M.S. Psychology Ph.D. Prep

Master of Science in Psychology

Global Online with Low Residency Requirement

Prepare for Ph.D. studies in clinical psychology or for other careers in the field of psychology without having to relocate.

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Palo Alto University offers an innovative and highly structured part-time 2 year Master of Science designed especially for students who:

  • Want to continue their education without relocating.
  • Want to study part-time and continue to work.
  • Are interested in earning a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and would like to make sure that all M.S. credits will transfer.
  • Want to advance their career in the field of psychology, in program evaluation and development, research assisting, publishing and content development, or curriculum and education delivery. 
  • Want to work with outstanding faculty.

Classes are taught by highly accomplished professors with many years of academic experience, and students enjoy unparalleled flexibility to participate from anywhere in the world. The Distance Learning Masters of Science can be undertaken as a terminal degree program, or as a potential bridge to the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Graduates of the program who have demonstrated academic competence will have the opportunity to interview and be admitted to PAU’s APA Accredited Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology as second year doctoral students. For those who do not wish to continue into the Ph.D. program, the M.S. Psychology program will lead to great career opportunities in business, community college teaching, research assistance, and other fields.

Who Are We?

Palo Alto University (PAU) is a private, not-for-profit university founded in 1975 and located in Palo Alto, California that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology. The institution changed its name in 2009 from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology (PGSP) to PAU to reflect the fact that it now has undergraduate programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has accredited all PAU degrees, including the Distance Learning M.S. Psychology. PAU offers a Ph.D. that has been accredited by the American Psychological Association since 1988. It also offers a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology in a consortium with the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Medicine. That program was founded in 2002 and is also accredited by the American Psychological Association. PAU also offers two Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology at the undergraduate level.

APA does not accredit masters’ degrees. Therefore, it is not possible for PAU to obtain APA accreditation for the Distance Learning Master’s degree. The Distance Learning M.S. in Psychology Master’s degree has the maximum accreditation possible from WASC.

Dr. Denise Daniels is the Director of the M.S. program. She has been at PAU since 2012. Prior to coming to PAU, Dr. Daniels’ career has spanned both online and blended education in the fields of developmental psychology, business psychology, personality psychology, educational psychology, and behavioral health. Dr. Daniels holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley; her M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology are from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Following the completion of her doctorate, she conducted four years of postdoctoral research on personality development, risk, and resistance factors in the development of chronic illness at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University Medical Center. 

Dr. Kristel  Nazzal is the Associate Director of the M.S. program. She has been at PAU as an Associate Director since 2014 and as an Adjunct Professor for the Business Psychology program since 2010. Dr. Nazzal has experience in business, education and psychology. She holds a bachelor's degree in International Business from the University of San Francisco and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University. Dr. Nazzal did her post-doctoral fellowship in a community mental health agency in Southern California, working with diverse and underserved geriatric populations. 

The faculty members in the M.S. program are, for the most part, full-time PAU faculty. They typically teach the same courses on campus as they do in this program.

What is the Program?

For specific details and exact requirements, please check out the M.S. Psychology program’s Curriculum page:

M.S. Psychology – Curriculum

How is it Done? When and Where Does it Happen?

This information is available on the M.S. Psychology Program Format page:

M.S. Psychology – Program Format

Why Do This?

There are a number of reasons students are interested in this program. The most obvious one is the tremendous residential cost savings of completing 46 units online. If students are able to do well in the M.S. Psychology program, they have the opportunity to be admitted and transfer all 46 units into the Ph.D. on campus. That means they will be on their way to the Ph.D. knowing that they can master the course material and having saved the costs and uncertainty of moving to Palo Alto before starting any classes.

The M.S. Psychology degree can advance careers in other ways. Some students are in a work situation where obtaining an advanced degree provides them with additional job opportunities and/or additional pay. Teaching psychology in a community college is also something that a number of graduates have gone on to do. Finally, a Master’s in Psychology can be used to assist in psychological research, textbook publishing, or high tech and internet publishing.

Others have had a long-standing interest in psychology and want to investigate it further. This course work provides students with an understanding of where psychology is today.

Can I See Patients or Clients With This Degree?

This degree is not designed for people who want a master's degree in order to see patients or clients. For students who are interested in doing clinical work as a mental health counselor in child, family, community mental health, or other settings, PAU offers a master’s degree program in counseling. Students in this program will be able to practice as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in many of the 50 states. Additional information is available at: http://www.paloaltou.edu/graduate-programs/masters-programs/ma-counseling

How and When Do I Apply?

The M.S. Psychology program accepts new students in the spring and summer to begin in the Fall. Classes begin shortly after Labor Day each year. The deadline for initial applications is August 1 but prospective students are strongly encouraged to apply by the spring or early summer. Late applications are frequently unable to be reviewed because pieces of the application packet (i.e., letters of reference) are not submitted in a timely manner.

There is an online application form that can be filled out and submitted. An application form can also be requested from the admissions office by calling them at (800) 818-6136 or sending an email request to: admissions@paloaltou.edu.

What Is Required?

Applicants must be a graduate of an accredited undergraduate institution and provide official transcripts to document an undergraduate degree. International transcripts must be translated through the World Education Service website, www.wes.org. Applicants must also provide three letters of reference in support of their application. Finally, applicants are also asked to write a two to three-page statement of purpose outlining their goals and reasons for applying.

There are four courses that are prerequisites: Developmental Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Personality or Abnormal Psychology, and Statistics. Students may contact Dr. Nazzal to obtain a waiver.

GRE scores are not required for admission. If, however, students wish to transfer into the Ph.D. program, they will be required at the time of application.

Can I Transfer Units From A Prior Graduate Program?

Students can transfer up to five units of prior graduate work. The coursework cannot be more than 5 years old. Transfer coursework is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Students need to submit the course description with supporting documentation (e.g., syllabus). Documentation will be reviewed by a PAU faculty member who will either accept or reject the course for transfer credit.

How Much Does It Cost?

The tuition for the M.S. Psychology program is the same as on campus in the Ph.D. program, only spread across two years. Because students in the M.S. Psychology program do not use some of the campus facilities, the fees are less. For students beginning the program in the 2014-15 academic year, tuition costs are $5,981 per quarter, plus a technology fee of $383. During the first summer, only fees are charged. Therefore, the total program cost is $38,567, plus books, supplies, proctoring, and travel to Palo Alto University for the one-week Clinical Interviewing course during the first Summer of the two-year program.

Based on PAU’s recently adopted tuition stabilization plan, once students are in the program, tuition and fees will not increase from the time they entered the program. Please see the tuition and fee schedule on the PAU website for current year tuition and fee rates. 

What Do I Have to Do to Gain Acceptance into the Ph. D. Program?

The Distance Learning M.S. Psychology program was developed in order to provide students who may have the ability to handle Ph.D.-level work at PAU with an opportunity to demonstrate that ability. It is PAU’s hope that every student who is admitted to the M.S. program will be successful in moving to the Ph.D.

Students can gain acceptance into the Ph.D. program, if they have:

1.     Met the initial prerequisites for the Master’s program. There are four required prerequisite courses: Abnormal (or Personality), Developmental, Statistics, and Physiological Psychology. Students are required to complete the appropriate prerequisites prior to the appropriate PAU class. For example, students will take Child and Adolescent Development in the first quarter of this program. They need to have the developmental prerequisite course taken before classes begin. They will take Biological Basis of Behavior in the winter quarter of the second year. They need to have the physiological psychology course taken by winter of the second year. The same reasoning applies for the other prerequisites. The easiest solution is to have all four prerequisites completed before beginning the program. Documenting that the prerequisites have been fulfilled is the responsibility of the student. Students can request waivers by detailing the basis for the request. Those waiver requests should be submitted before the related PAU course is started and sent to Dr. Nazzal. The required prerequisite courses and their graduate “partners” are listed below.

M.S. Course at PAU

Prerequisite Undergraduate Course

PSYS501 Child & Adolescent Development

Developmental Psychology

ASMT501 Psychopathology I

Abnormal or Personality Psychology

PSYS505 Biological Basis of Behavior

Physiological Psychology

STAT500 Statistics I


2.     Successfully completed all seven quarters of the program.

3.     Maintained a GPA of 3.3 and have:

a.     No failing grades and

b.     No more than one B- and

c.     No more than one incomplete

4.     Successfully completed the following sequences:






MTHD509 Research Methods and Statistics I




STAT510 Research Methods and Statistics II




STAT511 Research Methods and Statistics III








ASMT501 Psychopathology I




ASMT502 Psychopathology II



Clinical Foundations

CLIN500 Ethics in Clinical Psychology




CLIN501 Professional Standards I




CLIN506 Clinical Interviewing



Psychological Science

PSYS500 History and Systems




PSYS501 Child and Adolescent Development




PSYS502 Cognitive Bases of Behavior




PSYS504 Affective Bases of Behavior




PSYS505 Biological Bases of Behavior




PSYS507 Adult Development and Aging




PSYS509 Psychopharmacology




PSYS511 Social and Personality Bases of Behavior



5.     Passed the research and statistics competency exam

6.     Successfully completed an interview with the M.S. to Ph.D. bridge faculty.

7.     Submitted GRE scores.  (305 is approximately the minimum score for acceptance)


All required course work will normally be completed by the end of the second spring quarter following matriculation. Any deviations from this timetable must be approved by the Masters Student Evaluation Committee.

Master’s students have the same rules for taking the competency exams as other students. However, they cannot start Practicum 2A or the Assessment sequence until being admitted to the Ph.D. program. Students will receive conditional PAU Ph.D. acceptance letters in the Fall of the second year, following the 1-week Clinical Interviewing course on campus. The acceptance letters are conditional based on grades in second year course work and passing the competency exam(s). Prior to starting clinical work in the PAU clinic (fall of the first year on campus) students must take three courses: Intellectual Assessment (3 units), Psychometric Theory (5 units), and Introduction to Psychotherapy (3 units). These courses are offered in the summer and require students to move to Palo Alto during the summer of that year.

M.S. students who are accepted into the Ph.D. program should start their clinical work in the Gronowski Center in the fall of their first year on campus. To start in the clinic they must pass the clinical foundations competency exam. It is based on the following courses: the Psychopathology and Psychodiagnosis classes, the Ethics in Clinical Psychology class, the summer one-week residential Clinical Interviewing class, and Introduction to Psychotherapy (taken during the summer before starting the Ph.D. program). The exam is typically given the week before classes start in the fall (i.e., late August).

Students in the M.S. Psychology program follow the same guidelines as students in the on-campus program. In the event of academic or disciplinary problems, students may be dismissed from the program. These procedures are outlined in the current PAU Student Handbook. Students failing courses will be referred to the Masters Student Evaluation Committee.

In summary, there is a 3-step system for M.S. Psychology students:

  1. Students who cannot get through the basic course work can transfer to another Palo Alto University Master’s program or leave prior to the end of the first two years.
  2. Students who finish required course work but choose to stop there or are unable to pass the research comprehensive exam can receive the M.S. Psychology degree as they leave the program.
  3. Students who receive acceptance to the Ph.D. program, enter the Ph.D. program on campus beginning the Summer after completing the master’s coursework. In this case, students are not awarded the M.S. Psychology. After two years in the Ph.D. program, students will qualify for the M.S. Clinical Psychology. Because the two degrees would be based on considerable overlap in coursework and the fact that the second M.S. degree would supersede the first M.S., PAU does not award the M.S. Psychology to students who enter the Ph.D. program.

What Happens if I Don’t Pass a Class?

Students who fail a class will be put on academic probation, a process that occurs for all students at PAU when they do not pass a class. The normal remedy for an isolated failure is to simply retake the class the next time it is offered. Students do need to pay again to retake a class and may not have sufficient credits available during the quarter the class is retaken to qualify for financial aid.

How Do I Get Additional Information?

Please e-mail Dr. Nazzal (knazzal@paloaltou.edu). She will also be happy to arrange for you to talk with current students and recent graduates of the program to get their perspectives.


Contact Us

1791 Arastradero Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Phone: (800) 818-6136 Fax: (650) 433-3888