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Best RN to MSN Programs in California for 2024

Earning your MSN is one of the best ways to advance your nursing career in California. This guide covers the best RN to MSN programs in the Golden State.

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Amid pandemics, workplace unsafety, and increasing turnover rates, you may wonder how to maintain and advance your career as a California nurse. The good news is that the majority of open nursing positions are leadership roles, and the state has plans to fill those positions by 2026.

As a nurse in California, you can take advantage of this opportunity by enrolling in an RN to MSN program, either online or on campus. An MSN will prepare you for leadership roles. And California hosts a variety of fantastic RN to MSN programs.

In this guide, we’ll not cover some of the best online and hybrid RN to MSN programs in California and walk you through everything you need to know about earning your MSN and approaching the job market.

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 University of San FranciscoSan Francisco, CA Private not-for-profit $$$$ 2

The University of San Francisco hosts an online RN to MSN degree with multiple entry options. Licensed nurses with associate and bachelor's degrees will find entry pathways for them, as will nurses with a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing. Students take courses in health informatics, health policy, and leadership in healthcare. All didactic courses can be completed online in an asynchronous format for maximum flexibility. This makes the program ideal for those who work full-time while getting their MSN.

Program Highlights:

Master of Science in Nursing, RN to MSN

  • Credits: 33-38
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $28,800 total
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: CCNE
Faculty Ratio
Student %

School Spotlights: Popular RN to MSN Programs in California

If you’ve decided to pursue an MSN, you might wonder what program is right for you. While there isn’t a single program that works best for everyone, California has some RN to MSN programs that stand a cut above the rest. We researched California’s RN to MSN programs to determine some of the most popular and high-quality ones that can help you learn what to look for during your own school search.

California Baptist University

The ADN to MSN program at California Baptist University prepares nurses for leadership roles. In this program, nurses conduct research on best practices, and other theory-based nursing protocols.

The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and offers seven concentrations, including family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

While every student must enroll in the same core courses to graduate, each student has the option to choose a specialty concentration. These courses prepare students for certification in their specializations.

The program is part-time and meets one night weekly on campus to accommodate full-time working nurses. It currently is run on a semester-based system, and most students should expect the program to take between eight and 10 semesters.

West Coast University

West Coast University offers one of California’s most affordable online RN to MSN programs. Despite the inexpensive rates, West Coast students earn a quality education. Students can choose between a wide variety of specializations, including tracks to become an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, a family nurse practitioner, a nurse educator, and a psychiatric nurse.

California’s West Coast University’s online RN to MSN program also offers specializations in nurse informatics and nursing leadership. These courses are 100% online, and there’s an option to complete practicums either online or in person.

The entire program is accelerated — West Coast students can graduate faster than those in traditional RN to MSN programs. Many courses are offered asynchronously or at flexible times, so the coursework fits into a full-time nurse’s schedule.

West Coast also offers mobile-friendly classes and assignments so students can complete their coursework on their phones between shifts. The California State Board awards West Coast State University graduates advanced licenses as nurse practitioners.

FAQs About California RN to MSN Programs

What Can You Do with an MSN in California?

Completing an RN to MSN program in California, whether online or in person, leads to many different career opportunities. With an MSN degree, you will be prepared to take on a role as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist, as well as other advanced careers in fields such as nursing administration, nurse educators and nursing clinical specialization, forensic nursing, and nursing informatics.

Note that some programs specialize in certain career tracks, and not all the jobs listed above are accessible to graduates from every program. Many programs, like West Coast University, offer multiple specializations in fields such as psychiatric nursing and adult gerontology.

Other programs, like UCLA’s graduate nursing program, offer a dual MBA/MSN degree for those who want to work in healthcare management. An MSN also can lead to getting your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), the most advanced degree in the nursing field.

Will I Earn My Bachelor’s Degree During My RN to MSN Program?

Depends on the program. Some programs are BSN-degree-included, such as the University of San Francisco’s program. In these programs, you earn your BSN and your MSN. Other programs do not have a BSN requirement and don’t award BSNs.

The third type of MSN program is one where the BSN is required before you start the program, such as the BSN to MSN program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Check the admissions requirements with each program you are applying to learn if you need your BSN before starting. You should also learn whether the program has the option to earn your BSN.

How Will an RN to MSN Program in California Prepare Me for More Opportunities?

If you’ve already built great skills and experiences as an RN, an MSN allows you to take your skillset to the next level. Many programs include skills you wouldn’t have encountered in your RN programs, such as nurse supervision, healthcare management, and health ethics.

The MSN program at California Southern University, for example, has a concentration in healthcare leadership. Many MSN programs also allow you to take specialized courses in specific nursing fields, like forensic nursing or gerontology.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an RN to MSN Program in California?

The length of an RN to MSN program can vary greatly, with program durations ranging from one year to three and a half. Some programs, such as Point Loma Nazarene University, offer an accelerated course that can be done in 15 months if you have your RN or 12 months if you have your BSN.

Other programs, such as the one at California Baptist University, are a bit longer and can take 3.5 years to complete. On average, an RN to MSN in California should take about two years to complete, but make sure to check the program duration with each program you apply to.

How Affordable Are RN to MSN Programs in California?

The cost of getting your MSN varies depending on the type of program (online, hybrid, or in-person), the duration of the program, and the financial aid package you’re awarded. In general, online and hybrid programs cost less than in-person programs.

Having your BSN and your RN could bring the time needed to complete your program down and, thus the cost down as well. To give you a clear view of tuition costs, we broke down the cost of three popular programs in California:

Is There Financial Aid Available to California RN to MSN Students?

As an RN to MSN candidate in a California-based program, plenty of financial aid resources are available to you. Along with federal aid (which you can learn more about in our financial aid guide), California also offers loans and grants for students who enroll in RN to BSN programs with state residency.

While the California government has some resources on its statewide website, the California Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) is responsible for allocating state-funded grants, scholarships, and loan repayment programs. HCAI provides these financial aid packages for those who agree to work in critically understaffed hospitals upon graduating.

Along with state-funded aid, you may also be eligible for private nursing scholarships. To start your scholarship search, check out our nursing scholarship guide.

What Are the Admission Requirements for RN to MSN Programs in California?

One of the main requirements for every RN to MSN program is to be a registered nurse in California. Beyond that, there are a couple of additional requirements many programs have:

  • A certain number of hours worked in the field
  • Filling out application questions and essays
  • A minimum GPA in all previous courses
  • Paying an application fee

Some programs also require that you already have your BSN, such as Point Loma Nazarene University. In contrast, at other programs, you have the option to get your BSN in the program, such as the University of San Francisco.

In California, What Should I Look For in a Quality RN to MSN Program in California?

While everyone might have slightly different ideas of what makes a high-quality program, there are four main signs of a good program.

The first is if the program is approved by the California Board of Nursing. You also want to make sure it’s approved by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Next, check to see if a program has had a high NCLEX-RN pass rate in recent years. Finally, you also want to look at career placement stats to learn what resources the program has to help you throughout the job application process.

Inside Look at Online RN to MSN Degree Programs in California

If you will be working full-time in California while enrolled in your RN to MSN program, an online program might be for you. In fact, many online and hybrid programs are designed for full-time nurses and include features to make the program fit your schedule.

These features include flexible class times, courses that are available at times to fit your shifts, and asynchronous assignments outside of class.

Online programs also help you save money on transportation and can sometimes reduce the financial stress of earning your MSN since online programs are often more affordable than in-person programs.

For a better idea of student life for an online RN to MSN, check out our online RN to MSN guide.

Can I Earn my MSN in California Completely Online?

There are many online RN to MSN programs in the state of California, though it is trickier to find programs completely online. That’s because many programs require clinical hours that must be completed in person.

Some online RN to MSN programs, as at the University of Southern California, require two on-campus intensives and in-person clinical hours at an approved site near you. Other programs are delivered completely online, such as West Coast University, though this is the exception rather than the standard.

Do Employers in California Accept Graduates from Online RN to MSN Programs?

As of now, online and in-person RN to MSN programs are viewed as equal, and employers accept graduates from online and in-person programs.

Whether the program is online or not, make sure the program has the right accreditation and offers clinical training. If you earn a degree from a non-accredited RN to MSN program in California, employers may see no value in your MSN.

What is the Path to Becoming an RN with an MSN Degree in California?

The California Nursing Board requires you to renew your nursing license regularly, including after you complete your RN to MSN program. When you earn your MSN, you can choose between a couple of advanced licenses, including:

  • Nurse Anesthetist (NA)
  • Nurse-Midwife/Furnishing (NMW/NMF)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse Practitioner/Furnishing (NP/NPF)
  • Public Health Nurse (PHN)

The only requirements for advanced license renewal are to graduate from a program that is recognized by the board for the specific specialization you are applying to.

For example, Mount Saint Mary’s is an approved program for advanced licensure as a clinical nurse specialist, but not for the other advanced degrees.

The state board also has a list of all California RN to BSN/MSN programs that can help guide your search for the perfect RN to MSN program.

Now that we’ve covered the best RN to MSN programs in California and shown what it’s like to learn as a student in these programs, it’s time to discuss finances. In the following sections, we’ll show you how much you can expect to make after graduating. Here’s the job outlook for MSNs in California.

How Much More Can I Make Going from an RN to MSN in California?

Nurses with an MSN in California can expect a huge salary boost compared to RNs. As of October 2022, RNs make $71,573 annually, while those with MSN degrees have a yearly salary of $121,524.

Both of these salaries are on par with the national averages for RNs and nurses with an MSN. You can also make more money in metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco, where an MSN makes $135,409 a year on average.

What’s the Job Market Like for MSN Nurses in California?

California has a terrific job market for registered nurses with an MSN. By 2030, there will be a 20% job growth rate for nurse anesthetists, a 16.7% job growth rate for nurse midwives, and a 55% job growth rate for nurse practitioners, one of the fastest-growing professions in the state.