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Best Nursing Schools in the San Francisco Bay Area: Online & Campus

Find the online or in-person Bay Area nursing program that can help you take the first or next step in your nursing career.

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WRITTEN BY: Shannon Lee
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 01/18/2023

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With high continued job demand and a median annual wage of over $120,000, according to the Employment Development Department of California, the San Francisco Bay Area has plenty to offer registered nurses and advanced nursing professionals. Coupled with the many accredited nursing schools in the Bay Area, now’s a great time to start in the nursing profession or to expand your skills and knowledge.

This guide can help you sort through the many online and on-campus nursing programs in the San Francisco Bay Area and decide which will best help you achieve your goals. These schools are accredited and approved by the California Board of Nursing, while also excelling in affordability, flexibility, and academic quality. Read on to find your San Francisco Bay Area nursing school match and other helpful information on financial aid, licensing requirements, and the local job market.

Best Nursing Schools and Programs in the Bay Area for 2024

Nursing programs in the Bay Area have flexible learning options, are affordable, and effectively prepare you for the NCLEX-RN. We showcase top nursing schools in San Francisco below, detailing the six that stand above the rest for 2024.

Best Overall Nursing Schools in the Bay Area

San Francisco State University

The School of Nursing at San Francisco State University hosts a wealth of programs for every phase of a nursing career. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a standard four-year track while the Accelerated Bachelor of Nursing takes four semesters and 15 months and is for individuals with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. The ADN to BSN program, a collaboration between SF State and area California Community College partners, admits students in the spring and takes about two years.

Graduate programs include an Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing program for students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees that awards both a BSN and an MSN. The school has also offered an Accelerated Entry Level MSN, and its MSN is designed for those with BSNs. Current RNs with MSNs can earn a Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate.

University of San Francisco

The BSN program through the School of Nursing and Health Professions at the University of San Francisco usually takes four years but offers generous transfer credits to help cut that time down. Class schedules and curriculum are customized to fit students’ needs. Graduate programs include the Master of Science in Nursing, available as either a direct-entry or an RN steppingstone. The MSN program takes a whole-person care approach and emphasizes leadership, quality, safety, and evidence-based education.

The school’s 14 to 1 student-faculty ratio helps ensure the best possible outcomes for students. Also, in addition to having state-of-the-art nursing simulation labs, the University of San Francisco partners with over 200 healthcare providers in the area to provide the top-notch hands-on training students need to excel in their studies and their careers.

University of California San Francisco

The School of Nursing at the University of California San Francisco offers programs for those who want to pursue graduate degrees in nursing. Its master’s programs include the accelerated Master’s Entry Program for non-nurses with bachelor’s degrees in other areas and the MSN for those who have RN licenses. UCSF also has an MS Healthcare Administration and Interprofessional Leadership program that connects students with professionals dedicated to making healthcare accessible, affordable, and sustainable.

Individuals interested in working as Family Nurse Practitioners can gain the knowledge they need through a post-master’s program. Additionally, the school’s doctoral program offers a PhD with an emphasis on either nursing or sociology and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Postdoctoral programs are also available, either tailored to the student or chosen through a fellowship program.

Best Online Nursing Programs in the Bay Area

City College of San Francisco

The Registered Nursing Department at the City College of San Francisco provides a hybrid Registered Nursing AS Major program for those who need the flexibility to attend school while keeping up with work, family, and community obligations. This associate degree program allows students to engage in coursework, hands-on simulation labs, and hands-on work at clinical sites in the Bay Area. It cultivates the ability to apply the principles of effective communication, provide health education to patients, exercise critical thinking skills, and more.

Those who are RNs and have associate degrees can take advantage of the ADN to BSN program that takes about two years and provides the opportunity to continue working while taking some courses online. This collaborative program partners with San Francisco State University to provide both ADN and BSN degrees.

Cal State East Bay

The BSN program through Cal State East Bay is a four-year pathway to becoming a registered nurse. Those who are LPNs or LVNs can enter the BSN pathway and shave some time off because of their previous coursework and experience. There’s also the post-licensure program that is mostly online for those who hold RN licenses and associate degrees. Students participate in both on and off-campus experiences that include simulations, labs, community interaction, and clinicals in area healthcare facilities.

The MSN program at Cal State East Bay offers concentrations in nursing leadership or nursing education. It’s available hybrid or fully online depending upon the track and the student’s needs for flexibility. Current RNs can earn their MSNs with two years of part-time study.

Holy Names University

Many of the nursing programs offered through the School of Science, Allied Health, and Nursing at Holy Names University are hybrid or online. Master’s degree paths include RN to MSN and MSN hybrid programs. The MSN to Family Nurse Practitioner, MSN Nurse Administration, and MSN Nurse Educator programs are also hybrid. The MSN to MBA hybrid track is for those who want to take a business, administration, and management approach to their nursing career. The school’s Doctor of Nursing Practice, the pinnacle of the profession, is offered fully online.

Holy Names offers other nursing programs as well, including a BSN pathway for registered nurses. Specialties in this in-person program include pediatric medical surgery and intensive care.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in the San Francisco Bay Area

Nursing programs in San Francisco offer the opportunity to earn an associate degree to start your nursing career, a bachelor’s degree to promote career advancement, and a graduate degree to hone and specialize your career skills. The most common options along with nursing schools in the Bay Area offering them are detailed below.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in the Bay Area

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The associate degree quickly provides the basics of nursing and leads to RN licensure. This applied degree typically takes two years to complete. Though some coursework might be online, most will be hands-on and require on-campus attendance.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (Traditional BSN)

Starting your nursing career with a strong education that allows you to pursue nursing leadership roles involves obtaining your BSN. Though usually a four-year program, some students complete it in about three years. General education courses form a strong base while advanced nursing courses prepare you for the NCLEX-RN.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Those with bachelor’s degrees in a field other than nursing can pursue an accelerated BSN. These programs focus on nursing courses and can be completed in 18 months or less. Some schools admit students without bachelor’s degrees who have a significant number of undergraduate credits.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

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

Those who have earned their bachelor’s degrees and want to take the next step can take a direct-entry MSN program where they choose a specialization and enhance their career prospects. Concentrations vary by school, and the degree takes two to three years to complete.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Bay Area Nursing Bridge Programs for Current Nurses

LVN to RN and LVN to BSN Programs

Current LVNs and LPNs can opt for bridge programs that provide either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. These programs allow them to become registered nurses and take one to three years to complete.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

Current RNs with associate degrees must earn bachelor’s degrees to open doors to higher-level career opportunities. RN to BSN programs allow them to earn their nursing bachelor’s degrees while continuing to work. Most take about two years to complete and are often entirely online.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

Registered nurses who want to earn their MSNs can choose from a variety of specializations, some of which lead to advanced practice nursing. These programs take two to four years, depending upon specialization. Much of the coursework is entirely online while the hands-on clinicals are usually completed at a student’s current place of employment.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in San Francisco Bay Area

Traditional MSN Programs (Master of Science in Nursing)

Traditional MSNs are open to nurses with BSNs or provide direct entry for those with bachelor’s degrees in a field other than nursing. Traditional MSN programs take two to three years. For those with BSNs, programs are often entirely online. Those without nursing experience follow an in-person or hybrid program to ensure they get the hands-on work needed.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD Doctoral Programs

Nurses at the pinnacle of the profession have either DNPs or PhDs. The DNP provides a deep dive into clinical practice areas while the PhD focuses on research. These programs take three to seven years to complete and most are entirely online.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates

Nurses who already hold the degrees they want but who need training in a particular area can opt for post-graduate nursing certificates. These certificates focus on a particular area of nursing and can be completed in one to two years. Most are entirely online.

Examples of Bay Area Nursing Schools with this Program

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in the San Francisco Bay Area

The nursing field is one of the most in-demand within an already booming healthcare industry. Earning a nursing degree is expensive, though, and financial aid is often needed by many to alleviate the financial burden. The most common forms include scholarships, grants, and student loans offered by both private and government entities. For example, the State of California’s Department of Health Care Access and Information offers healthcare scholarships, grants, and loan repayments to professionals who provide direct care to underserved areas. Learn about other types and sources of financial aid through our nursing scholarship guide, financial aid guide, and nursing student loan forgiveness guide.

How to Become an RN in the Bay Area: Licensing Requirements

Since the requirements needed to become a registered nurse are developed and implemented at the state level, check with the California Board of Registered Nursing for how to become a registered nurse in San Francisco. One of the most common paths is licensure by examination, which involves graduating from a CBORN-approved pre-licensure RN program. After graduation, applicants must also apply for an RN license with CBORN and pass the NCLEX-RN. For more detailed information about the licensing process, see our guide to nursing schools in California.

Job Market and Earnings for RNs in the SF Bay Area

The need for registered nurses is strong throughout the United States, and the Bay Area follows that trend. The estimated projected growth rate for RNs in San Francisco is 10.9%, a healthy increase that’s expected to lead to more than 110,000 RN job openings by 2028. Many of these openings will be in hospitals. While the Bay Area’s annual growth rate is lower than the state overall, the median hourly wage is still comparable, if not higher, than the national median hourly wage for RNs.

How Much You Could Make as an RN or Advanced Practice Nurse in the Bay Area

Registered Nurse Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$75$72$149,200
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$75$71$146,870
Santa Rosa, CA$58$60$124,840
Napa, CA$56$53$110,140

Nurse Practitioner Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$84$85$177,800
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$65$74$153,240
Santa Rosa, CA$65$69$143,820
Napa, CA$69$73$152,640

Nurse Midwife Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$81$78$162,110
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$83$81$167,870
Santa Rosa, CA$48$52$108,250

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020