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What Are the Education Requirements for Becoming a Psychologist?

Psychologists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and requirements for certification and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Psychologists study the mental processes of humans (and sometimes animals) and offer assessments for treatment, counseling, and medication. Becoming a psychologist requires significant education, especially at the graduate-level. In addition to theoretical and applied coursework, psychology students must accrue significant work experience. Depending on the program, students may be able to choose a concentration, such as clinical psychology.

Required Education Doctoral degrees are necessary for all psychologists who work directly with patients; master's degrees will suffice for some positions
Other Requirements Most states require certification or licensure
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 12%*
Median Salary (2013) $91,140*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for a Psychologist

Psychologists help patients overcome emotional difficulties through individual and group therapy. Some conduct experiments and publish research results. These professionals may work with large companies and organizations or operate their own private practice. Individuals may work in the psychology field with a bachelor's degree but most jobs require graduate schooling.

Undergraduate Programs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals with a bachelor's degree may find jobs with the federal government or work as psychological assistants ( These programs introduce students to fundamental concepts, such as human development and cognitive processes. In addition to general psychology courses, students may be required to take courses in major concentration areas or related subjects, such as neuroscience. Experience opportunities, including research and internships, may be offered.

Master's Programs

Industrial-organizational psychologists can practice with a master's degree. Individuals in other psychological disciplines may also work with a master's degree, depending on state regulations. Many programs offer a general psychology degree with optional concentrations, including clinical and developmental psychology. Some schools may offer specialties plus an emphasis, such as clinical psychology with marriage and family therapy.

Master's programs are usually completed in two years of full-time study. These curricula have core requirements in psychology learning principles, research and development. Some programs require students to complete a clinical experience. While the completion of a thesis is often the capstone requirement, some programs may give students the option of a project or comprehensive exam.

Doctoral Programs

The BLS indicates that psychologists who offer patient care of any kind are required to be licensed, which often includes having a doctorate. Prospective doctoral candidates may choose between earning a Doctor of Philosphy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Individuals interested in research-based careers may consider a Ph.D., while those preferring to clinical practice may choose a Psy.D.

Both doctoral programs typically take 4-5 years to complete with advanced coursework and experience requirements. Some programs alternate coursework in the fall and spring with summer clinical experience or research. Psy.D. curricula include topics in applied psychology, while Ph.D. programs have requirements in experimenting and research. The BLS reports that programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology may include an additional year of post-doctoral supervised experience.

Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS reported that clinical, school and counseling psychologists as a whole earned $67,760 as a median annual wage in 2013. All other psychologists earned a median salary of $91,140. All jobs for psychologists are expected to increase by 12% for the years 2012-2022, according to the BLS, which is about average.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics