10 Best Nursing Schools in California – 2024 Rankings

Written By: Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH

With only 657 registered nurses for every 100,000 people, California’s nurse-to-population ratio is one of the worst in the U.S. The Golden State’s nursing shortages are most acute in inner city and rural hospitals, though. In the more affluent parts of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, there’s something of a nursing glut, which may make it difficult for newly licensed RNs to gain a toehold. A smart strategy for new graduates may be to pay their dues in less glamorous health care facilities that will provide the acute care experience necessary to land the more desirable jobs. California’s nursing unions are very strong, so California nursing salaries are among the highest in the nation. To give you a head-start we have listed the best nursing schools in California.



(After closely assessing all nursing schools approved by the California State Board of Nursing, based on our Ranking Methodology, the following are the best accredited nursing schools in California offering BSN programs.)

1. University of California, Los Angeles

About UCLA School of Nursing: The UCLA School of Nursing is celebrated both for the education it provides and the research it conducts. It is one of the few nursing schools in California that consistently ranks among the top 20 nursing colleges in the country according to “U.S. News and World Report” reviews. Thanks to research initiatives like the Center for Vulnerable Populations Research, the Center for American Indian/Indigenous Research and Education Center for the Advancement of Gerontological Nursing Science, the school is the 24th-largest recipient of NIH nursing grants. Undergraduate students can participate in an eight-week Summer Research Program, which allows them to be mentored by faculty members in their specific field of interest.

In addition to hosting nurse education classrooms, the Louis and Doris Factor Health Sciences Building also houses a library that contains more than 530,000 volumes and 6,000 periodicals. Once aspiring nurses have gained mastery of clinical skills in simulation environments, they pursue clinical rotations at the UCLA Medical Center, which “U.S. News and World Report” has dubbed the best hospital in the western part of the U.S. Other clinical sites include the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and the Venice Free Clinic.

Financial Aid: The School of Nursing administers several merit-based scholarships that are available to graduate students as well as to undergraduate students in their third and fourth years of study. Students may also be eligible for needs-based Cal Grants, Pell Grants, University grants and various types of loans as determined by the information they submit in their FAFSAs and CSS profiles.

2. University of San Francisco, San Francisco

About School of Nursing and Health Professions: In 1948, the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution of higher learning, implemented a program so that nurses at nearby St. Mary’s Hospital could earn their baccalaureate degrees. Today, the University’s School of Nursing and Health Professions still adheres to the Jesuit principle of “cura personalis” or “caring for the whole person” in the training and education it provides aspiring nurses.

This nursing school in California is headquartered in Cowell Hall in the heart of the University’s historic Laurel Heights campus. A simulated hospital environment equipped with state-of-the-art manikins gives students an early start in developing hands-on clinical skills. Student nurses from the University of San Francisco provide 140,000 hours of services every year as they pursue clinical rotations in trauma centers, acute care hospitals, ambulatory care clinics and other community healthcare agencies throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Financial Aid: Nursing students attending the School of Nursing and Health Professions are eligible to apply to 10 merit scholarships administered by the institution. Students are encouraged to seek scholarship funds from outside sources as well. Needs-based federal and state financial aid may be awarded pending review of the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile.

3. University of California, Irvine

About Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing: The Sue & Bill School of Nursing is a great place to go if your primary interest is community health. The school partners with local schools and community groups to improve health outcomes and to introduce student nurses to the populations they will one day be serving.

Many faculty members are still working nurses in underserved areas throughout Orange County as well as at the world-renowned University of California Irvine Medical Center. This nursing school is a top research center, too, investigating topics that range from wellness promotion to community-based interventions that have the potential to eradicate health disparities among vulnerable populations.

Classes take place in the newly renovated Berk Hall. The school is working toward a goal of increasing its use of immersive high-tech simulation activities so that these will ultimately comprise 25 percent of each student’s clinical experiences. Clinical rotations begin in the spring quarter of the junior year, and more than half of them take place at the UCI Medical Center.

Financial Aid: The UCI Financial Aid and Scholarship office makes merit-based and needs-based scholarship options available to undergraduate and graduate nursing students. In order to qualify, you’ll need to fill out the UC Application for Undergraduate Admission and Scholarships. Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships, too. Students may also be eligible for federal and state grants upon submission of FAFSA and CSS profile forms.

4. California State University, Long Beach

About School of Nursing @ CSULB: “U.S. News and World Report” has dubbed Cal State Long Beach the third best public university in the west, and that reputation for excellence is born out of the University’s nationally recognized nursing programs. If you’re looking for a great all-around nursing school in CA that will prepare you for any professional challenge that will come your way, this is definitely a school to consider. A new 10,600-square-foot nursing building contains classrooms, teaching labs and a computer lab. Students also have access to a state-of-the-art nursing simulation lab that’s housed at nearby Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

As a student here, you’ll have the opportunity to work with the innovative Health on Wheels clinic the nursing school sponsors in collaboration with the city of Norfolk; this clinic provides preventative health care education to parents of students throughout the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Students can also pursue clinical rotations at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital, Hoag Hospital, Veterans Administration Long Beach Medical Center and other critical care, acute care and ambulatory health care facilities throughout the metropolitan Long Beach and Newport Beach areas.

Financial Aid: Twelve scholarship opportunities are open to current and prospective students of Cal State Long Beach’s School of Nursing. While some of these scholarships are based on academic merit, others are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need or on the basis of specific criteria such as leadership potential. Students may also be eligible for federal and state grants and loans as determined by the submission of FAFSA forms and CSS profiles.

5. San Diego State University, San Diego

About School of Nursing @ SDSU: If you’ve always known that nursing is the right career for you, then you should investigate San Diego State University’s School of Nursing because it is one of the few nursing programs in California that’s open to incoming college freshmen. The website ValueColleges.com has dubbed this nursing school the sixth best in the U.S. As part of the College of Health and Human Sciences, SDSU nursing students learn alongside colleagues from the Graduate School of Public Health and the Department of Gerontology. Facilities include a Media Lab, a Nursing Fundamentals Skills Lab, a Health Assessment Lab and the Sharp Healthcare Human Patient Simulation Lab.

Once they’ve mastered the fundamentals of bedside nursing, students pursue experiential learning opportunities at the many trauma centers, hospitals and community clinics throughout the San Diego region. This nursing school also sponsors unique international service-learning opportunities in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, Fiji, Bali and the Philippines; these internships require students to spend at least 14 days in the country they’ve chosen.

Financial Aid: San Diego State University administers a number of in-house scholarships that are specifically designed to meet the needs of first-time and continuing nursing students. Additionally, the SDSU Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships can assist you if you want to apply to any of more than 40 nursing scholarships that are funded through external sources. The Financial Aid Office can also help you fill out your FAFSA and CSS profiles, which are prerequisites for state and federal grants and loans.

6. Azusa Pacific University, Azusa

About APU’s School of Nursing: If you’re interested in approaching nursing through a Christian perspective, the School of Nursing at Azusa Pacific University has much to offer you. Founded in 1899 as the first Bible college on the West Coast, the university has an excellent reputation as one of the most academically rigorous Christian institutions of higher learning. The school views nursing as a calling and teaches aspiring nurses how to care for their patients’ spiritual as well as physical needs.

Building 1 on the west part of campus houses classrooms, a nursing library, a nursing research lab and the Skills and Computer Centers. The Skills lab is equipped with manikins that enable neophyte nurses to learn clinical assessment and to practice bedside essentials such as wound care, injections and starting IVs. Students will have the chance to hone these skills further through practicums in hospitals and health care facilities throughout the area. This school has a reputation for offering longer and more focused clinical rotations than many other nursing schools in California. Azusa also offers many opportunities for international study; these range from short-term missions in places like Africa, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, India, Laos and Mexico to entire semesters abroad.

Financial Aid: Five academic scholarship opportunities are available to entering freshmen, continuing students and transfer students. Azusa Pacific University also maintains a partnership with a website called RaiseMe that allows nursing students to qualify for incremental scholarships based upon classroom and extracurricular performance. By filling out a FAFSA form and a CSS profile, you may qualify for needs-based aid such as Pell Grants and Cal Grants as well.

7. California State University, San Marcos

About School of Nursing @ CSUSM: Cal State San Marcos began a two-year nursing program in 2006, in part as a means of alleviating the chronic shortage of nurses in North County and the greater San Diego region; the program was expanded to a four-year training curriculum in 2014. The school operates under the auspices of the College of Education, Health and Human Services. The curriculum is built around a self-care model, which assumes that illnesses, injuries and insufficient knowledge disrupt an individual’s ability to provide for his or her own health needs and that it is this disruption that needs to be addressed through nursing care. The nursing school also operates a satellite campus in nearby Temecula, which was started because of the need for nurses throughout Riverside County.

A sophisticated simulation lab allows nursing students to get hands-on experiences in a virtual hospital before they begin working with actual patients. Clinical rotations take place at sites that include Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers, Scripps Health, Rady Children’s Hospital and the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. The Student Healthcare Project affiliated with the nursing school operates free community clinics throughout San Diego County that offer health screenings, medical care and preventative education.

Financial Aid: Cal State San Marcos administers six scholarships that are specifically designed for nursing students. Additionally, the university will use the information submitted in your FAFSA and CSS profile forms to determine whether you qualify for other needs-based federal and state financial aid.

8. West Coast University, North Hollywood

About West Coast University: If you want to earn a nursing degree in CA quickly, check out the School of Nursing at West Coast University where you can complete your training in as little as 39 months. A new class cycle begins ever 10 weeks, so you won’t have to delay your education. The University was founded as an ophthalmology school in 1909 before it was acquired in 1979 by a for-profit corporation specializing in the education of ancillary health care professionals. In 2018, this nursing school was named the best school for men in nursing by the American Association for Men in Nursing.

The innovative building on the North Hollywood campus where nursing classes are taught boasts skylights, waterfalls and bamboo piers as well as a high-tech Simulation Center where students practice clinical skills in realistic patient care settings. Once nursing students have mastered these skills in a safe environment, they go on to experiential learning practicums at some of the most prestigious hospitals and community health agencies in the greater Los Angeles region. Nursing students participate in community health events like Care Harbor LA, too. Aspiring nurses also have the opportunity to pursue study-abroad options in locations like Argentina, Spain, Belize, Panama and South Korea through the Global Public Health Program.

Financial Aid: West Coast University offers several scholarship and grant opportunities to nursing students such as the Centennial Merit Scholarship, the BSN Pathway Scholarship, the Norma Ford Memorial Scholarship and the WCU Opportunity Grant. The university stipulates that these funds may only be used toward the cost of tuition. Students may also qualify for various types of federal and state aid upon the submission of FAFSA and CSS profile forms.

9. Samuel Merritt University, Oakland

About School of Nursing @ SMU: The Samuel Merritt School of Nursing was one of the last nursing schools in California to switch from a three-year diploma program to a four-year baccalaureate program. Students complete their first two years of general education requirements at other colleges and universities. The school was founded in 1909 through a bequest of Dr. Samuel Merritt who was one of Oakland’s earliest mayors.

Instruction takes place at the Alta Bates campus in nearby Berkeley and at the 44,000-square-foot Health Education Center. The Health Education Center is also home to the John A. Graziano Library, which is one of the largest collections of health sciences materials in the East Bay. Students perfect their clinical skills at the 5,500-square-foot Health Sciences Simulation Center, which contains simulation action rooms designed to look like hospital settings as well as lifelike manikins integrated with computer software that allow these manikins to replicate normal and pathological physiological responses. Nursing students begin clinical rotations during their first year of enrollment; clinical partners include Children’s Hospital and Research Center of Oakland, Kaiser Foundation Hospital Oakland, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Bay Area Community Services.

Financial Aid: Samuel Merritt University offers no endowed scholarships per se, but its financial aid office can help students identify outside scholarships for which those students may qualify. Students may also be eligible for federal and state grants including federal work-study programs; students must fill out FAFSA and CSS profile forms to determine their eligibility.

10. National University, San Diego

About School of Health and Human Services: National University was founded in 1971 to meet the needs of adult learners who may be juggling employment, families and other obligations with their desire to learn. Nearly 9 percent of the university’s students are in active duty with the military. The university’s nursing classes—like all its other classes—can be taken as four-week modules, and students can enroll in nursing degree programs at any point throughout the year.

The School of Health and Human Services campus is located in Kearney Mesa. The 12-classroom Technology and Health Sciences Center includes a sophisticated computer lab. The curriculum stresses the vital role nurses play as part of an interdisciplinary team who strive to implement patient-centric care that results in positive health outcomes. Students participate in clinical rotations overseen by preceptors in clinical settings throughout the San Diego area.

Financial Aid: National University funds a variety of scholarship opportunities that are open to nursing students. These include the Transfer to Success Scholarship, the Collegiate Honor Award, the Presidential Tuition Scholarship and the Veterans’ Victory Scholarship. These scholarships are designed to help defer tuition costs, and each has its own application process. Students may also be eligible for federal and state financial basis if their FAFSA and CSS profile forms demonstrate financial need.


Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH
Pattie Trumble is a nurse who worked in both California and New York for many years as an emergency room nurse. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Associate Degree in Nursing from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. After 10 years of providing direct care, she went back to school and earned concurrent Master’s degrees in both public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, she worked for various public health agencies in California at both the community and state levels providing economic and legislative analysis.

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