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Best 12 MSN Programs in California in 2021

April 22, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Are you interested in taking on more advanced roles in the world of nursing, like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or a nurse anesthetist? California could be a great place to move forward in your nursing career – or transition into nursing as a new career altogether. According to the BLS, California is the top paying state in the nation for nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, and one of the top five paying states for nurse anesthetists. We’ve put together a list of the top 12 MSN programs in California for you to explore if you’re ready to take the next step.

Earning your MSN is a great way to enhance your knowledge and skills in the field of nursing, and you’ll need this credential to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

Top 5 MSN Programs

Rank School Location
1 University of California Davis Betty Irene Moore School of NursingSacramento, California
2 University of California IrvineIrvine, California
3University of California Los AngelesLos Angeles, California
4Azusa Pacific UniversityAzusa, California
5San Francisco State UniversitySan Francisco, California

And now is an ideal time: the healthcare field is in need of more skilled nursing professionals – in fact, the job outlook for these roles is growing 45 percent by 2029, which is much faster than the average of all other occupations.

What is an MSN?

An MSN is a Master of Science in Nursing. This degree is required for nurses who want more challenging roles in their field as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). These types of nurses work both independently as well as in collaboration with doctors and can perform all the responsibilities of an RN in addition to more advanced tasks, including diagnosing and treating ailments, referring patients to specialists, and ordering and evaluating test results.

According to the American Nurses Association, APRNs can choose to become one of four different types of nurses:

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists – provide anesthesia and pain management care
  • Certified nurse-midwives – provide primary, reproductive, and gynecological care
  • Nurse practitioners – provide primary, specialty, and acute care across the lifespan of illness and injuries, including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment
  • Clinical nurse specialists – provide diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management of patients while supporting and providing expertise to other nurses caring for patients; ensuring use of best practices and evidence-based care in an organization

Ready to start exploring which MSN programs might be right for you? Scroll down to see our top 12 MSN Programs in California below.

How much does a MSN make in California?

If you earn your MSN, you can pursue a career as an APRN, or advanced practice registered nurse. According to the BLS, these are the following annual mean wages for certain APRN occupations in California:

For comparison, according to the BLS, the nationwide 2019 median annual pay for APRNs was $115,800.

Can I get my MSN without a BSN?

You can earn your MSN without a BSN – or without having any prior nursing credentials at all (as long as you already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field). There are two different paths to earning your MSN:

  1. If you are already a registered nurse with a BSN, you can enroll in an MSN program.
  2. If you are a non-nursing degree student, you can enroll in what’s known as a direct-entry MSN program.

Both types of degree programs provide routes to becoming an APRN – it just depends on whether you are already a practicing nurse or are just starting your nursing career without any credentials.  

MSN Programs near me in CA

We’ve gathered a list of local and in-state colleges and universities throughout the state of California where you can start on the road to becoming an APRN. If you live in California, there may be several reasons you want to stay in-state. In addition to saving on the costs of transportation, attending school in-state could significantly reduce your tuition, since most schools offer reduced rates for state residents.

Regardless of where you decide to earn your MSN, it’s important that you choose an approved nursing program from your state’s Board of Nursing. The schools we’ve included in our list below are the twelve MSN nursing programs approved by California’s Board of Registered Nursing.

There are lots of great options to earn your master’s degree in nursing in the state of California. Take a look at our list of the top 12 MSN Programs in California below.

Best 12 MSN Programs in California  

1

University of California Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing

  • Sacramento, California
  • Points: 23

University of California Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing offers a Master’s Entry Program in Nursing at its location in Sacramento, California. This accelerated program offers the quickest path to nursing licensure for adults who already hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. In addition to earning their Master of Science in Nursing degree, students become eligible to take the NCLEX (national licensing examination) and for certification as a Public Health Nurse. The goal of this program is to create new nurses who are leaders in quality and safety while being advocates for diverse populations and positive change.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $317
Enrollment: 7,449
Visit School Website
2

University of California Irvine

  • Irvine, California
  • Points: 21

University of California Irvine offers a Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) at its location in Irvine, California. This graduate-level accelerated program is designed for non-nursing students who want to directly enter a master’s degree program without any prior nursing credentials. Each class is organized into small cohorts mixing undergraduate prelicensure students with master’s level prelicensure students to create a diverse learning community. The MEPN also features a concentration in Community and Population Health Nursing (CPHN) so students can be advocates for change and expansion of quality healthcare to underserved populations.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $317
Enrollment: 6,296
Visit School Website
3

University of California Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Points: 20

University of California Los Angeles offers a Master’s Entry Clinical Nurse Program at its location in Los Angeles, California. This program takes two years to complete and is intended for students with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline. Graduates receive the Master of Science in Nursing and are qualified to take the NCLEX so they can become licensed as registered nurses and practice nursing in a hospital setting performing bedside duties. Graduates are also eligible to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam as well as a Public Health Nursing Certificate.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $728
Enrollment: 12,960
Visit School Website
4

Azusa Pacific University

  • Azusa, California

Azusa Pacific University offers a Master’s in Nursing program at its location in Azusa, California. This program prepares students to practice in a specialized clinical area of nursing, in roles such as clinical nurse specialist, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners, or school nurses. Students are also prepared for doctoral study in nursing or to apply for state advanced practice certification or credentials in their specialty.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $730
Enrollment: 4,438
Visit School Website
5

San Francisco State University

  • San Francisco, California
  • Points: 16

San Francisco State University offers an Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing at its location in San Francisco, California. This six semester-program prepares non-nursing students to take the NCLEX along with earning their BSN and MSN degrees. Students also end the program with either an applied research course or a master’s thesis. Several specialty areas are available, including Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Nursing Administration, and Public/Community Health.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $352
Enrollment: 3,247
Visit School Website
6

University of San Francisco

  • San Francisco, California
  • Points: 12

University of San Francisco offers a Master’s Entry – Master of Science in Nursing at its location in San Francisco, California. This program takes two years to complete and combines three days of weekly classroom instruction with two days of weekly clinical practice. Intended for non-nursing students, graduates leave prepared to take on nurse-leader positions where they can be advocates for patients, communities, and health professional teams while improving patient care and clinical outcomes. Students complete more than 1,000 clinical and internship hours in hospital and healthcare settings.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $1,480
Enrollment: 4,009
Visit School Website
7

Charles R. Drew University

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Points: 10

Charles R. Drew University offers a Master of Science in Nursing at its location in Los Angeles, California. Designed for non-nurses who already hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in another field, this program prepares students to take the NCLEX-RN as well as apply for the Public Health Nurse (PHN) Certificate issued by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN).  The program is approved by the California Board of Nursing and is accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $578
Enrollment: 427
Visit School Website
8

Western University of Health Sciences

  • Pomona, California
  • Points: 9

Western University of Health Sciences offers a Master of Science in Nursing at its location in Pomona, California. This program enables non-nursing students to earn their MSN and RN licenses in two years. Courses are scheduled over six semesters and prepare students to take the NCLEX. The curriculum prepares graduates to become leaders in patient care and safety initiatives while applying evidence-based practice with interprofessional teams.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $2,412
Enrollment: 3,833
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9

California Baptist University

  • Riverside, California
  • Points: 9

California Baptist University offers a Master of Science in Nursing at its location in Riverside, California. This program, taught from a holistic, faith-based perspective, prepares non-nursing students to take the NCLEX to become registered nurses. Once licensed, students take post-licensure coursework to earn their MSN. Practicum opportunities allow students to serve families and members of the community in a variety of local healthcare settings under the supervision of expert faculty.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $791
Enrollment: 2,631
Visit School Website
10

University of San Diego

  • San Diego, California
  • Points: 8

University of San Diego offers a Master of Science in Nursing at its location in San Diego, California. This program encourages nurses to turn their passion for the profession into leadership and expertise in their field. Students can choose to specialize in one of three tracks: Nursing Informatics, Executive Nurse Leader, and Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist. Students must have an active California RN licensure at the time of application.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $1,580
Enrollment: 3,218
Visit School Website
11

Samuel Merritt University

  • Oakland, California
  • Points: 7

Samuel Merritt University offers a Master of Science in Nursing at its locations in Oakland, California, and Sacramento, California. This program prepares non-nursing students to earn their MSN and pursue a career in nurse case management, a role that is practiced in a variety of healthcare settings. Students gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be advocates and make decisions in an increasingly complex and evolving healthcare system. The program takes two years plus one extra semester to complete.  The Oakland campus offers a fall start date while the Sacramento campus program starts in the spring.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $1,465
Enrollment: 1,211
Visit School Website
12

University of California San Francisco

  • San Francisco, California
  • Points: 5

University of California San Francisco offers a Master’s Entry Program in Nursing at its location in San Francisco, California. Designed for non-nursing students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, this three-year accelerated program prepares graduates for advanced nursing roles in one of ten specialty areas, which students must declare at the time of entry: Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist; Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist-Oncology; Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner; Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing; Advanced Public Health Nursing; Certified Nurse-Midwife; Family Nurse Practitioner; Health Policy; Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care.

School Overview

Tuition per credit: $2,586
Enrollment: 3,114
Visit School Website

If you’re ready to explore more MSN programs, then navigate to our Degree Finder tool, and we’ll help you find the program that’s the right fit for you.   

Our Ranking Methodology

To come up with our rankings, we used a formula based on California in-state tuition rates and enrollment rates for each nursing school. First, we sorted by program costs and then by enrollment rates. Points were assigned to each school and added together to generate a final ranking score.

Need to Contact us about our Ranking?

If you’ve noticed any information that could be incorrect, please contact us so we can make work together to make corrections.

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