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Best Nursing Schools in California

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by Brown University
April 20, 2023
8 min read
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California is one of the best states to pursue a career in nursing due to its competitive nursing programs and wealth of job opportunities for registered nurses. California has the country's highest number of employed RNs, with over 300,000 registered nurses working in the state. Registered nurses in California enjoy competitive salary rates. The average annual wage of a nurse in California was $120,560, nearly $40,000 higher than the national average of $80,010.

California has numerous top-notch nursing programs that offer high-quality science education and clinical training opportunities in some of the best hospitals in the country. To help you understand the options, Bold.org has compiled a list of California's top ten nursing schools. These programs have been selected for their graduates' level of preparation for the nursing license exam, affordable tuition costs, rigorous curricula, and robust clinical rotations.

Scholarships for nursing students can help you pay for the cost of a nursing degree, helping you reduce the amount of student loan debt you need to take on to attend nursing school. You can create a free Bold.org profile to access our intuitive scholarship search engine and start applying for scholarships for students interested in healthcare.

best nursing schools in California

Best Nursing Schools in California

University of California Irvine - Irvine, CA

The UC Irvine Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing offer prospective RNs a world-class education from research, education, and clinical practice faculty leaders. Undergraduate students interested in nursing can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Science. In contrast, graduate students can pursue an MS in Nursing Science or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Irvine also houses a Ph.D. nursing program for students interested in public health and reducing health disparities amongst medically underserved communities.

In particular, the bachelor's degree program at UC Irvine emphasizes early clinical exposure and hands-on learning. Students have access to high-tech simulation equipment that enables them to safely practice clinical skills and receive feedback from their faculty and peers. Community health is also an important part of the innovative nursing curriculum at UC Irvine. Students nurture a deep sense of responsibility towards patients and have the opportunity to provide clinical services to partner schools and community groups in the local area.

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California State University, Fullerton (CSUF)

CSUF is a top public university located in Orange County, California, and is home to one of the best nursing schools in the state. The school offers a BSN, an MSN, and doctoral programs in Nurse Anesthesia and Post-Master's. Masters students can choose to specialize in areas such as leadership, school nursing, and women's health care.

Through the traditional BSN program, an entry-level freshman at CSU Fullerton can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and become eligible for a license in California over the course of four or five years. Coursework for the bachelor's degree includes a combination of general education classes, prerequisite courses, and major nursing courses. The pass rate for the NCLEX for CSU Fullerton nursing graduates in the 2021-2022 school year was a whopping 98.67% for the BSN program.

California State University Long Beach - Long Beach, CA

CSU Long Beach is another California State University that boasts a top-notch nursing program for undergraduate and graduate students. CSU Long Beach students had a pass rate of 97.20% on the NCLEX in the 2021-2022 school year. The undergraduate BSN program prepares nurses to become general practitioners by sharpening students' abilities to identify health issues in individuals and communities and assist patients in maintaining health and well-being throughout their lifetime.

CSU Long Beach's School of Nursing is currently transitioning away from its Master of Science in Nursing program to a BSN-to-DNP program that focuses on Nurse Practitioner Specialty areas. In graduate coursework, DNP candidates at CSU Long Beach will learn about specialized areas for nursing professionals, such as psychiatric mental health, pediatric primary care, primary family care, and adult-gerontology care.

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) - San Francisco, CA

UCSF is one of the top nursing programs in California and is renowned for its excellence in healthcare education and research. The nursing school offers a comprehensive range of graduate programs in nursing, including a Master of Science, an accelerated masters program, a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration and Interprofessional Leadership, and Doctoral programs. The school's programs are designed to prepare nurses to provide evidence-based, patient-centered care that meets the diverse health needs of the community.

UCSF also offers specialized training for nurses in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, and geriatrics. 87% of graduates from UCSF's nursing program pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), which all nurses must take to become licensed practitioners. UCSF is also the number one public recipient of NIH funds nationally, making it an amazing place for nursing students to be involved with cutting-edge medical research.

California State University Sacramento - Sacramento, CA

Sacramento State offers a traditional pre-licensure bachelor's degree program for aspiring nurses and an RN-to-BSN program for licensed nurses with associate's degrees that are looking to advance to the next level in the nursing profession. Nurses in the RN-to-BSN program graduate with a Public Health Nurse certificate. 93.55% of CSU Sacramento's BSN program students passed the NCLEX in the 2021-2022 school year.

University of California Los Angeles - Los Angeles, CA

UCLA's School of Nursing offers six-degree programs for nursing students at various points in their careers. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is a four-year program for undergraduate students who intend to become registered nurses after graduating or pursue further nursing studies. Students in the BSN program will complete a clinically based scholarly project during which they are tasked with improving a system of care for patients and their families.

UCLA also houses a two-year Master of Science in Nursing program through which graduate students with non-nursing bachelor's degrees can transition into a career as a registered nurse, clinical nurse leader, or public health nurse. Registered nurses with bachelor's degrees can also enroll in a separate Master of Science in Nursing program that prepares them to specialize in gerontology, family, or pediatric nursing.

A DNP program is also available for those interested in becoming nurse practitioners. UCLA is unique in that it has a one-year certification program to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. 84% of BSN graduates from UCLA passed the NCLEX in the 2021-2022 school year.

San Diego State University - San Diego, CA

San Diego State University's School of Nursing prioritizes community impact and public health in its four nursing degree programs. Undergraduate students can earn a bachelor of science in nursing and become licensed nurses eligible to practice in the state. The BSN program emphasizes the importance of equitable healthcare and advancing community well-being so that students are prepared to work with diverse patients, including medically underserved communities, and become leaders in the healthcare field.

The RN-to-BSN program enables registered nurses with associate's degrees to advance their knowledge and earn a bachelor's degree. Graduate degree programs include a Master’s in Advanced Practice Nursing and a Master’s in Leadership in Health Care Systems. 90.67% of BSN graduates from San Diego State in the 2021-2022 school year passed the NCLEX.

California State University San Marcos - San Marcos, CA

The School of Nursing at CSU San Marcos houses five-degree programs for prospective and registered nurses at various stages of their careers. Undergraduate students who do not hold a bachelor's degree can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing through the traditional BSN program. Students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree can enroll in the accelerated program that allows them to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing in two years.

Registered nurses with associate degrees can earn a bachelor's through another accelerated RN-to-BSN program that is fully online. Nursing classes at CSU San Marcos emphasize community health and culturally sensitive, patient-centered care. 96.19% of BSN graduates from CSU San Marcos passed the NCLEX in the 2021-2022 school year.

California State University Stanislaus - Stanislaus, CA

The School of Nursing at Stanislaus State University offers various degree programs for undergraduate and graduate nursing students.

Prospective undergraduate students pursuing their first bachelor's degree can dive into the nursing field through a BSN. In contrast, registered nurses with an associate's degree can earn a bachelor's through their online RN-to-BSN program. Those who wish to pursue a second bachelor's degree in nursing can enroll in the accelerated second bachelor's degree.

The School of Nursing houses a simulation program to provide learning opportunities for nursing students to practice clinical care in a safe and supportive setting. Simulation is integrated into every program's curriculum at the School of Nursing, so students can engage in experiential learning throughout their degree.

California State University Los Angeles - Los Angeles, CA

The Patricia A Chin School of Nursing at Cal State LA prepares prospective nurses for a successful career in clinical care while providing high-quality healthcare services to the residents of Southern California.

There is a multitude of options for students interested in earning a bachelor of science in nursing. First-time undergraduate students can earn a traditional BSN, while registered nurses with an associate's degree can enroll in the RN-to-BSN program.

The ADN-to-BSN program also enables students pursuing nursing degrees at local community college partners to seamlessly transition to Cal State LA after completing their first two semesters in an ADN program.

The Clinical Placement Office at Cal State LA helps undergraduate and graduate students identify unique clinical opportunities in the Southern California area for their post-graduate careers. Additionally, the Simulation Center housed within the School of Nursing enables students to pursue scholarly inquiry and interdisciplinary study during their degree program.

Frequently Asked Questions Nursing Schools in California

How long does it take to become a nurse in California?

Typically, a nursing degree from an accredited school will take a minimum of 2-3 years to complete. For first-time undergraduate students, traditional bachelor's degrees may take at least four years. After earning a degree and becoming eligible to apply for a nursing license, students may need to wait 10-12 weeks for their application to be processed.

Remember to check out more blog posts on our scholarship blog to learn more about graduating college debt free.

How do you become a licensed nurse in California?

California has two licensure options for nurses working in hospitals and clinics. Nurses in California must pass the NCLEX or the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses to work with patients. Applicants who have been licensed in other states and previously passed the NCLEX may be able to become licensed through a second route.

Consider your career goals, interests, and financial situation when choosing a nursing school and degree program. Now that you've learned about the best nursing schools in California, you're ready to start applying to nursing schools!

Don't forget to create a free Bold.org profile to apply for scholarships for nursing students and check out our scholarship blog to learn more about career options for college students.

Brown University

About Nicole

Nicole is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York, who specializes in science and health writing, social justice issues, and nonprofit writing. Nicole graduated from Brown University with Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Ethnic Studies, receiving Honors in Ethnic Studies for her senior thesis on contemporary poet Ocean Vuong. During her time at Brown, Nicole served as a staff writer and section editor for The College Hill Independent (“The Indy”), New England’s largest alt-weekly publication. Notably, their contributions to the publication include news pieces analyzing complex social justice issues. 

Her piece Imagining Indigenous Futures: The Fight to Save the West Berkeley Shellmound received the Barbara Banks Brodsky Prize in Real World Writing from the Department of English. Nicole is also an experienced writing instructor, having served as a Writing Fellow at Brown University for three years, and is trained in anti-racist and accessible pedagogies of teaching writing. She currently works as a writing tutor and executive function coach with ConnectToLearn Tutors.

Nicole is no longer with the Bold.org Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

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