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Graduate FAQ

Master of Arts in Psychological Science at CSUSM

Frequently Asked Questions

Please read all of these questions and answers carefully before you make a decision about applying to our progam. A careful reading of these FAQs will help you determine if our program is right for you! 

  • I want to be a clinical psychologist - is this the right program for me?

    If you want to use a Master’s degree as a steppingstone to a clinical doctoral (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) program, our program is indeed a good one for you.  Doctoral programs (especially Ph.D.) are looking for students who have done research in psychology.  Perhaps it is because our program emphasizes research skills that over 90% of our graduates who have applied to doctoral programs have been admitted.

    On the other hand, if you are looking for a program that trains you in counseling skills so that you can work as a therapist once you have your Master’s degree, ours is NOT the right program for you.  San Diego State, University of San Diego, and Alliant University are local institutions where that sort of training is offered.

    However, please note that we are currently developing a graduate program in Clinical/Counseling Psychology that will prepare students to pursue licensure as an LPCC. It is anticipated this will be offered through our department starting Fall 2026. Information about this new program will be posted on the main Psychology Department website ( as soon as such information becomes available.

  • I want to be a school psychologist - is this the right program for me?

    No. Contact the School of Education if this is your interest. 

  • Is this program a good fit if I am interested in applied behavior analysis (ABA) or becoming a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA)?

    It depends on your particular interest in this field of study. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach involving the application of behavioral principles to bring about positive, socially significant changes in human behavior. Our MA program specializes in training students how to do research in psychological science, and some of our faculty conduct research related to ABA, including ABA as applied to autism. However, we do not offer course work or training that is specifically aimed at preparing students to deliver ABA-based services. 

    ABA-based interventions may be delivered by board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs), educators, clinical psychologists, or other qualified professionals with relevant clinical training. A common path for those interested in delivering ABA-based interventions is to pursue the courses and training required to become a BCBA. You can find more information about this certification and the requirements at The educational requirements for a BCBA include a Master’s degree and behavior analytic coursework. Our program would satisfy the Master’s degree component, however, additional behavior analytic coursework would need to be taken, and this course work would be in addition to and outside of the courses and research you do as part of our Master’s degree curriculum. These additional courses could be taken through CSUSM Extended Learning or other qualifying institutions. Again, the Master’s program in Psychological Science at CSU San Marcos will not satisfy all of the educational and supervised fieldwork requirements for the BCBA, and our emphasis on research may or may not be consistent with the type of Master’s level education that best suits your interests, talents, and career goals.  Therefore, take care to explore the various options available to you if you are interested in a career as a behavior analyst.

  • Can I still be accepted into your program if I do not have a BA in Psychology?

    We expect our students to be prepared to start graduate level work immediately.  Therefore, students who were not psychological science majors are unlikely to be accepted.  However, there are exceptions to this rule.  Excellent students who have majored in related fields such as biology, human development, or cognitive science, and who have taken courses in psychology, might be accepted if their applications are otherwise very strong.  Those who have not majored in psychological science should have taken, at MINIMUM, the necessary lower division courses in psychology (Introduction to Psych, Psychological Statistics) and four upper division psychological science courses, including at least one upper division laboratory course in a psychological science. Obviously, the more courses you take in Psychological Sciences, the better.

  • Can I be accepted conditionally while I take some of the undergraduate courses I lack?

    No. We do not offer conditional acceptances.  Students are only accepted when they are deemed fully qualified to begin our graduate curriculum.  If you lack course work in psychological science, we suggest you take a year to enroll in undergraduate courses at a local university and then apply.

  • I am an international student. What are the requirements and what steps should I take if I want to apply to your program?

    Start by looking at the website for the  Office of Global Programs and Services. The staff there can assist you! Please do not begin your application to our program until you have discussed your interests with someone in that office.

  • Can I take your courses online or in the evening?

    No. All our courses are offered in the daytime, and they are face-to-face. Ours is not a program that can be completed with evening classes or online. Furthermore, the expectation is that you will be on campus most days of the week.

  • I can attend full-time, but I plan to work 20+ hours a week to support myself. Will that be a problem?

    Yes, most likely it will. Our program demands your full attention and must be given high priority in your time budget. You will not be able to “fit school in” around a work schedule that is demanding. Most of our students do work a few hours a week, however.

  • How long does it take to complete your program?

    Our program can be completed in two years, but most students finish in two and a half or three years. All of the required course work is completed in four semesters, but students tend to need extra time to finish the thesis. Nonetheless, most students can indeed earn their degrees in two years if they are motivated to do so.

  • My GRE scores are low. What is your minimum?

    The GRE is optional. If you decide to take the GRE and you feel that your scores reflect your ability, please add them to the appropriate spaces in your on-line application. Rest assured, however, that you will not be penalized for failure to take the test or report your scores. 

  • My grades are not very good. What is your minimum?

    We look for students who have primarily earned As and Bs in college. GPAs lower than about 3.3 give us concern. If you have been unable to achieve high grades in undergraduate courses, we have no basis to conclude that you can succeed in harder, graduate courses! However, occasionally an applicant has a good explanation for a low GPA. If you do decide to apply but have a low GPA, you should definitely address it in your statement of purpose.

  • On the departmental application you ask us to name one+ faculty with whom we would like to study if accepted. Why is this important?

    Our program specializes in training students how to do research in psychological science.  We require that you do an empirical thesis that takes at least two years to plan, carry out, and write. Therefore, you need the supervision of a research advisor right from the start. Also, we need to be sure that you are aware of the kind of research our faculty is able and willing to supervise.  By asking you to carefully review the research programs of our faculty and then choose one or more whose interests match your own, you are more likely to be satisfied with us, and we are more likely to be satisfied with you! We do not accept students, even if they are otherwise qualified, if there is not a good research match with our faculty.

  • What are you looking for in the applicants?

    We look for evidence that an applicant has the motivation, skills, and talent to become a scientist in the field of psychology. Very good grades and strong letters of recommendation are particularly important; research experience under the supervision of a faculty member is also important.  We are looking for students who present themselves well by writing articulate personal statements in which they are able to identify their interests in psychological science and convince us that they are serious about and prepared for graduate study in a program like ours.  Critically, we also look for a good “match” with our faculty, as explained above.

  • What should the Personal Statement (statement of purpose) include?

    A good personal statement is essential to a competitive application, and a poor personal statement can undermine the success of your application. The personal statement should focus on the ways in which you are prepared to handle our research-oriented graduate curriculum. You should identify your academic and personal strengths, pointing whenever possible to quantitative or otherwise objective information (e.g., GPA, GRE scores, awards won, conference presentations, etc.).  You should also give a very clear indication of what research area(s) interest you, and what experience you have in those research areas (e.g., working in the laboratory of a faculty member or graduate student, summer research internships, etc.). Make sure you include an indication of which faculty member(s) you most want to work with, and why. It should also speak to your longer-range goals (e.g., doctoral study, community college teaching, etc.)   Your statement should be extremely well written, free of grammatical errors, typos, etc., and should give us reason to believe that you have the maturity, skills, and motivation to succeed here. It should be clear from the statement that you have carefully read the on-line materials about our program such that you can speak directly to the ways that the CSUSM program fits your interests and goals.

  • Can I start the program in the spring semester?

    No, you cannot begin in the spring. Each new group of graduate students starts in the fall.  

  • When are applications due?

    Applications are always due on February 1.

  • About what percent of applicants do you accept?

    This past year, we accepted about 18% of the eighty students who applied.

  • How successful are your graduate students after they have completed the program?

    We’re so glad you asked! We are very proud of the success that our graduates have enjoyed.  We find that about 1/3 of our students decide they do indeed want to continue on at the doctoral level, and over 90% of those who have applied to Ph.D. programs have been admitted.  Some of our students decide they want to teach at the community college level when they finish our program, and local community colleges have been anxious to hire our students in part because we have a required course (PSYC 680, Teaching of Psychology) that gives students teaching experience.  Many other graduates of our program are now working in research positions, and some are in social services. 

Still have questions?

Please review our MA program or contact Dr. Nancy Caine, Professor of Psychological Science and Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Psychological Science (