California MFT program costs vary — by more than $100,000

piggy bankAs I’ve covered here before, it can be quite difficult to get a real sense of how much your MFT graduate program will cost before enrolling. Universities have a habit of being opaque about MFT program costs. And the end result is that financial planning around graduate education can be a serious challenge. New data shows that MFT program costs vary even more widely than I had suspected, with full program tuition cost estimates ranging from less than $15,000 to more than $120,000.

My friend and colleague Carrie Wiita has recently updated her excellent MFT California web site. The site features information about MFT program costs, accreditation, GRE requirements, and much more for 78 California-based graduate programs leading to MFT licensure. There’s a ton of useful information on the site. The tuition estimates are particularly useful.

The estimated total program tuition cost for the least expensive programs in the state, a tie between five programs at CSU schools, is $14,352. The total program tuition for the most expensive program in the state, USC, is estimated to be $122,100. You can find the full list of estimated tuition costs for all state programs here. And yes, you should be mindful of the significant caveats at the top of that linked page.

That’s a range of more than $100,000. For programs that lead to the same license.

How much do MFT program costs matter?

For many of those considering pursuing a graduate degree, cost heavily influences their decision-making. Cynically, you might wonder whether that’s one reason why programs aren’t clear about MFT program costs — if people knew how much the program was going to cost them, sticker shock might lead them elsewhere. Students who take out loans to attend expensive programs often wind up saddled with enormous amounts of debt. They may struggle to pay off that debt in the face of low salaries for mental health professions.

How much weight you give to MFT program costs is an individual determination, of course. Most applicants balance costs against other factors, such as location, class times, faculty connections, and program focus. MFT California is the best source I know of for finding this information in objective ways that allow for meaningful comparison. It’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the process of deciding which program to attend.

Disclosure: I’ve been on Carrie and Ben Fineman’s podcast, Very Bad Therapy, on multiple occasions.