Choosing an RN Program in California
Considering a program in registered nursing? The most essential factor is that the program be license qualifying. Any program operating within California must be approved by the Board of Registered Nursing. A list of approved schools is available on the Board site (http://www.rn.ca.gov/education/programs.shtml). The Board has also issued a warning about unapproved schools operating within the state.
There are approximately 150 registered nursing programs approved to recruit in California. What, besides location, should your decision be based on?
Students may opt for an associate or baccalaureate level nursing program. Those with prior degrees may opt for a direct entry master’s program. Candidates should be aware that, while all graduates are eligible for the RN license, those with degrees at the BSN level or higher are often at a hiring advantage.
Suppose you start at the associate’s level but plan to pursue a baccalaureate degree? You may want to consider articulation agreements between schools. California does not have a statewide articulation agreement, but many individual schools have agreements. You can expect a community college to have an agreement with some state university. Additionally, students should be aware that units taken at regionally accredited institutions often transfer more easily than those taken at nationally accredited institutions.
If you already have an LPN license, California has a 30 unit option. You do not necessarily have to earn a degree to move up to RN level licensure. However, you will not be eligible for licensure in all states. This may also make it more difficult to earn a BSN later.
Another consideration is test scores. Whatever your school, you will ultimately be taking the same exam: the NCLEX-RN. The Board of Registered Nursing lists NCLEX pass rates by program (http://www.rn.ca.gov/education/passrates.shtml). You can view a full five years of scores.
Test scores can reflect two things: the quality of the nursing education and the stringency of admission requirements.
Admission Requirements and Timelines
Can you get in – and how long will it take? Schools typically have far more applicants who meet minimum standards than they have slots. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (ACCN) reports that, though 20,402 California students were taking nursing courses at the BSN level or higher in 2012 and fully 6,686 graduated, a startling 6,913 were turned away. How do schools handle this situation? Some schools have a waitlist. You may be assured a spot if you meet the stated requirements. The flip side is that you may have a year or two to wait.
Some institute a point system to determine who gets in. TEAS scores and grades in science and general education courses are often considered. As a prospective nursing student, you may want to consider not just the minimum standards, but the typical profile of the admitted cohort.
Students who are having a difficult time finding a school without a waitlist may consult the Discover Nursing site (http://www.discovernursing.com/schools#no-filters).
Costs vary widely. Sometimes the price of getting into a program – without being one of those top contenders – is going to a more expensive private school.
Nursing students don’t always bear the brunt of the cost. In addition to standard financial aid like the Pell Grant, there are moneys set aside specifically for nurses. Some are tied to a practice obligation. The California Board has assembled a list of financial aid resources (http://www.rn.ca.gov/careers/financial-aid.shtml).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a mean wage of $94,120 for California RNs – which is not to say that a nurse should expect to make this figure at a first job. Salaries depend on experience and on type of position; a charge nurse or a nurse with expertise in a specialty will typically make more than a beginning nurse.
California Board of Registered Nursing http://www.rn.ca.gov
California Nurses Association http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/affiliates/entry/california-nurses-association
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