Best Psychology Programs in California

Updated August 18, 2022

Explore the best psychology programs in California, and find out how to get a psychology license in the state.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

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What are the best colleges in California for psychology? The top schools have high internship placement and graduation rates, offer value for the cost, and hold a strong academic reputation.

This guide explores the best California schools, what to look for in a program, and how practicums and internships work. Keep reading for more information that can help you make the right choice for your career goals.

What to Look For in a Psychology Program

The right psychology program in California for you depends on the degree level, your preferred specialization, program quality and reputation, and the curriculum and professors. During a bachelor's program, you can explore different fields within psychology. Graduate programs allow you to concentrate on a specialty.

Your degree level determines which license you can earn. You can use an undergraduate psychology degree in several fields. If you want to earn a license to practice psychology, therapy, or counseling, you need at least a master's degree, depending on the license type.

Practical considerations include cost and financial aid, program logistics and scheduling, format, and admission requirements.

The California Board of Psychology only licenses graduates of accredited programs, and very few employers even consider graduates of unaccredited programs for employment. Therefore, this site lists only accredited programs.

Practical Experience Requirements

For a bachelor's degree, psychology programs generally recommend students participate in psychology internships during the school year or over the summer. Undergraduate internships are a valuable opportunity to explore different careers, build a network, and observe professionals at work. Some internships offer academic credit and/or pay.

Graduate psychology degrees require practicums and internships in psychology as part of the program. Unlike undergraduate internships, students must pass their practicums and internship to graduate. Most schools provide placement for practicums, which come first in the program and consist of observing and learning from licensed psychologists.

Students participate in internships during their final year. Most schools support students in finding and applying for internships, but they do not directly place them. Instead, students must apply independently. During an internship, students work directly with patients under close supervision.

Featured Online Psychology Programs

Best Psychology Programs in California

#1

University of California-Los Angeles

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 12%
Graduation Rate 92%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UCLA is part of the 10-campus University of California System. The research-oriented Ph.D. in psychology, one of 18 doctoral programs in the biosciences division, prepares graduates for careers in academic and applied settings.

This on-campus, full-time program typically takes six years to complete, including the doctoral dissertation and final oral exam. Students can choose from eleven areas of specialized study: behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, computational cognition, developmental psychology, health psychology, learning and behavior, quantitative psychology, social psychology, and social and affective neuroscience.

Admission to the Ph.D. program requires a bachelor's degree, transcripts from all previously attended colleges, a 3.0 GPA, a personal statement and three letters of recommendation. The $120 fee must be submitted with the completed application. The department of psychology provides five years of guaranteed financial support to all graduate students, through stipends, fellowships, training grants, and teaching or research assistantships.

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#2

University of California-Berkeley

School Information
Location Berkeley, California
Admission Rate 16%
Graduation Rate 93%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Berkeley enrolls more than 42,000 students in over 300 undergraduate and graduate programs. The university grants some of the highest numbers of graduate and professional degrees in the country. 

The Ph.D. in psychology, which takes approximately ten semesters to complete, offers six training units in the areas of behavioral and systems neuroscience, clinical science, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and social/personality psychology. The curriculum comprises 120 credits in coursework, a second-year research project, a qualifying examination, and a dissertation. In addition to the heavy research focus, the program requires a two-semester teaching requirement. 

Berkeley provides considerable financial assistance to its Ph.D. students. The psychology department guarantees all doctoral students five years of financial support that covers tuition and all student fees and a stipend for ten months of each academic year.

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#3

Stanford University

School Information
Location Stanford, California
Admission Rate 4%
Graduation Rate 94%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Established in 1885, Stanford consistently earns top ratings for its academic quality, award-winning faculty, and innovative research. Among the first departments established at Stanford, the psychology program ranks as one of the best in the field.

The five-year Ph.D. program in psychology offers five areas of study: neuroscience, affective, cognitive, developmental, or social psychology. Ph.D. students spend at least half of their time engaged in research from their first year through completion of their dissertation. The department expects all students to serve as teaching assistants for at least five psychology courses while they pursue their degree.

The psychology program bases its admission decision on several factors, including courses taken, GPA, letters of recommendation, and the statement of purpose. Once admitted, students receive full funding for five years of study, including four summer sessions. This financial assistance covers tuition, health insurance, and a stipend for living expenses.

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#4

Pitzer College

School Information
Location Claremont, California
Admission Rate 14%
Graduation Rate 85%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Founded in 1963, Pitzer enrolls approximately 1,000 students in more than 40 majors and minors in environmental and interdisciplinary studies; the arts; humanities; and social, behavioral and natural sciences. As part of the Claremont University Consortium, this top-ranked liberal arts and sciences college coordinates programs with four other undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. 

Pitzer's psychology major requires a minimum of 13 credits, including a specialized research practicum in the junior year, followed by a second practicum or an internship, and a culminating senior capstone seminar. Students have the option to enroll in a joint BA/MA program in psychology through Claremont Graduate University. The 32-credit accelerated BA/MA requires one year of study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Pritzer has adopted a test-free admission policy. The college uses a holistic approach to admission, basing decisions on high school transcripts, recommendations, co-curricular activities, work history, and other indicators of academic potential.

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#5

University of California-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Southern California's Orange County, UCI receives accolades for its academic and research achievements. The university enrolls more than 37,000 students in 222 degree programs.

UCI's top-ranked department of psychological science offers undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Ph.D. program features five distinct areas of study in affective science, developmental psychology, health psychology, social and personality psychology, and clinical psychology. Students can pursue a concentration in psychology and law while completing their doctoral requirements. 

UCI guarantees support for the full five years of the Ph.D. program, covering tuition, most fees, and a stipend. The university applies a holistic approach to admissions, evaluating candidates on their academic credentials, interest in research, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Applicants do not need an undergraduate degree in psychology but should demonstrate ​​some background in the field.

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#6

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

USC, a highly ranked private research university in Los Angeles, serves a student body of over 49,500 in the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences and 22 other academic and professional divisions. The university boasts several recipients of prestigious honors among its faculty, including Nobel prizes, MacArthur Genius awards, and the National Medal of Science.

The top-rated psychology department confers undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees in five areas of study: brain and cognitive science, clinical science, developmental psychology, quantitative methods, and social psychology. The department offers one online program, a master of science in applied psychology, with concentrations in consumer behavior or organizational psychology.

Admission to the graduate program in psychology is highly selective, based on academic achievement, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement of interests and goals, and evidence of research skills. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program receive five years of financial support that includes tuition, health insurance benefits, and stipends.

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#7

University of California-Davis

School Information
Location Davis, California
Admission Rate 39%
Graduation Rate 87%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Considered a Public Ivy, UC Davis is one of 10 campuses in the University of California System. Enrolling over 39,000 students, the university administers 107 undergraduate majors, 101 graduate programs, and six professional schools.

The psychology department at UC Davis offers an undergraduate major and minor and a highly ranked Ph.D. program that emphasizes teaching and research in five areas of study: developmental psychology; perception, cognition, and cognitive neuroscience; biological psychology, social-personality psychology, and quantitative methods.

Entrance to the program does not require course prerequisites or a master's in psychology. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of goals and purpose. Applicants must also submit a personal history and diversity statement that describes how their life experiences contribute to the campus community or their field of study, or how they might serve underrepresented groups with their graduate training.

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#8

Scripps College

School Information
Location Claremont, California
Admission Rate 32%
Graduation Rate 90%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Founded in 1926, Scripps is one of the country's most prestigious women's colleges, recognized for its interdisciplinary core curriculum and the quality of its academic programs. As part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, students at Scripps can cross-register in major programs and courses at any of the member schools.

Psychology, one of the college's most popular majors, provides a solid foundation for advanced graduate training in clinical and research psychology. The program also prepares learners for several other career options in business, education, law, social work, and healthcare. Students pursuing a bachelor of arts in psychology take 32 courses, which include interdisciplinary general education requirements, a minimum of nine upper-division courses in psychology, and a senior thesis.

First-year college students applying to Scripps must submit the online Common App, along with a school report from a high school counselor, two teacher recommendations, and official transcripts. Submission of standardized test scores is optional.

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#9

University of California-San Diego

School Information
Location La Jolla, California
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 87%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 1% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UC San Diego, located near the Pacific coast in southern California, offers over 200 highly ranked undergraduate and graduate programs. The university began enrolling graduate students in 1960, followed by undergraduates in 1964. 

The department of psychology offers undergraduate and doctoral degrees. Undergraduate options include bachelor or arts in psychology or bachelor of science in psychology degrees in business psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, human health, sensation and perception, and social psychology. 

The Ph.D. in psychology emphasizes experimental research throughout the five-year plan of study. In the first year, students complete two statistics courses, at least three out of four proseminar courses, and a year-long research project. By the middle of the fourth year, students should complete their seminar courses, a qualifying paper, and an oral dissertation proposal to advance into Ph.D. candidacy. Ph.D. students typically work as teaching assistants, beginning in their first year, teaching up to three courses by their fifth year in the program.

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#10

Claremont McKenna College

School Information
Location Claremont, California
Admission Rate 10%
Graduation Rate 91%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

A member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, CMC adheres to a highly selective need-blind admission policy, enrolling approximately 1,200 undergraduate students each year. Its top ranked liberal arts curriculum prepares graduates for leadership roles in business, the professions, and public affairs.

The psychological science program is one of the college's most popular. The 10-course undergraduate major emphasizes practical applications in business, law, education, and healthcare. Psychology majors can also take interdisciplinary sequences in leadership, legal studies, and neuroscience to broaden their career prospects. An accelerated BA/MA option through Claremont Graduate University enables students to earn their master's in just one year following completion of the bachelor's degree.

Undergraduate students in psychological science can pursue several unique research and experiential learning opportunities, including fellowships, internships, and study abroad programs. The CMC summer research program pairs students with a faculty mentor to work on a research project over an eight-week period. Participating students receive a stipend of $4,800.

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Frequently Asked Questions


Where can I find out how to get a psychology license in California?

The California Board of Psychology requires that you have a master's degree in psychology to earn a counseling or therapy license.You need a doctorate and supervised practice under a licensed psychologist to become a licensed psychologist.

How can I get an online psychological counseling California license?

Requirements include but are not limited to a master's or doctorate with at least 60 semesters (or equivalent), six practicum semesters, coursework in 13 different content areas, at least 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate work, and passing grades on applicable examinations.

What specific courses do I need to take to get a psychology license in California?

Coursework requirements from the California Board of Psychology include human sexuality, child abuse assessment and reporting, aging and long-term care, spousal/partner abuse detection and reporting, and substance misuse detection and treatment.

Can I practice psychology in California without a license?

You must have a license to call yourself a clinical psychologist or counselor. However, you can use applied psychology in careers that do not require a psychology license, such as lifestyle coaching.

Feature Image: James O'Neil | The Image Bank | Getty Images

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