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Best 15 Registered Nursing Programs in California in 2021

April 12, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you want to make a real impact on your community, like helping and healing patients in need, then you might be considering a career as a registered nurse. California is one of the best places in the country to pursue a nursing career: it’s the top-paying state for registered nursing in the country and also boasts the highest employment rate for the occupation. We’ve gathered a list of the top 15 registered nursing programs in California if you’re ready to start exploring this rewarding healthcare role.

Nursing is an in-demand field, and the job outlook for registered nurses is faster than the average for all occupations (2019-2029). But becoming a nurse is more than just a calling — you’ll need the right training and credentials to launch your career, which means attending a registered nursing program.

How do I become a registered nurse (RN)?

There are several pathways you can choose to become a registered nurse or advance your credentials as one:

  1. Earn your associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or associate of science in nursing (ASN)
  2. Earn your bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN)
  3. Earn your RN-BSN, an option for nurses who already have an AND, ASN, or diploma who want to transition into a bachelor’s degree program
  4. Earn a nursing diploma (usually offered by medical centers or hospitals)

(For the purposes of this list, we’ll be focusing on associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and RN-BSN programs only).

Choosing the option that’s right for you depends on your career goals and schedule. Licensed graduates of all of these programs typically qualify for entry-level roles as a staff nurse. However, some hospitals may require a bachelor’s degree, which is a great option for nurses who want to work in a more challenging, fast-paced setting. Also, it’s important to note that you don’t need your nursing license or associate’s degree in nursing to enroll in a BSN or RN-BSN program.

Thinking about which option is the best path for you? Take a look at our top 15 registered nursing programs in California below.

How long is the RN program in California?

The length of most nursing programs is pretty standard across the country, but will always vary by the institution (for example, some schools offer accelerated programs). You can expect a typical registered nursing program to take anywhere from two to four years to complete. A BSN takes about four years to complete, while you can usually earn an ADN, ASN, or diploma in two to three years.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse in California?

You may be able to find a school that offers an accelerated course of study, which often includes extra night or weekend classes so you can graduate ahead of schedule. However, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing, one way to fast-track your nursing degree is to see if you can get college credit for certain classes you took in high school. You may be able to get a head-start on your nursing program’s prerequisites at college, like Math, Science, and English.

How much do you earn as RN?

California may be one of the best states to work as a registered nurse, with the highest annual mean wage ($113,240) anywhere in the country. To compare, the mean annual wage for the nation is $77,460.

Registered nursing programs in California

Regardless of whether you decide to earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, make sure that the nursing program you choose is approved by your state’s Board of Nursing. The schools we’ve included in our list below are all approved by California’s Board of Registered Nursing.

Fortunately, California offers lots of great options if you’re looking to earn your credentials as a registered nurse. Take a look at our list of the top 20 registered nursing programs in California listed below.

Best 15 Registered Nursing Programs in California  

1. De Anza College – Registered Nursing (Associate of Science) (27 points)

De Anza College offers a Registered Nursing (Associate of Science) at its location in Cupertino, California. This program is taught with cutting-edge technology and instruction in a variety of settings, including classrooms, clinical locations, and laboratories. Students who complete the program earn their associate of science in nursing (ASN) and are often recruited to work in healthcare facilities across Silicon Valley and Northern California. All applicants must take the HESI Admission Assessment Exam before admission and enrollment.

  • Tuition per credit: $31
  • Enrollment: 9,210

2. American River College – Registered Nursing (RN) Program (25 points)

American River College offers a Registered Nursing (RN) Program at its location in Sacramento, California. In addition to preparing students to be licensed registered nurses, this program readies graduates to work in a variety of healthcare settings with patients of all demographics. This two-year program is offered in four semesters, offering a curriculum that combines general education and nursing courses with laboratory experience in local healthcare settings. Clinical experience is also required during certain morning, afternoon, evening, and weekend periods. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well as intentional learning so students can make sound decisions in the complex, evolving world of healthcare. 

  • Tuition per credit: $46
  • Enrollment: 6,173

3. Cypress College – Registered Nursing Program (23 points)

Cypress College offers a Registered Nursing Program at its location in Cypress, California. This two-year program awards graduates an associate of science in nursing while preparing them to care for patients in hospitals, schools homes, clinics, and other healthcare settings. The program’s curriculum combines theory and clinical experience in the areas of medical-surgical, maternal-child, mental health, geriatric, and child-family nursing. Courses cover pharmacology, sociology, psychology, human communication, and more. Two program tracks include the Licensed Psychiatric Technicians and Career Mobility Program for Licensed Vocational Nurses. The program is accredited by Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

  • Tuition per credit: $46
  • Enrollment: $5,096

4. California State University-Northridge – Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) (22 points)

California State University-Northridge offers a Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at its location in Northridge, California. This program prepares nurses to work both independently and collaborate with other healthcare professionals in many different settings. Designed for AND and ASN students coming from community college programs, this degree satisfies the requirements for completion of a bachelor’s degree. This program can be completed in two years and courses take place only two times per week or less. Lectures are offered in a hybrid format, and up to 15 elective units can be applied toward the NCLEX exam.  

  • Tuition per credit: $278
  • Enrollment: 15,254

4. California State University-Chico – RN-BSN Program (22 points)

California State University-Chico offers an RN-BSN Program at its location in Chico, California. This hybrid program is mostly online to make courses as convenient and flexible as possible for students who live in distant rural areas of the region, and also accommodates nurses who have seven-day-per-week, round-the-clock work schedules. Ideal for students who want to advance their careers as nurses and healthcare professionals, this program also accommodates students who earned their ASN or AND at a community college and need to transition into a bachelor degree completion program.

  • Tuition per credit: $227
  • Enrollment: 15,254

6. University of California-Los Angeles – Bachelor of Science in Nursing (21 points)

University of California-Los Angeles offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at its location in Los Angeles, California. This traditional, four-year bachelor’s degree program prepares students to take the NCLEX to become licensed as registered nurses and also apply for the California Board of Registered Nursing’s Public Health Nursing Certificate. This program is a capstone major and requires each student to design and execute a clinically-based scholarly project in the last clinical course of their fourth and final year. Graduates leave with the foundation they need to seamlessly transition into the master’s program to pursue advanced nursing roles.  

  • Tuition per credit: $552
  • Enrollment: 31,009

7. Golden West College – Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) (18 points)

Golden West College offers an Associate Degree in Nursing (AND) at its location in Huntington Beach, California. This program qualifies students to take the NCLEX and also prepares them to seamlessly transition into a BSN program. The school also offers co-enrollment programs (RN-BSN courses) for current ADN nursing students with California State University-Fullerton and Chamberlain University. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

  • Tuition per credit: $46
  • Enrollment: 3,699

7. Evergreen Valley College – Associate Degree in Nursing Program (18 points)

Evergreen Valley College offers an Associate Degree in Nursing Program at its location in San Jose, California. This two-year program combines theory and practice to promote critical thinking and real-world learning while students prepare for the NCLEX exam. The curriculum emphasizes learning how to perform effectively in the areas of maintaining a safe and effective care environment; health promotion and maintenance; psychosocial integrity; physiological integrity; and the professional role of the nurse. The program is designed to meet the needs of culturally diverse learners, so they can start the life-long process of learning as a registered nurse.  

  • Tuition per credit: $46
  • Enrollment: 3,138

9. MiraCosta College – Associate Degree Nursing Program (16 points)

MiraCosta College offers an Associate Degree Nursing Program at its location in Oceanside, California. The program’s goal is to educate diverse learners to become safe, caring, and competent registered nurses who serve in different healthcare settings throughout the community. In addition to receiving their associate’s degree in nursing, students are qualified to take the NCLEX and transition to a BSN program after graduation. The program takes two years to complete and is taught over the course of four semesters. Students must complete the TEAS exam before enrollment.

  • Tuition per credit: $336
  • Enrollment: 5,062

10. Napa Valley College – Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Program (15 points)

Napa Valley College offers an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Program at its Napa, California location. A two-year, four-semester program, the ADN prepares students to take the NCLEX and pursue entry-level positions in nursing. Graduates leave ready to assist patients with personal care, provide counseling and education to prevent illness and promote health, and administer medications and specialized treatments. Several opportunities are available for advanced placement, challenge exam and transfer credit.

  • Tuition per credit: $46
  • Enrollment: 2,006

11. Biola University – B.S. in Nursing (11 points)

Biola University offers a B.S. in Nursing at its location in La Mirada, California. This program teaches students to provide high-quality nursing care through challenging coursework, including clinical experiences in local healthcare facilities and skills and simulation labs. Clinical experiences emphasize serving diverse, underserved populations in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Taught from a biblical perspective, this program covers the foundation of registered nursing, including administering medication, medical-surgical care of diverse populations, quality care for the elderly, and more.   

  • Tuition per credit: $1,849
  • Enrollment: 3,779

12. Gurnick Academy – B.S. in Nursing (BSN and LVN to BSN Pathway) Program (9 points)

Gurnick Academy offers a B.S. in Nursing (BSN and LVN to BSN Pathway) Program at its location in San Mateo, California. The goal of the program is to offer training to aspiring nurses that integrates hands-on practical experience, career-focused education, and professional skills. In addition, through the in-depth study of health services, students learn ethics and law in health care, leadership and management, writing skills for health professionals, nursing research, and patient education essentials. The program’s duration is eight semesters.

  • Tuition per credit: $647
  • Enrollment: 1,687

13. Holy Names University – ADN (RN) to BSN (7 points)

Holy Names University offers an ADN (RN) to BSN program at its location in Oakland, California. This program is offered in both accelerated and hybrid formats to meet the diverse needs of nurses with busy schedules, whether living locally or at a distance. Students benefit from an alumni mentorship program, guest lectures from health experts, Free Emergency Management Preparedness Certificate Program, Sigma Theta Tau Leadership Certificate, and a free prep course for the NCLEX. Students also gain hands-on experience in an onsite simulation center as well as in clinical placements and senior center partnership experiences.

  • Tuition per credit: $1,682
  • Enrollment: 594

14. Carrington College – Registered Nursing Program (4 points)

Carrington College offers a Registered Nursing Program at its location in Sacramento, California. In as fast as two years, students can earn their associate of science degree and become qualified to take the NCLEX to become registered nurses. The program teaches students how to provide critical health care services, including performing diagnostic tests, drawing blood, giving injects, taking vital signs, and more. Courses are based on a combination of classroom lessons, clinical exercises, and practical training.

  • Tuition per credit: $1,891
  • Enrollment: $556

15. California Career College – Associate Degree in Nursing (2 points)

California Career College offers an Associate Degree in Nursing at its location in Canoga Park, California. This program prepares students to sit for the NCLEX to become licensed registered nurses. It takes two years to complete and combines both theory and clinical classes only 3 days per week. The curriculum includes courses in Communication Techniques, Terminology, Psychology, Gerontology, Pharmacology, and more. Students benefit from hands-on experience at local healthcare facilities, including long-term care and other community agencies.

  • Tuition per credit: $2,792
  • Enrollment: 133

If you’re ready to take the first step to become a registered nurse, we can help you find the school or college that’s right for you. Use our Degree Finder tool to help you navigate your decision.

Our Ranking Methodology

Our rankings are generated using a formula based on each school’s in-state tuition rates and enrollment rates. We first sorted by program costs (least is best) and then by enrollment rates (highest is best). We assigned points to each school and added them together for a final ranking score.

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