RN Programs in San Diego, CA with Course and School Information

Nov 14, 2018

San Diego RN Schools

There are multiple undergraduate and graduate education options open to nursing students in and around San Diego. This article focuses on the courses and clinical experiences required at three schools -- all of which offer programs designed to prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Check out the table of stats on the profiled colleges as well as details on a few other school options in the San Diego area.

  • Students who don't have the time or the finances for a four-year degree program can consider San Diego City College, a two-year school less than a mile from downtown San Diego. It offers nursing associate's degree programs as well as a program for licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) to earn their RN certification.
  • San Diego State University, nearly six miles northeast of central San Diego, offers the most program options for RNs. Students can complete a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing as well as an LVN-to-RN non-degree program at the institution.
  • The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science at the University of San Diego, about seven miles from downtown, offers master's and doctoral degree programs in nursing.

Comparison of Schools

Learn even more about the featured schools by looking over the following table. It has a variety of facts and figures to help you make an informed decision, including details on tuition, financial aid, acceptance rates and more.

San Diego City College San Diego State University University of San Diego
School Type Two-year; public Four-year; public Four-year; private not-for-profit
Total Enrollment (2017) 15,569* 35,158* 8,905*
Campus Setting Large city Large city Large city
Tuition & Fees $1,142, in-state; $5,894, out-of-state (undergraduate 2017-18) * $7,460, in-state; $19,340, out-of-state (undergraduate 2017-18)* $26,418 (graduate 2017-2018)*
% of First-Year Students Receiving Any Form of Financial Aid (2016-2017) 87%* 59%* N/A - not reported for graduate students
Acceptance Rate (2017) N/A - Open admissions 35%* N/A - not reported for graduate students
Retention Rate (2017) 66% for full time students* 89% for full time students* N/A - not reported for graduate students
Graduation Rate 23% (Students began in 2014)* 74% (Students began in 2011)* N/A - not reported for graduate students

Sources: *NCES College Navigator

San Diego City College

San Diego City College's nursing education program offers associate's degrees for students who want to become RNs, as well as a program for LVNs seeking RN certification but not the degree. Students learn through classroom study and clinical experience in health care facilities.

Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) to Registered Nurse (RN) - 30 Unit Transition Option

This program is for students who don't desire a degree but want to become eligible for the NCLEX-RN. They will be eligible for licensing in California but should be aware that not all states recognize this path to licensure. Human physiology and microbiology are prerequisite courses. In the nursing education program, students take a class in the transition from LVN to RN. Required courses in leadership and medical/surgical nursing, as well as in mental health and gerontological nursing, combine classroom study with clinical work. Recommended elective courses include a nursing skills laboratory and pharmacology.

Associate of Science Degree in Nursing - LVN to RN

LVNs seeking an associate's degree and RN certification must complete prerequisite courses in microbiology, human physiology and anatomy. Major courses total 45 units. Courses in communication, psychology and contemporary social issues are required. Students examine the differences between the roles of the LVN and RN and take a course in nursing leadership. Courses in medical/surgical nursing and mental health and gerontological nursing include clinical and classroom studies.

Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The ADN program for entry-level nurses calls for 62 units or four semesters of full-time nursing study. Prior to entering the program, students must complete prerequisite courses in microbiology, human physiology and anatomy. Courses in psychology, communication and sociology are required. Nursing courses include maternal/child nursing, mental health nursing, pharmacology, medical surgical nursing and leadership. Clinical experiences in health care facilities are a major part of this program.

San Diego State University

San Diego State University's School of Nursing offers programs that train entry-level RNs as well as provide working professionals with advanced studies to continue their education and careers. All bachelor's degree students must take part in an international learning experience.


This 30-credit program is open to LVNs who are licensed in California and want to qualify for state licensing as RNs. No degree is earned. Admission is competitive, and students in this program are admitted to clinical classes only after all baccalaureate students are placed. They may have to wait a few semesters to get the classes they need.

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nursing

Students who enter the university as freshmen enroll in the pre-nursing program to complete prerequisite courses and general education requirements. They must apply to the School of Nursing and generally enter at the start of their third year. The program requires four years to complete. Students who hold a bachelor's degree in a subject other than nursing can complete the program in five semesters of classroom study and clinical experience. Courses may include pharmacology, pathophysiology, nurse-client relationships and community health nursing.

Registered Nurse to BS in Nursing

This program leads to a bachelor's degree for the RN who holds an ADN or a diploma in nursing. The scheduling is flexible to accommodate working nurses. Students must first be admitted to the university, then apply to the School of Nursing. In addition to taking general education courses, students complete 27 hours of nursing courses including nursing professionalism and research. Courses in electrocardiography, care of the critically ill, community health nursing and leadership have lecture and clinical components.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

This program offers three concentrations and several options for specialization within those concentrations, including programs that lead to nurse practitioner (NP) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) designations. Students must be RNs with bachelor's degrees, although those degrees don't have to be in nursing. Any of these programs can be taken on a full- or part-time basis. Three concentrations are currently accepting students: advanced practice nursing of adults and the elderly, nursing leadership in healthcare systems and women's health nursing. Specializations include nurse-midwifery and acute/critical care nursing.

University of San Diego

The University of San Diego offers master's and doctoral programs for nurses, along with a path to RN certification through a special master's program. There are many options for specialization within the degree programs.

Master's Entry Program in Nursing

The Master's Entry Program in Nursing allows individuals with a bachelor's or higher degree in a subject other than nursing to earn a master's degree in clinical nursing with 21 months of intensive study. Graduates will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN, as well as the Clinical Nurse Leader certificate test. In addition to a bachelor's degree, applicants need to have completed prerequisite courses in human anatomy, human physiology and microbiology. Applicants must have spent 100 hours volunteering in a hospital and observing RNs. Required courses include nursing practice with many types of clients such as the elderly, the mentally ill and children.


The MSN program is open to individuals with bachelor's degrees in nursing. Many specialization choices are available. Some of the areas of emphasis include adult-gerontology CNS, executive nurse leader, family nurse practitioner (NP), dual pediatric NP/family NP, health care informatics, clinical nurse leader and adult-gerontology CNS. Students can choose from optional courses of study including Latino health care, nursing education and mind-body-spirit health care. The lengths of the programs vary depending on the specialty.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing

The Ph.D. program trains students to become nurse scientists through scholarship and research. The University of San Diego offers the BSN to Ph.D. program, a post-MSN Ph.D. and a DNP to Ph.D. program. Learning through classes and tutorials, students also engage with faculty members, conduct independent research projects and work on research assistantships. Students choose a specialty area in which to focus their studies. They can complete a dissertation based on a research project and are asked to write publishable articles related to their dissertation focus. They can also choose to complete a grant application and write two articles instead of a dissertation.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Nurses who are experts in a clinical specialty area can enroll in the DNP program to learn leadership skills. Advanced practice nurses with a master's degree in nursing can complete the 34-unit DNP program in a specialty area. They will take courses in ethics, health policy and the business of health care before completing a residency and a final project. Nurses with BSNs and graduates of a master's entry program can also enroll in the DNP program and prepare for national board certification in a designated clinical area. This program requires 78 to 83 credits and takes three years with full-time enrollment.

Other Schools

Grossmont College in El Cajon is about 14 miles from downtown San Diego. It offers an ADN and an LVN to RN program. National University, about 16 miles from downtown San Diego in La Jolla, offers many nursing programs including a BSN, DNP, MS in Nurse Anesthesia and an MSN. Around 14 miles from downtown San Diego in Chula Vista, Southwestern College's RN programs include the ADN, an LVN step-up program and an operating room nursing program.

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