Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in California

15 Min Read Published May 14, 2024
The Best Nursing Schools in California | Nurse.org

To become a nurse in California, the best course of action is to study at a California school. Studying at one of the state’s top schools will prepare you for a successful nursing career. To help you choose, Nurse.org has compiled a list of the best nursing schools in California. 

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in California

This is a panel-reviewed selection based on a number of factors, including,

  • Reputation
  • NCLEX pass rate
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate, when available
  • Only ACEN or CCNE-accredited schools are eligible 

Our selection panel includes 5 Registered Nurses with over 55 years of combined nursing experience and 7 nursing degrees.

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
  • Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
  • Leah Helmbrecht, BSN, RN
In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

California has a plethora of incredible state schools, and residents can take advantage of lower in-state tuition. California State University, Bakersfield, is no exception. Located roughly midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cal State Bakersfield has the feel of a college town.

The nursing program offers plenty of options for undergraduate students, including a traditional BSN and a 15-month RN-to-BSN. Like most California schools, Cal State Bakersfield has a high NCLEX pass rate and is a nationally recognized university. 

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 87%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 20%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 9001 Stockdale Hwy, Bakersfield, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  73%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $80,521

 

>> Related: Every ABSN Program in California and the US

In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

Located just north of Anaheim is another excellent school in the CSU system, California State University, Fullerton. Home to nearly 40,000 students, this ethnically diverse school has a low in-state tuition rate and a great location. Students interested in a BSN have five options: 

  • Traditional BSN: The traditional BSN route is perfect for direct-entry freshman students
  • Upper Division Transfer BSN: This pathway is for upper-division transfer students who are interested in earning a BSN
  • Accelerated BSN: CSUF has one of the top ABSN programs in California for students with non-nursing bachelor's degrees
  • RN to BSN: CSU Fullerton offers a quick, cheaper route for ADN-educated RNs to earn a BSN
  • LVN to BSN: This LVN to BSN program helps LVNs advance their careers and education, earning a BSN that prepares them for the NCLEX exam and RN licensure
School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 67%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 10%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 800 N State College Blvd, Fullerton, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  86%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $86,042
In-State Tuition
$11,564 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$41,636 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

Considered by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top public schools, the University of California, Irvine is an all-around high-quality school. UC Irvine has also been recognized for its commitment to diversity, and graduates tend to have higher salaries than the national average for recent grads.

The main undergraduate nursing program – a traditional BSN – also boasts high graduate employment and salaries, but only 2.5% of all applicants are admitted. If students are lucky enough to count themselves among those selected, they’ll be set up for an incredibly successful nursing career.

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 7%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 501 Aldrich Hall, Irvine, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $81,929

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

California State University, Long Beach is home to beautiful beaches and beaches, along with one of the top nursing programs in the state. CSULB’s nursing program has a lofty goal of becoming the premier nursing program, so nursing students can rest assured that they’re getting one of the best educations available. The university offers BSN and MSN programs. There are two main BSN routes students may take:

  • Traditional BSN
  • RN to BSN

The NCLEX pass rate of the recent graduating class speaks to the student outcomes.  

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 40%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 6%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  85%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $85,795

>> Related: Top RN to BSN Programs in California

In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

Los Angeles, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, is home to various hospitals where California State University, Los Angeles nursing students can complete their clinicals.

There are four programs for undergraduate nursing students:

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 87%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 5%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 5151 State University Dr, Los Angeles, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate: 73%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $87,548
In-State Tuition
$11,564 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$41,636 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

One of the most recognized institutions in the world is the University of California, Los Angeles. So, it should be no surprise that UCLA is also home to one of the top nursing schools in California. UCLA has one traditional BSN program that is for incoming freshman and transfer students.

Most students will be interested in earning their BSN before anything else, although the master’s and doctoral level degrees offered by UCLA are among the top in the state, too. The price is higher than other state schools, but in-state students will still pay a lower tuition rate. 

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 1%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 405 Hilgard Ave, Los Angeles, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  97%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $90,678
In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

Located in the state capitol, California State University, Sacramento is one of the most diverse schools in the nation. Students come from across California – and the US – to study at Sac State. One of the university’s top draws is the traditional BSN program, perfect for incoming freshmen that don’t have any nursing experience. An RN-BSN program and an LVN to BSN program are also available for current nurses that want to complete a BSN. Along with other state schools, Sac State is an excellent value for California residents, and they boast one of the highest NCLEX pass rates on this list.

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 93%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 7%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 6000 J St, Sacramento, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $108,495
In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

San Diego State University, home of the Aztecs, has been educating students since 1897. Now home to more than 36,000 students, SDSU has entrenched itself as one of the top public schools in California. The nursing school at SDSU has four main programs:

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 4%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 5500 Campanile Dr, San Diego, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  89%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $87,377
In-State Tuition
N/A
Out-of-State Tuition
N/A
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

UCSF offers a traditional BSN and an accelerated MSN. This three-year MSN program is for current bachelor’s degree holders who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Keep in mind that the tuition rate can change depending on which nursing option you choose. 

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 1%
Contact Information:
  • Address: 500 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate:  N/A
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: N/A
In-State Tuition
$5,742 per year
Out-of-State Tuition
$17,622 per year
Accreditation
CCNE
Online?
No

California State University, Stanislaus has two campuses – one in Turlock and the other in Stockton. Of course, not all students will study on campus. There are four BSN options:

When it’s time for clinicals, CSU Stanislaus states that students will be placed “as far south as Madera and as far north as Stockton.” This is meant to give nurses extra exposure and more experience. Of course, the low tuition and high NCLEX pass rate are reasons to look at CSU Stanislaus, too.

School Information:
  • Public or Private? Public
  • Acceptance Rate: 97%
  • Percent Enrolled Online: 14%
Contact Information:
  • Address: One University Circle, Turlock, CA
  • Website
School Success:
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Median Earnings 2 Years After Completing a BSN: $99,447

California Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 

  • California employs 332,560 nurses, by far the most in the nation. 
  • Nurses in California earned an annual mean salary of $137,690 in 2023, making it the highest-paying state for nurses.

Along with large cities and natural wonders, nurses in California can enjoy the high pay – especially if they specialize in their practice. 

Next Steps

There are dozens of great nursing school options in California, but you can only attend one. To find the perfect school, you should first make a list of your top options. Once you’ve determined which schools you’re most interested in, it’s time to prepare your application.

The next steps are to:

  • Contact each school’s admissions offices. You can learn about application requirements, nursing school requirements, and anything else about a school through its admissions office. Admissions counselors are there to help you through the application process.
  • Make sure you meet the nursing school requirements. Yes, many nursing programs have their own set of admissions requirements on top of the school requirements. Find out what they are and how to meet them. Some requirements may need to be fulfilled while in school, so don’t sweat it if you aren’t already eligible.
  • Submit your application(s). Always apply to more than one school! Schools may offer more financial aid than you expect, making one option even more affordable. Items you’ll need to submit include:
    • High school transcript (GPA)
    • ACT and/or SAT scores
    • College entrance essay(s)
    • Letter(s) of recommendation

Other requirements could also be required, so check with each admissions office representative before applying. Also, if you ever feel lost, contact the admissions office. They can answer any questions you have.

Important Considerations When Comparing Schools

Both in-state and out-of-state students are attracted to California public schools. However, no two schools are the same, and one option could have clear advantages over another – even if the nursing program doesn’t seem as good on the surface. 

To pick the best school, compare the pros and cons. This can include anything, including:

  • Annual tuition and total program cost (these can be different)
  • Cost of living in the area
  • Cost of living at the school
  • Scholarships, grants, and federal aid offered
  • Acceptance rate (both for the school and the nursing program)
  • Length of the program
  • Potential program outcomes
  • Distance from hospitals
  • Accreditation (regional and national)

Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation  

Accrediting agencies are in charge of setting minimum standards for education programs and ensuring specific programs meet their rigorous standards. An accredited school doesn’t just mean the program is great – unaccredited schools may make you ineligible for federal funding, and many employers will only accept nurses with a BSN from an accredited school.

The two nursing accreditation organizations to look for are

If a school is accredited by one of these institutions, then its nursing program adheres to strict national standards.

California RN License

To become an RN in California, students should start preparing in high school. The best way to ensure license eligibility in California is to study at a California school, and admission into those schools can be tough. So, preparing early is key, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing.

>> Related: Complete Guide to Nursing in California

After completing your BSN, you’ll need to:

  • Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
  • Pass a criminal background check and submit your fingerprints
  • Send your information to the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) in California
  • Apply to become a nurse via the California Board of Nursing

It can take up to six weeks to get your official NCLEX results. In the meantime, you can apply for an “interim” RN permit so you can interview for jobs and even start practicing while your official nursing license is processed.

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

California is arguably the top destination for nursing professionals. However, there are relatively few nursing opportunities available in the state. That said, California nurses enjoy high wages. To become a nurse in California, the best first step is to earn a BSN through a California school. Afterward, all that’s left is to pass the NCLEX and then find a position!

Earn Your Nursing Degree Online
Sponsored

References:

BLS

California Board of Registered Nursing

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