Simplify your search for a California DNP with this no-nonsense guide! Here you’ll find rankings of the best and most affordable DNP programs in California, a rundown of online & hybrid CA doctorates, and notes on BSN to DNP options. Want more details on a specific California school? Skip ahead to our annotated program listings.
Top California DNP Programs
This list of the best DNP programs in CA is based on multiple factors. To begin with, we evaluated independent rankings for nursing graduate degrees and prioritized any California school with a high DNP placement in U.S. News & World Report. But we also considered elements such as reputation, resources, and student support.
1. University of San Diego
The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science is our indisputed #1. It offers a rigorous DNP program that comes in two pathways (BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP) and multiple NP specialties. It achieves excellent national rankings for nursing graduate programs (e.g. top 50) and superb NCLEX pass rates. It provides students with great opportunities for clinical rotations and community networking. It has a top-notch Dickinson Nursing Simulation Center (DNSC). And graduates on independent review sites love it.
Reviewers were particularly pleased with their professors, stating that USD nursing faculty were extremely knowledgeable, clinically active in the field, and genuinely involved in their teaching. You can find proof of these statements in Hahn’s faculty bios and investigator spotlight, which features current nursing faculty research. Because all of this quality comes with a hefty price tag, it’s worth taking a look at the section on financial aid resources; DNP Dean’s Scholar Awards are open to doctoral students.
2. California State University-Fullerton
CSUF is our top choice for public California universities. The School of Nursing (SON) frequently earns a top 80 place in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for its DNP program. It emphasizes high impact practices, including community health initiatives, research work, and interprofessional education. It’s affiliated with 11 major partner hospitals. And it runs the Nurse Anesthesia DNP in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente.
Most importantly, it gets results. Reviewers of CSUF’s graduate nursing programs often mention the caring and knowledgeable professors, the great clinical facilities, and the care & respect that’s extended to all. DNP students have worked on excellent capstone projects and achieved a number of professional accomplishments. Although CSUF is public, it’s not cheap. The university offers modest SON scholarships, but you may need to think about outside sources for funding.
3. University of San Francisco
We had lots of contenders for the #3 spot, including University of California schools with post-master’s programs (e.g. UCLA and UCSF), smaller private schools (e.g. APU and CBU), and Brandman. In the end, we gave it to USF’s School of Nursing and Health Professions because of the flexibility of its hybrid DNP program (there are multiple specialties) and its respectable rankings for online and on-campus nursing graduate programs. USF is also a Jesuit school, which means it has a history of promoting diversity, justice, and global perspectives.
You can learn more about the School’s involvement with local partners in the Community Connections section. Aspiring NPs may also want to take a look at the Clinical Skills Lab & Simulation Center and examples of previous DNP projects. Like USD, USF is an expensive private university. Check the School of Nursing’s section on financing your education to see if you qualify for any aid opportunities before making a decision.
Most Affordable DNP Programs in California
To come up with this list of the cheapest DNP programs in California, we looked at the lowest per credit DNP tuition rate (in-state, if necessary). Because public CA universities often use a “per semester” or “per quarter” rate for the DNP, we were often calculating averages. One word of caution—even public prices in CA are high!
1. California Baptist University
California Baptist University is a private university, so tuition rates for its post-master’s DNP are the same for in-state and out-of-state students. In addition to the per unit cost, CBU will expect you to pay a sizeable per semester program fee.
2. Loma Linda University
Loma Linda University has a pricier per credit rate than CBU, but it also has more DNP pathways and specialties. When you’re putting together your budget, be sure to factor in the DNP clinical course fees and quarterly LLU fees.
3. University of California-Irvine
We calculated the per unit rate of UCI’s program by dividing the annual cost by the annual number of units (~30-31). The end result was below $1,000 per unit, but you should talk to the program coordinator to ensure you’re getting the full picture. Because most of the doctoral program is online, DNP students do not pay campus-based fees.
Online DNP Programs in California
Online DNP programs in California should technically be called “hybrid” programs. We examined the fine print on each program page in our listings and found that they all included campus components. Here are a few general rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Online BSN to DNP Programs in CA: To help you prepare for NP certification & employment, California universities will often want you on campus for clinical training sessions, cohort sessions (e.g. UCI), teaching weekends (e.g. USF), immersions (e.g. Brandman), or the like. Visits are typically short (e.g. 1-3 days), but they may be frequent. Each program is unique—examine the FAQ section for answers to questions on face-to-face components.
- Online Post-Master’s DNP Programs in CA: California schools really like to see the faces of their MSN students! We noticed programs with intensives (e.g. APU, PLNU, USD, UCI, etc.), residencies (e.g. CBU), immersions (e.g. UCSF, UCLA, etc.), orientations (e.g. USF), and even heavy on-campus work in the first year (e.g. CSUF). You may need to allow for at least 2-3 trips to campus over the course of the program, even for post-master’s study.
- Nurse Anesthesia DNP Programs in CA: Because of the intense nature of the training, these kinds of California doctorates are much more likely to be 100% on-campus (e.g. CSUF) or hybrid with plenty of campus requirements (e.g. USC, National, etc.).
Finally, before you start your application paperwork, check that the School of Nursing is authorized to offer the DNP to students in your state of residence. Many schools still have restrictions on distance learning. For instance:
- USF recommends that all nursing students check the state authorization section before applying.
- As of 2020, USD was only accepting applications for enrollment into the hybrid MSN to DNP program from California residents.
- Brandman’s BSN to DNP is not available to residents of all states; ask the program coordinator for specifics.
- SMU is only able to accept post-master’s DNP candidates from ~10 states (see the admissions section for details).
Note: Want to expand your search beyond California? Check out the listings of Online DNP Programs. They are organized by state.
BSN to DNP Programs in California
Multiple Specialties: The schools with the most BSN to DNP specialties in our program listings are Loma Linda University and the University of San Diego.
- LLU’s hybrid BS to DNP program can involve a few days on campus each quarter. In addition to traditional NP tracks (e.g. AGNP, FNP, etc.), LLU also offers a rare Clinical Nurse Specialist track and a CRNA option. Be aware that students in the BS to DNP program will not have the option to opt-out with an MSN.
- USD has a campus-based BSN to DNP with tracks in multiple NP specialties, including dual programs (e.g. PNP/FNP) and unusual foci (e.g. FNP in Emergency Care). Campus-based means you’ll need to visit USD for classes at least 2 days per week.
FNP & PMHNP: For various reasons—including student demand—California universities love offering BSN to DNP programs in FNP and PMHNP. The University of San Francisco and Brandman University offer both specialties; Samuel Merritt University and UCI stick with the FNP. As we mentioned, many of these programs are hybrid, with significant campus components.
Nurse Anesthesia: Check out LLU, CSUF, the University of Southern California, National University, and SMU. As of 2020, SMU was in the process of transitioning from the MSN to the DNP. Most schools post their CRNA certification exam results, but don’t be afraid to ask for numbers if you can’t find that information on the program website. The same principle holds true for NP specialties. Schools should be willing to tell you their pass rates.
California Nursing Organizations
- California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN)
- California Association of Colleges of Nursing (CACN)
- California Coalition of Nurse Practitioners (CANP)
- Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL)
Below you'll find a list of all of the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs available in California.