August 10, 2022
By: Nurse.org Staff
Expert review by: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC
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.
This is a panel-reviewed selection based on a number of factors including,
- NCLEX pass rate
- 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
Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 California nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in California
1. California State University, Bakersfield
Annual In-State Tuition: $15,270 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98.08%
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 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.
2. California State University, Fullerton
Annual In-State Tuition: $6,995 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96.97%
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 four options:
- Traditional BSN: for direct-entry freshman
- Upper Division Transfer BSN Pathway: for upper division transfer students who are interested in earning a BSN
- Accelerated BSN: for students who have a bachelor’s degree in any field who are interested in earning a BSN
- RN to BSN: For ADN educated RNs who want to pursue a BSN
3. University of California, Irvine
Annual In-State Tuition: $11,928 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.64%
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.
4. California State University, Long Beach
Annual In-State Tuition: $6,834 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99.3%
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 three main BSN routes students may take:
- Traditional BSN
- RN to BSN
- Accelerated BSN: for students with a bachelor’s degree in another field
The NCLEX pass rate of the recent graduating class speaks to the student outcomes.
5. California State University, Los Angeles
Annual In-State Tuition: $6,782 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 95.4%
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:
- Traditional BSN: for direct-entry freshman
- RN-BSN: A one-year program for ADN educated RNs
- ADN-BSN Collaborative Program: a dual enrollment program with local junior colleges that facilitates seamless entry into Cal State LA
- Accelerated BSN: for those with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field
6. University of California, Los Angeles
Annual In-State Tuition: $13,804 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90.91%
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.
7. California State University, Sacramento
Annual In-State Tuition: $7,484 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97.33%
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 is 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.
8. San Diego State University
Annual In-State Tuition: $8,174 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 95.8%
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:
9. University of California, San Francisco
Annual In-State Tuition: $54,980 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.%
Yes, the in-state tuition at the University of California, San Francisco is incredibly high considering out-of-state students will be required to pay a higher rate. However, that’s the cost of studying at one of the nation’s best nursing schools. 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.
10. California State University, Stanislaus
Annual In-State Tuition: $5,742 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97.83%
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:
- Traditional BSN
- Accelerated BSN: for students who hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree
- online RN-BSN
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.
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4 Key Factors That Affect Nursing School Tuition
Keep in mind that colleges and universities reserve the right to change tuition rates at any time. The yearly tuition rates listed here will vary for each individual student depending on various factors including,
- Transfer credits
- Completed competency exams
- Amount of credits taken per year
- Financial aid awards
Check with the specific school for current tuition rates.
Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),
- California employs 324,400 nurses, by far the most in the nation.
- Nurses in California earned an annual mean wage of $124,000 in 2021, 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.
However, the downside to California is that it’s one of the lowest employers of nurses per capita. Only 19.63 nurses are employed per thousand jobs, as compared to 21.84 in Florida and 26.73 in Pennsylvania.
No state is without its drawbacks, though, and there’s no denying that California is a top destination for nurses looking for a long, successful career in an excellent area.
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 their 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.
Show Me California Nursing Programs
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
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
If a school is accredited by one of these institutions, then their nursing program adheres to strict national standards.
Show Me California Nursing Programs
Getting a License in California
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.
What is the number 1 nursing program in California?
- U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of California-San Francisco as the top nursing school in the state.
What is the easiest nursing school to get into in California?
- California State University—Bakersfield has an acceptance rate of 78%, which is higher than other schools in the state.
Is it difficult to get into a nursing school in California?
- Some nursing schools can be more competitive than others, with rigorous prereqs that include organic chemistry, microbiology, and more.
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. After, all that’s left is to pass the NCLEX then find a position!