Choosing a home for your education is no easy task. We see thousands of students each year who have already determined that they want to study psychology but are struggling through the process of deciding where to carry out their studies. So here is a practical guide to choosing the best school for you.
If you're interested in studying psychology at the undergraduate, master's, or doctorate level, you'll realize that, when it comes to choosing the best psychology school in California or elsewhere in the country, you've got your work cut out for you.
School's psychology programs vary widely in terms of cost, location, primary training method, area of specialization and—of course—student success. There is no right choice for everyone. The best psychology school is truly unique to each individual and will depend on your specific needs and goals.
Before You Begin…
Before you start planning campus visits or poring over course catalogs, clearly establish your needs and goals. Getting a clearer picture about what you're looking for in terms of a psychology school can help narrow down some of your choices. That way, you don't waste time checking out schools that don't align with your interests.
Consider answering the following questions before starting your search:
- What are my career goals? What degree level will I need to reach? Am I leaning towards clinical practice or research?
- Is there a specific concentration area I want to focus on?
- Am I interested in working with particular faculty members?
- Do I want to study online, in-person, or through a combination of the two (hybrid)?
- What can I afford? Will I need financial aid?
Having answers—even tentative ones—to these questions can help guide your search for the school that best suits you.
Doing Your Research
Each psychology school is different, so it's important to figure out how they match up with your goals. Most students will be concerned with factors, such as:
Accreditation ensures that schools are held to a standard. If you're pursuing undergraduate training, regional accreditation for the institution should suffice. However, those pursuing graduate training may need higher-level accreditation for the individual psychology program:
- The American Psychological Association (APA) Commission on Accreditation accredit doctoral programs in psychology.
- The Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredits psychology or counseling programs at the master’s level.
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) accredits marriage and family therapy programs at the master, doctorate, and post-graduate levels.
- The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredit counseling programs at both the master and doctorate levels.
Pursuing an accredited program ensures that your psychological training is of the highest caliber. However, whether you are required to earn a degree from an accredited program will depend on your desired state of practice and licensing requirements.
Type of Program
Knowing your unique career goals can help you determine which type of program is the best fit. In addition to varying degree levels (i.e., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Psy.D.), psychology schools generally follow a specific training model: research/scientist, scientist/practitioner, or practitioner/scholar. These training models define the focus of the program—driven towards clinic practice or research and/or experimentation.
The program type also includes the specialty or concentration areas studied. These may include broad or specific areas, such as Clinical, Social, Developmental, and Neuropsychological.
It's also important to reflect on the way you’d like to receive instruction. Many students today work toward their degrees while working part-time jobs or raising families. Such students may prefer a psychology program that offers flexible formats completely online or hybrid, like some of the programs at Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology. On the other hand, some students may find that they learn better by engaging entirely through face-to-face lectures and discussions.
For many students, the program they choose comes down to dollars and cents. They want programs that provide funding opportunities to students as well as financial aid. Graduate students can often obtain funding from various scholarships in addition to assistantships, grants, and fellowships.
At the end of the day, you want to select the psychology program that is most likely to ensure your professional and personal success. When conducting your research, check out the numbers regarding student retention in the program, number of years it usually takes to complete the program, and how many students are typically rewarded internships or post-doctoral placement. You might also inquire about the percentage of graduates who are currently employed in the field, and for graduate programs, the APA-internship placement rates.
Making the Decision
Once you've weighed the strengths and weaknesses of each program, submit applications to several of your top-choice and second-choice schools. Try to visit as many of these schools as you can.
While on campus, get a tour of the classrooms, labs, and research areas. Sit in on a class to evaluate the professor's teaching style and level of student engagement. Talk to current students, alumni, and faculty of your preferred programs. Ask them questions (“Is it easy to get financial aid or assistantships?” or “Are students able to pick a faculty member to work with?”). Even if you're on campus to be interviewed, you should also be doing some interviewing of your own to be absolutely sure the program can support your future success.
By following these steps, you will find the best psychology school that fits your career goals.
To help you get started, some of the psychology programs that are considered among “the best” in California include:
- Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology
- Stanford University
- University of California-Los Angeles
- California State University
- Pomona College
- University of Southern California
- University of California Berkeley
- Pepperdine University
Do you need help finding the right psychology school? Contact an Alliant admissions counselor to learn more about our psychology programs at one of our California campuses or online. We will answer any of your questions and help you find the best psychology school to meet your career goals.