Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

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Updated November 30, 2023

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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As a registered nurse (RN), you have the firsthand knowledge and experience that can translate into college credit. The best California RN-to-MSN (master of science in nursing) programs let RNs use their clinical nursing experience to earn a graduate degree faster than normal. Instead of the standard two years to earn an MSN, it takes RNs 18-24 months to complete coursework.

This guide explores how the best California RN-to-MSN programs can help you leverage a higher-paying career and teach you specialized advanced nursing skills.

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.

Featured Online MSN in Nursing Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How Do California RN-to-MSN Programs Work?

MSN programs in California can advance the careers of the roughly 324,400 RNs working in the state. The program builds upon the nursing knowledge acquired while working in healthcare settings and through your education — whether you received an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a non-nursing bachelor's degree.

You can enroll in an online program or complete an in-person RN-to-MSN degree. This decision affects the program's structure since online degrees offer live and/or recorded learning content suited for the busy lives of RNs. The online synchronous and asynchronous structure makes it easy to attend classes from anywhere in California.

As a fundamental component of every program, clinical rotations require you to do nursing rotations in person. Programs often take two years or slightly less to complete, depending on full- or part-time study. The length of each class, which can vary from 8-16 weeks, also influences when you graduate.

First, you complete a nursing core in subjects, such as advanced health assessments, healthcare policy and economics, and research methodology. Then you may focus your studies on an advanced specialty, like nursing leadership and administration or nursing informatics.

Applying to a California RN-to-MSN Program

Expect to find similar admission requirements across all California RN-to-MSN programs. For instance, incoming students usually need an RN license and a nursing degree. You may also need a minimum GPA and supplemental materials with your online application to get admitted into the top MSN programs in California.

  • Admission Materials

    Nursing programs want applications from candidates who have completed undergraduate statistics and hold either an ADN, a BSN, or a non-nursing bachelor's degree. Additionally, the completed application may include a resume, letters of reference, a statement of purpose, and transcripts.
  • GPA Requirement

    You often need a minimum of a 3.0 GPA for admittance into a California RN-to-MSN program.
  • Other Requirement

    Because California RN-to-MSN programs admit RNs, that means you also need direct clinical nursing experience.

Why Is California RN-to-MSN Program Accreditation Important?

What is accreditation? Accreditation means an outside agency has reviewed the program and verified that it meets quality standards. For nursing programs, accreditation ensures that graduates can deliver quality and safe nursing care.

For this reason, you may not be able to get hired or qualify for certification exams if you do not graduate from an accredited MSN program in California. Without accreditation, you also may not be able to transfer college credits to another program.

Every MSN program in California featured in this guide is accredited from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.

#1 Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

San Diego State University

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

San Diego State University's master of science in nursing (MSN) offers specialization options in adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist, executive nurse leader, nursing informatics, and nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioner concentrations include adult-gerontology, family nurse practitioner, pediatrics, and psychiatric mental health. 

Students can opt to combine adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist and executive nurse leader tracks for a dual degree. MSN core courses cover evidence-based practice: role of theory and research, influencing the healthcare environment: policy and systems, and introduction to healthcare information management. 

  • Program: Master of science in nursing
  • Campus: San Diego
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,690 per credit for California residents; additional $396 per unit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing from an accredited program; current RN license; minimum 3.0 GPA; basic statistics course
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24-36 months, depending on specialization
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021-2022): 91% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $104,192 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
89%
Acceptance Rate
37%
Students Enrolled
36,334
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#2 Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University-Fullerton

  • Fullerton, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Students at California State University-Fullerton can earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a specialization in leadership, school nursing, or women's health. Women's health enrollees choose nurse practitioner or nurse midwifery concentrations and attend classes on campus. Leadership and school nursing students take their classes online.

All specialties require completion of on-site supervised practicum experiences. Core courses include theoretical and research perspectives for advanced nursing practice and a seminar in nursing research.

  • Program: Master of science in nursing
  • Campus: Fullerton
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,082 for 0-6 units and $3,588 for 7+ units per semester for California residents; additional $396 per unit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing or a related field from an accredited program; current RN license; RN experience for leadership and women's health tracks; minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes for women's health track
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021-2022): 99% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $114,595 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
89%
Acceptance Rate
68%
Students Enrolled
42,051
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#3 Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

San Jose State University

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

The master of science in nursing (MSN) at San Jose State University features specialization options in nurse education and family nurse practice (FNP). SJSU offers the FNP track as a special session if minimum enrollment is met. Both tracks follow a hybrid model of course delivery.

Core coursework includes population based healthcare systems, advanced health assessment, and advanced clinical pharmacology. All graduate students must pass the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement, and MSN enrollees complete a master's project or thesis and clinical or nurse education practicums. 

  • Program: Master of science in nursing
  • Campus: San Jose
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition:$2,082 for 0-6 units and $3,588 for 6.1+ units per semester for California residents; additional $396 per unit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing or related field; 3.0 GPA; current RN license; introductory research course completion 
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021-2022): 93% first-time pass rate
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
86%
Acceptance Rate
67%
Students Enrolled
36,208
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#4 Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University-San Bernardino

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

California State University-San Bernardino offers a hybrid master of science in nursing (MSN) with concentrations in advanced community/public health nursing, population health for clinical nurse leaders, and nurse educator. The program blends primarily online course delivery with some in-person sessions at the San Bernardino or Palm Desert campuses.

CSUSB places students as close to home as possible for clinical practicums. All three tracks require core coursework in advanced nursing roles, advanced theory and research, population health assessment, and program planning and evaluation.

  • Program: Master of science in nursing 
  • Campus: San Bernardino
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,082 for 0-6 units and $3,588 for 6.1+ units per semester for California residents; additional $396 per unit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing or related field (with nursing competencies in assessment research, leadership, and public health) from an accredited program; 3.0 GPA; current RN license; statistics course completion
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021-2022): 92% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $84,653 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
85%
Acceptance Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
19,689
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#5 Best RN-to-MSN Programs in California

California State University-Fresno

  • Fresno, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The master of science in nursing (MSN) program at California State University-Fresno offers a clinical option in family nurse practitioner primary care (FNP). 

Coursework and clinical experiences focus on health assessment, health maintenance and promotion, and management of selected health problems in the Central San Joaquin Valley. The curriculum emphasizes healthcare for residents in rural settings and from diverse cultural backgrounds. 

FNP courses include obstetrics and gynecology in primary care and FNP roles in primary prevention. Students also complete a project or thesis. 

  • Program: Master of science in nursing
  • Campus: Fresno
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,082 for 0-6 units and $3,588 7+ units per semester for California residents; additional $396 per unit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Two pathways: 1) Bachelor of science in nursing; RN license; 3.0 GPA; prerequisites in statistics, research, and physical assessment; or 2) RN license with non-nursing bachelor's; resume; completion of prerequisite individualized program 
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021-2022): 93% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $102,409 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
87%
Acceptance Rate
90%
Students Enrolled
25,497
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
99% 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 California RN-to-MSN Programs

Do RNs with an MSN make more money in California?

Yes. Careers that require a master's degree, such as a nurse practitioner (NP), make more than RNs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs in California made a median annual wage of $125,340 in 2021. Californian NPs earn a median annual salary of $149,910.

How long does it take to go from RN to MSN in California?

MSN programs in California take about two years to complete. Some take as long as 36 months, and others as few as 21 months. How much time you have to devote to your degree changes can affect that timeframe. For example, if you take courses on a part-time basis, this requires more time for program completion.

Can I skip my BSN and get my MSN?

Yes. California RN-to-MSN programs may admit nurses who hold an ADN. During the bridge program, you will take courses to complete your undergraduate education before completing advanced nursing theory courses and clinical rotations.

Is a California RN-to-MSN degree worth it?

California RN-to-MSN programs are worth it if you put in the effort. Graduates can pursue higher-paying roles as advanced practice registered nurses and gain specialized expertise in nurse anesthesia, midwifery, family nursing, and psychiatric mental health, among other specialties.


Explore Other RN-to-MSN Programs

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