Psychology Schools in California

There are nearly 400 universities in California, many of which offer psychology programs. The spectrum of program types and degrees offered is broad–choosing the right school can be overwhelming. There are many factors to consider, some of which will have precedence over others depending on the needs and goals of the student in question. Luckily, most schools devote a section of their website to each academic department and/or program, allowing prospective students to see the courses offered and learn about past and present projects involving psychology students and faculty. It is advised that students familiarize themselves with the work of of psychology department faculty members at each of the schools they are interested in. A good place to start is to read the curriculum vitae (CV) of each faculty member in question. In most cases, copies of faculty CV’s can be downloaded directly from the department’s webpage. A CV will list all the projects that a faculty member has worked on or directed, and every publication that he/she has written or contributed to. In some cases, copies of select publications are also available for download from the department’s webpage.

Experts recommend that students identify the type of program that best suits their interests and professional goals, as well as the differences between branches of psychology that may seem similar on the surface. Take, for example, the difference between counseling psychology. and clinical psychology. Counseling psychologists are concerned with the mental health and well-being of individuals. The purpose of counseling psychology is to improve the personal and interpersonal function of individuals, as well as to address developmental problems, emotional problems, and problems associated with disorders of mind and body. The aim of clinical psychology, on the other hand, is to understand behavioral problems, psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses so that they can be predicted, treated, and prevented. Despite these differences, the line between “counseling” and “clinical” psychologists is not always easy to see. Many counseling psychologists have responsibilities and roles that are similar to those that clinical psychologists have, and in various settings–such as university campuses, hospitals, private clinics, and mental-health centers–clinical psychologists work alongside counseling psychologists. The bottom line is that counseling psychologists generally work with individuals that are psychologically healthy but seeking to understand and improve their personal and interpersonal lives, whereas clinical psychologists work with individuals suffering from mental illness.

Most graduate programs in psychology offer different concentrations, or emphases, that allow students to fine-tune their skills and prepare for entry into the field of psychology as practitioners, researchers, or scholars. For students seeking a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science (undergraduate) psychology degree, it is not as important to choose a school based on the rank of its psychology program. According to experts, it is best for undergraduate students to consider factors such as the geographical location, sports teams, cultural diversity, greek life, male-to-female ratio, cost of tuition, and availability of scholarships. Undergraduate programs are more generalized than graduate programs, in order to give students the opportunity to find their niche in the field they choose. An undergraduate program in psychology would cover the basics and fundamental theories, and might include a survey course of the different branches of psychology. At some universities, such as the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), psychology is considered a laboratory science. In programs like these, students are typically required to learn experimental methods and analyze data using statistics. In some honors programs, students are also required to complete an undergraduate thesis based on their experience in the lab. Students that aspire to be counseling psychologists might decide to avoid laboratory-focused programs when searching for a school that best fits their learning objectives and professional goals. Other considerations include whether the prospective student decides to pursue a master’s or PhD degree.

The following is a list of colleges and universities in the state of California with top-ranked psychology programs at the graduate level. As mentioned above, the framework of undergraduate education allows students to begin by exploring various aspects of their chosen field before narrowing their focus and transitioning to upper-level classes. For this reason, undergraduate programs were not taken into account as criteria for ranking the schools on this list.

CA colleges and universities w/ top-ranked graduate-level psychology programs

1. Stanford University
Stanford University offers a PhD in psychology, but does not offer a terminal MA degree; in other words, students are only considered for MA candidacy if they plan to ultimately pursue a PhD. Students that are currently enrolled in the department’s PhD program are eligible for simultaneous enrollment in a co-terminal MA program. The department of psychology at Stanford is research-oriented and encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, especially in the areas of medicine, biology, law, and the graduate school of business. Department areas at Stanford are Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, Neuroscience, and Affective Science. Stanford University has a history of association with pioneer psychologist William James, and the first person to head its psychology department is also the founder of the American Psychological Association.

2. University of California, Berkeley
As indicated by the department’s website, the objective of the graduate program in psychology at UC Berkeley is to create an environment in which students become skilled researchers and scholars with well-rounded perspectives and the capacity to carry out research independently and successfully. The department areas (referred to as “training
units) at UC Berkeley are Behavioral Neuroscience; Change, Plasticity & Development; Clinical Science; Cognition, Brain and Behavior; and Social-Personality. Specific requirements for each unit include independent research in addition to seminars and university courses.
3. University of California, Los Angeles
The psychology department at UCLA offers PhD training but does not offer a terminal MA or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology; professional doctorate of Clinical Psychology) training. Department areas of UCLA’s psychology department are as follows: Behavioral Neuroscience; Clinical Psychology; Cognitive Psychology; Developmental; Learning and Behavior; Quantitative; Health Psychology; and Social Psychology. The goal of the department of psychology at UCLA is to provide rigorous training for individuals motivated to working toward advancing the current scientific literature, and to prepare them for success as professionals, researchers, and university instructors. The department of psychology at UCLA promotes participation in multidisciplinary activities, especially those that involve other departments, schools, and organized research units that are relevant to psychology, and to take advantage of the research facilities provided by the the Brain Research Institute, the interdisciplinary Neuroscience and Cognitive programs, the Institute for Social Science Research, and the Neuropsychiatric Institute.

4. University of California, San Diego
UC San Diego offers a PhD degree in experimental psychology. The department is associated with a clinical psychology PhD program offered by San Diego State
University and the Psychiatry xanax Department at UC San Diego. Students in the PhD program in experimental psychology can apply for admission in the interdisciplinary program with the intention of earning a joint-degree in Psychology and Cognitive Science. The graduate program in experimental psychology encourages students to begin researching independently in their first year of study. Department emphases are: Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience; Cognitive Psychology; Sensation and Perception; Developmental Psychology; and Social Psychology.

5. University of California, Davis
The objective of the psychology department at UC Davis is to provide qualified students with the training they need for success as researchers and teachers. Terminal MA degrees are not offered by the department of psychology at UC Davis; nor are PhD degrees in clinical and counseling psychology. The program is research-heavy and coursework is limited. Department emphases include developmental psychology; perception, cognition, and cognitive neuroscience; social-personality; quantitative; and psychobiology (comparative and physiological psychology). UC Davis is recognized for its ethnic, cultural, educational and social diversity among the faculty and student population.
6. University of California, Irvine
The graduate program in psychology at UC Irvine is a research-oriented PhD program. The department offers a PhD in Psychology and a PhD in Psychology with a cognitive-neuroscience emphasis, but does not offer terminal Master’s degrees or clinical training for private practitioners. The Cognitive Sciences program is designed for students interested in cognitive neuroscience; mathematical psychology; perception; cognition and information processing, whereas the Psychology and Social Behavior graduate program is geared toward students interested in developmental psychology; health psychology; psychopathology and behavioral disorders. Both programs emphasize research, experimentation, and theory development. Both programs are designed to equip students with the skills they need for success in scholarship and as teachers in academic, government, and industry settings.

7. University of California, Santa Cruz
The PhD program offered by the psychology department at UC Santa Cruz has received national recognition. Students admitted to the PhD program choose from one of three emphases (cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, or social psychology). According to the description on the department’s webpage, students are given the opportunity to expand their education by working with faculty in other areas. The PhD program provides students with comprehensive training as researchers, teachers, and/or administrators. The program is research-focused; students are expected to pursue research opportunities throughout their experience as graduate students at UCSC. The psychology department at UCSC does not offer terminal Master’s degrees, nor does it offer training in counseling or clinical psychology.

8. University of Southern California
The University of Southern California (USC) offers both PhD and Master’s programs in psychology. The PhD degrees offered by the department are categorized according to the following five specializations: Brain and Cognitive Science; Clinical Science; Developmental Psychology; Quantitative
Methods; and Social Psychology. Doctoral students work closely with faculty members that have similar research interests, and are expected to pursue opportunities for research and scholarship throughout their experience in the program.

The department of psychology at USC offers a Master’s degree in Human Behavior, designed for the student who intends to work in a commercial field where training in the study of human behavior is necessary (i.e. public relations, human resources, advertising or marketing). Eligible candidates for the Master’s program are students that hold a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degree in a field of behavioral science such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, or political science. Key elements of the program include coursework with practical application, internship opportunities, and opportunities for networking with corporate executives in relevant fields (e.g. advertising, public relations, and marketing). The department also offers a progressive Master’s degree for students that wish to complete their BA and Master’s within 5 years, and a Master of Arts in Psychological Science is offered as a terminal Master’s degree.

9. San Diego State University
San Diego State University (SDSU) offers a joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology with UC San Diego. The objective of the program is to train and educate students in a way that prepares them for success as research professionals in the field of clinical psychology. As described on the department’s webpage, clinical psychologists are responsible for diagnosis, treatment, consultation, program evaluation and design, research and teaching. The doctoral program is geared toward teaching students how to fulfill these responsibilities while maintaining the perspective of a research scientist.

San Diego State University offers a Master of Arts degree in the following emphases: Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience; Learning and Cognition; Social/Personality; Developmental Psychology; and Physical and/or Mental Health Research. The MA psychology program at SDSU is research-oriented and typically pursued in preparation for a PhD degree. San Diego State University offers a Master of Science degree in Applied Psychology for the purpose of preparing students for work that necessitates knowledge in the field of psychology and the ability to apply psychological knowledge to work environments and community settings. The two emphases of the MS program are Industrial-Organizational Psychology; and Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Like the PhD program, the MS program is based on the scientist-practitioner model. The training provided by the MS program in Applied Psychology is appropriate for students that have recently graduated from a Bachelor’s program of a related field, and also for individuals that have taken a hiatus from university education for the purpose of entering the workforce. MS candidates [with a Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation emphasis] are trained to perform various functions in health care, mental health, education, government, and community- based settings, including needs assessment, program implementation, program monitoring, feasibility studies, survey design and administration, impact evaluations, formative evaluation and cost benefit analysis. MS candidates who choose the Industrial-Organizational emphasis can expect to be employed by corporations or consulting firms.

10. California School of Integral Studies
The California School of Integral Studies (CSIS) offers a Master of Arts degree in counseling psychology. Rooted in comprehensive, in-depth clinical training, the MA involves coursework in child and adult therapy, marriage and couples counseling, family counseling, and group therapy. Students are trained in basic counseling skills, diagnosis and assessment, cross-cultural issues, human sexuality, alcohol and substance abuse, research, ethical issues, and laws pertaining to counseling. Designed to meet the educational requirements for the state of California’s Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor license and the state of California’s Marriage and Family Therapy license. The MA program offered by the California School of Integral Studies is focused on the idea that an integral perspective is necessary for psychological, spiritual, and physical balance. The concentrations offered by the program are Community Mental Health, Drama Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy, Integral Counseling Psychology, and Somatic Psychology.

Article researched and created by Kelsey Wambold, © 2012

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