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California Psychology Programs

Nearly 20,000 licensed psychologists worked in the state of California as of 2018, and jobs for these professionals are projected to grow substantially by 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to someday call yourself a “psychologist,” be prepared to spend several years enrolled in postsecondary education. You’ll need to complete a doctorate degree and meet licensure requirements before using this coveted title.

Fortunately, learning about this process need not be stressful. Aside from including profiles of top psychology schools in California, this guide also provides details about California’s psychology license requirements, California psychologist salary averages and growth projections, and state-specific scholarships, internships, and support resources.

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How to Become a Psychologist in California

Becoming a psychologist in California requires years of focus and dedication. While working as a mental health counselor requires only a master’s degree, you must earn a doctorate to use the title of psychologist. Read up on requirements to become a psychologist below.

    • Complete a bachelor’s degree: Undergraduate psychology schools in California serve as the first stop on your journey towards working as a psychologist. A bachelor’s in psychology usually requires four years of full-time enrollment and sets the foundation for advanced study in graduate programs.
    • Undertake a master’s degree: Master’s degrees in psychology are sometimes a stepping stone to a doctorate program, but other students stop after undertaking a master’s. Students who typically select these programs want to work as mental health counselors or in another role that doesn’t mandate a doctorate.
    • Earn a doctoral degree: Ph.D. and Psy.D. in psychology degrees take approximately five to seven years and help you get closer to working as a licensed psychologist. In most cases, the course work will include master’s level work if you have not already completed a master’s program.
    • Pick a specialty: The specialty you choose dictates the type of licensure you must pursue.
    • Meet licensure requirements: Examples of requirements include completing your doctorate, undertaking supervised hours, and passing examinations. We discuss licensing requirements later in this guide.

California Psychology Licensing & Exams

Given the vast array of psychology and psychology-related careers in California, licensure requirements can vary significantly based on the career type you select. Regardless of the path you’re considering, we provide details about different types of licensure and accompanying requirements below.


      • Completion of a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association
      • Registration with the Department of Consumer Affairs Board of Psychology
      • At least 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience; at least 1,500 of these hours must be completed after finishing your doctoral degree
      • Passage of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE)
      • Potential careers: Licensed psychologist, research scientist, professor

Registered Psychologist

      • Complete a qualifying doctoral degree, with supporting transcripts sent directly from the school to the Board of Psychology
      • At least 1,500 hours of supervised professional experience completed during and/or after graduating
      • Supply fingerprints under the Board’s request for live scan services
      • Submit registration application
      • Potential careers: Clinical psychologist, therapist, behavioral health psychologist

Psychological Assistant

      • Submit transcripts demonstrating a) completion of at least three years of postgraduate psychology education, b) admission to a doctoral psychology program, or c) passage of preliminary doctoral exams
      • Provide fingerprints for live scan testing and criminal history background check
      • Supply supervised professional experience agreement for gaining hours needed to receive licensure
      • Submit application
      • Potential careers: Clinical psychologist assistant, research assistant, psychology technician

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

      • Complete an accredited master’s in social work; if you are an out-of-state applicant, you must also participate in an 18-hour class on California law and professional ethics
      • Demonstrate completion of continuing education credits in required topics; the Board of Behavioral Sciences provides a list of required classes
      • Register as an Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW)
      • Complete live scan and pass a criminal background check
      • Pass the California Law & Ethics Exam
      • Submit proof of completing 3,000 supervised hours
      • Pass the ASWB clinical exam; apply for LCSW licensure
      • Potential careers: Counselor, school social worker, human services case manager

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

      • Complete an accredited master’s in marriage and family therapy; provide documentation to the Board of Behavioral Sciences
      • Register as an associate marriage and family therapist (AMFT)
      • Participate in live scan and pass a criminal background check
      • Pass the California Law & Ethics Examination
      • Complete 3,000 supervised hours over two years
      • Pass the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist exam; apply for licensure
      • Potential careers: couples’ therapist, child therapist, school therapist

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

      • Complete an approved master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, psychotherapy, or a related subject that meets curricular requirements set forth by the Board of Behavioral Sciences
      • Register as an associate professional clinical counselor (APCC)
      • Participate in live fingerprint scan and pass a criminal background check
      • Pass the California Law & Ethics Examination
      • Demonstrate completion of 3,000 supervised hours undertaken in California
      • Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination
      • Apply for and receive LPCC licensure
      • Potential careers: Licensed mental health clinician, professional counselor, clinical social worker

Licensed Educational Psychologist

      • Complete an approved master’s degree in counseling and guidance, general psychology, school psychology, or educational psychology from a school that maintains regional accreditation
      • Participate in a live fingerprint scan and criminal background check
      • Participate in two years of full-time, unsupervised experience as a credentialed school psychologist in a public school, followed by another year of supervised professional experience via a school psychology program that maintains accreditation
      • Pass the Licensed Educational Psychologist written examination
      • Apply for official licensure through the Board of Behavioral Sciences
      • Potential careers: School psychologist, educational psychologist, school counselor

You’ll most likely encounter the following exams in the process of obtaining the license you’re pursuing:

      • Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP): Consists of 200 multiple choice questions taken on a computer. Expect to take the exam at one of the many Pearson VUE testing centers in the state. You must complete at least 1,500 supervised hours before sitting for the test.
      • California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE): Consists of 100 multiple choice questions answered on a computer. You should already possess a doctorate, have completed your 3,000 supervised hours, and have passed the EPPP examination when you take this exam. The test is administered by Psychological Services, Inc. testing centers, which can be found throughout the state.

Job Growth & Psychologist Salary in California

Recognized Psychology Specializations in California

Given the vast spectrum of types of psychology, many specialty areas and concentrations exist to help you focus your knowledge and efforts on a niche topic. Specialties available in California include:

      • Clinical Psychology: The broadest field, these specialists address a range of behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues using therapy and medical treatments.
      • Social Work: Clinical social workers use their knowledge of counseling to diagnose and treat clients across the lifespan as they face mental health problems.
      • Marriage and Family Therapy: These professionals work with individuals, couples, parents, children, and other family members to address relational issues. Because they do not possess a doctorate degree, they can provide talk therapy, but do not prescribe medications.
      • Counseling: Counselors support individuals of all ages as they address and work through life transitions, grief, loss, relational shifts, and other issues that can put a strain on their mental health.
      • School Psychology: School psychologists work in K-12 and postsecondary educational settings to help students deal with personal and academic issues as they arise. They may also train staff on proper responses and interventions.

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California Psychology Spotlight Programs

      • Azusa Pacific University
        APU’s department of psychology focuses on providing students with opportunities for academic, professional, and research growth. In addition to offering a B.A. in psychology, the department has an M.S. in child life, an M.S. in counseling psychology with a specialization in children and adolescents, and an M.S. in research psychology. Learners can also pursue an M.S. in marriage and family therapy and a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. All of these programs must be completed at the Azusa campus. Undergraduates pay $39,640 in tuition each year; their graduate-level counterparts pay between $720 and $1,102 per credit, depending on the program.
      • Biola University
        Designed specifically for learners who want to incorporate their Christian faith into their study of psychology, the Rosemead School of Psychology offers several opportunities to do so. Students can pursue a B.A. in psychology, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. They can also take advantage of an online B.S. in applied psychology or certificates in integrative counseling. Baccalaureate tuition topped $41,976 for 2019-2020, though 90% of learners receive some type of financial aid. Doctorate students pay $29,592 in annual tuition and can also take advantage of funding opportunities.
      • California State University at Los Angeles
        CSULA serves baccalaureate and graduate students alike, offering a B.A. in psychology, an M.A. in psychology, and an M.S. in forensic psychology. All of these programs exist at the Los Angeles campus, though the bachelor’s program was designed specifically for working adult students seeking flexibility. Undergraduate residents pay $6,764 per semester in tuition; non-residents pay $16,248. Graduate-level California learners pay $8,198 per semester; out-of-state students pay $15,880.
      • Pepperdine University
        Located high on the cliffs of Malibu, Pepperdine University offers psychology programs taught thought a Church of Christ lens. The Graduate School of Education and Psychology offers an M.A. in psychology, an M.A. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, and an M.S. in behavioral psychology – all of which are available online or on campus. Doctoral candidates can undertake a Psy.D. in clinical psychology accredited by the American Psychological Association. During the 2019-2020 academic year, learners paid $1,605 per credit.
      • Stanford University
        Regardless of degree level sought, Stanford University caters to every learner. The school offers a B.A. in general psychology, an M.A. in psychology, and Ph.D. programs in affective, cognitive, developmental, neuroscience, or social psychology. Learners must be at the Stanford campus to take advantage of these degrees, all of which are taught in-person. The institution also provides a Ph.D. minor and opportunities for postdoctoral scholars. Traditional undergraduate learners whose family makes less than $125,000 annually pay no tuition. Those accepted to the Ph.D. pay no tuition for five years and receive a stipend and full health insurance coverage.
      • University of California at Berkeley
        UCB is well regarded in the world of psychology education, and for good reason. Aside from holding a high pass rate for licensure exams, the institution offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. First-time students can receive admittance to a B.A. in psychology, while those further along in their academic journey can pursue a doctorate in behavioral and systems neuroscience, clinical science, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, or social-personal psychology. Undergrads pay $5,721 per semester in tuition, regardless of residency. Ph.D. students receive a fellowship covering up to 10 semesters of study. All programs exist on campus.
      • University of California at Los Angeles
        UCLA’s psychology department meets student needs by providing undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral opportunities. Recent high school graduates can take advantage of studies in psychology (B.A.), psychobiology (B.S.), or cognitive science (B.S.). The Ph.D. offers concentrations in areas of behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, or behavioral, qualitative, and social psychology. Undergraduate residents pay $13,239 per year in tuition; nonresidents pay $42,993. Doctoral students pay $17,272 each year as residents of California; out-of-state learners pay $32,374. All programs are taught in-person.
      • University of California at San Diego
        From its home base in San Diego, UCSD offers B.A. and B.S. programs with specializations in clinical, developmental, cognitive, social, and business psychology, human health, sensation and perception, and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. A Ph.D. is also available in experimental psychology. Students accepted to this program have their full tuition covered and receive an annual stipend of $25,00 in exchange for TA and RA duties. Undergraduates from California pay $14,451 in tuition; those considered nonresidents pay $44,205.
      • University of California at Santa Cruz
        The bachelor’s in psychology at UCSC allows for specialized work in areas of cognitive, developmental, social, and clinical-personality psychology. The graduate school provides doctoral programs in areas of cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and social psychology – in addition to postdoctoral positions for those trying to meet licensure requirements. California undergrads pay $13,989 in tuition and fees; nonresidents pay $43,743 each year. Graduate students pay $13,809 and $28,911, depending on residency status.
      • University of Southern California
        Recognized as having one of the most diverse and celebrated faculty in the nation, USC offers undergraduate and graduate programs. Both the B.A. in psychology and the B.A. in cognitive science programs allow learners to participate in meaningful research. The M.S. in applied psychology can be completed online or in person, with both options requiring two years of study. Doctoral programs allow for focus in areas of brain and cognitive science, clinical science, developmental psychology, quantitative methods, and social psychology. Full-time undergraduate and graduate tuition starts at $57,256 for the 2019-2020 academic year.

California Psychology Scholarships

Before taking on student loans, you may be interested in pursuing public or private scholarships to offset costs. If you want to learn more about how these can benefit you, review our guide on psychology scholarships. Check out a few of the awards available exclusively in California below.

      • Clinton E. Phillips Scholarship: The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists offers this $4,000 award to graduate students up to two years in a row. The group does not mandate a minimum GPA.
      • Founders Scholarship: Pacifica University provides this $4,000 renewable scholarship to newly admitted students in the counseling psychology master’s program. While the department sets no GPA requirement, applicants are expected to demonstrate financial need and academic achievement.
      • Josh and Sara Papenheim Memorial Psychology Scholarship: This scholarship exists for mental health students who want to work in the area of suicidology. This nonrenewable $10,000 award requires applicants to possess a GPA of 3.5 or higher and show financial need.
      • Loy S. Braley Scholarship: Undergraduates in their final year, or graduate students, can apply to this award offered by San Jose State University if they are studying psychology. This non-renewable award of $2,000 is given to first-generation students, those with disabilities, or individuals who can demonstrate financial need.
      • Professor Loh Seng Tsai Memorial Scholarship: California State University Fullerton awards this $300 scholarship to graduating M.A. or M.S. students accepted to a Ph.D. in psychology. They must show academic promise.

California Internships and Fellowships

Internships highlighted in this list are all featured through the California Psychology Internship Council to ensure they received proper vetting.

      • Berkeley Therapy Institute: In existence since 1972, BTI employs therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to provide myriad mental health services. The institute offers two-year internships for individuals who want to work with diverse patients to address varied needs.
      • G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles: Using a Jungian approach, this outpatient psychotherapy clinic both supports patients and provides opportunities for professional training and skills-building. The institute looks for pre-doc candidates with at least two years of clinical experience.
      • Institute on Violence, Abuse & Trauma: IVAT exists as a training and resource center in San Diego devoted to preparing clinicians who want to work with children and adults who experienced abuse, trauma, and/or violence. Candidates should possess experience in psychological assessments and psychotherapy.
      • Instituto Familiar de la Raza: Based in San Francisco, the Instituto serves Chicano and Latino residents facing mental health and HIV concerns. The group seeks pre-doctoral candidates who speak Spanish and want to work with this population long-term.
      • StarVista: This nonprofit organization in San Mateo County provides low-cost psychological services across the lifespan to more than 34,000 clients each year. The group offers internships in several specific areas, including general counseling, school services, and women’s counseling.

California Psychology Resources

      • California Board of Psychology: Operating through the Department of Consumer Affairs, CBP oversees licensure for California-based psychologists. The group also provides consumer protection and authors several relevant publications.
      • California Psychological Association: The CPA provides members with access to continuing education programs, events, advocacy efforts, professional resources, job postings, and student support services. Memberships exist for both students and early-career psychologists.
      • California Psychology Internship Council: This organization helps graduate and post-doctoral students alike find qualifying internships for the experience they need to pursue licensure. Students register in the database and match with suitable organizations.
      • Los Angeles County Psychological Association: The LACPA provides a continuing education series, an annual conference, a therapist directory, a political action committee, and several publications.
      • San Francisco Psychological Association: Members of SFPA gain access to an annual integrative mental health conference, a calendar of events, an online forum, local industry news, and a psychologist directory.

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