May 16, 2024
Cheapest Nursing Schools in California

Cheapest Nursing Schools in California

Last Updated on January 6, 2024 by NAMS Editor

With the ongoing nursing shortage and high demand for quality healthcare, becoming a registered nurse (RN) is one of the most stable and rewarding career paths. However, the cost of nursing school can deter some interested individuals. If you’re looking for an affordable nursing education within California, here are the ten cheapest nursing schools in California based on total cost of attendance.

Why Nursing is a Smart Career Choice

Before diving into specific school options, it’s worth noting why choosing nursing as a career makes good financial sense. As of May 2022, the median annual salary for RNs in California was $ 61,250, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[I] Nursing also offers job security, as the state is projected to need more than 260,000 new and replacement registered nurses by 2026 to meet healthcare demands.[ii] Additional benefits of the profession include a good work-life balance, career flexibility and opportunities for advancement. While the path to becoming an RN requires dedication and hard work, it can lead to a personally and financially rewarding career helping others.

Technical Definitions

It’s important to understand some key terms when researching nursing programs and costs:

  • Total Cost of Attendance (COA) – This figure provided by each school includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation costs for the normal program duration. It provides the fullest picture of what you can expect to pay overall.
  • In-state Tuition – The tuition rate charged to California residents at public schools. Out-of-state and international students usually pay a higher non-resident tuition.
  • ADN vs BSN – Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are the main types of RN programs. ADN is usually two years, while BSN is typically four years. BSN prepares graduates for broader roles.

With these definitions in mind, let’s explore the most affordable nursing schools in California. They are organized from lowest to highest total cost of attendance.

West Los Angeles College ADN Program

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $18,960/year
  • In-state Tuition: $1,104/Semester

Located in Culver City, WLAC offers one of the most budget-friendly RN programs in the entire state. As a public community college, it keeps costs extremely low for California residents pursuing the 2-year ADN pathway. Small class sizes allow for plenty of hands-on training. Graduates achieve a 96% first-time NCLEX-RN pass rate. The COA does not include housing since it’s a commuter campus near Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Harbor College ADN Program 

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $20,820/year
  • In-state Tuition: $1,104/Semester

Another stellar value from the Los Angeles Community College District, LAHC has educated nurses for over 50 years. Clinical rotations take place at partner hospitals like Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. In addition to the affordable tuition, the surrounding Wilmington/San Pedro area has reasonable housing options. The 94% NCLEX-RN success rate demonstrates the program’s high-caliber education.

Santa Rosa Junior College ADN Program

Total Cost of Attendance: $22,940/year

In-state Tuition: $46/unit

For Northern Californians, SRJC stands out as one of the most budget-conscious options. The wine country locale provides scenic surroundings for studying. Faculty foster a nurturing learning environment. Clinical sites include partner hospitals in Santa Rosa and surrounding Sonoma County. Living expenses are moderate compared to big cities. SRJC boasts an impressive 97% first-attempt pass rate on board exams.

Transitioning to BSN Programs

While ADN programs offer an affordable entry into the nursing profession, many employers now prefer hiring BSN graduates or requiring nurses to earn their BSN within a certain time frame. The following schools deliver affordable pre-licensure BSN pathways for California residents.

California State University, East Bay 

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $26,472/year
  • In-state Tuition and fees: $7,300/year

CSUEB provides a quality Bachelor of Science in Nursing for a reasonable price thanks to the CSU system’s commitment to accessibility. The Pleasanton/Hayward area hosts experiential clinical placements. Scholarships and on-campus jobs help further offset costs. Graduates achieve a 100% RN licensing exam passage rate and gain credentials for career flexibility.

California State University, Fullerton

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $27,012/year
  • In-state Tuition and fees: $7,300/year

In an economically vibrant Orange County region, CSUF remains one of the most cost-effective routes to a BSN in Southern California. Although the campus is larger than some junior colleges, student support services foster close collaboration. Generous financial aid packages supplement already reasonable resident tuition rates. The program achieves a 97% NCLEX-RN success rate.

California Maritime Academy 

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $27,320/year
  • In-state Tuition and fees: $10,302/year

For a unique maritime-focused BSN experience, consider Cal Maritime in Vallejo. While tuition is higher as a specialized CSU campus, room and board costs are offset by living aboard training ships. The hands-on program focuses on emergency and trauma nursing. Financial aid lightens the burden considerably. Enrollment is capped to ensure individualized preparation. Graduates obtain eligibility for officer roles in the US National Health Service Corps and other programs.

Rural Campus Options

Smaller town settings provide lower living expenses compared to major metro areas. The following schools situated outside major population centres maintain affordability as well.

Shasta College ADN Program

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $27,968/year
  • In-district Tuition: $46/unit

Based in Redding, Shasta College facilitates clinical training at regional medical centres serving the widespread North State region. Housing in this scenic mountainous part of Northern California remains quite reasonable. Graduates report excellent preparation for the responsibilities of an RN role. The career services office assists with securing jobs locally.

Feather River College ADN Program

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $28,404/year
  • In-district Tuition: $46/unit

Nestled in the gold country Sierra Nevada foothills near Quincy, FRC cultivates a close-knit learning community. Hands-on simulation and clinical rotations in the scenic northeastern corner of the state prepare students for various acute and critical care environments. Scholarship opportunities further decrease the financial burden. Graduates gain support finding positions throughout rural Northern California.

Smooth Transition Back to Cities

While more affordable, remote rural areas may only suit some prospective nurses. The next two schools located closer to metropolitan centres still uphold competitive pricing.

Cuesta College ADN Program

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $29,212/year
  • In-district Tuition: $46/unit

Conveniently positioned midway between San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, Cuesta College offers affordable preparation for NCLEX-RN licensure near California’s spectacular central coastline. Clinical sites include partners like French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. Ample scholarships aid those with financial need. Housing costs remain reasonable compared to large urban areas.

Mendocino College ADN Program

  • Total Cost of Attendance: $30,960/year
  • In-district Tuition: $46/unit

Last but not least, Mendocino College in rural Ukiah maintains one of the most budget-friendly programs in Northern California. Scenic wine country placements like Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center complement classroom instruction. Scholarships cut costs further. While more remote, graduates gain experience suitable for careers throughout the state upon licensure.


In summary, California offers many affordable pathways to a fulfilling career in nursing. From large metropolitan hubs to scenic small towns, these ten schools deliver quality ADN and BSN programs for under $32,000 annually in total costs. For motivated individuals, attaining registered nurse credentials can be something other than years of debt. With some research and planning, California makes high-demand clinical careers accessible and affordable. We wish you the very best in pursuing your healthcare dreams!

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