Why Attend Psychology Colleges and Programs in California?


By Ndidi Susan Emeagwali

California offers sunshine, warm weather, and ample opportunity. U.S. News & World Report ranks California 19th among the best states to live. California also offers many of the nation's top psychology schools, such as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, which rank first and second, respectively. The College Board finds that tuition and fees at public four-year institutions in California remain steady, though out-of-state tuition is higher than the $26,820 national average.

Graduates from the best colleges in California for psychology enter a job market in a state with a 3.9% unemployment rate in October 2019. The state boasts a robust economy that comes in fourth in the United States. Jobs for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in California are projected to increase 12.5% through 2026. California degree-seekers have an 8.7% student loan default rate, one of the nation's lowest.

What to Expect in a California Psychology College Program

Aspiring psychologists begin their education with a two-year associate or four-year bachelor's in psychology. Learners with an associate degree can transfer credits into a bachelor's program, thereby accelerating degree completion. Many full-time online learners complete a master's degree in two years. To obtain licensure as a psychologist in California, professionals need a doctorate, which takes an additional five or more years of study.

Some schools offer dual master's/doctoral programs in psychology. As students research California colleges for psychology, they should know that California universities conferred 5,590 psychology degrees in 2018 (all degree levels combined), ranking first in the United States. Degree-seekers should determine which psychology subfield most interests them, since this may impact their school options. Not every school offers all specializations.

In 2018, doctoral students in California chose clinical psychology at a rate of 40%, followed by general psychology, 28%; counseling psychology, 7%; school psychology, 5%; and educational psychology, 7%. Remaining students chose other research and psychology subfields.

What Courses Are Part of an Online Psychology Degree Program in California?

As students explore the best colleges in California for psychology, they should know that each school offers its own curriculum. However, many schools offer some common courses. See below for typical courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

General Psychology

Learners receive an introduction to the field, including the major theories, luminaries in the field, and research methodologies. Degree-seekers learn about the many subfields of psychology, such as developmental, cognitive, neuroscience, and industrial-organizational psychology.

Developmental Psychology

The research of psychologists like Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud explains how biological factors and early childhood experiences help develop an individual's personality, intellect, and behavior. Undergraduates learn about these psychologists, their work, and new developments that further expand our understanding of mind and behavior at various development stages.

Psychology of Personality

This course explores various personality theories, such as trait-based, psychodynamic, and humanistic. Faculty introduce undergraduates to famous psychologists who helped develop some of psychology's classical theories in this domain. Students examine how psychologists apply these concepts in clinical and other contexts.

Positive Psychology

This course continues to grow in popularity on many campuses as more Americans embrace positive psychology to improve their lives. Degree-seekers learn about the empirical evidence that implicates positive psychology as a factor in physical and mental health improvements and in maintaining healthy relationships.

Forensic Psychology

Learners explore forensic psychology's applications in the legal system, such as in debriefing witnesses, managing expert testimony, and clinically assessing witness competency.

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Education Requirements to Become a Psychologist in California

Undergraduates may earn a bachelor's degree in a major other than psychology and still qualify to enter a master's program in psychology. Some undergraduate majors that qualify include counseling, sociology, and social work. Professionals who want to work as a psychologist in California must complete a doctorate in psychology, educational psychology, education with a counseling psychology specialization, or education with an educational psychology specialization.

Undergraduates may earn a bachelor's degree in a major other than psychology and still qualify to enter a master's program in psychology.

Learners should begin to identify their specialization as early as possible. The American Psychological Association (APA) manages 54 divisions that cover a range of interests. Since California colleges for psychology do not offer all specializations in every department, a student's specialization may limit the schools they can attend.

Doctoral students must complete 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience to meet state licensure requirements. Many students complete the first 1,500 hours as part of a doctoral internship, but all complete at least 1,500 at the post-doctoral level. The licensing board only accepts internship hours from programs accredited by the APA, Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers, or the California Psychology Internship Council.

California Licensing for Psychologists

All states require mental health professionals to obtain a license to practice as a psychologist. California requires candidates pass state and national licensing examinations and complete supervised practice before they can obtain the license. See below for an in-depth review of the educational, supervised training, and administrative steps for licensure.

Why Get Licensed in California?

Individuals interested in a psychology career in California must receive licensure to:

  • Diagnose, treat, and prevent psychological, emotional, and mental disorders
  • Provide psychological advice and services to groups and individuals
  • Conduct research in the areas of psychology

Even psychologists who do not provide mental health services, such as industrial-organizational psychologists, must complete the education and supervised experience required for licensure.

Licensing Criteria for California

The Department of Consumer Affairs Board of Psychology regulates the practice of psychology in California. To obtain licensure from the board, applicants must:

  • Earn a doctoral degree in psychology, educational psychology, education with an educational psychology specialization, or education with a counseling psychology specialization from an accredited or approved institution.
  • Complete coursework in human sexuality; child abuse assessment and reporting; substance abuse detection and treatment; spousal or partner abuse assessment, detection, and intervention; and aging and long-term care.
  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience that includes at least 1,500 at the post-doctoral level.
  • Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE).
  • Undergo a background check

How to Get Licensed in California

Candidates must submit a license application to the Board of Psychology, demonstrating that they meet the criteria for eligibility to take the EPPP. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards developed the 225-question multiple-choice exam. Pearson VUE administers the EPPP for $600. The exam covers eight areas, including biological bases of behavior, cognitive-affective bases of behavior, growth and lifespan development, and social and cultural bases of behavior. Candidates need a passing score of at least 500 out of 800 in California.

Once applicants pass the EPPP and complete the 3,000 professional supervised experience hours, the Board of Psychology allows them to take the CPLEE, developed and administered by the Office of Professional Examination Service. The exam consists of 40 multiple-choice questions on laws and ethics, including confidentiality and privilege; psychotherapeutic relationships; interpersonal relationships; and intervention, evaluation, and assessment. Those who do not pass the EPPP may retake the exam as soon as the board deems them eligible to do so. Those who fail the CPLEE can retake it in three months.

All applicants must also complete a "Live Scan," which uses fingerprints for a criminal history clearance.

License Renewal in California

The Board of Psychology requires that psychologists renew their license every two years. In order to do so, candidates need at least 36 hours of qualifying continuing education within two years preceding the license expiration date. Qualifying continuing education includes lectures, conferences, workshops, in-service training programs, video conferencing, and independent learning technologies.


California Psychologist Salaries and Employment Trends

The need for psychologists grows as more Americans seek mental health professionals to address challenges like addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, and trauma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% through 2028, which is much faster than average. This high number falls in line with other psychology-related careers with high job-growth projections, including marriage and family therapists, 22%, and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, 22%.

California takes the top spot for highest employment level of psychologists among the 50 states, and ranks first in the category of top-paying states for this occupation.

California takes the top spot for highest employment level of psychologists among the 50 states, and ranks first in the category of top-paying states for this occupation. Digging deeper into projection data shows that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in California do comparably well with a 12.5% increase in jobs through 2026. The metro areas provide the best employment prospects, with the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area coming in second in the nation for metropolitan areas with the highest employment level of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists.

About 5,470 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists work in that metro area, making an annual mean wage of $117,870. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario employs 1,950 of these psychology specialists making an annual mean wage of $93,050.

Historical Mean Wage for Psychologists
  2016 2017
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists in California $90,210 $94,910
Psychologists, All Other in California $107,660 $109,600
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists Nationally $78,690 $81,330
Psychologists, All Other Nationally $94,650 $93,440

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mean Wage For Psychologists In California and Nearby States (2018)

  • Nationally

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $85,340

    Psychologists, All Other: $95,610

  • California

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $108,350

    Psychologists, All Other: $114,860

  • Arizona

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $66,040

    Psychologists, All Other: $87,600

  • Nevada

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $83,760

    Psychologists, All Other: $74,060

  • Oregon

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $103,870

    Psychologists, All Other: N/A

  • Hawaii

    Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: $94,550

    Psychologists, All Other: $94,260

Source: BLS

Projected Job Growth for Psychologists (2016-2026)
  Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists Psychologists, All Other
Nationally 14.2% 10.3%
California 12.50% 13.00%
Arizona 24.90% 5.00%
Nevada 21.70% N/A
Oregon 15.5% -5.0%
Hawaii 12.7% N/A

Source: Projections Central

Psychology Programs and Licensing in California Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Get a BA or BS in Psychology?

A BS in psychology from one of the best psychology schools in California provides aspiring psychologists with hands-on research and lab experience that a BA does not often provide. By design, the BA focuses on liberal arts education, which leaves less time for science content.

What is a Good Speciality for Psychology?

Psychology offers many specialization opportunities. APA manages 54 divisions covering subdisciplines in psychology and various interest areas. However, California recognizes clinical counseling, school psychology, counseling psychology, developmental psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology.

What is the Difference Between a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in Psychology?

Students should consider whether they want to train as a scientist-practitioner, which leads them to the Ph.D. and a greater emphasis on research. Those interested in clinical work with clients choose the Psy.D. The Ph.D. takes 5-7 years to complete, while the Psy.D. takes 4-6 years.

Are California Psychology Licenses Valid in Other States?

Licensure requirements for out-of-state psychologists vary by state. Out-of-state psychologists typically apply for licensure by endorsement and do not have to take the EPPP. They may need to take other tests like a jurisprudence examination and pass background checks. For instance, an out-of-state psychologist seeking to practice in California must pass the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination.

What Happens If I Don't Renew My License?

California expects psychologists to renew their license every two years. Those who do not renew their license must apply to reactivate this credential. Deactivated psychologists must demonstrate proof of 36 hours of continuing education and training in laws and ethics to qualify.

Psychology Resources for California


  • American Psychological Association APA is the foremost scientific organization representing psychologists in the United States. Members include doctoral-level psychologists and affiliate and associate members, such as psychology students. Member benefits include access to professional development, publications, a career center, and professional liability insurance.
  • California Psychological Association Founded in 1948, CPA is the professional organization for licensed psychologists and others who deliver psychological services. Members receive free newsletters and professional practice tools and resources. They can further their careers with continuing education credits.
  • California Association of School Psychologists Boasting more than 2,000 members, CASP is the country's largest statewide organization of school psychologists. Members receive CASP's quarterly online newsletter, a jobs bulletin, CASP webinars, and liability insurance.
  • California Counseling Association Incorporated in 1967, CCA oversees 10 divisions and affiliates in the state. Members receive professional development, benefit from advocacy, and network with counseling professionals across industries.
  • California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists CAMFT is a large organization of approximately 32,000 members who represent the interests of licensed marriage and family therapists. Member benefits include newsletters, continuing education, marketing on CounselingCalifornia.com, and a jobs board.