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Nursing Schools in Southern California: Top Online and Campus Programs

Explore Southern California’s top-ranked nursing schools and find the online or campus program near you that best fits your budget, career goals, and learning preferences.

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A panoramic view of San Francisco Bay Area at sunset, featuring vibrant streaks of pink and blue in the sky and gentle ocean waves rolling in under the pier.

From Santa Barbara to San Diego, there are dozens of accredited nursing schools in Southern California that can help you take the first or next step in your nursing career (and advantage of the area’s high demand for nursing professionals). So, no matter where you live or what your goals are, you’re sure to find a great nursing program nearby.

This guide has all the information you need to find best nursing school and program in Southern California for you. You’ll find a list of this year’s top online and in-person programs, while also learning about the range of degree and certificate program options available, where to get help paying for your nursing education, and how much you could earn after you graduate. Keep reading to find your Southern California nursing school match.

Best Nursing Schools and Programs in Southern California for 2024

With so many nursing schools in California to choose from, finding the one that’s right for you can seem challenging. To help you get started on your school search, we’ve profiled the top six nursing schools in Southern California for 2022. Factors considered include affordability, department quality and reputation, student success rates, study options and convenience, and access to important support services.

Best Overall Nursing Schools in Southern California

California State University – Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton is one of several schools in the California State University system offering quality nursing degree and certificate programs at affordable public-school prices. Its School of Nursing hosts a range of undergraduate and graduate programs, starting with a Traditional BSN for direct-entry freshmen with little or no previous college education. The curriculum consists of general education and nursing coursework along with the clinical practice hours needed to qualify for the NCLEX-RN. Both four-year and five-year full-time tracks are available.

Current registered nurses interested in advancing their careers by earning their nursing bachelor’s degrees can do so through the RN to BSN program. The program features full-time and part-time tracks as well as both on-campus and online study options. Other BSN options at CSUF include a three-year Upper Division Transfer Pathway for students who’ve completed their lower-division requirements elsewhere and a two-year Accelerated BSN Pathway for students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. There’s also a two-year LVN to BSN Pathway for current vocational nurses seeking career advancement by becoming RNs.

Graduate-level programs at CSUF include MSNs in four specializations, a Post-Master’s DNP, and a DNP in Nurse Anesthesia.

California State University – Los Angeles

The Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing on Cal State LA’s University Hills campus offers several undergraduate and graduate nursing credentials, including traditional and accelerated pre-licensure BSN options. The Traditional BSN accepts both transfer students and students in Cal State LA’s Pre-Nursing program who have completed substantial prerequisite coursework allowing them to earn their BSN with three years of full-time study. Admission is extremely competitive and based on GPA, TEAS exam scores, and employment or volunteer work in healthcare. Preference is given to students residing in the school’s local area.

The Accelerated BSN program is open to applicants with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees who have completed specific prerequisite courses. Students complete 53 credits of nursing didactic coursework and clinical practice hours over 15 months of full-time study.

Other undergraduate nursing programs at Cal State LA include a one-year, full-time RN to BSN and an AND to BSN Collaborative dual-enrollment program that provides seamless progression to students in ADN programs at any of 13 local community colleges. Graduate-level options include a DNP and MSNs and post-masters certificates in five specializations.

San Diego State University

San Diego State University offers separate BSN curriculum options for incoming freshmen, transfer students, and students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. Students who have graduated from a nursing diploma or ADN program can earn their BSNs through the RN to BSN program.

All BSN students at SDSU must participate in an international residence of two weeks or more as part of the CHHS Undergraduate International Experience program. The program’s purpose is to create awareness of intercultural issues that include global health, economic, and social perspectives.

SDSU’s other undergraduate option, its LVN to RN 30-Unit Option program, qualifies graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN but does not award an ADN or BSN. SDSU also offers MSNs in Advanced Practice Nursing of Adults and the Elderly and Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Southern California

Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific University is a private, Christian-affiliated university offering two BSN programs with online coursework. Students without RN licensure can earn both their ADN and BSN degrees through the ADN to BSN dual enrollment program. There are two tracks available with slightly different courses of study, one for students enrolled at APU and Pasadena City College and one for students enrolled at APU and any of several other affiliated community colleges. Along with the required coursework and clinical hours in their community college ADN programs, students complete 40 credits of APU coursework that is entirely online except for one clinical requirement. APU also offers an RN to BSN Completion program consisting of 40 credits of online nursing courses.

Online graduate programs at APU include an MSN in Nursing Education with fully-online and partially-online options. There’s also a fully-online MSN in Healthcare Administration with the option to take some classes at one of APU’s three Southern California campuses and an online DNP with periodic intensives on APU’s Monrovia location.

California State University – San Bernardino

Cal State San Bernardino offers two hybrid online degrees for Inland Empire nursing students. The Post-Licensure RN to BSN program is for current registered nurses seeking career and academic advancement by earning their BSNs. The curriculum combines online and on-campus classes with two clinical rotations attended at local hospitals or other community healthcare facilities. The 49-credit curriculum is completed over three semesters. Admission requires proof of a current California-issued RN license before the second term of the program and completion of several science and non-science prerequisite courses.

CSUSB’s hybrid MSN program offers concentration options in Advanced/Community Public Health Nursing, Nurse Educator, and Population Health for Clinical Nurse leaders. The program is approximately 80% online and 20% face-to-face with in-person classes split between CSUSB’s San Bernardino and Palm Desert campuses. Full-time and part-time options are available.

Mount Saint Mary’s University

Several online nursing programs are available from private, Catholic Mount Saint Mary’s University, including an RN to BSN featuring 100% online coursework. A hybrid format is also sometimes available. In addition to online classes, students complete in-person clinical components during their second and third semesters. Special dual-enrollment versions of the RN to BSN program are available to current ADN students at Citrus College in Glendora and Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. Admission requires a current, unencumbered California RN license and completion of nine prerequisite courses. Program starts are available in the fall and spring.

Graduate-level online nursing programs at Mount Saint Mary’s include hybrid-formatted MSNs in three specializations and a Post-MSN Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist Certificate.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Southern California

The following descriptions of the most common nursing and certificate programs can help you decide which nursing program in Southern California is right for you. There are also links to schools offering the programs.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Southern California

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The ADN is a two-year, full-time program offering a time-efficient and cost-saving pathway to RN license eligibility. Curriculums include general education and nursing didactic coursework along with the clinical practice hours necessary to qualify for the NCLEX-RN. ADN programs are available through many community colleges.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (Traditional BSN)

BSN programs prepare students for taking the NCLEX-RN and careers as registered nurses. They also provide additional general education and other coursework to broaden and deepen your knowledge base and make you more attractive to employers. Traditional BSN programs are available in four-year formats for first-time freshmen with little or no previous college experience and two-year formats for students who’ve already completed their first two years of college.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees can apply credits from those programs to an Accelerated (or Second Degree) BSN program to save time and money. Accelerated BSNs typically require 1½ to two years to complete and include all the didactic coursework and clinical practice hours required to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

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

Direct-entry MSN (Master’s Entry or Entry-Level Master’s) programs provide a direct path to leadership and advanced practice nursing roles to students with no prior nursing experience. In most cases, admission into a direct-entry MSN program requires a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major. Curriculums combine nursing classes with clinical practice hours that fulfill all academic requirements to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Southern California for Current Nurses

LVN to RN and LVN to BSN Programs

LVN to RN and LVN to BSN programs provide current vocational nurses with a convenient path to advance their careers by becoming RNs. LVN to RN programs are either LVN to ADN programs for students planning future career advancement by earning a BSN or graduate nursing degree or LVN to RN certificate programs leading to NCLEX-RN and RN licensure eligibility but not a degree. LVN to BSN programs are available from colleges and universities and typically take four years.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

An RN to BSN provides current registered nurses with ADNs an affordable and time-saving format for earning their BSN degrees. Most nursing schools in Southern California offer their RN to BSN programs in part-time formats with fully- or partially-online coursework. Programs run 18 to 24 months.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

The Master of Science in Nursing degree is for nurses seeking specialized training for moving into advanced nursing practice and leadership roles. RN to MSN programs are for current RNs with ADNs or nursing diplomas but not BSN degrees. Programs sometimes also award a BSN.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Southern California

Traditional MSN Programs (Master of Science in Nursing)

Traditional MSN programs are for current RNs with BSN degrees. Curriculums combine nursing theory courses, often online, with clinical practice hours components that vary in length depending on the specialization. Completion times depend on specialization and study pace, but 1 ½ to two-year program lengths are common.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD Doctoral Programs

The PhD in Nursing prepares nurses for careers in advanced research and post-secondary education. The DNP degree prepares them for senior positions in healthcare administration and nursing practice. Program lengths vary from two to seven years, sometimes longer, depending on credential type, specific academic requirements, and study pace.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates

Post-graduate nursing certificates provide students with nursing master’s or doctoral degrees a way to expand their practices into specialized nursing fields without having to earn an additional degree. Nursing schools usually offer certificates in several specializations. Program lengths and clinical hour requirements vary by specialization, but most certificates can be earned in 12 to 18 months.

Examples of Southern California Nursing Schools with this Program

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Southern California

There are practically as many financial aid resources for nursing students as there are nursing schools in Southern California. These resources include scholarships and grants, work study programs, employer tuition reimbursement opportunities, and assistantships and fellowships (mostly for grad students). For those currently serving or who have served in the military, there’s the GI Bill and other valuable VA educational benefits.

Most nursing students primarily look to student loans available from several sources with the biggest being the U.S. Government. The federal government is also a major provider of loan repayment opportunities for nursing students.

For detailed information on funding resources from the State of California, visit this California Student Aid Commission. For more information on paying for your nursing program in Southern California, check out EduMed’s guides to financial aid, nursing scholarships, and graduating from nursing school debt-free.

How to Become an RN in Southern California: Licensing Requirements

Practice as a registered nurse in Southern California requires an RN license issued by the California Board of Registered Nursing. There are two methods for obtaining California RN licensure. Individuals holding a current and active RN license from another state, U.S. Territory, or Canada can qualify for their California RN license via the Licensure by Endorsement process. Those seeking their first RN license use the Licensure by Examination method that includes passing the NCLEX-RN.

For a look at the specific steps for obtaining your California RN license by examination, visit EduMed’s guide to nursing schools in California.

Job Market and Earnings for RNs and APRNs in Southern California

The current job market for nurses in Southern California is strong and expected to continue to be for several years. According to figures from the State of California’s Employment Development Department, RN positions in Los Angeles County are projected to grow by 15.2% through 2028. That’s in line with projections for California overall (16.7%) and better than those for the U.S. as a whole (12.1%). RN job growth projections are slightly lower or slightly higher throughout Southern California, depending on the county. Projections for nurse practitioners in all parts of Southern California, however, are much higher with 31.6% growth for Los Angeles County and 68.7% for San Diego County. In terms of earnings, the outlook for RNs and advanced practice nurses is also quite healthy with median salaries in the low six figures.

How Much You Could Make as an RN or Advanced Practice Nurse in Southern California

Registered Nurse Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$55$54$113,120
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA$51$52$107,830
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$53$53$109,830
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$54$54$111,620
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA$53$53$110,200

Nurse Practitioner Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$66$69$142,770
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA$58$60$124,350
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$63$70$146,020
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$60$61$126,120
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA$66$70$145,740

Nurse Midwife Earnings

Median Hourly WageAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Annual Wage
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$96$92$191,440
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$86$82$171,000
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$49$55$113,750

Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020