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Graduate FAQ

Master of Arts in General Experimental 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 yours 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.

I want to be a school psychologist. Is yours the right program for me?

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

I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  Can I still be accepted into your program?

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 would like to attend the program part time. Is that possible?

Our program is designed for full-time study, and almost all of our students are indeed full time.  However, on rare occasions (once every few years) we make exceptions.  If you are limited to part-time study, you should speak with the Graduate Coordinator ( before you apply.  She can give you a better sense of the likelihood that you would be considered for admission on a part-time basis. Note that all of our courses are offered in the daytime.  Ours is not a program that can be completed with evening classes.

I can attend full-time, but I plan to work at least 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 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?

Please note that for applications submitted for the current cycle (i.e., applications due February 1, 2021), 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.  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 or more 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!

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 psychological science.  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 statements of purpose in which they are able to identify their interests in psychological science and convince us that they are serious about graduate study.  We also look for a good “match” with our faculty, as explained above.

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

The SOP 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? When are applications due? 

No, you cannot begin in the spring.  Each new group of graduate students starts in the fall.  Applications are always due on February 1.

About what percent of applicants do you accept? 

This past year, we accepted about 25% of the fifty 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 (