How to Become a Registered Nurse in California

California map

To become a registered nurse in California, you must have at least an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a two-year commitment.

While high demand for nurses continues across the United States, taking your educational career one step further will award more money, experience, and opportunities for advancement.

California has some of the top public schools in the United States, especially for nursing, so those seeking a degree may want to consider the west coast.

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse in California, keep reading to learn more about the top schools!

5 Registered Nurse Schools in California

California is a large state with a population the size of a medium country.

Therefore, the four major cities – Los Angeles, San Fransisco, San Diego, and Sacramento – have plenty of excellent nursing schools to fulfill the population’s needs.

Several of the top schools include:

California State University – Bakersfield

California State University – Bakersfield Logo

Considered the top nursing school in California, Cal State Bakersfield is between Los Angeles and San Fransisco.

Since it’s a smaller city, students enjoy the college town feel when school is in session.

The school offers a traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a 15-month Registered Nurse (RN)-to-BSN program.

With a 98.08% National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) passing rate and in-state tuition of $15,000, Cal State Bakersfield is an excellent choice for California residents.

California State University – Fullerton

California State University – Fullerton Logo

Located north of Anaheim in the Los Angeles area, Cal State Fullerton has around 40,000 students with an ethnically diverse student body in a terrific location and in-state tuition of just $7,000 per year.

Students seeking to pursue nursing have four options, the traditional BSN, an upper division transfer BSN, which is for transfer students, an accelerated BSN, and the RN-to-BSN option.

Like most other schools on this list, Cal State Fullerton boasts an NCLEX passing rate in the upper 90s at 96.97%!

California State University – Long Beach

California State University – Long Beach Logo

The California State system has excellent nursing programs at several locations, Long Beach included.

Located along the stunning California coast, Long Beach is known for its beautiful beaches and one of the best programs in the state.

Therefore, students will receive a top-notch education in a picturesque setting.

The school offers three BSN routes – traditional, RN to BSN, accelerated BSN, and one Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

The tuition is $6,800 annually, and the NCLEX passing rate is an impressive 99.3%.

San Diego State University 

San Diego State University  Logo

Home to the Aztecs mascot, San Diego State University (SDSU) has been in operation since 1897.

Today, the school hosts a whopping 36,000 students and has worked to become one of the top public schools in the state.

Like most other top-notch nursing schools, SDSU offers a traditional BSN, RN-BSN, MSN, and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)-RN program.

Since it’s a state school, the in-state tuition is only $8,100 per year, and the school boasts a 95.8% NCLEX passing rate.                                     

University of California – Irvine

University of California – Irvine Logo

U.S. News & World Report consistently rates UC Irvine as one of the top public schools in the nation.

The school is recognized for its commitment to student body diversity, and graduates enjoy higher salaries than in other schools.

The primary nursing program is the traditional BSN, but only 2.5% of applicants are admitted, so it’s incredibly competitive.

Nevertheless, you are almost guaranteed a successful nursing career if you are lucky enough to become a student.

Tuition is a reasonable $12,000 per year, and the NCLEX passing rate is 88.64%.

Registered Nurse Schools in California – Summary Table

Top 5 Schools in California

School NameAddress
California State University – Bakersfield9001 Stockdale Hwy, Bakersfield, CA 93311
California State University – Fullerton800 N State College Blvd, Fullerton, CA 92831
California State University – Long Beach1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840
San Diego State University5500 Campanile Dr, San Diego, CA 92182
University of California – IrvineIrvine, CA 92697


Annual Salary Range:

Average Salary of Registered Nurse (RN)s in California

City NameSalary
Los Angeles$75,110
San Diego$71,670
San Jose$83,340
San Francisco$83,010
Long Beach$74,050
Santa Ana$74,110
* Salary information last updated 2024

Regional Salary in California

RegionEmployedAvg. Annual SalaryAvg. Hourly PayTop 10% Annual SalaryBottom 10% Annual Salary
Bakersfield, CA5,190$118,170$56.81$160,380$81,420
Chico, CA2,280$126,420$60.78$155,690$97,290
El Centro, CA820$99,280$47.73$130,040$73,880
Fresno, CA8,340$123,370$59.31$163,370$83,200
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA111,660$125,350$60.26$165,810$83,890
Merced, CA860$117,730$56.6$138,330$82,100
Modesto, CA4,780$138,510$66.59$177,390$95,320
Napa, CA1,420$146,400$70.38$200,540$101,880
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA5,280$122,260$58.78$161,860$83,970
Redding, CA1,570$121,730$58.53$155,050$83,550
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA31,270$121,470$58.4$162,150$82,070
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA23,180$145,230$69.82$190,430$97,850
Salinas, CA2,970$121,030$58.19$161,840$81,800
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA28,890$117,830$56.65$162,830$63,570
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA41,970$164,760$79.21$216,250$106,760
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA20,150$160,020$76.94$214,700$107,370
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA1,820$125,430$60.31$161,340$88,750
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA1,500$149,750$72$176,530$97,070
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA3,940$115,170$55.37$164,470$46,260
Santa Rosa, CA3,490$151,150$72.67$214,220$102,470
Stockton-Lodi, CA4,760$130,370$62.68$166,240$95,250
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA3,790$158,340$76.12$212,630$101,530
Visalia-Porterville, CA2,640$113,920$54.77$134,000$80,190
Yuba City, CA950$122,290$58.79$143,580$83,390
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Registered Nurses, OCC Code 29-1141, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the quickest way of becoming a registered nurse in California?

The fastest way to become a nurse in California is by taking an ADN program, which can be completed in as little as two years.

Many nurses take this path to enter the industry quickly, then pursue their bachelor’s at night with the medical practice or hospital paying for the tuition.

Which nursing professions are the happiest in California?

Like in other professions, some career paths are happier and less stressful than others.

Within the nursing field, a nurse educator has the lowest stress and is the happiest, followed by a school nurse, public health nurse, nurse administrator, case management nurse, home health nurse, and research nurse.

What is the most difficult nurse type to become in California?

Being a nurse in the medical-surgical field can be incredibly challenging and requires an elevated level of skill to manage this workload type.

What is the most challenging semester of nursing school in California?

Most students take the health assessment class, one of the first courses in nursing programs.

The curriculum covers various body systems and how to assess patients from top to bottom to find the cause of their ailments.

This first semester is the most difficult because students have little background knowledge of anatomy and how to find various illnesses and injuries.

What are the steps to becoming a nurse in California?

The process of becoming a nurse is not quick and easy.

The first step is determining the nursing school degree you want to pursue after high school or college.

These include an associate degree, bachelor of science, Master’s program, licensed vocational nurse, military corpsman, or doctorate in nursing.

Once you have completed the desired degree, you must take the NCLEX exam, which grants you a registered nursing license upon passing.

The final step is to search for and get a job.

Also, you must re-register your license every two years and maintain continuing education credits between licensing.

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