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Best Nursing Schools in San Diego (On-Campus & Online)

Best Nursing Schools in San Diego (On-Campus & Online)

Nurses are often the front line in healthcare and while they may not save lives on a daily basis, no healthcare organization could function without them. The first step to a rewarding career in nursing is finding the right institution of higher learning in which to learn all that you need to know. That’s why we’ve created a list of the best nursing schools in San Diego.

Nurses are often the front line in healthcare and while they may not save lives on a daily basis, no healthcare organization could function without them. The first step to a rewarding career in nursing is finding the right institution of higher learning in which to learn all that you need to know. That’s why we’ve created a list of the best nursing schools in San Diego.

Beautiful sunny San Diego California is an excellent place to start a career in nursing. With nursing programs that range from Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), San Diego schools offer a great launching point for a stellar nursing career.

Nursing Programs

The San Diego area offers a number of schools with various levels of nursing programs. These include entry-level certificates such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Licensed Practical/Vocation Nurse (LPN/LVN), degrees leading to certification as a Registered Nurse (RN), and advanced degree programs such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D).

No matter what your goals are, there is a school for you in the San Diego area.

ADN Programs

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program generally takes two years to complete and requires roughly 60 credit hours of coursework. That coursework typically includes courses in basic nursing principles as well as specialized nursing such as Maternal-Child Health Nursing, Medical-Surgical Nursing, Adult-Gerontology Nursing, and more. It is the first step towards a basic nursing track culminating in sitting for the NCLEX-RN for licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN).

Direct-Entry BSN Programs

Considered the gold standard in nursing education, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a four-year degree and is often the minimum required by hospitals for a nursing position. Direct-entry means that the student does not need any previous nursing education or licensure to enter the program. The majority of accredited BSN programs in the San Diego area – direct-entry or otherwise – are found at traditional universities and colleges. Courses often include Clinical Pharmacology, Pathophysiology, Nursing Informatics, and more.

Direct-Entry MSN Programs

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, direct-entry Master of Science in Nursing programs – also known as Master’s Entry Programs in Nursing (MEPN) – are designed for you. Typically able to be completed in two years or less, this degree track is for those interested in changing their career track to nursing. These programs often include coursework and practicums in Evidence-Based Practice, Health Assessment, Nursing Informatics, and more.

RN to BSN Programs

If you have your ADN and are a licensed RN who is looking to take your nursing career to the next level, an RN to BSN program is the next step. These programs are generally less than two years and are often offered online to allow busy RNs to fit it into their schedule.

RN to MSN Programs

These programs serve as programs for those who hold either an ADN or BSN. Depending upon which of these degrees you hold, the program can take anywhere from two to three years to complete. Like the RN to BSN programs, these programs are often offered online or on nights and weekends to accommodate working RNs.

MSN Programs

The traditional Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree takes roughly two years to complete and requires a BSN for entry. These programs can be general or geared towards specialization within one area such as Adult-Gerontology, Nursing Informatics, Women’s Health & Midwifery, and more. Those interested in a more administrative leadership role in their nursing career often pursue MSN degrees. Courses often include Theory of Nursing Education, Introduction to Health Care Delivery Systems, and more.

Post-Graduate Certificates

For those nurses who already have their MSN but wish to switch specialties, there are a number of post-graduate certificates available through San Diego area schools. These programs are often cheaper and shorter in duration than traditional degree programs. Moreover, they are often delivered online. Among the post-graduate certificate programs available in the San Diego area are Psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Clinical Nurse Leader; among others.

DNP Programs

One of the most advanced nursing degrees obtainable, the Doctor of Nursing Practice offers specialization like that of the MSN as well as dual specialization options. Often offered as a BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP, the length of the program depends upon the prior level of nursing education.

Employment Outlook and Salary

How much a nurse is paid varies greatly and is influenced by a number of factors including the setting in which the nurse works (hospital, private office, etc.), the shifts worked and the education level of the nurse.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for the highest paid nurses in San Diego is approximately $103,000 per year. The highest paid nurses in the area are those RNs who work in area hospitals with wage scales generally based on years of experience. However, with the multitude of San Diego hospital systems, wages are highly competitive.

The starting wage for inexperienced RNs in a San Diego hospital is somewhere in the low to mid $40 per hour range. In fact, according to Glassdoor, the bottom of the 2018 pay scale for RNs in a San Diego hospital was over $42 per hour.

San Diego also offers a variety of other medical settings in which nurses can work. These include home care, hospice, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, and others. In these environments, the same source reports the average hourly starting wage between $30 and $35 per hour for RNs. LVNs in these areas often average $20 to $25 per hour.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the nursing field is expected to grow at a rate of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. This rate is much faster than the average rate of job growth and surpasses that of nearly every other field. This growth is nothing new as the same source reports an increase of nearly ten percent in nursing wages for the state of California over the previous five-year period.

The first step towards a promising career in nursing is choosing the right school. To that end, we have researched and rated nursing schools in San Diego and the surrounding area. This includes schools in San Diego, schools in San Diego County, and those distance programs that are based in San Diego. Read on to find the nursing school for you!

1. Palomar College

Coming in at number one, Palomar College is located in the San Diego County community of San Marcos. They provide two ADN program options, the Associate in Arts (AA) in Nursing and the Associate of Science (AS) in Nursing, with some coursework available online. The nursing coursework required for both is the same, however, the AA degree requires additional general education units in American History and Institutions. Palomar College has a 50-year history of educating San Diego county nurses.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 26 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.6%
  • Graduation Rate: 71%
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $4,812

2. MiraCosta College (tie)

MiraCosta College – located in Oceanside in San Diego County – ties for the second spot on the list. It offers a Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program as well as a registered nursing associate degree in nursing (ADN) with two tracks. The first track is a direct-entry program while the second track is an LVN to RN program that requires students to possess a valid LVN license for entry. All three programs prepare students to care for patients within clinical environments via coursework in social sciences, the humanities, natural sciences, and the nursing discipline by emphasizing clinical practice and nursing theory for direct patient care.

2. California State University – San Marcos (tie)

The San Marcos campus of California State University in San Diego County offers highly competitive nursing programs. They began with the first cohort of BSN students in 2006 and today have expanded their programs to include several levels of nursing education. These include a fully online RN to BSN program that is designed to be completed in roughly 16 months. They also offer traditional BSN and MSN programs as well as an LVN to BSN track.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 26 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 79%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $10,454

4. San Diego State University

Students at San Diego State University can choose from several nursing programs. This institution – located near downtown San Diego – offers students several programs including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), an LVN to RN 30 unit option and an RN to BSN degree completion track.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 28 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 92.1%
  • Graduation Rate: 89%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $13,363

5. Southwestern College

Southwestern College is found in the beautiful San Diego County community of Chula Vista. They offer entry-level nursing programs like the Certified Nursing Assistant and Vocational Nursing (VN) Certificate as well as degree options like the Associate of Science in Vocational Nursing (ASVN) and traditional Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN).

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 21 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 82.3%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $5,850

6. San Diego City College

Understanding the importance of a highly qualified nursing workforce, San Diego City College provides three nursing programs. Their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program is a 62-credit hour track that prepares students without prior coursework or experience to sit for the NCLEX-RN. They also offer an LVN to RN track that leads to an ADN as well as an LVN to RN 30-unit option that leads to being able to sit for the NCLEX-RN, however, it does not confer a degree. Graduates of these programs are highly qualified and in high demand in the San Diego area.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 30 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 91.1%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $6,360

7. Grossmont College

San Diego County is home to the city of El Cajon where Grossmont College is located. Its campus is nestled atop a 135-acre mesa surrounded by mountains just 17 miles southeast from the center of downtown San Diego. A vital part of the greater San Diego community since 1961, it provides nursing students with two nursing programs; the ASN and LVN to RN 30-unit option.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 24 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 82.3%
  • Graduation Rate: 70%
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $4,629

8. University of San Diego

The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science (HSNHS) houses the nursing program at the University of San Diego. The HSNHS maintains an innovative, cutting edge standardized patient and nursing simulation laboratory – the Dickinson Nursing Simulation Center (DNSC). DNSC is intended to mimic clinical settings, thus providing nursing students with the opportunity to develop and enhance their clinical skills in a low-stress safe environment. The nursing programs at USD include traditional programs like Direct Entry MSNMSNMSN to DNPDNPPost-baccalaureate DNPBSN to PhDBSN to DNP, and DNP to PhD as well as specialized degrees like MSN: Adult-Gerontology Nurse PractitionerMSN: Clinical Nurse LeaderMSN: Nurse InformaticsMSN: Family Nurse Practitioner, and MSN: Psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 14 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 90.9%
  • Graduation Rate: 90%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $38,592

9. Point Loma Nazarene University

San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University offers students various pathways towards a career, or career advancement, in the field of nursing. Designed to ensure that students understand all of the aspects that go into being a good healthcare professional. Their offerings include adult degree completion programs such as the RN to BSN degree completion, undergraduate programs like their BSN and LVN to BSN bridge, graduate level studies that include an MSN and DNP, plus a Post-MSN CNS Certificate.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 14 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 90.5%
  • Graduation Rate: 89%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $31,349

10. National University

National University – in the picturesque San Diego community of La Jolla – has adapted their course offerings to meet the increasingly high demand for qualified nurses. Today they provide a wide range of nursing programs from which students can choose that are designed to produce and fine-tune RNs and beyond for the workforce. Their nursing programs include BSNAccelerated second degree BSNLVN to BSN bridgeLVN to RN 30-unit optionMSNDoctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP)Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) certificate, and Psychiatric Mental Health NP Certificate.

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 19 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 57%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $23,232

11. Ashford University

Ashford University provides their learning experiences through distance learning only. However, they are based in San Diego. Their RN to BSN degree program provides the associate’s degree or diploma-prepared registered nurse (RN) a chance to move forward and augment their professional career. 

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 14 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: not available
  • Graduation Rate: 26%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $18,469

12. United States University

The Mission Valley area of San Diego is home to United States University.  They understand the varying needs of their students and offer courses both online as well as at their beautiful campus with delivery provided by the same renown faculty teaching both. They have a number of advanced nursing degrees available that include: MSN: Family Nurse PractitionerMSN: Health Care LeadershipMSN: Nurse Educator, and RN to BSN degree completion

  • Student to Faculty Ratio: 13 to 1
  • NCLEX Pass Rate: 74.2%
  • Graduation Rate: 0%
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) (BSN) & Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) (MSN)
  • Tuition: $19,364

Methodology

To determine the order of the schools on this list, all institutions were evaluated on shared standards. Those standards are based on the most current information available from reliable sources such as government agencies and the school’s own website. The factors that these schools were evaluated on include:

  • Tuition (using net price for first-year undergraduate students)
  • Graduation Rate (first-time students in 150 percent of the normal time)
  • NCLEX pass rates (using PN data if no RN information is available)
  • Student to Faculty ratio (used to narrow ties)

If you represent a school that is on this list and you disagree with your listing, please contact us so that we may address your concerns. Likewise, if you represent a school that you feel should be included in this list but is not, please bring it to our attention.

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