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Psychology Schools in Southern California

April 9, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Psychology is a fascinating subject with a variety of specialization options. Students who enroll on a psychology program can choose to focus on many different areas, depending on their long-term career goals.

Popular options include:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • School psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Behavioral science

California is a great place to study psychology because there are more than 200 not-for-profit colleges or universities in the state that offer a psychology degree program. Would-be students have a huge number of options for courses depending on whether they’re interested in an associate’s degree, baccalaureate-level qualification, or a master’s

Many of the institutions in California are high-ranked in the Times Higher Education list of the world’s best universities for Psychology. That’s a hard-to-beat credential for those who are serious about a career in the field.

Reasons to earn your psychology degree in southern California

When you’re choosing a place to study for your psychology degree, there are several factors you’ll want to take into account. The caliber of the institution you’re studying with is important, of course. But you may also want to consider the price of tuition and related expenses, the campus atmosphere, and the job market in the area where you’re studying.

Southern California has a lot to offer in all of those areas.

What are the job opportunities for psychologists after receiving a degree at a southern California school?

Psychology program graduates have the opportunity to work in a variety of jobs in southern California, including as:

  • Guidance counselors
  • Human resources workers
  • Social workers
  • Public relations specialists
  • Psychiatric aides
  • Fundraisers
  • Marketing
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Therapists

As you can see, graduating from a psychology program opens up many career opportunities. Many people treat psychology and psychiatry as being quite similar, but there are distinct differences in the focus and scope of the training and the work they do.

Psychology is the study of how people think and interact. It explores what drives people and why they make the decisions they do. Psychology discusses the normal functioning of the human mind and is usually used outside of medical settings. Most people who study psychology go on to become counselors or work in marketing or other similar fields.

Psychiatry, on the other hand, is the study of mental health problems. Those who study psychiatry learn how to recognize, diagnose and treat mental health issues, how to prevent them and how to help those who are living with mental health issues cope with them. Psychiatrists are medically trained and usually work in health care roles.

While many people who study psychology do get into the field because they’re interested in providing therapy or counseling, or want to work with people who are struggling to cope after divorce or abuse, a psychology graduate has the chance to use their knowledge in many other ways.

Psychology teaches us how people think and why we respond the way we do to certain situations. That knowledge is useful for lawyers, salespeople, marketers, school assistants, human resources workers and people in many other professions.

If you’re looking for a degree that truly gives you transferable skills, a liberal arts education with a major in psychology could be a good option. You’ll graduate with a well-rounded education, and an understanding of human behavior that can be applied in a variety of situations.

How much do psychology program degree holders earn after graduation?

Earnings for psychology degree holders will depend on whether they have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, and what they choose to do with that degree. Because there are so many different professions a psychology program graduate can move into, earning potential varies massively.

For example, the average earnings of a guidance counselor are $64,060 per year.  Social workers receive slightly lower compensation, averaging $50,470 a year. Psychiatric technicians and aides are among the lowest-paid, earning $32,020 per year, but with good promotion potential if a psychology degree is then augmented with psychiatric studies at a later date.

Those who opt to work in more business-focused roles such as fundraising for nonprofits can expect to earn $57,970 annually. Compensation for sales and marketing roles varies depending on the position, with salaries in excess of $50,000 being common in fields such as advertising and insurance.

The economy in southern California is large, diverse, and constantly evolving. This makes it an appealing place for a recent graduate who is looking for varied job opportunities and good promotion prospects.

What are some benefits to earning your psychology degree in southern California?

Whether you’re looking to earn a master’s degree or study your first undergraduate psychology program, there are many reasons to study in southern California.

Not only is the region home to some of the best psychology programs, at bachelor’s degree level and above, it has a lot to offer in terms of atmosphere and off-campus life.

One of the biggest draws for many would-be students is the climate. Southern California has a pleasant, temperate climate. It’s sunny, but not oppressively hot, and the winters are mild.

The population of southern California is diverse, which means the student demographics are diverse too. This means the social scene is interesting, and students benefit from the academic benefits of studying in a diverse peer group too.

If there’s one degree program where students can benefit from being exposed to a variety of perspectives, it’s psychology. Someone going into social work or hoping to pursue a career in forensic psychology would do well to learn as much as they can about different cultures, common perceptions or thought patterns in those cultures, and how people’s upbringings and assumptions guide their actions.

Life in southern California is quite affordable considering the richness of the economy and the variety of entertainment options. A psychology student could live in Irvine and enjoy the convenience of easy travel to other parts of California and take advantage of access to the tourist activities, nightlife, and employment options of Los Angeles.

What to expect from a psychology program at a southern California school

If you decide to enroll in a psychology program at a university in southern California, you’re signing up for a challenging but enjoyable program of study. A B.S. in Psychology will usually take four years to complete if studied on-campus and will give students a broad overview of the subject.

In addition to common required courses, first and second-year students cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Basic psychological literacy and academic skills
  • The history of psychology
  • Personality and abnormal psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Development and social psychology
  • Evolution and genetics for psychologists
  • Instincts, learning, and motivation
  • Sensation and perception
  • Research methods

In the later years, students may cover:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Individual differences
  • Biological psychology
  • Principles of psychology
  • Methods in psychology
  • Statistics for empirical psychology
  • Professional skills

Students will also have the opportunity to undertake a final year project, and study a range of optional modules, such as:

  • Career development
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Clinical issues in forensic psychology
  • Interoception in health and clinical psychology
  • The evolution of cooperative behavior
  • Case studies in neuropsychology
  • The psychology of religion
  • The psychology of teaching and learning
  • Eating and weight disorders
  • Sex differences and the brain
  • Psychobiology and addiction
  • The psychology of sport performance
  • The social psychology of prejudice and discrimination

The exact modules offered will vary depending on the institution, as well as the length of the degree and the number of credit hours included in it. Some courses lead to a B.S. in Psychology with optional modules, others have a named focus.

How long does it typically take to complete a psychology program at a southern California school?

In most cases, it takes four years for students to complete a bachelor’s degree if they are coming into the program straight out of high school. Students who have already completed some of the college-level common courses may be able to complete their degree in a shorter time period if they enroll on an accelerated program.

A bachelor’s degree graduate can expect a further two years of study for their master’s degree. Doctoral programs vary in terms of how long they take to complete, depending on whether they’re full-time research programs or completed part-time while the student is working in the field.

How many hours a week should you expect to study during your psychology program in southern California?

Most universities in California expect full-time students to study for 40 hours per week, but that will not all be classroom time.

On average, each class a student is enrolled in will have around 3.5 hours of lectures or workshops per week. Students are then expected to spend an additional two hours per week doing self-directed study.

Some students may be able to complete their work more quickly than this, so will not need to invest huge amounts of time learning outside of the classroom. However, there may be some courses that a particular student finds challenging, requiring additional study.

It’s common for students to find the general education classes and first-year modules quite easy, only to find their workload increases massively when they’re in the later years of the degree.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to seek advice from students in the years above you before you start looking for part-time jobs or taking on extra credit courses while you’re studying for your bachelor’s degree. Don’t assume that the workload will be the same from year to year, or even semester to semester. Be prepared to put your studies first if necessary.

What courses are part of an online psychology degree program in southern California?

Online psychology courses will cover the same kind of material as a course taught on-campus, including the general education modules and the foundational courses. You may find there are some specialization options that aren’t available to online students due to the remote nature of the study making practicals more difficult, but in general the courses will be the same.

If the degree you’re studying has APA accreditation, you can be confident that it will help you get a job or a place on a psychology program at graduate school. The accreditation is a sign that the course meets the APA’s rigorous requirements.

How do you get licensure after taking a psychology degree?

Once you’ve completed your psychology degree, you may want to pursue licensure, especially if you’re hoping to get involved with counseling or clinical psychology.

Licensure in southern California is handled by the California Board of Psychology. The board requires would-be psychologists to complete a doctoral-level qualification in the field, and also earn a set number of working hours before they can take the licensing examination.

Most people who want to become licensed psychologists in southern California will complete a bachelor’s degree and potentially a master’s degree, then work for at least two years under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. They can register as psychological assistants while they’re doing this.

Before applying for licensure, an applicant will need to complete several pre-licensure classes. Many of these will have been included in a standard bachelor’s or master’s degree program, but any that are missing must be completed before taking the licensure exam. The required classes are:

  • Human sexuality
  • Alcohol and chemical dependency detection and treatment
  • Spousal or partner abuse assessment
  • Child abuse assessment
  • Detection and treatment of alcohol and chemical substances
  • Aging and long-term care training

A psychologist wishing to work in California will need to complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the California Psychology Law and Ethics Examination (CPLEE). The EPPP is a nationally-required examination, while the CPLEE is a state-specific one.

Once licensed, a psychologist is required to renew their license every two years and complete at least 36 hours of continuing education, including at least nine hours of live presentations or training courses. Psychologists are also required to undertake regular suicide risk assessment and intervention training.

Types of psychology degrees available at southern California schools

Students who are interested in studying psychology degree programs in southern California have a huge number of schools and programs to choose from at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

This makes it easy for would-be students to find a program that suits their needs. Whether you’re hoping to study forensic psychology, clinical psychology, or a general psychology degree, it should be possible to find a program that meets your needs. There are B.S. and BA programs to choose from, and institutions accepting students from all walks of life.

What various types of psychology degrees are available at southern California colleges?

There are opportunities to study a huge variety of courses at universities in southern California. The University of California at Los Angeles has a dedicated Psychology department that covers a variety of aspects of the discipline, including:

  • Behavioral neuroscience
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Interdisciplinary research
  • Learning and behavior
  • Quantitative psychology
  • Social psychology

Degree programs are available at undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral level.

The University of California Irvine’s Psychology department also offers a number of courses for psychology students. It has around 1200 undergraduate psychology majors and these students are expected to cover a number of core courses in developmental, social, and health subjects as well as abnormal psychology. Later in their studies, they have the opportunity to progress into some narrow specializations, including clinical, environmental, or community psychology.

The program offered by the University of California Irvine is incredibly popular, in part because of the affordable fees and the relatively low cost of living, and pleasant student culture in the city.

While a lot of the programs included in this guide are on-campus courses, there are several blended learning or online-only courses available for study in southern California. Online study is often far more affordable than studying on-campus, and institutions often offer discounts for in-state students, making the courses even more affordable.

Top psychology schools in southern California

There are 89 schools or colleges in California that offer bachelor’s degrees in psychology, and many others offering associate’s degrees or postgraduate qualifications.

Students can be reasonably confident that any qualification offered by an accredited school will help them if they’re looking to work in marketing, human resources or other fields where psychology skills are used in a non-clinical fashion.

What are the best clinical psychology programs in southern California?

The following schools have strong reputations for their psychology programs:

  • University of California – Los Angeles
  • University of California – Irvine
  • University of California – San Diego
  • California State University – Long Beach

University of California – Los Angeles

The University of California – Los Angeles is a highly respected university with a large life sciences department. In 2019, the university had 1,156 psychology graduates including bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral-level students. This university offers a B.A. in Psychology, a B.S. in Cognitive Science and a B.S. in Psychobiology, giving prospective students a wide variety of options for starting their psychology studies.

University of California – Irvine

The University of California – Irvine has 10 psychology-related degree programs. These are four-year programs and they attract a lot of students. In 2019, there were 967 Psychology graduates from the university, of which 948 were bachelor’s level students, with the remainder being doctoral or master’s degree students. Fees start at $11,442 per year for both residents and non-residents.

University of California – San Diego

The Department of Psychology at the University of California – San Diego runs both undergraduate and graduate programs. The research interests of the faculty include cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, and social psychology.

Each year, the university attracts 1,700 students who are majoring in psychology, and about 16,500 students take psychology-related modules. The institution offers both B.A. and B.S. options in psychology, preparing people for both business-related careers with a psychology element, and careers with a research or clinical element to them.

California State University – Long Beach

The department of psychology at California State University – Long Beach is highly respected. The university offers psychology minors and majors at undergraduate level, and postgraduate programs too

Undergraduate students can enroll on a B.A in Psychology or another degree with a minor in psychology. Graduate programs include both MA and MS options.

The above is just a short list of high-quality institutions in southern California that offer psychology-related courses. There are many others, including smaller colleges that offer flexible entry requirements. These institutions could be a good option for someone who has taken a less traditional path into the field of psychology.

Any school that offers an accredited degree in California is worth considering. If you have a specific career goal in mind, however, make sure the degree is tailored with that in mind.

For example, a psychology student who wishes to go into counseling should look for a degree that’s accredited by CACREP. This is an organization that accredits master’s and doctoral programs in counseling on an international level, so their award carries a lot of weight in the field.

How much do the top psychology schools in southern California cost?

Fees vary between institutions. For example, tuition at the University of California – Irvine is around $11,442 per year. Meanwhile, tuition at California State University – Long Beach is around $2,871 per semester for undergraduate study, with fees for postgraduate programs being higher.

The prices quoted above are for full-time study. Students taking a course part-time may pay less per year, but will usually find the total cost of the degree program is higher due to extra fees for enrollment, student union memberships, or ongoing use of facilities.

Online or hybrid-learning courses are usually more affordable than courses that are taught entirely on campus. Courses from community colleges will usually be more affordable than some of the bigger universities.

What financial aid is available for students studying psychology in southern California?

Students who are unable to cover the cost of their studies should consider applying for financial aid. There is a lot of federal and state-level financial aid available for low-income students.

In addition to these options, students may be eligible for discretionary discounts from the university they’re studying with, or for scholarships from various charitable or professional bodies.

Scholarships available for psychology majors include:

Army Health Professions Scholarship Program

Students who are willing to serve in the military may receive a 100% scholarship to support their studies in return for service. Counseling and clinical psychology scholarships are included in this program.

Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program

Students with a 3.5 or higher GPA who are from the first generation in their family to go to college may be able to apply for a scholarship under a program from Fontana Transport. This program awards a limited number of $5,000 scholarships to low-income, underrepresented students.

National Space Club Keynote Scholarship

This scholarship is open to high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students who are planning to pursue a career in the STEM fields. Students who are aiming for a B.S. in Psychology or a similar qualification may be eligible. Successful applicants will be invited to speak at the Goddard Memorial Dinner, and awarded a $10,000 scholarship credit.

Other student loan repayment options

There are many other statewide and national scholarships open to psychology students. Those who are not able to access scholarships, or who have already taken out student loans, may be able to take advantage of Public Service Loan Repayment Programs. These programs help graduates cover the cost of their student debts in return for service with a nonprofit organization.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program is another option for those who are interested in counseling or clinical psychology.

Students who are planning to use their degrees for a more business-focused career may find it harder to access loan forgiveness options. However, the jobs they move into may be higher-paid, and they may be able to get their masters either fully or part-funded by their employer, helping reduce the total amount of student debt they leave university with.

Those who are worried about taking on significant student debt should consider online courses, since these are frequently thousands of dollars less expensive per year, and cover similar content to their on-campus equivalents.

Where can you earn your master’s or doctorate degree in psychology in southern California?

Graduate students will be able to find courses at most of the universities listed above. The University of California – Irvine has graduate programs for both psychosocial science and cognitive sciences, for example, and the University of California – Los Angeles also offers graduate programs, including a Psychology Ph.D.

Staying ‘local’ to southern California to complete postgraduate studies may make life easier for students who completed their bachelor’s degrees in California, since many California universities share the same accrediting bodies. This makes credit transfers and recognition of prior learning easier.

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