Jul 22, 2024  
2020-2021 Catalog 
2020-2021 Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Psychological Science, M.A.

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Graduate Coordinator:
Nancy G. Caine, Ph.D.

Program of Study

The mission of the graduate program in psychology at California State University San Marcos is to provide graduate education of the highest caliber to qualified students, leading to the Master of Arts degree. Our objective is to prepare students for continued study at the doctoral level, for a variety of positions in business, industry, and the public sector, or for academic careers at the two-year college level. It is our belief that excellent graduate education is best accomplished in an atmosphere in which graduate students are treated collegially, and are closely mentored by the faculty. We are committed to the study of psychology as a scientific enterprise, and our program encourages the development of skills that are consonant with the scientific spirit of inquiry in particular, and graduate-level study in general: critical thinking, articulate verbal expression, quantitative reasoning, and healthy skepticism.

In keeping with the mission of the University, we offer a curriculum that includes opportunities to enhance the professional development of our students and to contribute to the community around us. In addition, our program seeks to recognize the value of multicultural perspectives and to be sensitive to diversity concerns.

Preparation and Training Offered by the Program

The Master of Arts degree is traditionally seen either as a preparatory or terminal degree. Our program is designed to accommodate students with different goals. The active research programs of our faculty, and our recognition of psychology as a scientific enterprise, will provide graduate students with the intensive research training and coursework in primary content areas that are central to preparation for more advanced graduate work. Likewise, students who have in mind careers in community college teaching, community service, or business and industry, will benefit from our program’s emphasis on critical thinking, research methods, and advanced coursework. Individual career goals will be served by allowing choice in the content of the thesis research.

Many students undertake graduate work in psychology in order to pursue careers in clinical psychology or psychological counseling. Training specifically geared to those seeking licensure in marriage and family therapy or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors is not currently available within the program. However, the program will prepare students to better compete for admission to doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology. Students with interests in clinical or counseling psychology will find opportunities to pursue coursework and thesis topics at Cal State San Marcos that are related to their interests.

Program Student Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a Master of Arts in Psychological Science will be able to:

  1. Explain and contrast important empirical and theoretical foundations of psychology, and identify unanswered questions stemming from those bodies of knowledge, with particular attention given to areas of psychology related to the thesis.
  2. Identify and explain basic research designs and statistical analyses, and appropriately apply these designs and analyses to independent research leading to and including the thesis.
  3. Demonstrate proficiency in the written and oral presentation of scientific content in psychology, including the appropriate use of APA style.
  4. Identify and evaluate the appropriate use of pedagogical techniques and skills, and apply them to the teaching of psychology.
  5. Cultivate their role as professionals by engaging in the relevant activities of the Psychology Department [e.g., participation in faculty searches, attendance at thesis proposals and defenses], participating in research conferences, and accepting graduate assistant assignments.

Admission Requirements and Application

Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology, or a bachelor’s degree plus at least one course in statistics and at least four upper-division courses of three to four (3-4) units each in psychology from an accredited university. Among the upper-division courses, there should be one or more laboratory courses in psychology.

Applicants should have computing skills relevant to graduate coursework in psychology. Admission to the program will be influenced by the breadth and appropriateness of undergraduate coursework and research experience in psychology. In addition, applicants should have a grade point average of not less than 3.0 in the last sixty (60) units of undergraduate study, plus a minimum 3.0 GPA in upper-division psychology courses.

The general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required of all applicants. The advanced test in psychology is recommended. Although the minimum cut-off scores may vary from year to year, we strongly prefer students with combined verbal and quantitative scores above the 50th percentile. The advanced test score should also be above the 50th percentile.

All graduate and post-baccalaureate applicants, regardless of citizenship, whose native language is not English and whose preparatory education was principally in a language other than English, must demonstrate competence in English. Those who do not possess a bachelor’s degree from a postsecondary institution where English is the principal language of instruction must present a score of 80 or above on the internet-based TOEFL (213 on the computer-based TOEFL, and 550 on the paper-based TOEFL). Applicants may also submit IELTS results. An IELTS score of 6.0 or above is required.

A complete application consists of submission of the Cal State Apply application, as well as the supplemental application for Psychological Science, also on-line.

Application materials sent directly to the Admissions Office of California State University San Marcos:

  • One set of official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, with indication of graduation
  • GRE (and TOEFL/TWE, if applicable) score reports

Application Deadlines:

  • Applications are due on February 1. Late applications are accepted on a case-by-case basis.


Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0. A grade of C or better must be earned in all classes. If the GPA falls below 3.0 for two consecutive semesters, the student will be dropped from the program. Each student must present a formal thesis proposal to Psychology faculty, usually in the third semester of study but no later than September of the fifth semester of study.

Financial Aid

Several sources of financial aid are available to graduate students. Applicants who choose to apply for graduate assistantships offered by the University should so indicate on the appropriate space in the Psychology supplemental application form. Students are responsible for identifying other sources of financial aid, and may wish to consult with the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship.

Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement – Graduate Level (GWARGL)

Students need to fulfill the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement – Graduate Level (GWARGL) before advancing to candidacy. Please refer to Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement – Graduate Level (GWARGL)  for more information regarding this requirement.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students will be assigned an advisor at the time of acceptance to the program. It is expected that the student and her/his advisor will work together closely to identify elective courses and possible research topics for the thesis. Together the advisor and student will select and ask two additional members of the faculty to serve on the thesis committee. The thesis committee will assist the student in the development of a thesis proposal. The formal, written thesis proposal will be orally presented to the faculty. To advance to candidacy, a student must:

  1. Be in good standing with an overall GPA of at least 3.0;
  2. Have completed at least twelve (12) units toward the graduate degree; and
  3. Have successfully proposed her/his thesis to the faculty.
  4. Students must be registered in PSYC 700, GRAD 699 _EX, or some other course when the completed thesis is granted final approval.

Degree Requirements

The program requires thirty-three (33) semester units (11 courses) of study, at least 27 of which are from the graduate level (500 or 600 series). Courses below the 400-level or those which bear General Education credit may not be counted toward the program. All students will do a substantial piece of empirical research leading to a thesis. The thesis will be planned and executed while the student is enrolled in the Master’s program and must be approved by the student’s thesis committee. The grade point average must be at least 3.0 to graduate. The typical full-time student will complete the coursework in four semesters. Many students need one or more additional semesters to complete the thesis. Units earned not in residence at Cal State San Marcos may not exceed six, and must be approved by the advisor. Graduate students may not elect credit/no credit for any course counted toward the degree that is also offered on a regular graded basis (PSYC 680  and PSYC 699  are graded only credit/no credit). Students must be continuously enrolled unless they apply for a leave of absence. All requirements for the degree must be completed within five years.

Course of Study

Students will proceed with the graduate coursework in the following sequence:

First Year, First Semester

First Year, Second Semester

Second Year, First Semester

Second Year, Second Semester


It is important to note that the curriculum is designed for full-time students. Students who hope to study part-time should consult with the graduate coordinator prior to applying.

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