[2023] Top Psychology Graduate Programs and Schools in California

Graduate studies in psychology require a lot of hard work and effort on your part. Many programs take at least two years to complete, and if you pursue a doctorate, the timeline is often about five years.

So why not study in a state with some of the most epic landscapes and recreational opportunities in the nation? You can study hard and get some well-deserved time off while exploring all the Golden State has to offer.

First things first, though – where should you go to school?

California has an expansive higher education system with schools large and small. To help you explore the best options, we have compiled this list of four of California’s best graduate psychology programs.

Top Psychology Graduate Programs and Schools in California

California State University Los Angeles

School Information

California State University Los Angeles is a large public doctoral-degree-granting institution with nearly 25,000 undergraduate students. The school is part of the California State University system, which has 23 campuses across the state.

According to US News and World Report, Cal State LA ranks highly for its academic offerings, including a number 24 ranking among regional universities in the west. The school also ranks in the top ten for innovation, social mobility, and top public schools.

While most students at Cal State LA are undergraduates, there are nearly 4,000 graduate students on campus as well. This includes students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs.

Program Information

Cal State LA’s master of arts in psychology degree is a 31-32 unit degree that focuses on the development of conceptual psychology skills and research abilities. This includes advanced coursework in psychological statistics and multivariate analysis.

Additionally, this is a thesis program. You will select a thesis topic, conduct thorough research, and defend your thesis to a committee before graduation.

You will benefit throughout your studies from a mentor relationship with a member of the psychology faculty. This mentor will advise you regarding your studies, program planning, thesis development, and so forth.

The University of California at Berkeley

School Information

From its beginnings in 1868, the University of California at Berkeley has been revered as one of the top academic institutions in the nation. The school ranks first (tie) among public schools, according to US News and World Report. Additionally, the school ranks 20th (tie) among national universities.

Today, Berkeley offers more than 350 degrees in more than 180 academic departments and programs. The small class sizes (17.8 students per professor) combined with a long track record of academic excellence, make Berkely a fine choice for your graduate studies in psychology.

Berkeley isn’t just about student achievement, though. The school has nine Nobel Prize winners and four Pulitzer Prize winners among its faculty.

Program Information

UC Berkeley offers multiple concentration areas for graduate psychology students. For example, you can specialize in clinical science, cognition, or developmental psychology. Likewise, you can concentrate in social-personality psychology, cognitive neuroscience, or behavioral and systems neuroscience.

Regardless of the psychology specialization you choose, your coursework and research opportunities prepare you for advanced research in this field. Most specializations are non-clinical in nature, meaning, your experiences will not lead to licensure in clinical or counseling psychology.

Pursuing a Ph.D. at Berkeley opens many doors for highly focused research. Your research is supervised by the faculty, who help guide and direct your investigations into human behavior.

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

School Information

The University of California at Los Angeles is nestled on a 419-acre campus in the Westwood neighborhood, with easy access to downtown LA, beaches at Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades, and hiking and biking trails in Topanga State Park.

The school has an enrollment of almost 50,000 students, and consistently ranks among the best public schools in the nation. In fact, US News and World Report, lists UCLA first among top public schools (tie) and 20th among national universities (tie). Furthermore, UCLA is in the top ten for best schools for veterans and in the top 50 for innovation.

Programs at UCLA are divided among 12 professional schools. All told, you can take 5,000 different courses as a student at UCLA.

Program Information

Graduate studies in psychology at UCLA can take you in various directions. For example, the clinical psychology track focuses on developing a holistic set of practitioner skills that enables you to work effectively with clients to address their mental health needs.

Conversely, if you prefer to focus on psychological research as opposed to clinical work, the quantitative psychology track might be for you. Numerous other specialties are available, including, but not limited to:

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Computational Cognition
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Social and Affective Neuroscience

One of the best benefits of studying psychology at UCLA is the access you have for conducting research. The psychology department partners with the Brain Research Institute, the Institute for Social Science Research, and the Fernald Child Study Center, among others, to give graduate students like you world-class research opportunities to expand your education.

San Diego State University (SDSU)

School Information

Not only is San Diego State University in one of the most beautiful cities in the state, but it’s also a highly-regarded university with many accolades. For example, SDSU is in the top 30 on Forbes’ list of America’s best value colleges. Additionally, the University is in the top 60 for diversity on campus and in the top three in the nation for its study abroad program.

While you are on campus, you can enjoy a vibrant environment with more than 300 student organizations, including nearly 50 fraternities and sororities and student programs for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

When yo are not in class, you can easily get to San Diego’s hot spots using the San Diego Trolley. Head to the beach, take in a Padres game, or explore Old Town San Diego under the Southern California sun.

Program Information

San Diego State University’s graduate psychology department offers two tracks: a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. Both tracks heavily focus on conducting psychological research.

If you plan to continue your studies in a Ph.D. program, the MA track is perhaps the better choice. You will gain valuable research experience while specializing your studies in one of the following areas:

  • Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Physical and/or Mental Health
  • Social Psychology

The MS track is a terminal degree program for students whose jobs depend on applying psychological concepts in the workplace. As such, you can choose to specialize in an Industrial and Organizational track or a Quantitative Methods track. In either case, the skills you acquire enable you to work in research labs, for businesses, or as a psychology consultant.

Requirements to Become a Psychologist in California

Getting a graduate degree from a psychology program in California is just the first step in becoming a licensed psychologist in the state.

According to the California Board of Psychology, requirements to become a licensed psychologist in California are:

  • Hold a qualifying doctoral degree from a regionally-accredited school (other conditions apply if your degree is from an out-of-state or international institution)
  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience, half of which must come after the completion of a doctoral program
  • Take six types of pre-licensure courses (topics covering: human sexuality, child abuse assessment, chemical dependency detection and treatment, suicide risk assessment and intervention, spousal or partner abuse assessment and aging and long-term care training)
  • Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
  • Pass the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE)
  • Supply fingerprints and pass a criminal background check

Once these tasks are complete, you can apply for an initial California license.

To maintain licensure, you must take part in continuing education, numbering at least 36 credits of coursework within a two-year period prior to the licensure expiration date.

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