursing and will provide you with the leadership skills you need to prosper in a health care setting. You will be prepared as an advanced nurse generalist and will be able to sit for the clinical nurse exam in California.

  5. California State University - Fullerton
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    This is an accredited RN to MSN program that offers you an MSN in Women’s Health. This is an advanced practice nursing option that provides training in client-oriented practice and also a foundation in professional issues of management and leadership. You will become trained so that you can assume a role in advanced practice, nurse midwifery or as a women’s health nurse practitioner.

  6. West Coast University
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Do you want to move from an LPN to a nurse educator or into a nursing leadership role? Then this RN to MSN program is for you. This program is offered so that you attend the first and the last classes of the program on campus, and then complete most of the courses online. You can complete the MSN program in 15 months, full time. Classes include program management, education, clinical practice, research, and health policy formulation.

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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