Inside Look at Nursing Schools in San Diego

Explore the best nursing schools in San Diego, learn about the kinds of online and campus programs available, and find the top option for your career goals.

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Last Updated: 05/27/2021
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As the second most populated city in California, San Diego has a significant need for medical services and healthcare. Nurses form the backbone of the field, and there are many nursing schools in San Diego offering a variety of programs for training nurses at all levels.

This guide has all the information you need to find the right accredited San Diego nursing school for you, from campus-based BSN programs for students with no previous nursing experience to convenient online programs designed to help working RNs take the next step in their nursing career. You’ll also learn more about the job market and strong earnings potential for nurses in San Diego. Keep reading to get started on your San Diego nursing school search.

Best Accredited Nursing Schools in San Diego for 2021

While there are many nursing programs in San Diego, choosing the right one can be a challenge. To help with your search, we’ve identified three of the top programs that stand out in terms of programs offered, affordability, and quality. See who’s among the best for 2021.

San Diego State University

San Diego State University offers several healthcare degrees through its School of Nursing. Programs include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Registered Nurse (RN) to BSN program, a Master of Science in Nursing, and a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) to RN program.

The BSN program accepts a range of incoming students, including direct-entry freshmen, second-year SDSU students, and transfer students. The RN to BSN program is intended for those who already have an ADN. The MSN program is for nurses interested in moving into advanced nursing roles. Finally, the LVN to RN is a 30-unit option that allows graduates to become RNs without earning associate or bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

San Diego City College

San Diego City College provides three quick paths into the nursing profession through its Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ADN), LVN to RN, and LVN to RN programs. All these programs are approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

The ADN program allows students to complete the required 62 credits to earn their degrees and become RNs in two years. The LVN to RN program results in an ADN and consists of just 45 credits, allowing incoming LVNs to leverage their prior training and schooling to graduate in an abbreviated fashion. Finally, the LVN to RN 30 Unit Option allows graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam quickly but does not result in a nursing degree.

Azusa Pacific University

Nursing programs at Azusa Pacific University include an RN to BSN, a traditional MSN, a direct-entry MSN, a Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate, and an ADN to BSN bridge program. All have been approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Several of these programs are available online, including the RN to BSN, BSN bridge program, and select specializations in the MSN program. One of APU’s more popular pre-licensure programs, the RN to BSN program, is designed for students at local community colleges who are about to earn their associate degree in nursing. Upon completion of their ADN, students can enroll at APU to begin their bachelor’s level curriculum leading to a B

Types of Nursing Programs Available in San Diego

There are many nursing programs in San Diego to accommodate students at different levels of education and nursing experience. No matter your professional nursing goals, one of the nursing programs available in San Diego is likely to meet your needs.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in San Diego

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An ADN is ideal for those who want to become RNs as quickly as possible. The ADN pathways allows you to become a registered nurse in roughly two years.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

San Diego City College
Grossmont College

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (Traditional BSN)

With its advanced nursing focus, a BSN offers greater opportunities for career advancement. Training in theoretical nursing, leadership, and general education subjects provide the background needed for nursing leadership positions.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

San Diego State University
National University

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs are for students who already have bachelor’s degrees in a field unrelated to nursing. Because students get credit for previous college courses, they can finish their BSN in an accelerated manner, often in less than two years.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

Brandman University
San Diego State University

Direct-Entry MSN Programs (Master of Science in Nursing)

Direct-entry programs allow individuals with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to become RNs. Given the advanced training available, these programs are best suited for those who want to work as advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse anesthetists, nursing midwives, and nurse practitioners.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

University of San Diego
AZUSA Pacific University

Nursing Bridge Programs in San Diego for Current Nurses

LVN to RN and LVN to BSN Programs

The LVN to RN or LVN to BSN programs bridge the gap between vocational and registered nurses. These programs are for LVNs who want to become RNs or take the first step toward advanced practice nursing.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

Grossmont College
San Diego City College

RN to BSN Programs

RN to BSN programs normally enroll nurses with ADNs. A BSN is often necessary for supervisory functions or for moving into specialized RN roles.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

San Diego State University
Brandman University

RN to MSN Programs

RN to MSN programs allow RNs to move into advanced practice. Generally speaking, incoming students have associate degrees they can add to and earn an MSN degree. Some RN to MSN programs allow students to also earn BSN degrees.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with this Program

Point Loma Nazarene University
National University

Advanced Nursing Programs in San Diego

Traditional MSN Programs (Master of Science in Nursing)

Traditional MSN programs allow RNs to become APRNs. Incoming students usually have BSNs. Those with bachelor’s degrees in other fields can utilize the direct-entry MSN academic pathway.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with This Program

San Diego State University
University of San Diego

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD Doctoral Programs

Doctorate nursing programs (DNP) serve as the pinnacle of nursing knowledge. A DNP is typically for aspiring nurse practitioners who need more specialized training or training in a subject relating to clinical nursing practice, like informatics or executive leadership. PhD programs are ideal for nurses looking to shift careers into research or academia.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with This Program

University of San Diego
National University

Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates

Many of the nursing programs in San Diego offer post-graduate nursing certificates. These certificates provide training in a nursing specialization. Many students earning a post-graduate nursing certificate are practicing APRNs looking to focus their practice areas.

Examples of San Diego Nursing Schools with This Program

Brandman University
AZUSA Pacific University

Detailed Look at Online Nursing Programs in San Diego

In general, pre-licensure online nursing programs are hybrid programs that allow students to complete prerequisites and other classwork online but require completion of clinicals and labs in person. Many programs have labs on campus with clinicals or practicums at program-approved sites. Fully online nursing programs with no in-person requirements do exist but typically only at the graduate level.

Best Online Nursing Programs in San Diego

Palomar College

The Nursing Education Department at Palomar College offers two academic tracks, an Associate of Arts in Nursing (AAS) and an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). Both programs are approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). The Associate in Arts in Nursing degree includes additional general education classes as a part of the curriculum, but both degrees follow the competencies outlined in the Quality and Safety Education for Nursing standards.

To make learning flexible, Palomar College allows students to take three of the required nursing classes online: Pharmacology for Nurses I, Pharmacology for Nurses II, and Adult Health Assessment.

Palomar College also has a Nursing Education Department’s Job Board where you can find employment as a student or after graduation.

National University

National University offers several degree programs either partially or fully online. Those include the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN completion), the RN to Master of Science in Nursing, the Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate, and the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate. Additional programs offered at NU include a traditional BSN, a second-degree BSN, an MSN, a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, and an LVN to RN 30-unit option.

National University’s first-time NCLEX-RN passage rate for BSNs exceeds 90%. All programs are approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Brandman University

Brandman University offers most of its nursing programs in a hybrid format. They are also affordable with many around $500 per credit. These CCNE-accredited online programs include:

  • RN to BSN
  • Pre-Licensure Accelerated BSN
  • BSN to DNP Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • BSN to DNP Family/Across the Lifespan Nurse Practitioner
  • Post-Doctoral Certificate, Psychiatric, and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Post-Masters to DNP

The Pre-Licensure Accelerated BSN program is designed for students who are not RNs and can be completed in just three years. The RN to BSN program is 100% online, but in-person practicums are still required. However, they may be completed at approved locations near a student’s home or place of employment.

FAQs About Online Nursing Programs in San Diego

Can I earn my nursing degree in San Diego completely online?

Many programs, especially those for pre-licensure, have a practicum, clinical, or immersive in-person components but offer coursework online. A few graduate-level nursing programs in San Diego have curriculums that can be completed 100% online.

Will my online San Diego nursing degree be considered less valuable by employers?

For most healthcare employers, graduating from an accredited and board of nursing-recognized nursing program and having a valid registered nursing license is all that matters. Many employers actually expect at least some online coursework given the rapid growth and acceptance of distance learning.

Are online nursing programs in San Diego more affordable than campus programs?

Online nursing programs in San Diego have tuition rates comparable to traditional, on-campus programs. Distance learning tuition rates can be slightly lower, especially for those who might otherwise pay non-resident tuition rates. At a minimum, attending an online nursing school saves money in reduced travel costs to and from campus.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in San Diego

To help you pay for your education, a variety of sources offer grants, scholarships, and loans. These include state and federal governments, charitable organizations, corporations, and nursing schools. For financial aid options tailored for students in San Diego, visit the California Board of Registered Nursing and The San Diego Foundation. EduMed’s nursing scholarship guide and financial aid guide provide additional resources.

How to Become an RN in San Diego: Licensing Requirements

The first step to becoming a registered nurse in San Diego is completing a nursing program that’s accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and approved by the state of California. The second step is applying to the California Board of Registered Nursing for an RN license. This requires passing a background check, submitting an application, and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. More details about the licensing requirements are available on our RN Licensing Information and Requirements in California page.

Job Opportunities for RNs in San Diego

The Bureau of Health Workforce projects that by 2030 there will be a shortage of more than 44,500 registered nurses in California. This impact will certainly be felt in San Diego. Graduates from traditional or online nursing programs in San Diego can expect to find work in a hospital or healthcare system. Some of the more active registered nursing employers include Sharp Healthcare, Scripps Health, Aya Healthcare, and Prime Healthcare.

How Much You Could Make as an RN in San Diego

According to ONET, the average annual average salary for a registered nurse in San Diego is $105,100, while the BLS places it at $111,620. Either way, it’s a healthy amount above the national average. While San Diego nurses average lower incomes than RNs in the state of California as a whole, they still pull in healthy income for RNs.

Earnings for Registered Nurses in San Diego

Median Hourly WageMean Hourly WageAnnual Mean Wage
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$54.09$53.66$111,620
California$56.93$57.96$120,560
United States$36.22$36.92$80,010

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020

Additional San Diego Nursing Resources

National Student Nurses’ Association – Local Chapters

The NSNA prepares nursing students for licensure through mentorship, collaboration, and advocacy. It promotes skill development and advocates for the advancement of the nursing profession.

HHSA Nursing Administration – San Diego

The HHSA of San Diego is a local government organization working on behalf of professional nurses by improving standards of practice and updating nursing policies.

San Diego National Association of Hispanic Nurses

The San Diego National Association of Hispanic Nurses helps nurses in San Diego better serve Hispanic and underserved communities. Initiatives include promoting nursing education and community healthcare programs.

AACN – San Diego Chapter

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has local chapters that partner with community leaders and other medical professionals to improve the standing and professional opportunities of critical-care nurses in San Diego and surrounding areas.

California Association for Nurse Practitioners – San Diego, North Chapter

The California Association for Nurse Practitioners represents the interests of nurse practitioners within the state of California. It focuses on promoting the profession and developing growth opportunities for nurse practitioners in San Diego and neighboring areas.