The Best MSN Programs in California

Discover the top nursing schools in California and how to choose the right program. Learn about the average salary and job outlook for California nurses.
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Rebecca Munday joins our team after serving as editor-in-chief for The George-Anne Inkwell at Georgia Southern University. She's never met a type of writing she didn't enjoy, and is especially passionate about making healthcare understandable for all...
Updated on November 30, 2023
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Victoria Hudgeons is a professional education writer and editor. She's committed to making higher education and career exploration easier to navigate. Her work has been featured on BestColleges, the University of Houston-Victoria Newswire, and more p...
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Nurse practitioners (NPs) in California earn the highest average salary of any state. Learn more about the top nursing schools and MSN programs in California and the factors to consider when choosing the right one.

How to Choose an MSN Program in California

Make sure your program is accredited and approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), so California will issue you an NP license. An approved NP program in California includes the required pharmacology course you need to become eligible to prescribe medication under physician supervision.

Once you know the program is accredited, choose a program that fits with your lifestyle and needs. If you need part time, hybrid, or fully online, check with the program directly to see if it offers those formats. If you need financial aid, learn about your financial aid options, find out how to apply, and ask how many students in the program get financial aid.

If you choose a part-time option, understand how that will affect your degree completion timeline. If you choose a fully-online program, find out how you’ll complete your clinicals before you enroll and whether the school offers placement assistance.

Featured Online MSN Programs

Career Outlook for Nurses in California

NPs are in high demand, with 55% projected job growth in California between 2020-2030, according to Projections Central. NPs in California earn the highest median salaries in the country, but they also have to pay for the fourth-highest cost of living.

NP Employment and Salaries

California

Employment: 19,130

Median Annual Wage: $157,160

United States

Employment: 258,230

Median Annual Wage: $121,610


Source: BLS

Salaries for Nurses in California

NP salaries in the highest-paying metro areas of California are about $3,500-$41,000 more annually than the state average salary of $151,130, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, all five of these areas combined employ about a fifth of California’s NPs, so you may find more career opportunities in other parts of the state.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for NPs in California
Metropolitan Areas Employment Annual Average Wage
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 1,170 $199,630
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 2,680 $190,070
Napa, CA 70 $189,190
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 110 $180,990
Yuba City, CA 50 $161,690
Source: BLS

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner in California

If you want to become an NP in California, getting your MSN in California vs. another state offers a process to licensure that requires less documentation and paperwork. Additionally, getting an MSN in California qualifies NPs to prescribe medication without taking any more coursework.

All NPs who want to become licensed in California must:

  • Earn an MSN or doctorate of nursing practice
  • Complete an application for California nurse practitioner certification
  • Complete a form to verify you completed a nurse practitioner program
  • Pay an application fee
  • Send your official, unopened MSN transcripts to the California BRN
  • Verify, reactivate, or apply for your California RN license

Nurse practitioners in California with an MSN in another state must complete additional steps than NPs educated and licensed in California.

The Best Nursing Schools in California

Find out more about the best nursing schools and NP programs in California and choose the one that’s right for you.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that's best for you.

We use datasets from sources like the National Center for Education Statistics to inform the data for these schools. BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site. from our partners appear among these rankings and are indicated as such. All data is current as of the date this article was published. Program-specific information may vary.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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#1 The Best MSN Programs in California

San Diego State University

  • San Diego, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

San Diego State University offers two master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees for candidates who wish to pursue advanced nursing careers. Students can pursue studies in advanced practice adult-gerontology or leadership in healthcare systems. Both program options offer flexible, two- and three-year completion plans. Applicants need an active California RN license, at least one year of experience, official transcripts from an accredited BSN program, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $2,082 per semester (part-time), $3,588 per semester (full-time)
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36-50 depending on the specialty
  • School Status: Public 
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 90.67%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
89%
Acceptance Rate
37%
Students Enrolled
36,334
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#2 The Best MSN Programs in California

Azusa Pacific University

  • Azusa, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Azusa Pacific University's nationally accredited MSN program helps nurses become FNPs, AGNPs, PNPs, and PMHNPs. The program combines theory, research, professional development, and clinical experience to prepare graduates for practice and to progress to doctoral studies. Other MSN specialties include healthcare administration and leadership, nursing education, clinical nurse specialist, and school nurse. Healthcare administration, nursing education, and doctoral programs have online options. Applicants must submit transcripts, a current RN license, a written statement, a resume, and two recommendations.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $860 per credit
  • Program Length: 5 semesters (full-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 45-47
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 80.16%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$40,830
Out-of-state
$40,830
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$16,571
Out-of-state
$16,571
Retention Rate
76%
Acceptance Rate
94%
Students Enrolled
9,006
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#3 The Best MSN Programs in California

California State University-Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

California State University - Los Angeles offers MSN degrees in administration and education, clinical nurse practitioner specialties in primary and acute adult-gerontology care, FNP, and PMHNP. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and the equivalent of a BSN from an accredited program. They must submit an admission application to the university and a separate application to the school of nursing, including three references and a personal essay. Applicants to the NP programs must have had a basic physical assessment course in the past five years and a current RN license.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $3,588 per semester
  • Program Length: 4-5 semesters (full-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30-45
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 94.74%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
83%
Acceptance Rate
76%
Students Enrolled
26,745
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#4 The Best MSN Programs in California

California State University-Bakersfield

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California State University - Bakersfield offers an FNP program. Strong preference is given to applicants who have at least three years of full-time acute care nursing experience, reside in the service area, and experience caring for underserved or rural populations. All applicants must have graduated from an accredited BSN program with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants must have a current unrestricted RN license in California and have no disciplinary action pending. The admission requirements also include at least two years of full-time employment as an RN and a current BLS certification.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $3,588 per semester
  • Program Length: 2 years (full-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 45
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.36%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
83%
Acceptance Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
11,745
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#5 The Best MSN Programs in California

California State University-Stanislaus

  • Turlock, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California State University - Stanislaus offers an FNP program for applicants who have graduated from an accredited BSN program. Applicants with an ADN and a bachelor's degree in another program must first complete a bridge program. All applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, a current unrestricted RN license, and successful completion of an undergraduate course in statistics. The application must include a resume and two professional references. Once admitted, the student must maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher. Any course with a B- or lower will not be used to satisfy the degree requirements.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $7,176 per year
  • Program Length: 4 semesters (full-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.19%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
87%
Acceptance Rate
89%
Students Enrolled
11,163
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#6 The Best MSN Programs in California

California State University-Sacramento

  • Sacramento, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California State University - Sacramento prepares nurses for roles as nurse educators, administrators, and adult clinical care providers. The curriculum is designed for working nurses who are seeking advanced education in a self-directed study program. The school also offers a master's degree in partnership with the Sacramento State School of Nursing for a school nurse credential. Applicants must have an active and unrestricted California RN license and graduated from an accredited BSN program. They also need a minimum 3.0 GPA, a purpose statement, and two letters of recommendation.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $3,588 per semester 
  • Program Length: 4 semesters (full-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 33
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.55%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
84%
Acceptance Rate
83%
Students Enrolled
32,293
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
98% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#7 The Best MSN Programs in California

Loma Linda University

  • Loma Linda, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Loma Linda University's MSN program helps prepare nursing leaders through a Christian worldview for clinical practice, administration, and teaching. The program offers concentrations in adult-gerontology, obstetrics, FNP, PNP, nursing administration, nurse educator, and population health. Applicants must have a BSN from an accredited program with a 3.0 GPA, California RN license, three recommendations, and an interview by a faculty member. In addition to these requirements, a student must pass a health clearance and background check.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $915 per credit
  • Program Length: 3 years and 9 months (full-time) and 5 years (part-time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 59
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 79.45%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$32,400
Out-of-state
$32,400
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$27,040
Out-of-state
$27,040
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
4,468
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#8 The Best MSN Programs in California

Samuel Merritt University

  • Oakland, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Samuel Merritt University offers an entry-level MSN program in FNP or case management for applicants with a bachelor's or master's in another field. Additionally, they offer MSN programs in case management, clinical leadership, FNP, and nurse anesthetist for applicants with a BSN degree and unrestricted RN license. The FNP program is online. Applicants must complete a college level statistics course, have two letters of reference, and demonstrate an interest in working with underserved populations. Students who have conversational skills in a second language are desired. 

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $1,560 per credit
  • Program Length: 5 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 49
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 85.45%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$49,125
Out-of-state
$49,125
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$52,896
Out-of-state
$52,896
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,050
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#9 The Best MSN Programs in California

University of California-San Francisco

  • San Francisco, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

University of California - San Francisco's MSN program prepares nurses to become nurse practitioners, clinical specialists, nurse-midwives, public health experts, administrators, and educators. The nurse practitioner specialties include adult-gerontology, FNP, neonatal, PNP, and PMHNP. The university requires neonatal, pediatric acute care, and adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner candidates to have past RN experience. Other programs allow applicants without experience, including pediatric and adult-gerontology primary care, and FNP and PMHNP programs.  

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $11,700 per year
  • Program Length: 2  years, 6 trimesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 72
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 87.01%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission 
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,442
Out-of-state
$26,544
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
3,201
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
69% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#10 The Best MSN Programs in California

Western University of Health Sciences

  • Pomona, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Western University of Health Sciences has an MSN-entry program for graduates from non-nursing fields and master's programs for FNP, PMHNP, and emergency nurse practitioners. The online FNP program was the first of its kind in 1997. The school offers a rigorous but flexible program for working students and boasts a high first-time pass rate on the FNP certification examination. Applicants must have a BSN from an accredited program, a current, unrestricted RN license, a personal statement, a resume, and two complete reference forms. Tuition costs are the same for in-state and out-of-state students.

Program Snapshot

  • Cost: $26,000 per year
  • Program Length: 2 years, 6 trimesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 89.71%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • School Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC)
Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$23,556
Out-of-state
$23,556
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
3,813
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
0% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Everything Else You Need to Know About California MSN Programs

How long does it take to earn an MSN in California?

You will spend 1-2 years in school to earn your master's degree in nursing in California, depending on your program's credits requirements and whether you enroll full or part time.

How much can you earn with an MSN in California?

How much you earn with an MSN in California varies depending on what type of advanced practice registered nurse you became and your specialty. However, nurse practitioners in California, who need at least an MSN, make about $157,000 per year.

Can you skip BSN and go straight to MSN?

Yes, some schools offer RN-to-MSN bridge programs that allow you to enroll with an associate degree in nursing. However, you’ll need to take more credits and spend about a year longer in school to make up for the credits you did not earn from a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Can nurse practitioners practice independently in California?

No, California is a restricted practice state for nurse practitioners, which means NPs cannot practice independently in any area of practice. They must follow the standardized procedures that they agreed upon with their supervising physician.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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