Best Psychology Schools in California in 2024

January 26, 2024 | Admin

In the wake of the heightened mental health issues worldwide, there is increasing demand for mental health experts such as psychologists. California offers some of the best psychology schools and a flourishing psychologist job market in the US. California also offers psychology students and graduates internships, fellowships, professional resources, and competitive salaries. 

This article will discuss the benefits of attending a psychology degree in California and provide an overview of the best psychology schools and online psychology programs in California. It will also discuss the criteria for choosing a psychology program in California and the licensing requirements for psychologists in the state.

Benefits of Attending a Psychology Program in California

Here are some reasons why you should consider taking your psychology degree in California.

California Offers Psychology Students Unlimited Options for Psychology Schools and Program

Whether you’re looking for an online program or an on-campus program, they are hundreds of options to choose from. The various programs range from diploma, undergraduate, master’s, up to doctorate level. 

The different psychology schools and programs vary greatly regarding location, concentrations and specializations, cost and tuition, training method, enrollment rate, student graduation. Therefore, you are guaranteed to get one that will suit your needs and goals

California is Home to Some of the Highest Ranked Psychology Schools

The 2020 QS report for the top psychology school in the world features three California universities, including:

  • Stanford University
  • University of California – Berkley
  • University of California – Los Angeles 
  • University of California – Davis
  • University of California – San Diego
  • University of California – Irvine
  • University of California – Santa Barbara
  • University of California – Riverside 
  • University of South California

Warm Weather

If you love warm weather throughout the year, California is the ideal place to study and work in.

Vibrant Social Environment

California is home to numerous cities that are buzzing with various entertainment facilities. Whether you like to spend time on the beach, hike in the mountains, go to concerts, or visit the museum, there is a lot to see and do in California.

How to Choose a Psychology Degree in California

With so many options to choose from when it comes to psychology schools and programs in California, it can be challenging to narrow down to one. There is no right or wrong choice. It all comes down to your preference, budget, and career goals. 

Below three steps for establishing the right psychology school and program for you in California. 

Determine Your Needs and Goals 

Before you begin your search for the right psychology program in California, you must determine what you are looking for. Literally, take a pen and a paper and write down your career goals in psychology. This will help you to determine what type of course to do in which university or college. 

For instance, you may be interested in becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, or you want to become a counselor. In the case of a licensed clinical psychologist, you will need to complete a master’s program, enroll in PsyD, and meet all their licensing requirements as stipulated by the California Board of Psychology

As such, you might be keen to seek enrollment in universities that offer a combined bachelor’s and Master’s program in psychology or one that has numerous scholarship opportunities for postgraduate education. Or, you might be interested in focusing on the research side of psychology, which would make a Ph.D. program more appropriate than a PsyD. 

Another thing to be clear about is your needs. For instance, do you require help with tuition from the first year of study? In which case, you need to look for a university that has numerous scholarships, student aid, tuition incentives, and work-study opportunities. 

Also, consider whether the university offers on-campus accommodation or whether you’re open to finding accommodation outside the school premises. In terms of the mode of learning, do you prefer an online program or an on-campus program? 

Research the Various Psychology Schools and Programs in California 

In your due diligence, consider factors such as accreditation, university and program rating, type of program, program delivery mode, costs, enrollment rate, and student graduation rate. 


Ideally, the program you settle for should be accredited by what is regulatory bodies. Accreditation is a sign that the program meets the set curriculum and faculty standards and are of the highest caliber. 

The psychology doctor program should be accredited by the American Psychological Association Commission on accreditation, while Master’s programs should be accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)

Marriage and family therapy programs, whether at the Master’s, doctorate, or postgraduate level, should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)

All master and doctorate counseling programs should be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Types of Program 

Different psychology schools in California offer different types of programs, including bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D., and PsyD in psychology. Training models for psychology include: 

  • Research and scientific-based 
  • Practitioner based 
  • Practitioner and scholar based 
  • Scientific and practitioner-based 

Specialization and Major Options 

When deciding on an area of specialization, the first step is to determine whether you want to be a clinical practitioner or go into research or academia. The most common psychology degree specialization areas include: 

  • Clinical 
  • Counseling psychology
  • Developmental psychology 
  • Social Psychology
  • Criminal justice psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology 
  • Cognitive psychology 
  • Environmental psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Applied psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • School psychology
  • Clinical psychology

Program Delivery 

The most common program delivery modes for psychology courses in California are on-campus, online, and hybrid.


With the increasing cost of higher learning worldwide, you must choose a program and university that you can afford. Also, factor in the expected return on investment for the program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of psychologists is $80,370.

Cost of Living 

The cost of living in California is generally higher than the national average. Therefore, when setting your budget, factor in costs such as housing, utilities, transportation, and health. Living on campus will significantly reduce their costs. 

Enrollment Costs 

This is a factor that is often overlooked, yet it plays a significant role. For instance, the standard application fees for most programs are $35 to $80. You should also consider application costs such as printing your transcripts, taking required tests, and mailing the application. The overall cost may seem negligible if you are applying to one program. However, if you’re applying to several programs, it could easily exceed $500 up to $1000.

Student Enrollment Rates 

Some universities and programs have an open enrollment whereby you can easily get in after submitting your admission. Other institutions and programs are quite competitive, and you have to undergo a rigorous interviewing process, and even with that, admission is not guaranteed. 

If applying to very competitive programs, adhere to the letter’s admission guidelines while exceeding the requirements. It is best to apply to different institutions to increase your admission chances with the new set timeline. You had better have several acceptance letters to choose from than none at all.

Students Graduation Success 

If a program has a high success rate, then your chances of graduating are also high. Contrariwise, if the program’s graduation rates are quite low, you might want to investigate what might be causing it. 

Faculty Match 

This is a critical consideration, especially for master’s, Ph.D., or PsyD programs. Some programs provide a list of the faculty members that are accepting new students. To increase your chances of acceptance, identify a faculty member you’d like to work with, research about them, and tailor your personal statement and application towards them. 

Consider the specialization area that the said faculty member focuses on to see if it aligns with your study area and career goals. When researching the various faculty members check their bios, CVs, and publications.

Funding Opportunities 

Psychology schools in California offer different funding options and scholarships, including: 

  • Tuition remissions
  • Competitive vs cooperative funding.
  • Stipends 
  • Grants
  • Fellowships 
  • Scholarships


Psychology programs and schools are spread out across California. If you have a family or a job in a given location in California, you may want to choose a program that is within the region. Note that if your program requires an Internship, the Internship placement may take you out of the college or university location.

Narrow Down Your Choice and Visit the Institutions 

Once you’ve researched the various institutions and programs, narrow down to a few choices, with one or two in the top choice and two or three more in the second choice. Make an effort to visit as many of these institutions and schools as possible. 

During your visit, tour facilities such as the library, classrooms, research areas, and accommodation facilities. Also, visit the admissions office and get as much information as possible regarding the curriculum and timelines for the programs you are considering. 

Find out whether there are opportunities for financial aid, how classes are scheduled, and with the students can pick a faculty member. 

Psychology Schools in California

Below is an overview of 7 of the best psychology schools in California 

Stanford University 

The Stanford University is one of the US’s highest ranked institutions with an overall 4% acceptance rate. The department of psychology offers a wide range of undergraduate programs and a 2-in-1 doctoral program graduate. Students engaged in ongoing research projects, among other scientific teaching methods, to impact an excellent human behavior at all levels. 

The Stanford psychology undergraduate program has major options such as: 

  • Cognitive science 
  • Early childhood cognition, learning, and development 
  • Health psychology 
  • Judgment and decision-making 
  • Neuroscience 
  • Mind, culture, and Society 

If you’re taking a psychology major, you must fulfill a minimum of 70 units in psychology-related coursework. Their 2-in-1 Ph.D. program incorporates an MA in psychology. It focuses on developing research competence among the students’ natural courses, seminars, and practical study.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 

UCLA is one of the leading universities in psychology in California and in the US and worldwide. The west Los Angeles campus offers a beautiful learning environment. It is 5 miles away from the Pacific Ocean and is bordered on the North by the Santa Monica mountains. It also neighbors the Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Armand Hammer Museum. In addition, it is surrounded by numerous entertainment and recreational facilities. 

The university is currently on a mission to usher in a bold new era in psychology research and education. The UCLA department of psychology offers a wide range of courses ranging from undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral. 

The UCLA undergraduate psychology program offers three main programs including: 

  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology 
  • Bachelor of Science in cognitive science 
  • Bachelor of Science in psychobiology 

Undergraduate students also have two minor options in cognitive science and applied development of psychology. The undergraduate programs incorporate coursework, fieldwork, written exams, and research. 

UCLA does not offer separate master’s programs and psychology doctorate programs; rather, they offer a 2-in-1 graduate Ph.D. training that is inclusive of a Masters in Psychology. The graduate program covers different aspects of psychology, including: 

  • Clinical psychology 
  • Behavioral neuroscience 
  • Cognitive psychology 
  • Quantitative psychology social psychology 
  • Health psychology 
  • Learning and behavior psychology 

The Ph.D. training is designed to prepare students to serve as professional researchers and college and university professors. It is rigorous, and students are expected to take part in different research projects. 

The UCLA department of psychology has several centers and programs, including: 

Alliant International University, California School of Professional Psychology

The California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) has been offering psychology programs since 1969. In more than 45 years, the Aliant International University school of psychology has graduated over 16000 students. The Aliant University has six campuses across California, including Fresno, Los Angeles, Irvine, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco.

It offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate psychology courses, including: 

  • Clinical psychology 
  • Marriage and family psychology 
  • Organizational psychology 
  • Development psychology 
  • Psychopharmacology 
  • Social justice psychology 
  • Child psychology 
  • Forensic psychology 
  • Behavioral psychology 

The institution offers in-person, hybrid, and online psychology programs at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It is accredited by the American Psychology Association and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council. CSPP psychology classes are small-sized and taught by highly experienced faculty members.

One of the core values of CSPP is multiculturalism. As such, the university is keen to admit students from all backgrounds, including LGBTQ students. They also weave multiculturalism in their curriculum to ensure their psychology graduates have the skills to work with people from different backgrounds. 

CSPP organizes practicum opportunities for their students with different organizations in California. They also offer the students opportunities to provide consulting services to various California organizations, including Goodwill, Disney, and Ingenium, among others. 

The institution has set up several interdisciplinary research institutes where students can work with faculty members or independently and various psychology-related topics letter of urgent importance. The faculty members are also actively involved and research and their specific areas of specialization.

California State University

 The California State University psychology programs are quite competitive. This university offers an undergraduate psychology program and graduate programs only, with no Ph.D. or PsyD program. 

The Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program can serve as a terminal liberal arts degree or prepare for advanced study. It teaches core psychology courses as well as research methods and statistics in psychology. The program covers a wide range of psychology courses, including: 

  • Sex and gender 
  • Human development 
  • Media psychology 
  • Positive psychology 
  • Social psychology 
  • Psychology of Prejudice and discrimination 
  • Health psychology 
  • Gender psychology 
  • Community psychology 
  • Behavioral psychology 
  • Abnormal psychology 
  • Clinical and counseling psychology 
  • Minority mental health 
  • Family therapy 
  • Human sexuality 

Students have an option to get an Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA) specialization certificate alongside their psychology major. 

The California State University psychology graduate school offers two main programs: 

  • Master of Arts in psychology 
  • Master of Science in Forensic psychology 

The Master of Arts in Psychology program emphasizes research in conceptual skills that are designed to prepare the student for continuing education in a doctoral program. On the other hand, the Master of Science in forensic psychology program prepares the students to work in the criminal justice system. 

The California State University has 23 campuses across northern, southern, and central California. 

Pomona College

The Pomona College psychology department mainly offers a psychological science major and minor options. The program is designed to offer students a broad introduction to psychological principles and concepts and research and statistical tools for scientific inquiry and problem-solving. 

The program also emphasizes a psychologist’s ethical and social responsibility to the world. It is designed to equip students with excellent writing, oral, interpersonal communication skills. Overall of the cost gives students a good start for professional development in the area of psychology. 

Pomona College is a private liberal arts college located in Claremont, California. It has been in operation since 1887 and has gone on to produce 1000s of psychology graduates. It has a competitive 7% acceptance rate with a diverse student population.

University of Southern California (USC)

The USC is located at the heart of Los Angeles. Its department of psychology offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs. 

The undergraduate program, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, offers three major options and two minor options. The major options are Social Science and Cognitive Science, while the minor options are consumer behavior. 

The USC psychology graduate School has three programs and offers residential or online learning or both for the various master’s programs. These programs include: 

  • Master of Science in Applied psychology – residential 
  • Master  of Science in Applied psychology – online 
  • Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis – residential

Students looking to proceed to pursue additional programs can take a combined Ph.D. that incorporates an MSc in psychology. The USC doctoral program offers five areas of specializations, including: 

  • Brain and cognitive science 
  • Clinical science 
  • Development of psychology 
  • Quantitative methods and computational psychology 
  • Social psychology 

The university makes an effort to support psychology students who are making good progress in their graduate studies. It offers a standard package for financial aid that goes on for five years and provides support in the form of tuition remission, stipends, and health benefits. Doctoral studies applicants are also considered for fellowships and other forms of financial support during the admission process.

University of California Berkley

 The University of California, Berkeley offers an undergraduate program and a graduate program in psychology. The department of psychology takes a scientific approach in course delivery. The programs are designed to produce scholars and researchers. They focus on imparting statistical, methodological, and critical thinking skills that are relevant to the field of psychology.

Both the undergraduate and graduate programs have six specialization areas: 

  • Behavioral and Systems neuroscience 
  • Clinical science 
  • Cognitive neuroscience 
  • Social personality 
  • Development of psychology 
  • Cognition 

The University of California, Berkeley admission is highly competitive with an acceptance rate of 16.8%. The university takes a holistic approach to admission and goes beyond academic qualifications to seek leadership qualities in applicants.

What to Look for in a Psychology Degree in California

Generally, the psychology program you choose should:

  • Fit your career goals
  • Accredited
  • Have a high student success rate
  • Be within your budget or have funding opportunities
  • Be within a convenient location

How to Become a Psychologist in California 

Becoming a licensed psychologist therapist or counselor in California requires advanced levels of training. These include a doctorate in psychology and adherence to the California Board of Psychology licensing requirements. Here are the requirements for becoming a licensed psychologist in California. 

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree 

Although you can start with an associate degree as you explore your career options, a bachelor’s degree is the first step in psychology. Typically, a psychology degree in California takes three to four years to complete and includes coursework, written exams, individual and project work, and internships. After graduating, you can work as a counselor.

Complete a Master’s Degree 

The next step is to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. Some programs accept students who did not major in psychology as an undergraduate. In most cases, you will need to take additional classes. 

Masters programs in psychology typically take two years to complete. You can enroll in a full-time on-campus program or an online program. Most psychology master’s programs require a thesis as a prerequisite for the students to graduate. 

Obtain a PsyD or a Ph.D. in Psychology 

A PsyD has a more clinical focus, while a Ph.D. is research-focused. Some programs offer a two-in-one doctor program that incorporates a master’s program, while others offer a standalone master’s separate from the Ph.D. program. 

Most doctoral programs in psychology take up to 7 years to complete. Whichever program you enroll in should be accredited by both the American Psychological Association and the California Board of Psychology. 

Psychologist Licensing Requirements in California 

The psychologist licensing requirements in California are quite steep. They include professional experience, pre-licensure classes, and passing licensure examinations.

Professional Experience 

To be licensed, you have to have completed 3000 hours or two years of professional work experience under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. The 3000 hours should include a minimum of 1500 hours of fieldwork in the course of your doctorate. The board requires that you register for the Supervised Professional Experience (SPE)

Pre-Licensure Classes 

Before searching for your licensing examinations, take pre-licensure classes as stipulated by the board. These classes cover child abuse assessment, spousal abuse assessment, human sexuality, chemical and substance abuse, and long-term care. The classes may be taken as part of your psychology education or during the application process


You need to pass two examinations: 

You must pass the EPPP and have completed the 3000hrs to be eligible for the CPLEE. You apply to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and the California Board of Psychology to sit for the EPPP and CPLEE, respectively.

The board makes an exemption for these examinations under the following circumstances: 

  • If you are doing an internship that the American Psychological Association accredits 
  • If your supervisor belongs to the association of psychology postdoctoral and internship centers 

Apply for Your License 

Once you have passed the two examinations, apply for a license through the initial licensure form. You should send the form to the board alongside a $400 check. As part of the licensing process, you will also be required to submit your fingerprints through the States live scan service and then go through a background check. 

Once everything has been verified and your application has been approved, the board will email you your license number within four to six weeks. 

License Renewal 

You should renew your license every two years. For your license to be renewed, you are expected to take 36 hours of coursework, with 9 hours being taken live. 


A career in psychology in the state of California is quite promising. Both professionals and students have access to numerous, highly-regarded psychology schools and programs. The licensing requirements are straightforward, and students can align their career goals with these requirements. When choosing a psychology school in California, ensure that the American Psychological Association accredits it.

Find the program that’s right for you

Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

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