Best Graduate Nursing Schools In California

Last Updated on December 24, 2022

Graduate Nursing Programs in California

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Graduate Nursing Programs are courses of study that could lead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, PhD, or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In Masters in Nursing (MSN) programs, the emphasis is to generally to prepare registered nurses to pursue top advanced nursing practice roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse administrator and for doctoral study.

Doctor of Nursing (DNP) programs typically stress the translation of research into practice, leadership, and more advanced nursing practice. By contrast, the focus of PhD in Nursing programs is often to develop nurse scientists and clinical scholars who might best lead in expert clinical practice, teaching and research.

Types of Graduate Nursing Programs in California

When it comes to graduate nursing programs, there are many options that consider diverse nursing education levels and career goals. You could look for programs that are available by degree level (BSN-MSN, MSN, PhD, DNP, Certificates) and further narrow your choices by nursing specialty (e.g. Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education). Or, if you do not yet have a bachelor of science in nursing, you might find Accelerated Nursing programs that could serve as a bridge to a nursing graduate degree. Below are a few examples of the types of nursing degrees that might be found at the graduate level.

Masters in Nursing (MSN) Programs in California

The AACN calls the masters degree in nursing “the educational core that allows advanced practice nurses to work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists.” Most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs include both coursework and clinical experience. While program lengths and time to completion varies, a full-time student might be able to complete their program in about two years. From there, graduates might be prepared to sit for national certification exam(s) in their chosen area of nursing. If this is your goal, you can check with a state’s board of nursing for more information.

MSN Degree Program Curriculum in California

Most MSN programs start out with a series of core courses. Concepts from nursing and information science could help nurses think critically, make ethical judgements and grasp the complexities of health care policy. Courses in research methods usually cover data analysis and statistics to help nurses promote public health to communities and populations. Other courses could help students build practical skills such as communication. They might also help nurses learn to collaborate or resolve conflicts whether with colleagues or patients. Finally, students might take several support courses that could cover advanced health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology.

MSN Nursing Specialties

Nursing masters programs provide key nursing education for advanced practice nurses (APRN) to be eligible to pursue licensure as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists. Beyond these roles, there are MSN programs that with emphasis in nurse educator, nurse informatics, nurse executive and more. While some nursing graduate schools may offer the general Master of Science in Nursing, most expect students to focus their studies on one of these areas, and coursework will reflect this.

Did You Know? APRNs must first have a registered nursing (RN) license before they pursue the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree ii

Why Consider Graduate Nursing Programs?

Most graduate nursing programs in California aim to augment a nurse’s knowledge, boost professional development and refine clinical skills. Nursing graduate programs are often characterized by clinical and classroom education. One of the goals is to help nurses learn to conduct research and grasp trends in healthcare, such as health policy and the role of technology. Then, to apply concepts from nursing science into the acute care provided to individuals and communities. Another aim is to help nurses positively impact patient outcomes through clinical expertise and compassionate nursing care.

Support Advanced Practice Nursing

The appeal of graduate nursing programs might extend to nurses who want to pursue advanced practice roles and to non-nurses who hold degrees in other disciplines. While the entry-level education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is the masters degree, this might be in the process of shifting. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for a change. They proposed that the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice move from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level by the year 2015. The AACN’s position statement calls for APRN’s (Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse-Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) and other nurses seeking leadership/organizational roles to be educated in DNP programs.

Mariea Snell; MSN ProgramsMariea SnellDNP | MSN | FNP-C

Expert InsightMS in Nursing Programs: Professional Insight Obtaining my MSN enhanced my career beyond anything I could have imagined. The knowledge and skills I gained in my clinical experiences and courses gave me everything I needed to provide primary care to patients in my community in a way that I couldn’t as an RN. Beyond this, it positioned me to become a leader in healthcare and make an enduring impact through legislative change and advocacy.

Finding a Nursing Graduate School for Graduate Nursing Programs

The plethora of graduate nursing programs in California may seem daunting, however, you can refine your search to narrow down your choices is you search by location, or you could even pursue direct entry msn programs. Use the city, state or country tabs to determine whether the program you are looking for is offered nearby or whether relocation will be necessary.

Career Outlook for Nursing

The BLS projects a 31 percent employment growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners to the year 2026. This high demand is due to multiple factors that include an aging baby-boom population and emphasis on preventive care. In terms of salaries for APRN roles, the median annual wage for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $110,930 in 2017.

Admission to MSN Programs

Admission to Masters in Nursing programs vary a great deal. Traditional MSN programs are those that build upon the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Some of the best nursing schools with these MSN programs typically require candidates to have earned their BSN in a college accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Applicants might also need to have a valid state RN license, GRE scores, letters of reference, essay and nursing experience.

Ways to get an MSN Degree

The scope of MSN programs is broad. Other MSN programs are often known as bridge programs and may also be offered in an accelerated format. These programs could have their own requirements. Aside from the degree pathway, some programs may allow students to select an emphasis. It should also be noted that students usually must successfully complete one segment before they move onto the next.

  • Entry-level MSN programs: Designed for non-nurses. These students hold a bachelors degree in an area of study outside of nursing and seek to pursue a career as an RN
  • RN to MSN Programs: Designed for RNs with their BSN degree
  • BSN to MSN Programs: Basic programs for all RNs nurses that want to complete their MSN in an accelerated way
  • ADN to MSN programs: Students first study to earn their BSN and then continue to the MSN degree
  • Direct entry MSN programs: Designed to quickly and effectively help students enter the nursing profession without earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).

Graduate Nursing certificates are courses of study that could add onto existing nursing skills. Often just a few courses and credits (e.g. 12 credits), nurses could study to gain clinical competency and apply evidence-based practices.

Admission criteria is largely dependent on the program. Sometimes, applicants are evaluated to see if there are any gaps they need to fill through prerequisite courses. Students could also need valid state RN licensure, minimum GPA and experience in the area pursued . Of course, each school has its own requirements, so keep an eye out for one that addresses your goals and current education level.

  • Post-masters nursing certificates are often stand-alone credentials. These could be designed for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses who want to refine, or even switch nursing specialties after they have earned their MSN degree. For instance, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner might want to diagnose and treat pediatric acute and chronic care conditions
  • Post-bachelors nursing certificates are typically taken alongside a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, since students could enter a DNP program with a BSN degree. This type of certificate could help nurses to add onto the type of acute care they provide. For example, a nurse in a DNP Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner might pursue an HIV primary care certificate to explore diagnosis and care needs for this population

Doctorate Nursing Programs

Doctorate of nursing practice programs in fall into two principal types: research-focused and practice- focused. These two types of doctoral programs differ in their goals and the skillsets of their graduates. They also represent alternate approaches to the highest level of educational preparation in nursing. Furthermore, there are various areas that could be used as anchor points for either research or clinical practice. Sometimes, a nursing grad school offers MSN tracks (e.g. nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner and women’s health care nurse practitioner) with a companion Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, is a practice doctorate and terminal degree in nursing. The objective of a DNP program, per the AACN, is to “prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes, and translate research into practice.” DNP programs are generally designed to prepare graduates with competencies in eight areas that are outlined by the AACN. These range from public health care policy advocacy to inter-professional collaboration and systems thinking. DNP nurses are also expected to have advanced skills in health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Aside from courses, students might need to complete a DNP project at the end of the program. This is intended to help nurses synthesize the coursework and demonstrate their increased knowledge in their practice areas. The type of project varies. For instance, it might include a practice portfolio with a focus on evidence-based practice, a pilot study, a program evaluation or other practical.

Pathways to the DNP

There are two entry points to DNP degree programs, and each nursing graduate school sets its own admissions requirements for these paths.

  • BSN to DNP: For students who have completed their BSN, the BSN to DNP track could lead to a Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP). Students earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) along the way
  • MSN to DNP:The MSN to DNP is designed for students who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing. Most post-masters DNP programs are designed for certified APRNs who aim to improve skills in leadership, clinical scholarship, evidence-based practice and clinical evaluation

Other admission requirements could include an RN license in the state of residence, letters of reference, CV, background check, essay and possible interview. Since these are variable details, refer to individual schools for more information.

PhD in Nursing

The PhD in Nursing is a research doctorate and terminal scholarly degree in nursing. Essentially, PhD programs are designed to prepare nurse scientists and scholars. With an emphasis that relies heavily on scientific content and research methodology, students are typically required to produce an original research project. Also, they usually must complete and defend a dissertation or linked research papers.

Admission to some PhD Nursing programs could entail a Master’s degree in nursing from an accredited university, a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, and a current, unrestricted RN license to practice in the United States.

Accreditation for Graduate Nursing Programs

Whatever format you select, nursing graduate programs are often available at regionally or nationally accredited universities. Beyond that, there are two major organizations that offer accreditation–the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

What does it mean to be an accredited nursing program? A nursing graduate program or school of nursing that is accredited has proved that their curriculum meets certain standards set by the accrediting body. These agencies also make sure there are support systems in place that could help students achieve their goals. Things such as financial aid, library services, transfer credit and so on.

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York180,170$83,680

Bureau of Labor StatisticsNursing Graduate Programs

written by Rana Waxman

Schools with Graduate Nursing Programs in California

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ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
NursingSan Jose State UniversityMN
NursingPoint Loma Nazarene UniversityMN
NursingLoma Linda UniversityN/A
Doctor of Education – Nursing EducationNorthcentral UniversityDNP
M.S. in Nursing: Health Informatics (Bridge)Grand Canyon UniversityN/A
MS – NursingColorado State University GlobalN/A

Sponsored Listings offers Graduate Nursing Programs in California

Capella University Graduate Programs

Pursue a CCNE Accredited Online RN-to-MSN or MSN Program in California

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  • Northcentral UniversityOnlineNorthcentral UniversityDoctor of Education – Nursing EducationUpcoming Start Date: October 04, 2021With the growing demand for nurses across the U.S. and elsewhere, a shortage of nursing educators has resulted. NCU’s School of Education is pleased to offer an online Doctor of Education (EdD) with a specialization in Nursing Education. NCU&rs…More Info
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  • Grand Canyon University$5,675Less Than Average National TuitionOnlineGrand Canyon UniversityM.S. in Nursing: Health Informatics (Bridge)The Bridge to Master of Science in Nursing pathway is designed for registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences or other related fields.More Info
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  • Colorado State University Global$7,435Less Than Average National TuitionOnlineColorado State University GlobalMS – NursingA Master’s in Nursing can empower you to advance your career while shaping healthcare at a higher, more strategic level. Earn your seat among healthcare executives and decision makers, and lend your voice as an essential member of practice management and…More Info
  • San Jose, CASan Jose State UniversityNursingMore Info
  • San Diego, CAPoint Loma Nazarene UniversityNursingGraduates are exposed to a broad foundation of knowledge to meet the rapidly changing needs of today’s healthcare environment.More Info
  • Loma Linda, CALoma Linda UniversityNursingFor specific program information please visit our website.More Info
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  • Los Angeles, CAMount Saint Mary’s UniversityNursingWe value the rigor of nursing research done together as a community and respect the dignity and value of the individual…More Info
  • Oakland, CAHoly Names UniversityNursingGraduate School for the Working Adult.More Info
  • Rancho Cucamonga, CACambridge CollegeSchool Nurse Education-…More Info
  • Los Angeles, CACharles R Drew University Of Medicine And ScienceNurse Midwifery EducationMore Info
    • Los Angeles, CA 2 More Campus Program(s) Available
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  • Riverdale, CACollege of Mount Saint VincentNursingOutstanding independent college noted for their quality nursing programs especially designed for the part time evening student.



The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Program is designed to prepare students for entry level registered nurse positions in a variety of health care environments. Graduates will use critical thinking skills for effective problem solving, decision making, and independent judgment to provide culturally competent and developmentally appropriate care in the practice of nursing and to function as a member of a health care team.

Upon successful completion of the curriculum, students are eligible to sit for the NCLEX to become registered nurses. The graduate must apply to and meet the requirements of appropriate state board of nursing for licensure as a registered nurse, which includes successful completion of the NCLEX-RN.

ADN Program at  California Career College

Since 2016, California Career College has offered ADN classes. California Career College is the first ADN program in the nation to offer both theory and clinical classes only 3 days per week. California Career College recognizes that many students work full or part-time and to advance their education by attending classes and clinicals full-time is challenging. California Career College is a convenient choice to both work and advance their education. Below is some information about the ADN Program at California Career College:

Duration: 24 months (2 year program)  

Days: 3 Days a Week  

Requirements: High School Diploma or GED; A cumulative passing score of 75% or more on the HESI Admission Assessment Exam; Submitting application to California Career College.   

Prerequisites: None required

Transfer of Credits: Students can transfer up to 10 units.

The ADN Program at California Career College includes courses in:

  • Communication Techniques
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Terminology
  • Psychology
  • General Nursing Skills
  • Gerontology
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Pharmacology

At California Career College, ADN courses are designed to ensure students experience a curriculum that is current, reality-based and sensitive to multicultural diversity. 

Over a 24-month program, our ADN classes provide extensive hands-on experience in healthcare settings that range from acute to long-term care, home healthcare and other community healthcare agencies. That’s why, among nursing schools in Los Angeles, ours stands out as one of the most effective at teaching skills that are most sought after by medical employers.​

At California Career College, our dedicated team is dedicated to teaching core nursing concepts and principles to students that that are at the heart of patient care. Through assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation, our faculty of experienced teachers and nurses provide instruction that is based on guidelines set by the Board of Registered Nursing, and based on interviews and on-going relationships with local employers.

Getting started

Please call (818)710-1310 or visit our contact page to apply now.

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