10 Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in California – 2024

Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

Are you a registered nurse in CA who is considering pursuing an advanced practice degree? Perhaps you are thinking of moving to California and are just now exploring your options for becoming a nurse practitioner.

If this sounds like you, you are probably asking yourself, “What are the best nurse practitioner programs in California?"

In this article, you will find information about some of the best nurse practitioner programs in California for 2024, specialization options, admission requirements, cost, length, and answers to some top questions.


(Based on our ranking methodology, the following are the 10 Best NP programs in California for the year 2024.)

1) California State University - Long Beach

Programs Offered: MSN, DNP, & Post-Master's Certificate

California State University’s nursing school prepares you with the skills and knowledge required to provide culturally relevant health care. The university produces nurse leaders with a sharp focus on academics, and its rigorous course curriculum helps make graduates industry-ready, right from day one. The school offers several nurse practitioner programs in California through its MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate tracks.

MSN Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (Acute and Primary Care) , Family Nurse Practitioner , Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner , & Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Life Span)

You can pursue this master's degree program in either one of the four concentrations – Adult Gerontology, Family Health, Pediatric Primary Care, or Psychiatric-Mental Health. In order to graduate, depending on the concentration, you will complete anywhere between 30-48 units. The curriculum is a combination of core, culminating, and specialty courses. You must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 throughout the program. In addition to the theoretical instruction and lab exercises, you will also take part in extensive clinical training sessions and gain real-world experience under the guidance of experts.

DNP: This DNP-Nurse Practitioner program in California prepares students for advanced roles as nurse practitioners through a combination of didactic learning and practical experience sessions. The emphasis of the program remains on evidence-based training, collaborative learning, and developing leadership skills among students. As part of the curriculum, you will undergo 1,000 hours of intensive clinical training. The faculty also encourages students to contribute to the field by engaging in novel research.

Post-Master's Certificate Options: Nurse Practitioner Certificate for Practicing Nurse Practitioners, & Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

CSU-Long Beach offers 2 different pathways for nurses interested in pursuing a post-masters certification program. The Nurse Practitioner Certificate for Practicing Nurse Practitioners is for individuals who hold a master’s degree in nursing and are currently certified in an NP specialty area but want to add an additional specialty. On the other hand, for nurses who hold an MSN degree without the nurse practitioner certification, the college offers a Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate.

Both these nurse practitioner programs in California require you to hold California RN-license, and additionally, the Nurse Practitioner Certificate for Practicing NP’s program requires you to also hold a valid nurse practitioner license in the state of California.

Both these pathways come with the option of choosing from either one of the six NP specializations (Adult-Gerontology Acute Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner & Women's Health Nurse Practitioner). Depending upon the specialization, you will complete 18 to 30 credits in core and specialty courses.

2) Azusa Pacific University – Azusa

Programs Offered: MSN, DNP, & Post-Master's Certificate

Azusa Pacific University offers some of the top California nurse practitioner programs, known for producing quality nursing professionals. Evidently so, many of its alumni today are occupying prominent positions within the healthcare sector. Some of the primary reasons behind the success of the University’s nursing program include its research-oriented faculty members, rigorous academic curriculum, extensive practical exposure, and strong industry connections. To become a nurse practitioner, the nursing school offers an MSN, DNP, and Post-Master’s Certificate with several specialization options.

MSN Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner - Primary Care, & Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The MSN program accepts aspirants twice a year and is available with four different specialization options. You can complete the program in two to three years’ time, depending upon the number of classes you sign up for each term. The first leg of the program will require you to complete core academic and advanced practice courses and then take classes in your chosen specialty. This program lays strong emphasis on practical training through its clinical training sessions, which will help you develop into a competent nurse practitioner.

DNP: If you aspire to attain a leadership position in the nursing field, the DNP program at Azusa Pacific is the one you can consider. This evidence-based degree, backed with experiential learning, will equip you with advanced skills and credentials that are highly valued in both the academic and corporate worlds. The curriculum contains a total of 39-52 units, and the training will open-up vast opportunities for you within the global healthcare sector. To earn this degree, a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours is also required. Upon graduation, you can either choose to enter the field of patient-care services or take up clinical research.

Post-Master's Certificate Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) , Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) , Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) , & Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

The post-master’s certificate, offering evening classes, and customized clinical sessions is specifically designed for working nurses who already hold an MSN degree. This certificate program provides you the option of choosing from any of the four NP specialties. The curriculum of each of these specialties integrates theory and practical sessions in a skillful manner. Depending upon the number of classes a student takes, this program can be completed in around one to two years time period. Most students usually take classes one to two nights every week. Clinical training is an important part of the overall curriculum, and the University's School of Nursing leaves no stone unturned in ensuring the students find a suitable clinical setting where they put their skills to practice and gain valuable experience.

3) University of San Diego - San Diego

Programs Offered: DNP (BSN to DNP & MSN to DNP), & Post-Master's Certificate

If you are looking at taking up a career as a nurse practitioner, then completing a DNP, or Post Master’s Certificate at the University of San Diego’s Nursing School can be given a thought. Considered one of the top nurse practitioner schools in California, USD focuses on imparting quality education through its research and industry-oriented curriculum. It pays special attention to inculcate leadership qualities and collaborative learning among students while preparing them to provide the highest standards of clinical care to patients.

BSN to DNP Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Family Nursing Practitioner in Emergency Care, Dual Adult-Gerontology/Family Nurse Practitioner, & Dual Pediatric/Family Nurse Practitioner

The BSN to DNP program if pursued full-time, can be completed in 3-years. The part-time option, on the other hand, will take four to five years. This program is available with five different specialization options, and students are accepted only once in the Fall of each year. Depending upon the area of specialty, you will be required to complete anywhere between 67-83 units. Upon completion, you become eligible to take national level certification exams to become a certified nurse practitioner in the area of your specialty. Admission into this program is also open for international students.

MSN to DNP Concentrations: Emergency Care for Family Nurse Practitioner

This online Nurse Practitioner Program in California program is specifically designed for family nurse practitioners who want to specialize in emergency care. Although you will take all your classes online, you are required to be present on-campus for one weekend each semester to complete the intensive sessions. The curriculum requires you to complete 49 units in courses such as strategic planning and quality initiatives, philosophy of reflective practice, family nurse practitioner in emergency care, pathogenesis of complex disease, and health policy analysis. The course structure provides you extensive theoretical and practical exposure, and once completed, you will be able to demonstrate the highest level of leadership and clinical skills. To enroll in the program, one year of prior work experience as an FNP is required.

Post-Master's Certificate Concentrations: Emergency Care for Family Nurse Practitioners

This one-year certificate program trains students to provide emergency care services with desirable efficiency and effectiveness. The course curriculum contains a total of 15 units, and in order to gain the much-required real-world exposure, you will be required to participate in 540 hours of clinical practice. Upon completion of this program, you become eligible to sit for the Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP-C) Examination conducted by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner Certification Board (AANPCB).

4) University of California - San Francisco

Programs Offered: MSN

Recognized as one of the best nurse practitioner schools in California, the University of California takes a holistic approach to train nursing aspirants and helps them to become skilled professionals in the field of medical care. Along with theoretical learning, UCSF offers you a-number-of opportunities to engage in real-world research through clinical and externship exercises. The college offers an MSN degree with several concentration options that you can choose, depending on your professional interests and goals.

MSN Concentrations: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner , Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner , Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner - Occupational & Environmental Health , Certified Nurse-Midwife / Women's Health Nurse Practitioner , Family Nurse Practitioner , Neonatal Nurse Practitioner , Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care , Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care , & Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The Master’s degree is offered in a total of nine different specializations, providing prospective NP students with a wide choice in terms of choosing the specialty one wants to excel in. The number of units required to complete the course depends upon the specialty you have chosen. You need to note that clinical training experience is an integral part of the curriculum for all the specialties. As a mandatory admission requirement, some of the specialties require a minimum of two years of registered nursing work experience, though having some sort of prior work experience is preferred for all specializations. Upon graduation, you become eligible to take certification exams in the area of your specialty.

5) San Diego State University - San Diego

Programs Offered: MSN

San Diego State University’ School of Nursing has been offering graduate nursing education from 1982 and since then has trained graduates to become leaders in their area of work. The college is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and a stellar faculty that provides for a stimulating learning environment. If you are exploring the opportunity to earn the NP credential in the field of adult-gerontology from one of the best nurse practitioner schools in California, then the master’s program offered by San Diego's School of Nursing could be considered.

MSN Concentrations: Dual Concentration in Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Adult Gerontology Acute/Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

If you are searching for nurse practitioner programs in California that offer a dual concentration, then you can consider this track that is specifically designed for nurses interested in taking up advanced practice positions in the field of adult-gerontology. Available in both, full-time and part-time formats, the full-time schedule requires two years of dedicated study, while the part-time option takes a total of three years to graduate. The 50-credit curriculum covers subjects such as pathophysiology in adults & elderly, clinical pharmacology for advanced practice nursing, APN primary care, and acute/critical care theory & technology. As part of the curriculum, you will also gain ample real-world exposure through 768-hours of intensive clinical training sessions.

Upon graduation, you become eligible to take the Acute Care CNS-Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist (ACCNS-AG), Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC), and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP) examinations conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) respectively.

6) Brandman University – Irvine

Programs Offered: BSN to DNP, Post-Masters to DNP, & Post-Doctoral Certificate

One of the nurse practitioner programs in California that stands tall in the region because of its student-centered learning approach. The nursing school of Bradman University enjoys a credible reputation and is well-known for its flexible course structure and effective program delivery. Both the faculty and administrative staff are supportive, and their approach to keep students’ interest first is something that you’ll cherish during your training period. To become a nurse practitioner, the college offers a BSN to DNP, Post master’s to DNP, and post-doctoral certificate program with specialization options.

BSN to DNP Concentrations: Family/Across the Lifespan NP & Psychiatric and Mental Health NP

In order to apply for this 36-month hybrid BSN to DNP course, you must be a licensed registered nurse holding a BSN degree. Offered with two different concentration options, the curriculum of this program is a combination of online classes and on-campus immersion sessions. The focus of the Family/Across the Lifespan NP specialization is to equip nurses with skills to provide efficient medical care services to patients of all ages while the goal of the Psychiatric and Mental Health NP course is to help nurse practitioners handle psychological and mental disorders in patients. Both concentrations require completion of 127 credits and 255 clinical hours to graduate.

Upon graduation, depending on your area of specialty, you will have the opportunity to practice in a variety of clinical settings, such as primary health care centers, private clinics, emergency wards, and outpatient clinics.

Post-Masters to DNP Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Enrollment into this 20-month program, which is a combination of online classes and on-campus immersion sessions, requires you to hold an MSN degree. The program gives you the option of either becoming a family nurse practitioner or a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Out of a total of 97 credits required to graduate, you can transfer up to 40 credits as well as 500 hours of clinical experience from your MSN degree. Out of the remaining 57 credits, you will have to complete 30 credits in core DNP courses and 27 credits in the specialty of your choice, which will be either the FNP or PMHNP courses. One of the important components of this program is the Clinical Scholarly Project that provides you an opportunity to apply your research skills to address a real-world clinical issue.

To graduate, you will have to pass all the courses with a minimum of “B- “grade.

Post-Doctoral Certificate Concentrations: Family/Across the Lifespan & Psychiatric and Mental Health NP

This short 6-month hybrid certificate course provides you the opportunity to add an additional NP credential, post completion of your DNP, or Ph.D. degree. As a graduate of this course, you will increase your scope of practice by gaining skills and knowledge in a new specialty, thus opening up a wider range of advanced practitioner job opportunities. The program is a combination of extensive online learning and in-person as well as virtual immersion sessions. You can earn this certificate either with the FNP or PMHNP specialization by completing a 27-credit curriculum, which also includes 255-hours of rigorous clinical training, which you can complete at a clinical setting closer to your area of residence.

Upon graduation, based on your area of specialization, you can take the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner Certification Board (AANPCB).

7) Sonoma State University - Rohnert Park

Programs Offered: MSN, & Post-Master's Certificate

Counted among the reputable nurse practitioner schools in California, Sonoma State University has trained an estimated 4,000 nurse practitioners, nurse leaders and nurse educators to transform patient care across the world. Graduates of the college are known to demonstrate professional leadership and a spirit of lifelong learning. The college offers an MSN and a post Master’s certificate program to advance your nursing career as an NP.

MSN Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner

The 46-credit MSN degree program specializing in FNP is available with both full-time (4-semester) and part-time (6-semester) options. Sonoma state first started offering this program around 40 years back and since then has trained many nurses with advanced clinical skills to serve as family nurse practitioners in a variety of settings where they are currently serving patients across the lifespan. The coursework covers subjects such as health promotion practice in primary care, pathophysiologic concepts in primary care, pharmacology in primary care, and advanced practice in primary care systems. Although most of the learning takes place online, you are required to be present in-person to fulfill the practical training part of the curriculum, which will take place at a clinical site under the watch of a college-approved preceptor.

Post-Master's Certificate Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner

The two-year, FNP certificate course is designed for nurses who already have completed their MSN degree and hold a valid registered nurse license in the state of California. This 36-unit program is offered by the University’s School of Nursing in partnership with the School of Extended and International Education (SEIE). Although a majority of the coursework is delivered online, you are required to be present on-campus to attend in-person sessions a minimum of eight times during the first semester and around three to four times in the subsequent semesters. You will move through the class as a cohort and complete courses tailored for family practice primary care in sequential order. Classes are integrated with the MSN-FNP degree program offered by the college in order to encourage interaction between students, but in comparison, you will take fewer classes as you receive credit for your MSN degree. The program also gives you the added flexibility of completing the clinical preceptorship in your local community at a college approved setting.

8) San Francisco State University - San Francisco

Programs Offered: RN to MSN, & Post-Master's Certificate

The school of Nursing at San Francisco State University is committed to achieving academic excellence. Nurse practitioner programs in California offered here are designed skillfully and integrate both academic and practical experience in a seamless manner. The state-of-the-art infrastructure, competent faculty members, and visionary top-management are some of the other important differentiators that make the university a good place to excel in your nursing career.

The college currently offers two different pathways to earn the Family Nurse Practitioner credential. Graduates of both these pathways will be eligible to take the National Board certification as well as the California certification examinations.

RN to MSN Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner

This 3-year master's degree program requires you to complete a total of 97 units. The coursework spread over six semesters contains both core and specialty courses with a strong focus on collaborative research, evidence-based training, and inter-disciplinary learning. You will also gain valuable practical exposure through the lab practical and clinical exercises, both of which are an integral part of the overall curriculum.

Post-Master's Certificate Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner

This certificate course emphasizing on novel research and discovery is ideal for individuals who want to earn the family nurse practitioner credential post-completion of their master's or the doctor's degree in nursing. Depending upon the entry track, the course can be completed within a time frame of 12-18 months. To provide flexibility for working nurses, classes are held mostly during the evenings; however, the clinical practicum sessions require you to be present full-time as they are held during the regular business hours. Admission to this program is competitive, and only a limited number of students are accepted each year.

9) University of San Francisco - San Francisco

Programs Offered: DNP, & Post-Doctoral Certificate

One of the credible names among nurse practitioner schools in California, education at the University of San Francisco, is rooted in Jesuit values, training students to offer holistic and compassionate nursing care. By producing nurse leaders, the college strives towards transforming healthcare in a constantly evolving environment. The college offers a DNP and post-doctoral certificate program in two concentrations that lead to a promising career as a nurse practitioner.

DNP Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner & Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The DNP degree at USF prepares you for leadership positions within the field of nursing. Depending on your current degree, the program usually takes between two and four and a half years to complete. The coursework is a combination of online and in-person learning. You can enter this degree post completion of your BSN or MSN and choose from either one of the two concentrations - Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. The curriculum is rigorous and involves theory, practical, and clinical training sessions. Both concentrations require you to undergo 1035 hours of clinical training at a clinical site, which you can select in collaboration with the clinical faculty. Students with a master’s degree are required to complete a lesser number of clinical hours as they can transfer up to 500 clinical hours from their master's level practicum coursework.

Post-Doctoral Certificate Concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

You are eligible to apply for this 1-year certificate course if you are a registered nurse with a doctoral degree (DNP or Ph.D.) in the field of Nursing. This program is available with two different concentration options, and you can choose to either earn the Family Nurse Practitioner or the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner credential. This hybrid program is delivered through a combination of in-person and online learning. In order to graduate, you are required to earn a minimum of 35-38 credits, including 500 clinical hours of direct patient supervision. Students from other colleges seeking entry into this program can transfer up to a maximum of 12 credits, provided the courses match with the ones offered at USF.

10) Loma Linda University - Loma Linda

Programs Offered: BS to DNP

Completing your nurse practitioner education at Loma Linda University will make a competent nurse leader, grounded in Christian values of treating the patient as a whole, and caring for the mind, body, and spirit. With a student population coming from more than 80 countries, you learn to be culture-sensitive, while enjoying the richness of this diversity. Flexible schedules and a low student-faculty ratio make this college a rather preferred choice. The college currently offers four BSN to DNP nurse practitioner programs in California.

BS to DNP Concentrations: Adult/Gerontology, Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, & Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

These BSN to DNP nurse practitioner programs in California, available in four different specializations, help individuals with a BSN degree to make an entry into the lucrative nurse practitioner field. Depending upon the area of specialty, you are required to complete 117 to 122 quarter units. This program is offered only in full-time format and requires a total of 3 years to complete. The curriculum is basically divided into four parts - core coursework, concentration coursework, clinical practicum, and a research-based project. The core and concentration courses help build a strong foundation while the practicum and the research project will provide you an opportunity to put your skills and knowledge to practice and gain real-world working exposure. To apply for this nurse practitioner program in California, you are required to hold a valid RN license and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in your BSN degree. Upon graduation, you will achieve expertise in your chosen specialty and will be ready to take up positions in a variety of healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and outpatient settings.


Who Accredits Nurse Practitioner Programs in California & Why Attending an Accredited Program is Important?

Accreditation is a process that holds schools to high-quality standards, which means that you are getting an education that will prepare you for a successful career. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education are two recognized accreditation sources that accredit nurse practitioner programs in California.

Accreditation Bodies
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

What are the 4 Major Types of Nurse Practitioner Programs in California?

If you want to become a nurse practitioner there are different types of nurse practitioner programs in California from which to choose. The following explains the four most popular types of nurse practitioner programs.

1. BSN to MSN: BSN to MSN programs offer RNs who hold a BSN degree and possess a current unencumbered nursing license an opportunity to pursue a master's degree in nursing.
2. BSN to DNP: A BSN to DNP program allows registered nurses who have achieved a Bachelor's of Science in nursing degree the opportunity to pursue a terminal degree in nursing by choosing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
3. MSN to DNP: The MSN to DNP nurse practitioner programs in California allows master’s prepared registered nurses to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
4. Post-Master's Certificate: Registered nurses who hold an MSN or DNP degree can pursue advanced-practice instruction and training in a new nursing specialization by pursuing a post-master's certificate.

What are the 8 Different Types of Specialization Options Associated With Nurse Practitioner programs in California?

Advanced practice registered nurses can choose to provide care to a specific patient population by choosing an area of specialization. The following eight types of NP specialization programs are examples of options for students in California.

1. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program: The Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP program provides students with training in diverse settings as they learn to provide acute care to clients in later life.
2. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program: Students in an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP program learn care focused on keeping geriatric patients well, including promoting healthy lifestyle choices.
3. Emergency Nurse Practitioner Nurse Practitioner Program: Emergency NP programs prepare advanced practice registered nurses to provide emergency health services for patients of varying ages in primary care and emergency settings.
4. Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program: FNP programs focus on preparing APRNs to assess, diagnose, and treat patients of all ages and coordinate care with other healthcare providers to promote optimum wellness.
5. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program: The neonatal NP program equips students to evaluate and implement healthcare strategies related to high-risk newborns and their families.
6. Pediatrics Nurse Practitioner Program: Pediatric nurse practitioner programs are designed to prepare APRNs with the skills necessary to provide primary and second care to children from infancy to young adulthood.
7. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Program: Registered nurses who enroll in a PMHNP program learn to focus on caring for clients who are experiencing psychiatric disorders and illnesses, including diagnosis, treating, and evaluating care.
8. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Program: Women's health NP programs prepare nurses to care for women of varying ages, including a focus on reproductive health and the prevention/treatment of diseases affecting women's health.

Typical Length of Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

The amount of time it takes you to complete a program at California nurse practitioner schools depends on which program you enroll in and whether you go to school on a part-time or full-time basis. For example, becoming a nurse practitioner in CA can take anywhere from fifteen months to seven years. If you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, you can become a nurse practitioner in fifteen months to seven years. Master's prepared RNs can complete a DNP or Post-Master's certificate in one to four years, depending on full-time or part-time enrollment.

Program Type Full-Time Part-Time
BSN to MSN 15 to 24 months 24 to 48 months
BSN to DNP 3 to 4 years 4 to 7 years
MSN to DNP 1 to 2 years 2 to 4 years
Post-Master's Certificate 12 to 16 months 16 to 24 months

Typical Tuition Cost of Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

The cost of a NP program may be impacted by what degree you hold before enrollment, what type of school you choose to attend, whether you have any financial assistance, and if you enroll in an on-campus or online nurse practitioner program in California. Typically, the tuition cost to become a nurse practitioner in California ranges anywhere from $28,000 to $220,000. While the financial investment to become a nurse practitioner may seem steep, the long-term benefit of earning this type of degree will pay off.

Program Type Tuition Cost
BSN to MSN $30,540 - $160,460
BSN to DNP $43,010 - $220,200
MSN to DNP $28,670 - $146,800
Post-Master's Certificate $15,770 - $72,480

Typical Admission Requirements for Nurse Practitioner Schools in California

While each college has the right to establish its admission requirements, there are some general admission requirements across the board. For instance, providing letters of recommendation from at least three people, holding an active, unencumbered license to practice as a registered nurse, and providing transcripts from all post-secondary schools previously attended are required of all nurse practitioner schools in California.

BSN to MSN: Admission requirements for BSN to MSN-Nurse Practitioner programs in California vary but include the following.

1. Applicants wishing to enter a BSN to MSN program must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree
2. Show proof of a cumulative 3.0 or higher GPA in all post-secondary education
3. Possess an active, unencumbered license to practice as an RN.
4. Have one year or more of clinical experience as a registered nurse

MSN to DNP: To be admitted into MSN to DNP-Nurse Practitioner programs in California, prospective students are expected to:

1. Have graduated from an accredited MSN program
2. Possess current specialty area certification
3. Submit a resume and/or written statement of purpose
4. Have at least one year of clinical experience working as an RN

Typical Curriculum (Coursework & Clinical Training) of Nurse Practitioner Programs in California

Both MSN and DNP curriculum prepare registered nurses to work in advanced practice. MSN-Nurse Practitioner programs in California prepare RNs to provide advanced care in their chosen area of specialty. DNP programs lead RNs to a terminal nurse practitioner degree where they can be engaged in leadership in their area of specialty.

BSN to MSN: Typically, BSN to MSN programs consist of core nursing courses as well as specialized nursing courses. In California, students enrolled in a BSN to MSN program are expected to take at least the following courses.

• Foundational Concepts and Advanced Practice Roles
• Healthcare Policy and Leadership
• Advanced Research Methods: Evidence-Based Practice
• Advanced pathophysiology
• Advanced Pharmacology
• Advanced Physical Assessment
• Differential Diagnosis in Acute Care

*Students must also complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

MSN to DNP: The curriculum that is specific to a DNP program includes the following.

• Evidence-based medicine and practice
• Population-specific care
• Healthcare policy
• Advanced assessment
• Advanced pharmacology
• Differential diagnosis in acute care
• Leadership and management

*Most DNP-Nurse Practitioner programs in California require students to have completed at least 1,000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours that are supervised. DNP students can usually apply up to up to one-half of the required clinical hours from a previously completed MSN program. It is important to verify with your school of choice what their guidelines for clinicals are.

Scholarships & Financial Aid Opportunities

The California Board of Registered Nursing offers information about resources for scholarships and financial aid for nurse practitioner students. A few options include:

• The Nurse Journal Global Health Scholarship provides a merit-based scholarship for nurses who want to complete their education in the global health field.
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program provides registered nurses assistance with repaying education loans in exchange for working in facilities with a critical shortage of nursing personnel.
The Health Professions Education Foundation offers scholarships and loan repayment grants to nursing students who plan to practice in underserved urban and rural areas.

Step-by-Step Process to Earn Your Nurse Practitioner Certification & Licensure in CA

The following are the steps you will need to follow to achieve licensure and certification to practice as a nurse practitioner in California per the California Board of Registered Nursing.

• Possess a current license to practice as a registered nurse in the state of California
• Graduate from an MSN or DNP program that is approved by the Board of Registered Nursing.
• After choosing a specialization area, pass a certification exam in that specialty area of practice. In California, nurse practitioners can earn certification from five agencies:

o The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board
o The American Nurses Credentialing Center
o The American Association of Critical Care Nurses
o The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
o The National Certification Corporation

Submit an application for licensure to the California Board of Registered Nursing
• Engage in a collaborative agreement with a licensed physician or surgeon. The physician with whom a nurse practitioner has a collaborative agreement is not required to be physically present during all care. However, he or she is required to collaborate with the nurse practitioner regarding standard operating procedures and protocol. The collaborative agreement should include whether the nurse practitioner has authority to prescribe medication and what treatment he or she can provide independently.

Scope of Practice Laws for Nurse Practitioners: What You Can & Cannot Do in California?

The state's nurse practice act governs the Scope of Practice for nurse practitioners in California. California requires that nurse practitioners work in collaboration with a physician and follow procedures that are developed among health professionals, including physicians and surgeons.

Full Practice Reduced Practice Restricted Practice
California Regulatory Structure
Medical Staff Membership
Autonomous Practice
Primary Care Provider
Independently Prescribe Schedule II Drugs
Order Physical Therapy
Sign Death Certificates
Sign Disabled Person Placard Forms
(Source: aanp.org)

Career Opportunities

Newly graduated nurse practitioners in California have a wide variety of career options. A few jobs that newly graduated NPs may find in the state include the following.

• Nurse Practitioner for COVID-19: Recent numbers indicate that California has reached over three-quarters of a million confirmed cases of COVID-19, which makes the need for NPs who can test patients and treat them for the infection very valuable.
• Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner: California is known as home of the rich and famous. NPs who want to practice in aesthetics have ample opportunity. In California, they may work in medical spas, plastic surgery centers, or medical offices that offer aesthetic treatment options.
• School Nurse: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends schools have one nurse for every 750 well students and one nurse for every 225 students who need daily nursing assistance. California is home to 1.2 million students in elementary and secondary schools, which makes it a great place for an NP to find a job.


Nurse practitioner salary in California is typically a six-figure income, even in entry-level positions. The average annual salary of nurse practitioners in the state is around $138,660, which is higher than the national average of $111,840. With continued experience, NPs can even earn higher salaries.

Years of Experience Per Hour Per Month Per Year
Starting (Entry-Level) $50.43 $8,740 $104,890
1-4 Years of Experience $55.17 $9,560 $114,750
5-9 Years of Experience $62.48 $10,830 $129,960
10-19 Years of Experience $74.99 $13,000 $155,980
20 Years or More Experience $91.32 $15,830 $189,950
Average Salary $66.66 $11,560 $138,660
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook

The employment rate for nurse practitioners is expected to increase by an average of thirty-five percent between 2018 and 2028. One of the major factors that may contribute to the demand for nurse practitioners is the increased number of aging populations who require care for chronic health conditions. Additionally, the population of California is expected to grow by thirty percent by the year 2060, which is an increase of over eleven million people who will require a healthcare provider.

Employment New Job Growth (2018-2028)
2018 2028 Number %
13,100 17,700 4,600 35.11%
(Source: careeronestop.org)

Annual Job Openings

In California, over one thousand jobs for nurse practitioners are expected to become available yearly within the same timeframe.

Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop.org)

Useful Organization

California Association for Nurse Practitioners: California Association for Nurse Practitioners takes pride in being a forum for nurse practitioners to network and provide guidance to advance the nurse practitioner's role throughout the state. The CANP is committed to supporting NPs, meeting client needs, and bridging gaps in healthcare.


If you are trying to find the best nurse practitioner programs in California, it's natural to have questions. Some important things to remember when choosing a program are to make sure the school is accredited, that the specialty area you want to focus in is offered, and that it provides the type of learning environment that you want to be engaged with (on-campus, online, virtual). Taking the time to read reviews from previous graduates of nurse practitioner programs in California and meeting with academic advisors and counselors can help you make a beneficial decision to help meet your long-term goals.


1. How Many Schools are Currently Offering Nurse Practitioner Programs in California?

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that there are fifty-two nurse practitioner programs available in the state of California. There are both on-campus and online nurse practitioner programs in California.

Program Type #
BSN to MSN 25
BSN to DNP 6
MSN to DNP 4
Post-Master's Certificate 17
Total 52
(Source: aanp.org)

2. What are the Do's and Do Not's for Getting Accepted into any of the Top California Nurse Practitioner Programs?

Some things you can do to help improve your chances of acceptance into any of the top California nurse practitioner programs include getting a job in healthcare before applying and applying to several top schools. Make sure you submit all the required documentation the first time instead of going back and forth, so you don't come across as irresponsible.

Do not miss deadlines. Start your application process early to avoid errors that are associated with rushing. Also, avoid making multiple phone calls or showing up on campus to “check on your enrollment status.” The school will likely give you a date that you should call to verify acceptance.

3. What are the Pros and Cons of On-Campus vs. Online Nurse Practitioner Programs in California?

There are pros and cons to both on-campus and online learning. Online students often enjoy extended deadlines, no set class schedules, and the freedom to study when and where they want. However, online classes may mean that instructors are not readily available to answer questions or provide guidance. Also, it may be challenging to establish relationships with other students.

On-campus learning gives students the chance to socialize and learn with others, talk with instructors more freely, and have hands-on access to training. The cons of an on-campus education are often associated with the cost of transportation, lodging, and other expenses.

4. Who is responsible for setting up a preceptor relationship for students who are enrolled in online classes?

Typically, students pursuing nurse practitioner programs in California are required to seek a preceptor independently. However, choosing a preceptor is not the only step. Once you find someone who is willing to become your preceptor, you must get approval from your school to establish the student-preceptor relationship. It is important to make sure your school approves the preceptor request beforehand so you can get credit for your clinical hours.

5. If I am going to enroll in online classes to become a nurse practitioner, what kind of computer literacy do I need?

Computer literacy is important, not just as an NP student, but as a nurse who is practicing in today’s healthcare facilities. For starters, you must know how to access the internet, use emails, download and upload documents and files. Additionally, you should have a computer with good processing power that can handle high-resolution videos and media-rich content. Whatever you do, don’t forget to have good virus protection on your computer!

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Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

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