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Exploring Today’s Best Online MFT Programs in California (CA)

Discover top online MFT programs in California and see what makes them some of the best in the state. Compare schools, find valuable student resources, and learn about curriculums, costs, and financial aid.

Author: Shannon Daigle

Editor: Kristin Marino

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A panoramic view of the Los Angeles skyline with tall buildings in the distance, set against a pink and orange California sunset. The foreground features tall palm trees and a variety of smaller buildings, capturing the essence of urban life.

If you’ve ever imagined what it would be like to work in a career where you could support better mental health for individuals, couples, and families, you need to know about online MFT programs in California. Marriage and family therapists are recognized as one of five central mental health professions by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services.

According to the University of California, San Francisco, California’s demand for therapists and psychologists will exceed available resources by 41% by 2028. MFTs are in high demand all across the nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in the MFT field are expected to grow 15% between 2022 and 2032, which is considered much faster than average.

Accredited online MFT programs in California have opened a world of opportunity for nontraditional students to take the life-changing step of earning a master’s degree through flexible programs that enable them to balance work, family, and other responsibilities with earning a degree.

Our guide to the best MFT programs in California will help you find the top schools, provide answers to your most pressing questions, and get you moving toward an accredited MFT degree. Start exploring now.

College Spotlights: Quality Online MFT Degrees in California

Finding the best online MFT degree in California can be your first step toward a successful career as an LMFT. You’ll need to dive deep into the benefits of each program you’re considering. We’ve compiled a guide to the best online MFT programs in California with all the details on cost, program accreditation, and specialization options you need to know.

Alliant International University

Logo of Alliant International University. The logo features a circular emblem with abstract, multicolored shapes inside it, resembling people joining hands. To the right of the emblem is the text "Alliant International University" in blue.

The MA in Marital and Family Therapy from Alliant International University offers students flexible online MFT programs in California. Students can choose between attending classes on a traditional semester-long schedule or an accelerated, eight-week term format. You’ll gain the core knowledge you’ll need to become a couple and family therapist or mental health counselor at whatever pace you choose.

Students can also earn a CAADE-accredited chemical dependency specialization and a general MFT degree. During their time in the program, students participate in fieldwork that provides them with 300 hours of direct client contact, 100 supervised hours, and at least 100 professional development hours, gaining 600-1300 hours to apply toward their license.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: Two years
  • Cost: $1,078/credit
  • Accreditation: COAMFTE

California State University Northridge

At California State University Northridge, students can work toward earning their Master of Science (MS) in Marriage and Family Therapy. As a part of an MFT cohort, students gain foundational training in multiple areas of specialization, including children, groups, couples, substance abuse, and severe mental illness. They also progress through fieldwork in various settings to gain hands-on experience in the field, making this a hybrid degree vs. entirely online.

As a result, graduates are ready to become licensed LMFTs and work in diverse settings in California or most other states. One unique aspect of this program is that it’s dual-accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education and the International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 72
  • Length: Two to three years
  • Cost: $374.25-$482.50/credit
  • Accreditation: COAMFTE & IACSTE

Loma Linda University

A logo featuring a maroon emblem with an open book, a torch, and laurel leaves, accompanied by the text "Keller Graduate School of Management" in gray. The emblem is on the left, and the text is on the right.

Loma Linda University’s online MS in Marriage and Family Therapy program gives students the choice between earning their MFT in person or online. Whatever option you choose, you’ll embark on a cohort-based program with peers, which means you’ll have built-in support and shared academic resources and knowledge with your classmates.

Classes are offered in a mix of synchronous and asynchronous formats, enabling students to be flexible with their schedules as they earn a master’s degree. Students can conveniently complete the required practicum courses in their local area. They can also add to their degrees with certificates in play therapy and drug and alcohol counseling, and there’s also a specialization in medical family therapy. Students earning play therapy or drug and alcohol counseling certificates can obtain tuition waivers for the related courses.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 90
  • Length: Two and a half years
  • Tuition: $18,900/year
  • Accreditation: COAMFTE

Costs and Financial Aid for Online MFT Programs in CA

It’s essential to understand the financial demands of earning your MFT degree in CA and have a solid plan to pay for it before you choose a program and enroll. Consider an affordable MFT program and research available scholarship opportunity as a first step. Check with each school for exclusive scholarships, fellowships, and work-study programs, and explore scholarship opportunities through state and national professional associations like the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program also offers student loan repayment in exchange for service in areas with limited access to care.

How Much Your Online MFT Might Cost

Tuition can vary significantly between institutions. Below, we’ve listed tuition costs at three online MFT programs in California to give you a clear understanding of what you can expect to pay.

School No. of Credits Est. Resident Tuition







How to Become a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) in California

Many people pursue an MFT because they ultimately want to become licensed marriage and family therapists. However, licensure procedures and requirements vary from state to state. If you plan to become an LMFT in CA, knowing the requirements before choosing an online MFT degree program is a bright idea.

Step 1: Earn an Accredited MFT Degree

No matter where you work as an LMFT, the first step is to earn an accredited MFT degree from a quality school. The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is the programmatic accrediting body for MFT programs. Choosing a COAMFTE-accredited online MFT degree in California ensures you’ll get your masters from a school that meets the highest education standards in the field.

Additionally, you’ll want to choose a program that meets California’s state requirements for licensure. You can find a comprehensive list of these schools on the state’s Board of Behavioral Sciences website.

Step 2: Register as an AMFT

Once you’ve earned a degree from one of the online MFT programs in California, you’ll need to spend time earning supervised post degree experience in the state. Since that requires working with patients and clients in a medical care setting, you must apply to register as an associate marriage and family therapist (AMFT). This is an essential step to ensure that your work hours will be counted toward your on-the-record experience hours. There’s a 90-day grace period for recent graduates, so if you submit your associate application within 90 days of receiving your degree and complete Live Scan fingerprinting, any hours earned before you are issued an association registration number will be valid.

Step 3: Pass A Criminal Background Check

You’ll have to pass a criminal background check before being licensed to practice marriage and family therapy in California, even as an associate. That’s because you’ll potentially be working with children, in government organizations, and with vulnerable populations. You’ll also need to submit a Live Scan fingerprint for the background check. According to the American Psychological Association, a minor hiccup in your background usually won’t cause any problems. The most important thing is that you’re honest and upfront with any potential employers or organizations that you’ll be working with.

Step 4: Pass the California Law and Ethics Exam

The California Law and Ethics Exam is a 75-question, multiple-choice test for AMFTs. The questions are designed to test your knowledge and practical skills application in scenarios that might arise in marriage and family therapy. You’ll need to pass the exam to get your AMFT registration and begin earning experience hours. Fortunately, many resources are out there to help you prepare for the test. You can download the candidate handbook and exam outlines and register to take your exams on the Pearson Vue website.

Step 5: Accrue Required Supervised Experience

In California, you must earn all your post degree hours after registering as an AFMT, except those earned during the 90-day postgraduation grace period. All in all, you’ll need to earn 3,000 total supervised hours over 104 weeks. Once you’ve completed the required hours, you’re ready to apply for licensure and submit proof of your experience alongside your application. If you’re unsure which types of work count toward your required hours, there’s a complete breakdown in the Handbook for Future LMFTs provided by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

Step 6: Pass the LMFT Clinical Exam

You’ve come a long way – you’ve earned your MFT, registered as an AMFT, passed the required background checks and exams, and earned 3,000 hours of supervised experience. Now, it’s time to test your knowledge on the LMFT clinical exam. You’ll be given 170 multiple-choice questions to answer in four hours or less during the exam. Passing the exam is the final step before applying for your LMFT license, so you’ll want to be well-prepared. You can download the Clinical Exam Candidate Handbook and register to take the exam on the Pearson Vue website.

Step 7: Obtain Your LMFT License

After passing the LMFT clinical exam, the last step to officially becoming an LMFT is to apply for and obtain your LMFT license. Within one year of passing the clinical exam, you should request your license and pay the initial license fee of $200. You can fill out your application for LMFT licensure and pay the associated fees online via the Board of Behavioral Sciences website or print the physical application and mail it to the board with a check. You can expect your application to be processed in 30 working days or less. Congratulations on becoming an LMFT!

Career Outlook for California Marriage & Family Therapists

Taking a closer look at the career field and income potential for graduates can help you decide if earning an online MFT degree in California is right for you. If it is, the numbers can also help you decide on a specialty that’s a good fit. We’ve done research to help you understand the best career options in marriage and family therapy. Check out our findings below.

Top-Paying Cities for MFTS in California

In California, mid-sized metropolitan areas and the North Valley region take the top spots for high-earning therapists. The highest median salaries for MFTs in California are in the Vallejo and San Jose areas. We’ve included in-depth details on the five most lucrative areas for MFTs in CA below.

City Median Salary (50%) Top Salary (90%)




San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara



North Valley-Northern Mountains



Santa Rosa



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward



Source: O*NET OnLine, 2023

Career Median Salary (50%) Top Salary (90%)

Clinical and Counseling Psychologist



School Psychologist



Recreational Therapist



Healthcare Social Worker



Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker



Source: O*NET OnLine, 2023

Common Questions About COAMFTE-Accredited Online MFT Programs

Can I earn my MFT 100% online, or do I need to go to campus?

While you can take classes at a distance while earning an online MFT degree in California, earning your MFT online typically takes some hands-on practice that requires in-person attendance. You’ll also need to complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience in person before applying to become a licensed LMFT. That doesn’t mean these requirements have to become an obstacle or make your life inconvenient. Many schools work with students to coordinate local practicum experiences; Palo Alto University is one example.

Where do MFTs commonly practice?

After attending online MFT programs in California and completing the additional LMFT licensing requirements, you’ll be ready to treat individuals, couples, and families in various settings. Some MFTs work in small practices or launch their one-person practice. Others find employment in large healthcare organizations, school systems, or businesses. Wherever you work, you’ll help diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders for your clients and help them make treatment plans.

Why is attending an accredited marriage & family therapy program important?

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE) is California’s programmatic accrediting body for online MFT programs and nationwide. A COAMFTE accreditation means you can count on a program that will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare for passing your exams and become an outstanding marriage and family therapist. You can find a comprehensive list of COAMFTE-accredited MFT programs on their website.

Does my MFT license qualify me to practice in other states?

In short, no. Each state has its own unique requirements for licensure. If you want to offer services in a state other than the one you were initially licensed in, you’ll need to apply individually in the new state. Some states have reciprocity agreements, so filing for a new license may be a simple matter of paperwork. Others have more extensive requirements. You can locate individual state licensing boards to review their requirements by visiting the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards website.

Resources for California MFT Degree Students

  • California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAFMT)
    The official CAMFT website has several valuable resources for MFTs, including webinars, articles, job postings, and detailed information on licensure requirements.
  • California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS)
    The California Board of Behavioral Sciences is an essential resource for MFT students. Here, you’ll find information on licensing requirements, exam details, and rules and regulations for becoming an LMFT in CA.
  • California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth
    MFTs can find helpful resources and information on advocacy efforts and conferences for improving mental health services for children and youth in California on this website.
  • California Mental Health Services Authority
    The California Mental Health Services Authority exists to reduce stigma and promote mental health awareness; their website offers toolkits and resources that help MFTs promote this message.
  • California Psychological Association
    The official website of the California Psychological Association may come in handy for MFT students and grads looking for networking events, jobs, and continuing education resources.
  • Psychotherapy.net
    Psychotherapy.net offers continuing education resources, articles, blogs, and in-depth guides that can help students and professionals in the MFT field.
  • Therapy Chat Podcast
    The Therapy Chat podcast has recorded hundreds of episodes on trauma, mental health, therapy, and wellness, featuring therapists, researchers, authors, coaches, and experts. New episodes are released weekly.
  • MFT Guide Facebook Group
    In this Facebook group, MFT students can find community and peer support from other pre-licensed therapists.