The Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California 2021

by NurseJournal Staff

With a large population and a high demand for healthcare workers, the Golden State offers many opportunities for nurse practitioners. Find top-ranked NP programs in California in this guide.

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The Best Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California 2021

This guide introduces you to the best nurse practitioner (NP) programs in California, along with the factors to consider in picking the right program for your career goals and professional needs, including accreditation, the application process, and financial aid.

We use our data-driven methodology to rank the best online nurse practitioner programs, 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, program offerings, and online flexibility.

Top 10 Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California in 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
2 California State University-Dominguez Hills Carson, CA
3 Samuel Merritt University Oakland, CA

Keep reading to find out more about job opportunities and information on how to apply to a nurse practitioner program in California, or click here to learn more about the best California NP programs on our list.

Featured Online Programs

What Can You Do as a Nurse Practitioner in California?

NPs have advanced training and certification that authorizes them to act as primary care providers, diagnose conditions, order tests, and prescribe medications, including controlled substances. They work in hospitals, private practices, government facilities, and other healthcare settings.

In California, nurse practitioners must apply for a state furnishing authorization in order to prescribe medication or medical devices, sometimes with a collaborative agreement under a physician. The annual average NP salary in California is $145,970, above the national average, reflecting the higher cost of living in California. Between 2018 and 2028, jobs for NPs in California are projected to grow by 30.5%. This combination of high growth and high salaries can make attending one of the high-quality nurse practitioner programs in California a very attractive investment.

What to Look For in an Online Nurse Practitioner Program in California

Accreditation is the most important criterion when evaluating which NP school in California to apply to, but you will also want to consider tuition and financial aid, the academic requirements and curriculum, and other relevant factors as you decide which program best meets your goals.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements tell you how likely it is that you will be admitted to a program. They also indicate the school's academic expectations and how competitive this program will be.

Program Curriculum

The curriculum for online nurse practitioner programs in California is largely driven by your choice of specialty. Check to see that the classes cover the topics that most interest you and will prepare you for your chosen career.

Clinical Experience

Online NP programs in California have the same clinical requirements as on-campus programs. If you do not live near the school's campus or are in a remote area with fewer healthcare facilities and providers, you may want to see if the school has placed students in communities near you.

Accreditation

Accreditation and certification pass rates are two objective, comprehensive measures of an NP program's quality. Schools that are not accredited may offer lower costs than an accredited one, but employers often will not consider graduates from an unaccredited program.

School Graduation Rate

The school graduation rate indicates how likely students are to complete the program. While some students leave a program for reasons unrelated to the program's quality or value, a lower than average graduation rate can be a warning.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Be sure to consider how the online learning format and requirements will work for you. For example, if you have work or other responsibilities, will you be able to attend synchronous (real-time) classes? If you live in the eastern United States, will the time zone difference be an obstacle?


Applying to an Online Nurse Practitioner Program in California

To apply to NP schools in California, you will need a copy of your college transcript(s) and the names and contact information for at least two academic or professional references. Be ready to write a personal essay or statement as well.

Admission Requirements: You will need a current and unencumbered RN license, at least two professional or academic references (some programs require three), an undergraduate degree, and the ability to pass a criminal/legal background check. Many NP programs require 1-3 years of clinical nursing experience. Additionally, many online NP schools in California require a personal statement or essay about why you want to become an NP. Program Length: The average online nurse practitioner program in California takes two years. State code requires 30 hours but most programs require approximately 50 hours. Some schools offer the option of taking it in three or more years. Clinical Requirements: NP programs will assist with but cannot guarantee clinical placement in your community. The number of required hours will vary based on your specialty and program. GPA Requirement: Most online nurse practitioner programs in California require a GPA of at least 3.0 and some require or strongly prefer 3.25 or higher. However, if your GPA is borderline, discuss your case with the admissions department, since a strong work record or other accomplishments may outweigh your GPA being slightly below the threshold.

Why Is Program Accreditation Important?

Program accreditation can affect future job prospects and financial aid opportunities. Check below for more details about accreditation and its benefits.

  • Program accreditation is an objective external measure of program quality and attests that you have the knowledge to practice safely and effectively as a graduate from that school. You do not have this safeguard at an unaccredited program.
  • Employers strongly prefer graduates of accredited programs; some may not even consider hiring graduates of unaccredited programs.
  • Doctoral programs may not accept MSNs from unaccredited institutions or programs.
  • Federal financial aid may not be available for attending an unaccredited program.

Who Accredits Nurse Practitioner Programs?

How Do I Know an Online Nurse Practitioner Program Is Accredited?

Because accreditation is valuable and important, accredited programs post their accreditation status prominently on their websites. Check the home page for the program or the college. An online NP program in California is held to the same accreditation standards as an on-campus program. If the accreditation status is hard to find on the website, that may be a warning sign. You can also check the accrediting organization's website to see their list of accredited institutions. Note that all schools listed on this page or on the NurseJournal.org website are accredited.

Paying for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

NPs earn salaries considerably above the national average and are in demand, so student loan debt may not be a considerable burden compared to other fields. However, you will still need to consider the financial aspects of attending an NP program in California, including tuition and fees, any associated travel costs for clinical placement or on-campus programs, and whether you can work while attending the program.

Financial aid options to attend a nurse practitioner program in California include:

  • Direct loans or grants from the school you attend
  • Work-study school programs for online as well as on-campus students
  • Scholarships from foundations, nonprofits, or corporations
  • Government loans or grants
  • Your current healthcare employer who may provide tuition assistance (though conditions may apply)

Learn More About the Top Online Nurse Practitioner Programs and Schools in California

University of Southern California true View School Profile Los Angeles, CA 92% 29% 18% Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

USC sits at the top of our list of California online FNP programs. Graduates earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a family nurse practitioner specialization. Boasting a 92% graduation rate, the 49- to 51-credit curriculum prepares registered nurses with at least a year of clinical experience for advanced practice.

Distance learning features live-streamed classes with course content available 24/7. Grounded in a foundation in social work, coursework covers topics in pathophysiology and pharmacology, data analysis and research, policy, management, and technology.

Students also complete 784 onsite clinical hours. Two on-campus intensives provide opportunities for faculty guidance and networking with classmates.

  • Program(s): MN - family nurse practitioner Campus: Los Angeles, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,995 per credit hour
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing or MSN; minimum 3.0 GPA; three credits in statistics; RN license with one year of clinical experience
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12-33 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes, two intensives
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: Not available
California State University-Dominguez Hills true View School Profile Carson, CA 45% 31% 42% Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

CSUDH trains family nurse practitioners in one of the more rigorous NP programs in California. Graduates earn their master of science in nursing degrees after completing 48 credits and 576 hours of clinical training.

Students take most of their courses online, but clinical courses include three components: online meetings; hands-on, precepted experience in an outpatient setting; and on-campus meetings.

While the program design serves working nurses, CSUDH discourages full-time employment. Students can select among three plans of study: a three-year plan; a three-year-with-summers plan; or a four-year plan. Core courses include advanced nursing roles, healthcare policy and economics, and health promotion and disease prevention.

  • Program(s): MSN - family nurse practitioner Campus: Carson, California
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $8,379 per year full time; $5,367 per year part time
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; California RN license and at least two years of clinical experience; undergraduate statistics, nursing research, health assessment, and pathophysiology
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 36-48 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes, 1-3 meetings each semester
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: Not available
Samuel Merritt University true View School Profile Oakland, CA 55% 14% Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Housing one of the best online family nurse practitioner programs in California, SMU reports that 98% of its graduates find employment in their profession within a year. The cohort-based curriculum focuses on working with underserved populations and in multicultural settings lacking healthcare services.

Upon completion of 49 credits and 630 hours of clinical experience in their home communities, graduates earn a master of science in nursing and become eligible for FNP certification.

Distance learners can work during the first two semesters, but SMU does not advise continued employment during clinical placements. SMU offers a number of scholarships for FNP students, and 86% of students receive financial aid.

  • Program(s): MSN - family nurse practitioner Campus: Oakland, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,387 per unit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor of science in nursing from a regionally accredited school; unencumbered RN license with recent clinical work experience; undergraduate statistics
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 20 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes, two intensives at the Sacramento campus
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 86%

Online Nurse Practitioner Program in California FAQs


Can you get an NP degree online?

Many schools offer a hybrid or fully online NP program. Some may have brief on-campus requirements for onboarding or certain lab-based courses, though the majority of the program is online.

Can NPs practice independently in California?

California is a "restricted practice" state. In order to prescribe medications (of any kind, not just controlled substances) or medical devices, NPs must apply for a "furnishing number" and, in some cases, they must prescribe under the guidance of a physician or with a physician available to contact.

How long does it take to be an NP in California?

Most nurse practitioner programs in California take two years and approximately 50 credit hours. You will need an RN license and undergraduate degree to enter an NP program, which takes at least two years, and most programs require 1-3 years of clinical experience.

Are NPs in high demand?

NPs are in high demand; between 2018 and 2028, the number of nurse practitioner jobs in California is expected to grow 30.5%. Hospitals, residential care programs, government facilities (such as military bases and jails/prisons), and clinics all hire nurse practitioners.

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