M.S. in Psychology Program Details

M.S. in Psychology Program Duration

The M.S. in Psychology program requires six or seven quarters of coursework, depending on the chosen track. Those accepted into Palo Alto University's PhD program transition directly into PhD coursework during the summer quarter after completing this program. Students have a maximum of five years to complete the program.

Work and School Scheduling

Most students can maintain full-time employment while completing this program. If accepted into the PAU PhD program, which is offered on campus only, most students will need to adjust their schedules, and students living outside of the San Francisco Bay Area will need to relocate.

Good Academic Standing

Students are expected to achieve a grade of B or higher in didactic coursework.

Any student who receives two or more grades of B-minus in a given quarter is expected to meet with his or her advisor to discuss and attempt to resolve any academic difficulties. Two grades of B-minus or below in any quarter mandate a compulsory review by the Master's Student Evaluation Committee.

A grade of "F" in two courses is grounds for dismissal from the program. Students demonstrating academic difficulty will be referred to the Master's Student Evaluation Committee for review. Students are also independently responsible for monitoring any incomplete grades and satisfying course requirements prior to the close of the subsequent quarter.

Students are expected to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards of conduct in their activities associated with the school and to abide by Palo Alto University's student handbook and policies. Any student who commits, aids, or attempts to commit "academic misconduct" shall be subject to disciplinary action.

Students who fail a class are put on academic review, 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 retake the class the next time it is offered. Should this occur, students should be aware that they will need to pay again to retake the class and that, during the quarter when they retake the class, they may not have sufficient credits to qualify for financial aid. In that case, the student would have to pay out of pocket for retaking the class.

Student Feedback

Students are required to submit written evaluations of all courses each quarter. This informs the PAU faculty and administration of our strengths and weaknesses as we strive to deliver the best possible program.

Awarding of the M.S. in Psychology Degree

There are two subsequent scenarios:

Continue to the PhD program: Students in the PhD Prep Track, who are offered and accept admission to the PhD program, begin PhD studies during the summer quarter after completing their master's coursework. They are not awarded the M.S. in Psychology at that time. After two years in the PhD program, students qualify for the M.S. in Clinical Psychology, which supersedes the M.S. in Psychology.

Achieve a terminal M.S. in Psychology degree: Students in the Generalist and Forensic Psychology tracks will automatically be awarded the M.S. in Psychology degree upon successful completion of all graduation requirements. Students in the PhD Prep Track who successfully complete all required coursework and choose to stop there, or who are unable to pass the competency exams, are awarded the M.S. in Psychology degree.

Student Services

Faculty Advisors

All students in the M.S. in Psychology program are assigned an academic advisor upon entry into the program. The primary role of the advisor is to assist with academic planning and to provide guidance on any personal or interpersonal issues that may arise. Because learning online can present unique challenges, academic advisors also serve as online success coaches, checking in with students monthly by phone, email, or both. The first meeting with an advisor is in an online video chat format. PhD Prep Track students and advisors meet face to face during the one-week intensive course at the PAU campus in Palo Alto. Throughout the program, students also have quarterly meetings to ensure that all their needs are being addressed. Students are strongly encouraged to be proactive and contact their advisors as soon as they have questions or if any difficulties arise.

At the beginning of the program, all students attend an orientation via web conference to ensure that everyone starts out on the same page with respect to academic expectations, online learning formats, available services, where to turn when needing assistance, etc.

Student Assistant Advisor

A student advisor is available for help, support, and proctoring. The student advisor is a PhD student who has successfully completed the M.S. in Psychology program online.

Video Conferencing Orientation and Advising Sessions

A live orientation is available and required before courses start. In addition, the Student Assistant Advisor and the program director schedule quarterly video conferences. Moreover, the program director is available throughout the program for individual academic advising sessions.

Academic Resources and Administrative Support

Whether enrolled in an on-campus or online program, all students are members of the PAU community and have access to the full range of student services, including:

  • Research Library
  • Office of Student Services
  • Office of Financial Aid
  • Student Organizations

Transition to the PhD Program

The M.S. in Psychology program was developed specifically to give students an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the ability to handle doctoral-level work at Palo Alto University. The hope is that every student admitted to this program in the PhD Prep Track will successfully transition to the PhD program. The Student Progress Committee meets quarterly, approximately two weeks after grades are submitted, to review the progress of all students in the program. Their goal is to identify and provide guidance to any students who may be encountering problems.

Students who wish to continue to the Palo Alto University Ph.D. program do not complete another application. Interest in and qualification for the PhD program are discussed with the program director and advisors during the first year of studies.

Qualified M.S. in Psychology students receive conditional PAU Ph.D. program acceptance letters in the fall of their second year, after completing the M.S. to PhD interview process. The final offer of acceptance is based on grades earned during the second year of coursework and passing competency exams after completion of all M.S. in Psychology coursework.

Students complete master's coursework by the end of the spring quarter and are then notified when to take their competency exams.

Academic Requirements for PhD Admission

Students who satisfy the following requirements can gain acceptance into the PhD program:

1. Prerequisite Courses

Students need not have a bachelor's degree in psychology to enter this program. However, they must complete four prerequisite bachelor's level classes. Each is a prerequisite for a specific M.S. in Psychology program class.


M.S. Psychology Class

Developmental Psychology

PSYS501 Child and Adolescent Development

Abnormal or Personality Psychology

ASMT500 Psychopathology I

Physiological Psychology

PSYS505 Neuropsychology


MTHD509 Research Methods and Statistics

Students should complete all four prerequisites before beginning the M.S. program. Documenting that the prerequisites have been fulfilled is the responsibility of the student.

2. Grades

Students must complete all seven quarters of the program, maintaining a minimum GPA of 3.0 with:

  • No failing grades
  • No more than one B-minus
  • No more than one incomplete

3. Course Sequences

Students must successfully complete the following course sequences:




Research (12 units)

MTHD509 Research Methods and Statistics I



STAT510 Research Methods and Statistics II



STAT511 Research Methods and Statistics III


Psychopathology (6 units)

ASMT501 Psychopathology I



ASMT502 Psychopathology II


Clinical Foundations (7 units)

CLIN500 Ethics in Clinical Psychology



CLIN501 Professional Standards I



CLIN506 Clinical Interviewing


Psychological Science (21 units)

PSYS500 History and Systems



PSYS501 Child and Adolescent Development



PSYS507 Adult Development and Aging



PSYS502 Cognitive Bases of Behavior



PSYS504 Affective Bases of Behavior



PSYS505 Biological Bases of Behavior



PSYS509 Psychopharmacology



PSYS511 Social and Personality Psychology


See the Curriculum page for specific classes and scheduling.

Normally, all required coursework is completed by the end of the second spring quarter following matriculation. Any deviations from this timetable must be approved by the Master's Student Evaluation Committee.

4. Interview

Each student must interview with the M.S. to PhD bridge faculty.

Starting the PhD Program

Those continuing to the PhD program, an on-campus program, need to relocate to the Palo Alto area. Students begin PhD coursework during the summer quarter, completing two online courses that are prerequisites for clinical work in the PhD program: Psychometric Theory (4 units) and Introduction to Psychotherapy (3 units).

M.S. in Psychology students accepted into the PhD program are expected to start their clinical work during the fall quarter of the first year of their PhD program. By that time, they must have completed the two summer courses listed above and also pass the clinical foundations competency exam, which is typically given in late August, and the research competency exam (at either the beginning or end of the summer).

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