When deciding whether to pursue a master's degree in psychology or counseling, prospective students should understand the similarities and differences between the two. Counselors typically possess a bachelor's or master's degree and provide talk therapy services to clients across their lifespan. Some may specialize in working with particular populations, including clients facing issues around substance abuse, eating disorders, marriage and family issues, or grief and trauma.
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A psychologist must hold a doctorate to use this title. In addition to offering talk therapy, psychologists can prescribe medications to address common mental health issues. Like counselors, psychologists can work with clients of all ages but tend to specialize their services. Some psychologists focus exclusively on providing direct care services to their clients, while others apply their skills to conduct research or work in academia.
Finding affordable master's in psychology and master's in counseling programs is an important step in the process, especially for learners looking to avoid substantial student loan debt. This ranking is aimed towards students seeking an accredited, affordable master's in psychology or counseling in the western region of the United States, and has been narrowed down to states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Top 10 Most Affordable Graduate Degrees in Psychology and Counseling in the West
View ranking methodology here.
Arizona State University-Tempe
The clinical psychology Ph.D. program at ASU prepares graduates for professional careers in education, clinical research, and clinical supervision. The selective program requires students to maintain continuous full-time enrollment until they meet all degree requirements.
The 84-credit curriculum comprises three tracks: health psychology, child clinical psychology, and community/prevention. The degree requires a minimum of 1,500 clinical hours, with practicum training beginning in the second year. Students admitted to the program with a bachelor's degree typically complete all requirements in six years, including a year-long internship.
ASU provides several financial aid opportunities for graduate students. The psychology department pays tuition for full-time doctoral students who work 20 hours per week as teaching or research assistants.
ASU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The clinical psychology doctoral program holds accreditation from the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System and the American Psychological Association.
Biola is an evangelical Christian institution located in La Mirada, California. Biola's Rosemead School of Psychology offers a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a Psy.D. in clinical psychology accredited by the American Psychological Association.
While differing in career training models, the Ph.D. and the Psy.D. share a unique focus that integrates research in human behavior with Christian theological perspectives. Both doctoral programs require 133 credits. Students earn a master of arts in clinical psychology, along with a minor in theology and biblical studies embedded in the degree.
The research-centered Ph.D., based on a scholar-practitioner model, requires a master's thesis and a dissertation. In contrast, the practitioner-scholar emphasis of the Psy.D. degree provides clinical training through psychotherapy labs, assessment courses, and additional hours of practicum.
Biola is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Brigham Young University-Provo
Sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU offers a clinical psychology Ph.D. accredited by the American Psychology Association. The program prepares graduates for clinical careers while emphasizing scientific research in child, adolescent, and family clinical psychology; clinical neuropsychology; or clinical health psychology.
The program incorporates a master of science in psychology, embedded within the second year as a non-terminal degree. The five-year Ph.D. curriculum requires four years of coursework, research, and clinical training. Clinical training begins in the first year and continues through the second and third years, introducing enrollees to therapy cases and assessments. Each learner must complete a one-year paid internship in the last year of the program.
Courses include clinical research, psychopathology, cultural diversity and gender issues, developmental psychology, and ethical issues.
BYU holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, CA
Ranked among the best public institutions in the western states, Cal Poly enrolls over 21,000 undergraduates and graduates. Its master of science in psychology, administered by the college of liberal arts, prepares graduates for positions in social service agencies, inpatient and outpatient mental health clinics, and private practice. Approximately 15% of graduates enter doctoral programs in clinical psychology or counseling.
This professional degree fulfills the educational requirements for the California marriage and family therapist license. The curriculum includes day and evening classes and extensive clinical training. Full-time students can earn their degrees in two years by taking up to 16 units each quarter. The program offers several campus-based employment opportunities, including clinical, teaching, and research assistants. Enrollees often find part-time clinical work in San Luis Obispo community agencies.
Cal Poly is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University-Long Beach
The psychology department at CSULB has established three innovative master's degrees in psychology. Applicants should hold a bachelor's in psychology or have completed four lower-division and eight upper-division psychology courses.
The master of arts in psychological research requires two years of full-time attendance. Graduates enter careers in social services, industry, and government, or pursue doctoral studies.
The master of science in industrial-organizational psychology provides psychological training directly applicable to business and industry settings as a terminal degree. In addition to coursework, this degree requires a practicum and a thesis.
The master of science in human factors explores human engineering to design products, equipment, and systems. Graduates find employment in many different fields, including aerospace systems, computer software and hardware design, educational technology, usability analysis, and virtual reality.
CSULB is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Fort Collins, CO
CSU serves 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 55 academic departments. As the flagship of the Colorado State University system, CSU ranks among the nation's top-tiered research institutions.
Its department of psychology has developed several distinctive graduate programs. Students may enroll in an online master's in industrial-organizational psychology and a terminal master's in addiction counseling. At the doctoral level, the department offers Ph.D. programs in applied social and health psychology, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, counseling psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology.
The psychology department provides financial aid opportunities for students enrolled in any of its Ph.D. programs. Enrollees may apply for one of five annual teaching fellows that pays a stipend for teaching undergraduate psychology classes. The university graduate fellows program supports research and interdisciplinary study with a scholarship worth up to $4,000.
CSU holds regional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.
Mount Saint Mary's University
MSMU is the only Catholic postsecondary institution primarily serving women in the western states. MSMU offers coeducational graduate, evening, and weekend programs.
This master of science in counseling psychology offers three specializations. The 36-credit general counseling track prepares students to enter careers in nonprofit and educational settings. The convenient evening format typically takes three years to complete.
The 60-credit marriage and family therapy track requires two years to complete in the daytime format and three years in evening classes. This program fulfills educational requirements for California licensure as a marriage and family therapist.
Bilingual students may choose the Enlaces certificate option within the marriage and family track. This certificate in counseling Spanish-speaking clients offers classes in Spanish and focuses on cultural factors impacting the community.
MSMU is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Founded in 1936 in Portland, Oregon, Multnomah is a private, Christian university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees and professional certifications. The community-oriented master of arts in counseling merges professional training with faith-based integration, preparing graduates to practice in church-sponsored and secular settings with children, adults, teens, families, and couples.
The 60-credit degree offers a convenient, accelerated format that allows enrollees to finish in three years or less, taking most classes one evening each week and some electives on weekends. Students enter the program in the fall and spring semesters, progressing as a cohort through courses. The program requires a 700-hour internship in the second year.
The master's degree has received approval by the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists to meet degree standards for licensure in Oregon. Multnomah is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
New Mexico State University-Main Campus
Established in 1888, NMSU is the oldest postsecondary institution in the state. This land-grant, space-grant, and Hispanic-serving institution enrolls 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
The university features over 90 graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in psychology that offers areas of emphasis in engineering, cognitive, or social psychology. The program requires 40-70 credits, core coursework in all three areas of emphasis, a quantitative methods sequence, written and oral comprehensive exams, and a dissertation.
In addition to core requirements, courses include behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and human-computer interaction, along with sensation and perception theory and methodology. Each Ph.D. student must also complete an approved internship or teach at least one undergraduate course.
NMSU offers graduate students several financial aid opportunities. Out-of-state students may qualify for in-state tuition and stipends through graduate research and teaching assistantships.
NMSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Located in Corvallis, OSU serves over 32,000 students in more than 200 undergraduate and 100 graduate programs through its 11 colleges. The School of Psychological Science offers an applied, behavior-based, and research-focused Ph.D. in psychology.
This highly selective program admits only 3-6 students annually. Cohorts begin in the fall semester. All Ph.D. students take core courses in design, methodologies, and statistics, along with classes in applied cognitive psychology, engineering psychology, and health psychology.
The program adheres to a mentorship model, assigning students to work with faculty members in their research area throughout their enrollment. The department offers financial assistance that provides tuition, health insurance premiums, and a stipend to students in good standing who are enrolled in at least 12 credits.
OSU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Saint Mary's College of California
A private Catholic college located in Moraga, California, SMC enrolls 3,600 students in 40 academic disciplines.
This selective liberal arts institution offers several options for students interested in pursuing affordable master's in counseling psychology degrees. In addition to a general master of arts in counseling, students can specialize in career counseling, higher education and student affairs, marriage and family therapy, professional clinical counseling, and school counseling and psychology. The 40-credit master's offers convenient evening and Saturday courses at the Moraga campus in the San Francisco Bay area. Learners can enroll full or part time.
Common coursework for all specializations includes introduction to counseling research; personal and professional development of counselors; law, ethics, and values; and intercultural counseling and social justice.
SMC is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Top-ranked Stanford, located in northern California's Silicon Valley, offers a Ph.D. in psychology that prepares graduates for careers in teaching and research. The curriculum requires a minimum residency of 135 units in coursework and research completed in five years of full-time study.
Ph.D. students must complete five quarters of teaching assistantships under faculty supervision and spend half of their time engaged in independent research beginning in their first year of study. Students research one of five areas: cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, affective science, neuroscience, or social psychology. The program's fifth year focuses on a dissertation.
The university provides full funding to students for five years of study. The stipend package provides a salary, tuition, and health insurance coverage.
Stanford is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of California-Davis
UC Davis, a public research university recognized for its high-quality graduate programs, offers a Ph.D. program in psychology that focuses on teaching and research competencies.
The program offers in-depth study in five research areas: biological psychology, perception, cognition, and cognitive neuroscience, quantitative psychology, social and personality psychology, and developmental psychology. Once accepted into the program, Ph.D. students receive financial support through teaching assistantships, research positions, and fellowships.
Due to the heavy research emphasis throughout the program, the curriculum requires minimal coursework. Each enrollee takes six seminars and undertakes an independent research project in the first year, completing it before the oral qualifying examination. The program offers a course on teaching preparation and course organization that enables each learner to teach an introductory psychology course.
UC Davis holds regional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of California-Irvine
UCI offers 64 highly selective doctoral programs, including a Ph.D. in psychological science. The on-campus program requires five years of full-time study. Students specialize in affective science, developmental psychology, health psychology, or social and personality psychology.
Courses include research methods, data analysis, social ecology, seminar in social psychology, and developmental psychology: theories and history.
The degree features extensive training in research methods and advanced statistics and encourages scholarly collaboration between students and faculty. Highly qualified candidates can also pursue a concurrent degree, leading to a juris doctor from the school of law with a Ph.D. in psychological science.
The Ph.D. program provides students with five years of guaranteed financial support in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships.
UCI is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of California-Los Angeles
UCLA, a public research university, administers 18 doctoral programs in the biosciences, including a doctorate in psychology. This program prepares graduates for academic and applied research positions.
Students choose from research-oriented specializations in behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, health psychology, social psychology, and more.
Although the curriculum allows for individual variation, the program typically requires six years of full-time study. The first two years of residency cover the core curriculum, including statistics and research sequences, followed by courses in the major area in the second and third years. In the fourth year, students formulate their dissertation proposals and complete their oral qualifying exam. Upon completing the dissertation, students must successfully pass a final oral defense.
UCLA is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of California-Riverside
UC Riverside, a public research institution, sponsors over 40 Ph.D. programs. Its department of psychology offers a doctorate in psychology with specializations in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and social/personality psychology. Students pursue interdisciplinary concentrations in qualitative or health psychology or construct individual programs that combine multiple specializations.
The degree requires five years of study with a strong emphasis on laboratory or field research beginning in the first quarter. The first two years focus on coursework. In years 3-5, enrollees complete their qualifying exam, prepare a dissertation proposal, and conduct the research for their dissertation. Degree-seekers gain valuable experience by working as teaching assistants for three quarters. The department provides financial support for students for up to five years.
UC Riverside is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of California-San Diego
UC San Diego offers a joint-doctoral degree in clinical psychology in collaboration with San Diego State University. This highly ranked program, based on the scientist-practitioner model, takes 5-7 years to complete. Students benefit from faculty-supervised clinical and research experience throughout their studies.
After completing the core curriculum coursework, enrollees may focus on one of three areas of clinical psychology: neuropsychology, experimental psychopathology, and behavioral medicine/health psychology.
Each learner must complete a one-year seminar in the scientific and clinical aspects of their major field of study, advanced seminars and didactics, clinical practice in their major typically in the fifth or sixth year, a comprehensive examination, and a dissertation. The program covers tuition and fees until students complete the clinical internship requirement, for a maximum of six years.
UC San Diego is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of Nevada-Reno
Founded in 1874, UNR enrolls over 21,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs administered by 11 schools and colleges. UNR has developed graduate degrees in 80 disciplines, including several psychology degrees. The college of science, UNR's largest academic unit, offers a master of arts in behavior analysis along with Ph.D. programs in behavior analysis, clinical psychology, and brain sciences. The department also participates in interdisciplinary degrees in social psychology and neuroscience.
Each degree has received recognition for distinctive research contributions. The behavioral analysis program emphasizes developmental disabilities and autism. The clinical psychology program offers an applied clinical perspective through a contextual behavior orientation. The highly ranked cognitive and brain science unit sponsors the Center for Integrative Neuroscience. The social psychology program has developed a strong research focus on psychology and law.
UNR is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
University of New Mexico-Main Campus
As New Mexico's flagship university, UNM administers 95 bachelor's, 71 master's, and 37 doctoral programs.
UNM offers a highly-ranked Ph.D. program in psychology for bachelor's degree-holders. A student applying without a psychology degree should have completed 15 credits in psychology, including at least one course each in statistics and research methods. The curriculum allows each enrollee to earn a master's embedded in the program while pursuing their doctorate, but UNM does not offer a standalone master's degree.
Degree-seekers choose areas of concentration in clinical psychology; cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral neuroscience; evolution and development; health psychology; and quantitative psychology.
All students accepted in the program receive funding through research and teaching assistantships, which typically provide a tuition waiver and health insurance. The graduate program has been fully accredited by the American Psychological Association. UNM is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Southern California
The innovative master of science in applied psychology offered by USC features a dual focus on consumer and organizational psychology. Unlike other master's programs that emphasizes one of the areas, this degree combines applications from both fields that prepare graduates for business and nonprofit careers.
This on-campus degree requires one year of full-time residency beginning in August. The program includes a 240-hour internship and a capstone treatise. Most students complete all requirements by May, but some choose to extend their internships or capstone projects into the summer term. The online program may take as few as 16 months to complete, if two courses are taken each term.
The program features an optional summer internship program in Dublin, Ireland, which provides an international perspective and develops cross-cultural skills.
USC is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
The U, Utah's flagship public university, offers a research-intensive Ph.D. program in psychology. Most students complete the program in 5-6 years to enter careers in research, academia, or counseling. The degree comprises four concentrations -- cognition and neural science, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, or social psychology -- each with its own courses and preliminary examination requirements.
The social psychology concentration offers specializations in close relationships and interpersonal processes; diversity and culture; and health and well-being. The clinical psychology option features specializations in clinical health and behavioral medicine; child and family psychology; and clinical neuropsychology. The program provides a collaborative environment that enables students to move across concentrations and other departments to pursue research.
The Ph.D. program guarantees a minimum of four years of funding through research and teaching assistantships and fellowships.
The U is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
Seattle-based UW administers a Ph.D. in clinical psychology that trains students for careers in research. While not appropriate for degree-seekers solely interested in clinical practice, this training program emphasizes a cognitive-behavioral perspective that informs both clinical and research endeavors.
The degree, which takes 5-7 years to complete, offers general clinical and child clinical tracks. Students train under the guidance of one or more specific faculty mentors whose academic interests align with their own.
A distinguishing feature of the program is its strong emphasis on cultural diversity, providing several training experiences with underserved populations, including minority groups, individuals with developmental disabilities, and children. Members of minority groups comprise approximately one-quarter of students enrolled in the program.
This highly-ranked degree holds accreditation from the American Psychology Association and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System. UW is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
The department of psychology at UW administers four psychology graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in clinical psychology that holds full accreditation by the American Psychological Association. This degree, based on the scientist-practitioner model, emphasizes a balance between research and clinical skills, training graduates for positions in academic and medical settings.
The five-year program comprises four years of coursework and a 12-month internship experience. In addition to core requirements in neuropsychology, cognitive, and social psychology, the curriculum covers psychopathology and psychotherapy, assessment, diversity, professional ethics, and research training.
The program sponsors several active research laboratories providing students with the opportunity to work with faculty in active research programs. Current areas of research include substance abuse; suicide and self-injurious behaviors; eating disorders and weight management; mental healthcare among the aging population; and sexual assault prevention.
UW is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Washington State University
WSU, one of the leading research institutions in the western states, offers 127 graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. This highly competitive program enrolls only 6-8 students annually from an applicant pool of 180.
Students in the program acquire clinical training in several areas: clinical health and primary care, neuropsychology, adult psychopathology, child and adolescent psychology, diversity, and quantitative methods. This degree prepares graduates for postdoctoral fellowships and career opportunities as staff psychologists in medical centers, faculty positions, and private clinical practice.
The four-year degree, based on the scientist-practitioner model of training, involves students in research activities each semester and introduces clinical practice in the third semester. The program provides continuous financial support for students in good standing.
The clinical psychology program has received full accreditation by the American Psychological Association. WSU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Salt Lake City, UT
Established in 1875 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Westminster now enrolls over 2,200 students in 50 undergraduate areas of study and 13 graduate programs. The master of science in mental health counseling requires 60 credits, typically completed in six semesters of full-time attendance. An applicant does not need a psychology major but must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.
The curriculum covers several areas of study, including human growth and development, group counseling, social and cultural diversity, and evaluation. Each enrollee must complete 100 practicum hours and a minimum of 900 internship hours.
Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Education Related Programs, the master's degree aligns with state requirements for clinical mental health counselors and meets educational eligibility requirements for the National Certified Counselor examination.
Westminster is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.