Best Clinical Psychology Grad Programs in California

Find the best online and campus clinical psychology programs in California and learn how they can start you on your path to a rewarding career in behavioral and mental health.

Last Updated: 09/20/2021

Whether your interest is in doing research in Los Angeles or working with clients in San Jose, this guide takes a comprehensive look at the numerous graduate-level clinical psychology degree and certificate programs offered throughout California. You’ll find key information on the various types of degrees and certificates available at public and private universities, plus our picks for the very best schools. You’ll also learn about online clinical psychology programs, the importance of proper program accreditation, where you can get help funding your studies, and much more. So keep reading to get started on your path to earning a quality clinical psychology credential in California and launch a meaningful career in behavioral and mental health.

2021 Rankings: Best Clinical Psychology Programs in California


Listed below are three of the top schools currently offering clinical psychology programs in California. These selections are based on several important program features, including accreditation, affordability, curriculum comprehensiveness, course options, flexibility, and access to faculty and student support services. Knowing what the best programs offer will give you a better understanding of what to look for in a quality program. These spotlights also provide a preview of our full rankings of California clinical psychology programs coming later this year, so be sure to check back to learn more.

1

Alliant International University (AIU)

AIU is a private university with its main campus in San Diego and several satellite campuses throughout the state. AIU offers several options for students interested in clinical psychology, most notably two doctoral degree programs. The PhD in Clinical Psychology is designed for students seeking a career focused primarily on research or academics. The program is available on four California AIU campuses: Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. AIU’s PsyD in clinical psychology prepares graduates for careers in direct clinical practice. The PsyD program is available on five AIU campuses in the state: Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco. Each campus offers its own unique selection of emphasis areas within its PhD and PsyD programs that allow students to further tailor their studies to meet their own professional interests. All AIU clinical psychology programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association and prepare graduates for professional licensure in California and most other states.

Additional clinical psychology degrees in California include a postdoctoral MS in Clinical Psychopharmacology that qualifies licensed psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medications in state and federal jurisdictions where they have prescriptive authority. AIU also offers a Doctoral Respecialization Certificate in Clinical Psychology for individuals with a doctorate in another area of psychology seeking to respecialize in clinical psychology and become license-eligible psychologists. Both the MS and certificate programs are available online.

2

California Lutheran University

Cal Lutheran offers two graduate clinical psychology programs in California, starting with its Master of Science of Clinical Psychology. The MS program emphasizes practical research and clinical skills to prepare graduates for direct employment related to program evaluation or measurement of clinical outcomes in healthcare settings. This clinical psychology degree in California is also designed for students intending to continue their studies to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology or a closely related field. The 37- to 40-credit program is available on Cal Lutheran’s campuses in Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, and Westlake Village. Both full-time and part-time formats are available and the entire program can be completed in two to three years.

Also located on the Oxnard campus, Cal Lutheran’s APA-accredited PsyD in Clinical Psychology program combines academic coursework with comprehensive, hands-on clinical training to provide students with the practice and research skills needed to succeed in careers as licensed clinical psychologists. Clinical training in the program is comprised of three components: an internal practicum completed at one of two university-operated clinics (Oxnard and Westlake Village) that provide low-cost counseling services to patients in their communities; an external practicum in which students work with professionals in the field at community partner facilities; and a one-year, full-time or two-year, part-time internship. Among the best clinical psychology programs in California, this 114-credit program is typically completed in five years. 

3

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA’s PhD in Clinical Psychology is designed to produce graduates who influence practice, research, and policy development as leaders in the clinical psychology field. The program is six years in length and includes academic coursework, four-and-a-half years of part-time practical placements in the university’s Psychology Clinic or other local agencies, and a one-year, full-time internship. The program culminates with a dissertation presentation and defense. This PhD in clinical psychology program in California is accredited by both the APA and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS).

Admissions requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum 3.0 GPA. The degree major need not be psychology, but ideally applicants will have a solid background of coursework in psychology that includes lab courses and classes in research and statistical analysis. GRE Psychology Subject Test scores are typically required, though currently they’re waived due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Admission into the program is highly competitive, with selection based on academic performance, formal coursework in psychology, and research experiences and interests. Program costs are in line with similar programs offered by other public schools. Among the best clinical psychology programs in California, the program strives to provide all students with some form of financial aid such as stipends, fellowships, training grants, or program-related employment.

Top Online Clinical Psychology Programs in California


Just a few clinical psychology programs in California currently offer online coursework. This is due primarily to the nature of clinical psychology practice, which requires face-to-face interaction between psychologist and patient. Additionally, clinical psychology degree programs typically include a substantial number of in-person supervised professional practice hours that are a prerequisite to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in California.

Students opting for one of the limited number of online clinical psychology programs in California (including the three spotlighted below) will complete all or part of their academic coursework online, combined with in-person clinical training experiences (practicums and internships). Most programs also require students to attend one or more face-to-face residencies (orientations, seminars, conferences, etc.) on the school’s campus or at other designated locations. 

To learn more about the best clinical psychology graduate degree programs available online in California, be sure to visit these STEPS guides to online clinical psychology master’s programs and online clinical psychology PhD programs.

1

Fielding Graduate University

Located in the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, the Fielding Graduate University is a small (approximately 1,000 students) private institution offering doctoral and postgraduate studies in the areas of education, leadership, and psychology. Many of its programs, including those in clinical psychology, feature distance education components. For example, the curriculum for Fielding’s PhD in Clinical Psychology is presented in a distributed learning format that combines synchronous and asynchronous online coursework with participation in a minimum of 600 hours of face-to-face activities. These in-person activities include a week-long new student orientation; week-long national sessions at locations nationwide; and a series of single-day professional development seminars. Students in these hybrid clinical psychology programs in California also complete 1,520 clock hours in an in-person clinical practicum typically in the student’s local community and a one-year, full-time accredited internship. 

The program offers a generalist PhD with the option to add a concentration in forensic psychology, neuropsychology, health psychology, or social justice and diversity. The entire course is designed to be completed in five to six years. Admission into the program requires a previously earned bachelor’s degree (students are awarded an MA in psychology at the midpoint of the PhD program). GRE scores are not required. 

Fielding also offers two graduate-level clinical psychology certificate options: an online Postbaccalaureate Certificate that prepares students to become competitive applicants to clinical psychology doctorate programs; and a hybrid Postdoctoral Respecialization Certificate for psych

2

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University is a private research university affiliated with the Church of Christ. Through its Graduate School of Education and Psychology located in West Lost Angeles, Pepperdine offers an online MA in Clinical Psychology that prepares students for licensure and careers as LPCs and LMFTs. The course includes online academic coursework and four terms of clinical practicums in which students receive supervised clinical training at an approved site in or near their local communities. The program is designed to ensure that graduates have met all academic requirements for California’s LPC and LMFT licensure examinations. It also prepares students for LPC and/or LMFT licensure in several other states. (See the full state list on the program’s webpage.) The entire clinical psychology program in California can be completed in as few as 27 months.

Admission into the MA in Clinical Psychology program requires a previously earned bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. Other application requirements for this clinical psychology degree in California include two letters of recommendation and a two- to five-page statement of purpose. GRE scores are not required. Students must reside in the United States upon application to and throughout the duration of the MA program. Cohorts begin each winter, spring, summer, and fall. 

3

Saybrook University

Saybrook University, a private, nonprofit graduate school located in Pasadena, offers an online PhD in Clinical Psychology for students interested in applying principles of existential, transpersonal, and humanistic psychology to careers in research and clinical practice. The hybrid learning model for this clinical psychology program in California combines online asynchronous coursework with periodic virtual meetings and in-person residential conferences. Students are also required to complete an in-person clinical practicum (a total of 600 hours over two semesters) and a 1,500-hour clinical internship at a practice facility in the student’s local area. Interested students have the option of tailoring their coursework to include a specialization in one of seven areas: advanced assessment, consciousness spirituality integrative health, complex trauma and the healing process, creativity studies, existential and humanistic psychology, Jungian studies, and psychophysiology. 

Saybrook’s PhD in Clinical Psychology program is APA-accredited and meets the educational requirements to be a Licensed Psychologist in California, as well as the licensure or certification requirements in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Types of Clinical Psychology Grad Degrees in California

California colleges and universities offer several types of graduate-level clinical psychology programs, each designed to prepare graduates for specific psychology careers and each with its own set of admissions and graduation requirements. Keep reading to find descriptions of these clinical psychology credentials along with examples of California programs currently available for each:

Clinical Psychology Master’s Degree Programs in California

Earning a master’s in clinical psychology from a regionally accredited California college or university (and completing the clinical training hours required for licensing) qualifies graduates to sit for the state exams to become LPCs or LMFTs. Along with private practice, clinical psychology master’s graduates are prepared to work as therapists and counselors in a wide range of settings, including schools, government facilities, hospitals, mental health clinics, substance abuse programs, and residential health centers. Students intending to apply for the best clinical psychology PsyD and PhD programs in California and elsewhere often earn a clinical psychology master’s to become more competitive candidates.

Examples of Accredited California Universities with This Clinical Psychology Program

California State University Fullerton 

  • City: Fullerton
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

California State University Northridge

  • City: Northridge
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

San Francisco State University

  • City: San Francisco
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

San Jose State University

  • City: San Jose
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

San Francisco State University

  • City: Costa Mesa
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

Clinical Psychology PsyD Programs in California

Introduced in the 1970s, the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree was developed to provide a practice-oriented doctorate alternative to the more research-focused PhD in psychology. The curricula of clinical psychology PsyD programs, therefore, are built around coursework in evidence-based applied psychology and clinical training designed to prepare graduates for direct practice with patients. PsyD programs culminate with a dissertation or doctoral project that addresses a specific applied clinical topic or problem. PsyD programs typically accept more students, and therefore are somewhat easier to be admitted into, than PhD in psychology programs. Most clinical psychology PsyD students complete their programs in four to five years.

Examples of Accredited California Universities with This Clinical Psychology Program

Azusa Pacific University 

  • City: Azusa
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

California State University Northridge

  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

San Francisco State University

  • City: La Verne
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

San Jose State University

  • City: San Francisco
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

San Francisco State University

  • City: Berkeley
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

Clinical Psychology PhD Programs in California

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in clinical psychology programs in California offer research-focused curricula that integrate scientific and psychological theory, experimentation and data analysis, coursework in applied psychology, and clinical training practice. The PhD in clinical psychology degree is the ideal choice for graduates intending top-level careers in research and academia. However, many PhD graduates also establish successful careers as clinical practitioners working directly with patients. Admission requirements for the best clinical psychology PhD programs in California are usually more rigorous, and acceptance into PhD programs more competitive, than for PsyD programs. Program lengths generally run five to seven years including all coursework, dissertation preparation and presentation, and completion of substantial clinical training requirements.

Examples of Accredited California Universities with This Clinical Psychology Program

Loma Linda University

  • City: Loma Linda
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

Palo Alto University

  • City: Palo Alto
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

San Diego State University/University of California San Diego (Joint Degree)

  • City: San Diego
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program)

University of California Berkeley

  • City: Berkeley
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program); PCSAS (program)

University of Southern California

  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WASC (school); APA (program); PCSAS (program)

Graduate Certificate Programs in California

Currently only a few clinical psychology graduate-level certificate programs are available in California, including the two listed below. The most common type of clinical psychology certificate offered is the doctoral respecialization certificate. Respecialization certificate programs offer psychology doctoral degree holders the most efficient means for obtaining the necessary education and clinical training (practicum/internship) hours needed to meet the requirements for state licensure to become licensed psychologists. Students intending to apply to a clinical doctoral degree program and seeking to increase their chances for admission into such a program may want to consider a post-baccalaureate clinical psychology certificate program. 

Examples of Accredited California Universities with This Clinical Psychology Program

Alliant International University

  • City: San Diego (main campus)
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

Fielding Graduate Institute

  • City: Santa Barbara
  • Delivery: Online (Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Clinical Psychology); Hybrid (Post-Doctoral Certificate in Clinical Psychology)
  • Accreditation: WASC (school)

Accreditation for Clinical Psychology Programs in California

Accreditation is the process by which postsecondary education programs–and the schools that offer them–are determined to meet specific standards of academic quality. Proper accreditation is how you can be sure that the clinical psychology degree or certificate program in California that you choose is worth your time and money. There are two types of accreditation to look for in your search of the best clinical psychology programs in California: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation concerns the vetting of a school’s academic quality as a whole. It is an absolute must for any school offering a graduate-level clinical psychology program. This is especially true for master’s programs because clinical psychology master’s programs in the U.S. are not programmatically accredited. Institutional accreditation of California colleges and universities is administered primarily by the WASC Senior College and University Commission

Programmatic accreditation refers to the vetting of specific degree programs. The primary accrediting body of clinical psychology PsyD and PhD programs in the U.S. is the APA. In addition, a small but growing number of clinical psychology PhD programs in California are accredited by the PCSAS. Consider only those clinical psychology doctoral degree programs that are APA and/or PCSAS accredited.

You can check the accreditation status of clinical psychology programs by using these WASC, APA, and PCSAS search engines.

Financial Aid for Clinical Psychology Grad Students in California

Paying for a clinical psychology degree or certificate program in California is a major issue for almost every college student. Fortunately, most clinical psychology grad students in California have access to several potential financial aid resources. The biggest source includes scholarships and grants, assistantships and fellowships, and student loans (particularly federal student loans). Clinical psychology programs and the psychology departments that offer them often have dedicated funding opportunities specifically for their students. Examples include UCLA and the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Joint Degree programs.

Contact the financial aid office of each clinical psychology program and school in California that you’re considering to find out about specific financial aid opportunities. And be sure to visit the STEPS scholarships guide and financial aid guide to learn more about ways to fund your education at the best clinical psychology programs in California.