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The Top Online MSN Programs in California for 2024

Looking to expand your nursing career and earn more? It might be time to research MSN programs in California, one of the top-paying states for nurses in the country.

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Nursing has changed a lot over the years. As medical science advances, nursing care gets more advanced, too, meaning today’s nursing leaders need more training. In California, a large wave of nurses is on the cusp of retirement and the state is primed for new nursing leaders to step up.

If you’ve considered advancing your nursing career by earning your Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN), now might be the time to do it. To help you, we’ve compiled a guide featuring some of the best MSN programs in California.

About the ranking


Base Methodology for EduMed’s Best Online College Rankings for the ’23-’24 school year.

One: Create list of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on data pulled from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which was self-reported by the schools themselves.

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least 1 online component in a program within the ranking-subject area.

Two: Assign Weighting

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of metrics, which were all self-reported by the schools themselves to the U.S. Department of Education and IPEDS.

The metrics are listed below in order of most- to least-heavily weighted.

Online Programs – Number of online programs in the relevant subject area.

Online Student % – Number of total students who are enrolled in at least 1 distance-learning course in the relevant subject area.

Tuition – The average in-state tuition for undergraduate students studying full-time, as self-reported by the school.

Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.

Career Placement Services – Existence of this service on campus or online.

Student/Faculty Ratio

About Our DataEduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2023

# School Name Type Tuition Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 West Coast University-Orange CountyAnaheim, CA Private for-profit $ 1

West Coast University offers a high quality MSN program. Specialization options include nurse education, nurse leadership, adult/gerontology acute care, family practice, adult/gerontology primary care, and psychiatric-mental health practice. The psychiatric-mental health, family practice, two adult/gerontology tracks provide students with the option to become a nurse practitioner. While offered through their Orange County campus, some courses can be completed online. The four NP specializations include more in-person requirements than the other two.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing, Nurse Educator

  • Credits: 135
  • Length: 16-32 months
  • Cost: $495/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: CCNE
Faculty Ratio
Student %

Popular Accredited MSN Programs in California

With dozens of programs to choose from, finding the right MSN program in California can be overwhelming. So, we’ve put together a list of three schools to spotlight. These high-quality programs offer various options for students pursuing their MSN degree—with many offering a number of specializations.

These programs are all accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

University of California San Francisco

The master of science program at the University of California San Francisco is a two-year program that prepares students for advanced practice roles as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, health policy experts, community or population health experts, administrators, or teacher consultants.

Most applicants are experienced registered nurses with bachelor’s degrees. The program offers several options for specialization, including:

  • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner
  • Adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner-occupational and environmental health nursing
  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner-primary care
  • Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner
  • Certified nurse-midwife/women’s health nurse practitioner
  • Adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist
  • Health policy and public health nursing
  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
  • Neonatal nursing
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner-acute care
  • Adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist with a subspecialty in oncology and a subspecialty in critical care/trauma.

Depending on your specialization, the school has been offering both remote access and hybrid classes that require some in-person attendance. The program costs a total of $62,775 for in-state students.

University of San Diego

The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science offers both a Master of Science in Nursing program and a master’s entry program. The former prepares students in three specializations: adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist, executive nurse leader, and nursing informatics. You also can pursue dual specializations. The latter takes about 21 months to complete and is designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in a non-nursing discipline. Tuition ranges from $54,120 to $116,440, depending on the program and specialization you choose.

Students can access the school’s Dickinson Nursing Simulation Center, which has professional actors replicating real-world nursing scenarios. The nursing school at the university also provides outreach opportunities in underserved communities. Clinical teaching sites are located at major medical facilities throughout San Diego County.

California State University, East Bay

The hybrid Master of Science in Nursing at Cal State East Bay is designed to give working nurses flexible access to higher education. Courses are predominantly online, though you’ll still need to attend a two-day event on campus at the beginning of each year.

The program offers students two tracks: nursing education and leadership and administration. The former prepares you with the essential knowledge to design courses and educate future nurses. The second track provides you with the organizational management and leadership skills to positively impact the quality and efficiency of patient care.

Tuition depends on the number of credits you take. This MSN program in California requires you to complete 33 units to earn your degree. In-state students pay $21,417 for the program.

Advantages of Getting an MSN From a California School

Choosing an MSN program in California opens doors to more jobs, better pay, and a chance to positively impact the overall care of patients. Plus, you could have more autonomy within your practice. In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 890, allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients without direct supervision from a doctor. The goal is to attract more higher-level nurses to California and expand access to healthcare.

Not convinced quite yet? Here are three more reasons you need to consider on-campus or online MSN programs in California:

1. You’ll be serving the greater good.

The ongoing nursing shortage has raised concerns over the well-being of patients. One worry is that poor staffing ratios at hospitals and other healthcare facilities increases medical errors—potentially leaving patients worse instead of better. Completing an MSN program in California means helping more people—particularly those in underserved and rural communities who already have limited access to healthcare.

2. You’re more likely to land a job (and a well-paying one at that).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the workforce for registered nurses (RNs) will grow by 6% nationwide in the next decade—from 3.1 million in 2021 to 3.3 million in 2031. Plus, the workforce for advanced practice nurses—including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives—is forecast to grow by a whopping 40%.

So, you will serve the greater good and be more likely to find a better-paying job in the process. The Golden State is one of the top-paying states for nurses. Nurse practitioners, for example, earn an annual mean wage of $151,830 or about $72.99 an hour—22% above the national average, according to the BLS.

3. You’ll expand your knowledge through a specialization.

Earning your MSN gives you a chance to specialize in a particular field. Many MSN programs in California offer a variety of specializations, from caring for infants as a neonatal nurse to leading a team of nurses as an administrator. You’ll become an expert. And if you want to keep your education going, earning your MSN paves the way toward pursuing your doctoral degree in the future.

Program Checklist: Qualities to Look for in an MSN Program in California

Finding the right MSN program in California that fits your interests and your lifestyle takes time and effort. But there are a few qualities to look for, including finding a program that offers lower tuition costs, financial aid, and student support.

Here are a few other important characteristics to consider when choosing a high-quality on-campus or online MSN program in California:

State Approved and Nationally Accredited

As the demand for nurses grows, so does the need for quality nursing education. Accreditation is how nursing programs are evaluated to meet certain quality standards. The best programs are either accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the CCNE. Also, check that the program meets the state requirements from the California Board of Registered Nursing.


Most nursing students also are working professionals, so they need a program that offers the flexibility to manage their own schedule. This is what makes an online MSN program in California so appealing: Many programs allow you to complete class requirements on your own schedule, plus they allow you to complete clinical hours within your community.

Options, Options, and More Options

Depending on your interests, you might want to pursue other career tracks within a certain niche. For example, maybe you’re interested in a nurse manager position in the neonatal field. A good MSN program will offer you that option.

Types of MSN Programs in California

Traditional MSN

This type of program is designed for students who want a more traditional university experience that allows them to attend in-person classes—and maybe even live on campus. Typically, traditional MSN students already have a BSN degree and may hold an RN license.

Examples of California Nursing Schools with This Program

University of California San Francisco School of Nursing

University of California Davis School of Nursing

Direct Entry MSN

This program is meant for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a profession outside of nursing. Programs like these prepare students to obtain their RN license while integrating a graduate-level curriculum that trains them for higher-up nursing positions.

Examples of California Nursing Schools with This Program

University of California, Los Angeles School of Nursing

University of California Irvine Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing

Accelerated MSN

Accelerated programs are completed in a short amount of time. Usually, they’re offered to nursing students pursuing their BSN degree. Few programs offer a faster route to earning a master’s degree—the idea is that you need as much training as it takes to prepare you for leadership roles or positions with less oversight. However, one MSN program in California offers an accelerated program.

Example of California Nursing School with This Program

Touro University California School of Nursing


These programs allow students to earn both their BSN and MSN degrees in a single program. RN to MSN programs are designed for students who hold an RN license. Although these programs are accelerated, you earn two degrees at once. They may take a little more time to complete than most other programs.

Examples of California Nursing Schools with This Program

California Baptist University

The California State University

Dual Master’s

A dual program allows students to earn two master’s degrees in one program. Most of these programs offer dual MSN and MBA degrees for those seeking leadership roles in nursing. Few programs offer students the choice to earn two MSN degrees in different concentrations or specializations.

Example of California Nursing School with This Program

University of San Diego Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science

Online MSN Programs in California

Online MSN programs in California are great for working nursing students. These programs give you power over your schedule through online courses you can take any time, day or night.

The drawback, however, comes with getting hands-on training. Many online courses offer virtual labs, and others allow students to complete certain clinical hours within their own communities. The better option might be attending in-person clinical practice courses that provide you with a simulated real-world nursing experience. If that interests you, then a hybrid MSN program might be right for you.

FAQs About California’s MSN Programs

What Can an RN Do with an MSN in California?

Advancing your education could lead to a career as a nurse practitioner, a nurse midwife, or a nurse anesthetist—specializations that you’ll come across often in your search to find the right MSN program in California. But you could also pursue a career as a nurse administrator, nurse educator, forensic nurse, or nursing informatics specialist.

The career you choose depends on what you’re passionate about. For example, if you love being around infants and children, you could specialize as a neonatal nurse or a pediatric nurse practitioner. Additionally, an MSN degree is a stepping stone to earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice degree—a requirement that’s becoming more common for nurses in certain practices.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an MSN in California?

Most MSN programs in California take about two years to complete, but that depends on whether you’re a part-time or full-time student. In general, schools will advise you to enroll as a full-time student and cut back on work. However, some programs have a roadmap for part-time students. Keep in mind that most programs require you to complete 30 to 40 credits to earn your MSN degree. So if you’re a part-time student, it could take three or more years to graduate.

If you hold a BSN degree, you also could apply to an accelerated program. Registered nurses looking to earn both a BSN and an MSN degree can apply to a bridge program.

How Affordable Are MSN Programs in California?

Cost varies depending on the school, the MSN program you choose, and where you live. For example, tuition is typically steeper for students who live out of state. However, some online MSN programs in California have capped tuition rates, meaning your tuition won’t increase as long as you remain continuously enrolled.

The time it takes to complete the program and earn your degree affects your finances. If you cut back on work hours to make time for your studies, you’ll be making less money for a while, but once you finish your MSN program in California, you’ll likely get a salary jump. Even so, you’ll want to understand the financial burden you’re taking on with your MSN. To give you an idea of the tuition range, we’ve selected a few schools and programs to spotlight:

What Requirements Do I Need to Apply for Admission to MSN Programs in California?

Admissions requirements for MSN nursing programs in California vary for each program. However, most programs ask you to submit an official transcript, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.

Most programs also require applicants to show they earned at least a 3.0 GPA in their BSN program. You’ll need proof that you earned a BSN degree and hold an active RN license. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a profession outside of nursing, you can apply to certain bridge programs to help you get on track in your nursing career.

Most programs require you to have completed certain prerequisite courses, such as statistics or community health nursing.

Where Can I Find Financial Aid to Help Pay for My MSN Program in California?

Many online MSN programs in California offer financial aid to students. To get the details, contact an adviser or the school’s financial aid department.

Your first step is to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which could lead to federal grants depending on your financial situation. Additionally, you also could apply for national nursing scholarships or scholarships that are specific to students in California. The California Board of Registered Nursing lists several financial aid resources on its website. Among the many scholarships is the Deloras Jones Nursing Scholarship, which offers financial help to students enrolled in any nursing program in southern California. The scholarship—totaling $1,000 to $3,000—is based primarily on financial need and grade point average.

The California Department of Health Care Access and Information also offers scholarships and grants, some of which pay out quite a bit in exchange for your service at a qualified healthcare facility upon graduating.

For more information on other nursing scholarships, visit our nursing scholarship guide and our main financial aid guide.

Inside Look at MSN Online Programs in California

Most online MSN programs in California are designed for working nursing students, giving you the freedom to manage your schedule. Some programs offer courses strictly online, while others require you to attend a few in-person classes or school events once every academic year.

Many online MSN programs in California allow you to complete any necessary clinical hours or practice courses within your community. However, because you won’t have that in-person, face-to-face contact with teachers, some programs tout one-on-one virtual interactions and remote networking.

Hybrid programs incorporate both online and in-person teachings. Several online programs even offer students access to classes at various centers throughout the county or state.

For more information on what you can expect from online MSN programs, visit EduMed’s main page.

Standout Online MSN Programs in California

California State University Chico

The master of science program at California State University Chico’s School of Nursing gives you a choice between two areas of concentration: nurse educator or nursing leadership.

The program offers both part-time and full-time courses. It combines online courses with two clinical experiences that you can complete in your local area. The program culminates with the completion of a graduate-level paper.

To apply to this MSN program in California, you’ll need the following:

  • A BSN degree from a nationally accredited program
  • A California RN license
  • A 3.0 GPA for the last 60 units of undergraduate work
  • Proof that you completed a statistics course of three units within the past five years.

Students are admitted every fall.

California Southern University

The Master of Science in Nursing program at California Southern University offers strictly online courses for working nursing students. Select a concentration as a nurse executive leader, nurse educator, or healthcare administrator. The program is topped off with a capstone project. The MSN program also meets the requirements set forth by the California Board of Registered Nursing to allow students to apply for their Public Health Nurse (PHN) certification. The program requires you to take 36 credits, which could take two to three years to complete, depending on whether you’re a part-time or full-time student.

The school doesn’t participate in federal financial aid programs, but it does offer students a variety of zero-interest payment plans. It also offers locked-in tuition for as long as you remain enrolled in the program. Tuition is capped at $20,198 for the entirety of the program—$545 per credit hour plus student fees. Additionally, the school offers reduced tuition for first responders, employees of Corporate Education Alliance members, and veterans and their dependents.

Do Employers in California Accept Graduates from Online MSN Programs?

Most employers require new nursing hires to hold a degree, be board certified, and have an active and unrestricted state license to practice. Additionally, most employers look for nurses with experience, depending on the position. For instance, most job listings for nurse practitioners require at least one to two years of primary care or urgent care experience in an outpatient setting. Employers value online and on-campus programs equally.

If you’re interested in a supervising role, you’ll need an MSN degree and prior experience in acute care as a charge nurse or administrative supervisor. Some employers also may ask you for current basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support certifications.

The biggest thing to look out for when applying to an online program is accreditation. It’s important to make sure the program is either ACEN- or CCNE-accredited. If you choose a non-accredited program, you could struggle to find a job.

MSN Career Outlook for California

It’s never a bad idea to invest in yourself. Working toward an MSN degree online might be a financial burden, but it’s something you’ll eventually make back. Bottom line? The more educated you are as a nurse, the more money you can make—especially if you live in California. Not only are you more likely to find a job, but you’ll also be better paid.

Are MSN Nurses in High Demand in California?

California has been dealing with an ongoing nursing shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2021 report from UCSF Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care. The study found that many older RNs in the state have left the field in large numbers or are planning on retiring within the next couple of years.

California nurses make up nearly 12% of all registered nurses employed nationwide, according to the University of California San Francisco. Although employers have been reluctant to hire inexperienced RNs, the job market is ripe for those with more experience and education.

Projections indicate that employment among nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives (all requiring an MSN degree) is expected to grow. Employment for nurse practitioners, for instance, is expected to expand by 55.5% through 2030, according to Projections Managing Partnership—sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Additionally, jobs for nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives are expected to grow by 20% and 16.7%, respectively.

How Much More Does an MSN Nurse Make in California?

Not only are MSN nurses in high demand in California, but they’re also well paid. Those who hold an MSN degree earn an average annual salary of more than $181,000 a year. That’s almost $10,000 above the national average and almost double the pay of those who only hold a BSN degree, who bring in an average of just over $98,000 per year.