The Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Daniel Bal
Updated April 16, 2024
Reviewed by
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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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Deciding to become a nurse practitioner (NP) in California comes with a litany of benefits, with the main advantage being the average salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), NPs in California earn $161,540 annually, which is the highest among all other states.

NP employment in the state is also projected to grow by 55.5% between 2020-2030, making California an attractive state for starting your career as an NP.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best ADN-to-MSN (RN to NP) bridge 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, and program offerings.

Featured Online NP Programs

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

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Learn More About the Best Nurse Practitioner Programs and Schools in California

#1 The Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Samuel Merritt University

  • Location-markerOakland, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$49,125
  • Out-of-state$49,125
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,050
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment15%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,050
  • Out-of-state$13,050
  • Retention Rate73%
  • Acceptance Rate25%
  • Students Enrolled872
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

University of Southern California

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$59,260
  • Out-of-state$59,260
  • Retention Rate91%
  • Acceptance Rate16%
  • Students Enrolled46,287
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment89%
  • AccreditationYes

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in a Nurse Practitioner Program in California

To choose the right California NP program, there are a variety of important factors to explore. While programs may have various similarities, elements such as admission requirements, specializations, accreditation, and program lengths can help you determine the program that works best for you. Review each program individually to determine if it is the right fit.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements vary from one institution to the next. Reviewing these prerequisites can tell you whether or not you meet the school’s expectations. You can avoid wasting time applying to programs whose admission standards differ from your background and experience.


California NP programs require students to pick a specialization. However, not every school offers the same options. If you know the specialization you want to pursue, make sure the schools that interest you offer it.

For those who are unsure what to focus on, many programs offer the ability for students to explore their options.

Program Curriculum

Researching a program’s curriculum will help you determine if the covered material connects to your academic goals. While courses may be similar among schools, some may offer different academic experiences, such as electives, that are of interest to you.

Clinical Experience

Although all NP programs require students to complete a clinical rotation, specific requirements may vary from one institution to the next.

Pay attention to when and how long the experience lasts to make sure it works with your schedule. You may also need to find your own site, as some NP programs may not set it up for you.


Accreditation signifies that the program provides a high-quality educational experience and properly trains its students. Accredited programs also offer benefits that non-accredited programs cannot provide, opening graduates to more employment opportunities and higher earning potential.

Program Length

Most NP programs in California take a similar amount of time to complete. However, that may fluctuate depending on your scheduling needs.

Schools may offer enrollment options for full-time students, part-time students, and those who need to hold a job during their studies.

School Graduation Rate

Colleges and universities often base their graduation rates on four-year, undergraduate programs, indicating they can successfully prepare their students within the typical four-year time period. These numbers still provide insight into the success of the institution, which often carries over into its graduate programs.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Online learning often offers courses synchronously (in real-time), asynchronously (on your own time), or as a combination of the two. Schools may also require students to attend certain on-campus activities.

The more you understand a program’s format, the easier it will be to decide which makes the most sense for your schedule and learning style.

Why Is NP Program Accreditation Important?

Selecting an institution that offers an accredited program provides the following benefits:

  • Accreditation highlights the program’s high standards. Organizations such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing accredit only programs that provide students with the highest quality preparation.
  • Students in unaccredited programs may not be eligible for federal financial aid.
  • Accredited programs do not always accept transfer credits from unaccredited ones.
  • Doctoral programs often accept only applicants who hold a degree from an accredited institution.
  • Employers prefer to hire graduates with a degree from an accredited program.

How Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California Work

When compared to in-person programs, online NP programs in California are either entirely online or require minimal campus visits. On-campus requirements may include meeting with instructors, attending lectures, or completing labs.

Online programs offer courses that are synchronous, asynchronous, or both. Synchronous courses happen in real time, with students and instructors meeting at a set time.

Students enrolled in asynchronous courses complete the work on their own time through the use of podcasts, videos, web quests, and other online tools.

Although you may spend little to no time on campus, students still need to complete their clinical rotations in person. Some programs may help you set this experience up, while others expect students to find a placement on their own.

Featured Online NP Programs

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

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Applying to a Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Before applying to an NP program in California, your first step is to make sure you meet the institution’s acceptance requirements. While specific prerequisites can vary between programs, many accept applicants who meet the following general requirements:

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    Admission Requirements

    Applicants must hold an unrestricted and unencumbered California registered nurse (RN) license, an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited program, and at least one year of clinical experience.
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    Admission Materials

    General admission materials include transcripts from your associate degree in nursing (ADN) program or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay.
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    GPA Requirement

    3.0 GPA or higher

Paying for a Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Factors that influence the cost of a California NP program include the length of the program, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition differences, online vs. in-person courses, part-time vs. full-time status, and whether you can work while studying. Luckily, there are financial aid opportunities for students that can limit their out-of-pocket expenses.

Students needing help in paying for their nursing degree can apply for scholarships, grants, and/or loans to reduce the cost of tuition. Scholarships and grants provide funds based on merit, need, or academic performance, while loans are borrowed money that must be paid back upon completion of the program.

What Can You Do as a Nurse Practitioner in California?

Starting in 2023, qualified NPs in California will be able to practice independently without the supervision of a physician. Independent practice allows them to prescribe medication, interpret the results of diagnostic tests, and develop and carry out treatment plans for their patients.

NPs also have a variety of specializations available to them as they pursue their nursing career in the state. Specialty areas include adult-gerontology, acute or primary care, emergency, family, neonatal, pediatric, psychiatric-mental health, and women’s health.

California NPs can also expect to earn an annual average of $161,540, which is significantly above the national average of $128,490. While the average NP salary in California is the highest in the country, NPs also need to consider the state’s high cost of living.

Frequently Asked Questions About NP Programs

Can you become a nurse practitioner online?

It is possible to complete many of the requirements to become an NP online. Some NP programs require a certain number of on-campus visits, and all NP candidates are required to complete their clinical rotations in person.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse practitioner?

You can become an NP in as little as six years. The process includes completing a two-year ADN program, 1-2 years of clinical experience, and finishing a 2-3 year MSN bridge program. This route requires nurses to enroll as full-time students.

Can nurse practitioners work independently in California?

Starting in 2030, NPs will be able to practice independently without the supervision of a physician after three years of a transition oversight period or 4600 clinical hours. Once they have completed this requirement, NPs will be allowed to prescribe medication and controlled substances, diagnose and treat, and interpret diagnostic tests.

How much do NPs get paid in California?

NPs in California earn $161,540, which is the highest salary for the position compared to all other states. The top three metropolitan areas in the state that offer the highest salary include San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara ($191,250), Napa ($187,640), and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward ($186,730).

Page last reviewed October 24, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.

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