The 10 Best Nursing Schools in California

The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses, and schools are racing to prepare tomorrow’s nurses for a variety of complex issues. Professional nurses are concerned with an individual’s total health, from preventing illness to caring for patients with long-term health problems. As such, nursing is both a science and an art. So, although nursing students study the sciences, they must also understand a range of cultural and behavioral issues. In addition, nurses need good critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

In California, the top nursing programs include both private and public institutions, and each has its strengths. Most—but not all—offer programs at the undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and postgraduate levels and offer degrees like the BSN and MSN (Bachelor or Master of Science in Nursing) and the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). Today, students need at least a BSN to sit for the NCLEX (National Council Licensing Examination), which is required to become a Registered Nurse.

Therefore, potential nursing students have many factors to consider when choosing an academic program. Of course, the strength of courses in the natural and social sciences is one aspect to consider. However, class size, research agendas, the ability of technologically advanced facilities, community partnerships, and graduates’ NCLEX pass rates are important, too. 

The following list of the top 10 schools of nursing in California is based on the rankings of Best Nursing Schools from U.S. News and World Report. In the event of a tie, the editorial team at College Gazette judges the tiebreaker.

10. Azusa Pacific University School of Nursing (Azusa, CA)

The Azusa Pacific University is a private, faith-based institution that started in 1899. The university offers innovative programs and small classes. Moreover, classes are available online or at one of eight locations in Southern California.

Because of the school’s high-impact experiences (like internships with community partners, mission trips, and working with the homeless) and the overall quality of nursing education, APU is ranked in several prestigious lists. It made the list of the Best Nursing Schools from the U.S. News and World Reports. Plus, in 2017, USA Today ranked the school among the top 9 colleges to earn a nursing degree. And in 2020-2021, ASU’s School of Nursing was also named a Nursing College of Distinction, one of only seven schools in California to receive this honor.

What’s more, all of APU’s new students receive some sort of financial aid, whether through scholarships, grants, or loans. For example, scholarships for incoming freshmen or transfer students range from the Mary Hill Award at $10,000 per year to the Trustees’ Scholarship, which covers 100% of a student’s tuition. In fact, high students can start to earn “micro-scholarships” for their scholastic and personal achievements before they even apply to ASU.

9. CSULA Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing (Los Angeles, CA)

California State University Los Angeles
Justefrain, CSULA Student Union BLDG, CC BY 3.0

The School of Nursing at California State’s LA campus was rated as the #76 program in the country, according to the U.S. News and World Reports. 

The school is committed to diversity, and the University is a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. In fact, the nursing program received a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in 2017. But the school’s diversity expands beyond demographics and into the classroom; with the diverse curriculum, students can study everything from entrepreneurship as it relates to the nursing field to how to work with under-reached populations or marginalized groups.

Students in the Chin School of Nursing have many opportunities for service learning, including community health rotations and providing immunizations at the local Children’s Hospital. However, because nurses must work with teams of other professionals, students may be paired with those from other departments during service learning. For example, master’s students from the School of Nursing partner with Social Work students to provide services to the area’s homeless population. 

8. San Diego State University School of Nursing (San Diego, CA)

San Diego State University
Geographer, Sdsumain, CC BY 1.0

Although the School of Nursing at San Diego State University does not offer doctoral programs, undergraduate and graduate students can pursue several nursing degree options. U.S. News ranks the master’s program as #74 in the country. 

SDSU’s School of Nursing focuses on hands-on education. As such, it has four state-of-the-art labs that are open to students, including a Media Lab, Nursing Fundamentals Skills Lab, Health Assessment Lab, Sharp Healthcare Human Patient Simulation Center. Each one provides multiple opportunities to practice skills in an educational setting.

Moreover, all undergraduates programs in SDSU’s College of Health and Human Services—including nursing–have an international component. The goal of these experiences is to broaden students’ understanding of cross-cultural issues. For example, students examine how cultural, economic, and political factors play into global health. 

7. CSU-Fullerton School of Nursing (Fullerton, CA)

Offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, many of Cal State-Fullerton’s nursing programs are nationally ranked. For example, U.S. News and World Report declared it’s the #63 best nursing school in the nation for master’s students. Moreover, in 2016 and 2017, some of the school’s programs—specifically, the graduate programs in Nurse Anesthesia and Nurse-Midwifery—were also ranked by U.S. News. 

The school’s accomplishments have much to do with the curriculum, which follows the Student Success Model. Basically, this approach encourages students, faculty, and staff to work together to prepare nurses to serve diverse populations in complex healthcare environments. In addition, all students engage in hands-on learning in some manner. This experimental learning may occur through research, in three different on-campus simulation labs, 11 partner hospitals, or other out-of-classroom activities. For instance, at the annual Community Action Poverty Simulation, students are exposed to real-life situations and learn how to meet the needs of low-income patients. 

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