Department of Psychology and Child Development

MS in Psychology

General Description

The Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is a 90-quarter unit professional degree program that fulfills the educational requirements for the state of California's Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) license.

The program's mission is to provide the state of California with highly competent master-level clinicians trained to counsel individuals, couples, families, and groups in a multicultural society. Graduates are often employed by County Mental Health, Social Services, and other inpatient and outpatient community mental health centers. Many graduates also build successful private practices. Fifteen percent of our graduates pursue doctoral studies in Clinical or Counseling Psychology. See our Career and Curriculum flyer for more information (pdf).

Five Psychology and Child Development Department faculty members (Drs. Kelly Moreno, Michael Selby, Lisa Sweatt, Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti and Aaron Estrada) coordinate the M.S. Program and regularly teach graduate classes. Some courses are taught by mental health professionals from the community. The M.S. faculty is diverse in terms of professional degrees, clinical training, cultural background, and gender. The three supervising faculty members (Moreno, Sweatt, and Selby) are licensed by the state of California and are clinically active psychologists. Please see our Faculty Interests Document (pdf) for more specific information regarding interests.

Graduate classes are small and students receive much individual attention in our on-campus practicum clinic Clinic Brochure and community traineeship sites (pdf).

There are approximately 40 fully matriculated students in Cal Poly's M.S. Psychology Program. Graduate courses are scheduled so that full-time students carrying 12-16 quarter units can secure their degree in two years and 3 months. Many students take 2 ½-3 years to finish, however, because of the program's extensive clinical training. Student work, family, and other schedules may also make a longer timeline more feasible. Courses are held in the day and evening and are offered only once a year.

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Program Learning Objectives

Cal Poly’s Master of Science in Psychology is a 90-quarter unit professional degree program designed to prepare students for licensure as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT). Graduates are also prepared for doctoral training in clinical or counseling psychology. To these ends, the program’s knowledge and skill objectives are as follows:

  1. Multicultural considerations in counseling and psychotherapy
  2. Ethical practices and laws relevant to individual, group, couples, and family therapy
  3. Counseling and psychotherapy research and its application
  4. Research methodology relevant to a counseling practitioner
  5. Applying research findings to clinical work
  6. Psychopharmacology and neuropsychology
  7. Developmental psychology and life-stage considerations in clinical practice
  8. Psychological assessment of individuals, couples, families, and children
  9. Psychopathology, the multiaxial diagnosis, and the DSM
  10. Substance abuse assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention
  11. Progress notation and treatment/transfer/termination planning
  12. Basic interviewing and case management skills
  13. Establishing therapeutic alliances with children, adults, groups, couples, and families
  14. Theory and practice of individual psychotherapy
  15. Theory and practice of group psychotherapy
  16. History and application of systems theory and therapy
  17. Communications, structural, strategic, intergenerational, and other family therapy treatment models and methods
  18. Characteristics of functional and dysfunctional couples and families
  19. Parenting concepts, skills, and effectiveness training
  20. Integrating systems theory and interventions in work with couples, families and children
  21. Trends in marriage and family therapy, theory, and practice (e.g., prevention; working with chronically mentally ill, dual diagnosis, and elderly patients)
  22. Family of origin issues that influence clinical practice
  23. Understanding and managing countertransference and treatment resistance
  24. Crisis assessment and intervention
  25. Integration and application of supervision feedback
  26. Referring individuals, couples, and families to appropriate resources.

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Program Strengths

Cal Poly's M.S. program emphasizes personal growth, academic knowledge, and clinical skills that will enable graduates to competently assess, diagnose, and treat children, adults, couples, and families. Multicultural competence, research literacy, and professional and ethical conduct are paramount. The cornerstone of Cal Poly's M.S. program is the opportunity to participate in closely supervised on-campus clinical practica and subsequent community fieldwork placement. Please see our Program Highlights (pdf) for more details.

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Application Information

The Psychology Program admits new students once a year for the subsequent fall quarter. Applications for graduate admission in Fall 2015 must be submitted on-line by 5pm, December 1, 2014.

Items 1-2 below must be received in the Admissions Office (Cal Poly Admissions Office, 1 Grand Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407; 805-756-2311) before December 1, 2014.

Mail to: Cal Poly Admissions Office, 1 Grand Ave San Luis Obispo, CA 93407

  1. One official copy of all undergraduate and graduate transcripts. Transcripts should be sent to the Cal Poly Admissions Office from the issuing institution.
  2. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Tests scores (Verbal, Quantitative,and Analytical Writing); the GRE Advanced Test in Psychology is not required. GRE scores must be from tests taken within five years of admission.

Items 1-2 below must be received in the Psychology Department Office by January 1, 2015.

Mail to: Cal Poly Psychology and Child Development Department, Attn. MS PSY Program, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407

  1. A "Personal Statement" limited to two typewritten, double-spaced pages. Make sure to write "Personal Statement" and your name at the top of the page. The statement of purpose for the CSU application cannot be used in lieu of the personal statement. The Personal Statement is a very important part of your application. It gives you the opportunity to show how various personal, sociocultural, educational, and occupational factors informed your decision to enter the helping profession. It also gives faculty an opportunity to gauge your level of insight, maturity, thoughtfulness and other qualities conducive to success in the field. Please address the following in your statement:
    1. Educational experience: Please describe coursework (e.g., Introduction to Clinical/Counseling Psychology), fieldwork (e.g., Internships), and/or research (e.g., Assistantships) that helped clarify your career goal.
    2. Professional activity: Please describe paid or volunteer work in counseling, education, social services, or health-care that has informed your career goals. If you have little related work-experience, we strongly suggest you consider applying after such experience has been obtained.
    3. Sociocultural experience: Please describe travel or experience living abroad, and any other diversity experiences, including bilingual skills, that have contributed to your interest in psychotherapy.
    4. Personal experience: Please describe family, social, and/or other personal factors influencing your interest in the profession. Feel free to note whether you have benefited from counseling. This section should be more specific than simply saying you grew up in a dysfunctional family, that people have always found it easy to talk to you, or that you've always wanted to be a therapist.
  2. Three letters of recommendation are REQUIRED. Carefully choose your recommenders and obtain letters from individuals who know you well and can attest to your academic, social, occupational, and/or personal attributes. Letters from friends and relatives are unacceptable. Please download and print the recommendation form (pdf) to include with each letter.

The M.S. Psychology Program accepts applicants with a wide variety of undergraduate degrees. All applicants must have a baccalaureate degree from an institution accredited by a regional association and a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the last 60 semester (90 quarter) units attempted. Applicants with a GPA of at least 2.5 are considered if their application packets indicate that they are strong candidates in other areas. There are additional requirements for international students. Questions concerning applications from foreign students should be directed to the Cal Poly Office of Admissions.

In addition to GPA and GRE scores, applicants are evaluated on the quality of their letters of recommendation, academic background, relevant work/life experiences, personal statement, on campus interview, and any other information that might shed light on their likelihood of success as a student and marriage and family therapist.

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Program Course Requirements

Prerequisites: The MS in Psychology accepts applicants from all disciplines (e.g., English, Biology, Philosophy). Accepted applicants must complete five program prerequisites (3 semester/4 quarter units each) by July 31, 2015 [1]. These courses may be taken at Cal Poly as a matriculated undergraduate, through Cal Poly’s Open University (see below), or at another fully accredited institution, including on-line. Applicants who fail to complete these courses before their first quarter of enrollment will be dropped from the program [2]. The prerequisites are Research Methods in Psychology, Introductory Statistics, Personality Theory, Abnormal Psychology, and Developmental Psychology.  Please see the attached Expanded Prerequisite Course Outlines in order to determine if you have fulfilled these requirements.

Required Courses: In order for the University to verify the student has fulfilled California's requirements for MFT licensure, the student must successfully complete the following courses (90-quarter units): PSY 450, PSY 456, PSY 504, PSY 555, PSY 556, PSY 560, PSY 564, PSY 565, PSY 566, PSY 569 (2 qtrs.), PSY 571, PSY 572, PSY 574, PSY 575, PSY 576 (4 qtrs.), PSY 577, PSY 585, PSY 588, PSY 599 (or comprehensive examinations and a four-unit elective such as PSY 568).  Please see The Cal Poly catalog for additional information and specific course descriptions.

Concurrent Enrollment:  Depending on the course and/or instructor, sometimes individuals can take graduate courses at Cal Poly without being formally enrolled in the MS Program. This may be done through concurrent enrollment, which is arranged through the Extended Education Office (805) 756-2053. The maximum number of graduate concurrent enrollment units that can be transferred into the program is twelve. Individuals may take all five of the MS Program’s undergraduate course prerequisites through concurrent enrollment [3].

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MFT Licensure Information

The M.S. in Psychology is designed to meet the educational requirements for the MFT license in the State of California. The Board of Behavioral Sciences is the state agency that regulates MFT licensing.  Click on the above BBS link for information, forms, handbooks, and other MFT training and licensing material.

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Financial Aid, Scholarships, Non-Resident Tuition Waivers, and Employment Opportunities

Financial aid information is available through the Financial Aid Office (805-756-2927).

The Graduate Education Office offers several funding opportunities (see below).  More information on these programs is available through the Office of Graduate Education (

            Graduate Equity Fellowship
            Non-Resident Tuition Waiver
            California Pre-Doctoral Program
            Chancellor’s Doctoral Incentive Program

San Luis Obispo County Mental Health offers funding through the Workforce Education and Training Program (WET).  For more information, please contact:

WET Scholarship Review Committee
San Luis Obispo Behavioral Health Department
2180 Johnson Ave - HC- 1st Floor DAS
San Luis Obispo CA 93401
ATTN: Luise Pietrzyk-Jimenez

The Psychology & Child Development department does not offer scholarships or fellowships. Second year students, however, may apply for the following paid employment opportunities:

  1. Clinical Assistant:  Two yearlong, 10 hour/week paid appointments with the Cal Poly Community Counseling Center.  Duties include a variety of clinical and administrative responsibilities.
  3. Teaching Assistant:  A one-to-three quarter paid position to assist an instructor with an undergraduate psychology course.  Duties could include lecturing, conducting small discussion/work groups,scoring tests, andgrading essays.
  5. Graduate Assistant:  A one-to-three quarter part-time paid position to assist Psych faculty with their research.  Duties could include data collection, scoring research instruments, data entry, data analysis, writing up results, and conducting literature reviews.

The MS in Psychology Program also has been very successful at helping first and second year students find part-time clinical work in the community. Transitions Mental Health, Windhorse Integrative Mental Health, and Martha’s Place are among several organizations that employ our students during (as well as after) their schooling.

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Graduate Admissions

If you are already a Master's student in our program, additional questions about the program (including information about comprehensive exams, thesis procedures, course planning, and more) may be found in your Student Handbook. Any other questions can be directed to Dr. Kelly Moreno (805) 756-2805

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If you are already a Master's student in our program, additional questions about the program (including information about comprehensive exams, thesis procedures, course planning, and more) may be found in your Student Handbook. Any other questions can be directed to Dr. Kelly Moreno at or (805) 756-2805.

Forms and Documents

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and the Cal Poly MS in Psychology Student Handbook

For answers to commonly asked questions, please click on the FAQ link (insert FAQs here).  Additional questions (and virtually all other relevant MS Program information) are addressed in the MS in Psychology Student Handbook.


Question 1:  Does a psychology major or minor enhance my chances of getting into the program? 

Answer 1:  No—the MS in Psychology celebrates diversity, and that very much includes applicants from other disciplines.  However, all incoming students must have completed certain prerequisites, which are often fulfilled in undergraduate psychology majors and minors.

Question 2.  How do I know if a course I’ve taken satisfies one of your prerequisites? 

Answer 2:  If the title of your course is the same, and it’s a three semester or four quarter unit course, then it’s highly likely it will suffice.  If the title is different, then compare the content of your course with the Expanded Prerequisite Course Outlines.  If your course doesn’t closely match ours, then you will need to take one that does.

Question 3:  Does it matter if the prerequisite course is upper or lower division? 

Answer 3:  No.

Question 4:  Where do I take a prerequisite course if I haven’t already done so? 

Answer 4:  The prerequisites required by our program are common core undergraduate psychology courses. Your alma mater, or another nearby university, college, or community college, should offer one or more of these classes.  If not, there are a number of accredited online institutions teaching them, or you can always take them through Open University at Cal Poly.

Question 5:  Must I have these prerequisites completed before applying to Cal Poly’s MS in Psychology Program?

Answer 5:  No—but, if accepted, you must be able to verify completion of all prerequisites by July 31, roughly 1 ½ months before formally beginning the MS in Psychology. If your prerequisites have not been completed and approved by this date, you will not be permitted to enroll and will be dropped from the program [4].

Question 6:  How can I be certain the prerequisites I’ve taken, or plan to take, will suffice?

Answer 6:  You can call or email Elena Scanu [5] (805-756-2456;, MS Program Administrative Assistant, or call J. K. Moreno (805-756-2805), MS Program Coordinator, for information and verification.

Question 7:  How many applications do you receive each year and how many applicants are accepted?

Answer 7:  The number of applications varies according to many factors, the most important of which is the economy; on average, however, we receive 60-80 applications a year and accept 12-16.

Question 8:  How would you describe the “ideal applicant?”

Answer 8:  As indicated earlier, our program is rich in diversity, so we’re not looking for one type of student.  But, accepted applicants tend to have decent GPAs (e.g., > 3.0), at least average GRE scores, solid letters of recommendation, and a thoughtful and well-written Personal Statement.  Relevant work experience in mental health, education, social services, health care, or other fields requiring interpersonal skills and other attributes (e.g., good judgment, reliability, initiative, creativity) are equally, if not more, important.  Likewise, a healthy respect for individual differences and a curiosity and familiarity with lifestyles, groups, communities, and cultures dissimilar from one’s own are highly valued. Lastly, if one makes the “short list” and is invited for an interview, then the manner in which one presents oneself is critical.

Question 9:  When will I know if I’m to be interviewed, and when will I know if I’m ultimately accepted?

Answer 9:  We usually conduct interviews (in groups of 6-8) in mid-March and send notification letters within a week or two thereafter.

Question 10:  If I’m rejected, may I reapply the following year? 

Answer 10:  Absolutely.  We’ve had many applicants reapply, usually after securing more work experience and demonstrating that their interest in the field is based on more than just an interesting class or because “people have always told me I’m easy to talk to.”
Question 11:  How long does it take to complete the program?

Answer 11:  Roughly half our students finish in 2 years & 1 quarter (27 months); others finish in 2 years & 3 quarters (33 months), and a few take longer. Overall, students have 7 years to complete the program.

Question 12:  How successful are your students at securing employment while in the MS Program?

Answer 12:  Very.  As mentioned elsewhere on this website, the MS Program offers two Clinical Assistant positions and two Teaching Assistant positions a year.  Additionally, the program has been very successful at helping students find part-time employment in the community.  Organizations that frequently hire are students include but are not limited to Transitions Mental Health, Windhorse Integrative Mental Health, and Martha’s Place.

Question 13:  How successful are your students at securing employment following graduation?

Answer 13:  Very.  As mentioned elsewhere on this website as well as in the MS Student Handbook, the principal strength of our program is its depth of clinical training.  Specifically, students complete a two-quarter clinical practicum in our on-campus Community Counseling Center, then follow-up with a four-quarter clinical traineeship at a mental health center in the community (e.g., County Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services, SM Youth and Family Center, Domestic Violence Solutions, Women’s Shelter, etc.). Consequently, many of these agencies hire our students following graduation, and many of our students remain employed with these agencies over the years.  Some students also pursue private practice, and we have had much success placing them with licensed marriage and family therapists in the community.  In fact, many private practitioners in the community are Cal Poly alumni.

Question 14:  What is your program’s pass rate on California’s MFT licensing exam?

Answer 14:  Very high.  A recent review of Board of Behavioral Science MFT pass/fail rates among first time examinees was nearly 80%.   This placed Cal Poly near the top on a list of over 80 training programs across the state.

Question 15:  How successful is your program at placing graduates in respectable doctoral programs in Clinical/Counseling Psychology?

Answer 15:  Very.  Every year several of our students apply to doctoral programs and, most of the time, they are accepted the first time around.  Over the years, our graduates have gone on to secure their Ph.D.s from the following schools:  University of California (Santa Barbara), University of Maryland, University of Texas (Dallas Medical Center), University of Oregon, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, University of Hawaii, New Mexico State University, University of Indiana, University of Southern Mississippi, and George Washington University.  Additionally, over the years many other students have went on to secure their Psy.D. degree from Alliant, Pacifica, and other schools of professional psychology. 

Question 16:  Can prospective applicants visit the campus and discuss the MS Program with a member of the graduate faculty?

Answer 16:  Yes.  Please call (805-756-2456) or email elena scanu ( for the office hours of the core graduate faculty.  Find a time that suits you and call or email the faculty member to let them know you’re planning on visiting the campus and meeting with them during one of their designated office hours.


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Updated: 7/14/2014

Department of Psychology and Child Development
1 Grand Avenue
Building 47-24
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0387