How to become a psychologist

Becoming a psychologist offers opportunities to help people manage life’s difficulties and better cope with their mental health problems. If you are interested in psychology as a profession, you generally need a doctoral degree—either a PhD, PsyD or EdS—in the field. But a number of states do allow individuals to get a psychology license with a master’s degree.

Simmons University


Women with 17+ prior college credits or an associate degree: Discover an innovative online applied psychology bachelor’s program designed specifically for women and built on Simmons University’s 100+ year history of empowering women. 

  • Empowering women to become leaders for 100+ years
  • Up to 96 transfer credits accepted, plus credit for life experience
  • Degree programs are designed for working professionals and can be completed part time 

Maryville University


The online BA in Psychology from Maryville University will prepare you with a strong foundation in the theoretical frameworks of modern psychology. No SAT or ACT scores required.

  • Learn 100% online
  • Start in fall, spring, or summer
  • Earn up to 12 credit hours that can be counted toward both undergraduate and graduate forensic psychology degree
  • Coursework designed to meet American Psychological Association standards.

Pepperdine University


Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months


After earning an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in psychology, professionals complete an internship or postdoctoral training period that lasts at least one year. This experience is usually a prerequisite for licensure. It is important to note that individuals with an undergraduate degree in any subject can apply for a master’s in psychology. Once they meet the state requirements, apply for and receive their license, and acquire any additional specialization credentials, psychologists can provide counseling and psychotherapy as well as testing and treatment for mental disorders. However, they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medications. Instead, psychologists work alongside medical doctors who provide those treatments.

Table of Contents

The sponsored program cards featured on this page were last updated in April 2022. For the most current program information, please refer to the official website of the respective school.   

Four steps to becoming a psychologist

There are four common steps to become a psychologist: earning a bachelor’s degree, obtaining an advanced psychology degree (i.e., a master’s, doctorate or both) from an accredited program, completing at least a one-year internship or postdoctoral program to gain experience working with patients, and obtaining a license, which includes passing a test on foundational knowledge. All together, the path to becoming a licensed psychologist can take up to eight years.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

Aspiring professionals can choose to study any subject, but it may be worth considering a major that lends itself to a career in psychology, such as social work, psychology, or sociology.

2. Earn a master’s and/or doctorate in psychology

Depending on where you intend to practice and the specific concentration you are interested in (e.g., child psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy), you may be able to pursue a psychology license after earning a master’s degree, either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. If you must pursue a doctoral degree, you will choose between a PsyD, a practical degree for would-be counselors; a PhD, which is more research-oriented; an E.d.D, or Doctor of Education; and an EdS, or education specialist. Check your state requirements and consider your career goals to determine which degree is right for you.

Pepperdine University

Graduate School of Education and Psychology


Master of Arts in Psychology

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months


University of Surrey

School of Psychology


Master of Science Psychology

The online MSc Psychology course from the University of Surrey – ranked in the top 20 best universities for psychology in the UK – will equip you with highly transferable skills in statistics, applied research methods and a broad range of psychology topics.

  • Complete the course in 24 months, part time.
  • Skip application fees and standardised test scores — neither is required.
  • Choose from three start dates a year (September, February, June).


3. Complete an internship or postdoctoral program

After completing a psychology master’s or doctoral program, you must complete an internship or postdoctoral program. This required psychology internship gives you an opportunity to work alongside licensed psychologists to gain hands-on training in your field of interest. Most states require 1,500 to 2,000 hours of training and at least one to two years of supervised professional experience, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

4. Obtain a psychology license

The licensing requirements for psychologists vary per state. Contact your state board to learn about your state’s requirements. Various state board information can be found at the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) website. Once you’ve met the necessary education and professional requirements, you’ll need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the ASPPB. 

Why should I become a psychologist

A psychologist’s career has a direct impact on the mental health and well-being of those who seek their services. Various career options within the field of psychology can provide opportunities for fulfilling work, whether with children, individuals with developmental disabilities, older adults, or in areas such as research, assessments, teaching, and systems design. In addition, job prospects for psychologists continue to grow at a faster rate than the average for all occupations, with some professionals earning above-average salaries, according to BLS data. 

Where do psychologists work?

Psychologists work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Universities or four-year colleges
  • Other schools (e.g. high schools, elementary schools)
  • Medical schools
  • Independent practices
  • Hospitals or other health services
  • Government or veterans association medical centers
  • Businesses or nonprofits

Psychologist salaries

The median annual pay for psychologists was $85,330 in 2022, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% of psychologists earned less than $48,010, while the highest 10% made more than $141,910. Industrial-organizational psychologists may command six-figure salaries. This group of psychologists earned a median annual income of $139,280, according to the BLS. Clinical and counseling psychologists and school psychologists are also among the highest-paid professionals, with median annual salaries of $90,130 and $81,500 respectively.

Psychology career and job growth

The BLS indicates that demand for psychologists is projected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032. Schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and mental health centers are all experiencing a growing need for counselors. Schools, in particular, will depend on counselors to support student mental health and work with those facing developmental issues. Psychologists are also needed to help individuals cope with life and career transitions. 

Finding an accredited psychology school

Psychology undergraduate and graduate programs are available online or in-person. While the American Psychological Association (APA) only accredits doctoral programs, it does provide standards and guidelines for evaluating various psychology programs, which can be used to guide your decisions. To find an APA-accredited doctoral psychology program, as well as accredited internships and postdoctoral programs, you can search the APA online database.

Psychology degrees and studies online

There are many online psychology programs. Some undergraduate degrees in psychology can be earned through an online program at various colleges and universities. Advanced degree programs in psychology are also offered online.

There are a number of advantages to earning an online master’s degree in psychology. Students benefit from the same courses and instruction as their counterparts on campus without the time and expense of traveling, and can progress through lessons at their own pace. They also have access to an online support team. Working professionals enjoy greater flexibility in pursuing their degrees, and for programs with a clinical requirement, those hours can typically be fulfilled at a location that’s close to the student.

Different psychology degrees

Advanced degrees in psychology include a master’s degree in psychology, which can be concentrated in an area aligned with your career goals (e.g. industrial and organizational psychology, applied behavior analysis, and marriage and family counseling). The master’s degree in psychology—either a Master of Arts or a Master of Science—may be followed by a doctoral degree. The four doctoral degrees for psychology include a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), an education specialist (EdS) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Master’s degree in psychology

A Master of Arts (MA) in psychology is typically focused on theory, assessment and intervention and is geared toward students who want to become counselors, social workers and psychologists. A Master of Science (MS) in psychology places a greater emphasis on research and statistics. A master’s degree in psychology typically takes two years to complete.

Even an online master’s degree in psychology may require some amount of in-person clinical coursework. Job opportunities for those with a master’s degree in psychology might include industrial–organizational psychologists, psychological assistants and more. Some states allow individuals with a master’s degree to obtain a license to practice as a psychologist, but it’s important to check each state’s requirements.

PhD in psychology

A PhD in psychology is considered the most common advanced psychology degree and involves scientific research, including data collection and statistical information, as well as requiring a dissertation to demonstrate research knowledge. It can take five to seven years to complete a PhD in psychology. Career options for those with a PhD in psychology include business consultant, researcher, faculty member, health service administrator, and counselor.

PsyD in psychology

The Doctor of Psychology degree is designed for people who are interested in providing counseling services rather than focusing on research. PsyD psychology programs focus more on clinical work than PhD programs do, and they take four to six years to complete. Career options for those with a PsyD degree include roles where they work directly with people in need, as a counselor or therapist.

Ed.D. in psychology

The Ed.D. in psychology is a type of psychology degree granted by a college of education and allows students to develop skills and knowledge to improve outcomes in school systems. Career options for someone with an Ed.D. psychology degree include education administrator, chief academic officer, survey researcher, and community service manager.

EdS in psychology

The educational specialist in school psychology degree equips students with essential skills and tools to work with children and families within school systems. This includes evidence-based interventions, consultation, and assessment and evaluation. The program typically lasts three years.

Choosing a psychology career track or specialty

Individuals with a psychology degree can explore a diverse range of career paths. These paths vary in terms of the required degree (e.g. MA vs. PhD), the target clientele (e.g. children and families vs. healthcare professionals), and the nature of the work involved (e.g. research vs. counseling). Interest in a particular field or concentration can help guide your psychology degree considerations. The range of psychology specialties include clinical psychologists, community psychologists, counseling psychologists, developmental psychologists, environmental psychologists, forensic psychologists, health psychologists, rehabilitation psychologists, school psychologists, and social psychologists.

Counseling vs. clinical psychology

Counseling psychologists work with people across various age groups to help them recognize their strengths and abilities to cope with stress and adversity. They work in many settings, including college counseling centers, academic institutions, independent practice, health care settings, and hospitals.

Both counseling and clinical psychologists use psychotherapy to treat patients, but counseling psychologists focus more broadly on well-being across a person’s lifespan. Clinical psychologists are more focused on clients who have mental illness by assessing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

What education is needed to become a counseling psychologist?

To become a counseling psychologist, you’ll need to complete a doctoral degree program which takes four to six years. Programs of study for counseling psychologists focus on core psychology concepts as well as specialized knowledge, such as theories of counseling and human lifespan development. Part of the counseling psychologist degree program will include an internship that provides hands-on counseling experience with a licensed professional.

What education is needed to become a clinical psychologist?

To become a clinical psychologist, you’ll need a doctoral-level degree, either a PhD or a PsyD. Most clinical psychologist doctoral programs last five to seven years. There are many specialty areas within the field that can serve as a focus for your studies, including mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Non-psychology counseling career paths

A number of counseling careers do not require a psychology degree. These include becoming a career counselor, who helps people to reach their career goals, and a substance abuse counselor, who helps clients develop the skills to recover from addiction. Both careers require a master’s degree and internship experience in their respective fields.  

Licensed social worker

A licensed social worker helps provide services to underprivileged communities and works within school systems, nonprofits, and health care systems. Becoming a licensed social worker requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a master’s degree in social work.

Marriage and family therapist

Using psychotherapy and other tools and techniques, marriage and family therapists help couples, families, and individuals solve interpersonal problems and improve relationships, coping mechanisms, and overall well-being. Becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist typically requires a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and 2,000–4,000 approved clinical hours.

Psychologist vs. psychiatrist

Psychologists and psychiatrists both treat patients with mental health issues using psychotherapy. But psychiatrists undergo medical school training to become a Doctor of Medicine, as psychiatry is considered a physician specialty. Typically, MDs will complete an internship prior to residency and before they enter the real world to practice as a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication to patients. Psychologists generally must complete a doctoral degree and one to two years of an internship before practicing. Psychologists do not typically prescribe drugs but work alongside other health professionals who do.

School psychologist

School psychologists provide counseling to school children and also consult with staff and parents to guide children and adolescents’ positive mental, emotional, and behavioral development. Although a school psychologist and school counselor have similar education requirements, there are distinct differences between the two careers. To become a school psychologist, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree program, followed by enrollment in an accredited postgraduate program to earn either a PhD or EdS. Additionally, you must fulfill a minimum of 1,200 hours of hands-on experience through a supervised internship.


Psychoanalysts are like psychologists in that they use psychotherapy to treat patients and do not prescribe medications. Created by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis can be described as “a method of analyzing psychic phenomena and treating emotional disorders that involves treatment sessions during which the patient is encouraged to talk freely about personal experiences and especially about early childhood and dreams.” 

While the term “psychoanalyst” is not protected under state or federal law, some institutes offer credentials that are accredited through the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Developmental psychologist

Developmental psychologists study how people grow and develop throughout life. This career is increasingly moving toward a focus on childhood and adolescence to working with older adults in staying mentally active into their later years. These professionals work in research, teach in academic settings and offer assessment, evaluation, and treatment in health care and nursing home facilities. To become a developmental psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree.

Behavioral analysts

Behavioral analysts work with people to understand and improve behaviors using applied behavior analysis, which can help individuals and organizations. Specialty behavior analysis areas include pediatrics, autism, gerontology, education, and sports. You can become a behavior analyst with an online master’s degree in applied behavior analysis (ABA) followed by a graduate-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification.

Environmental psychologist

Environmental psychologists study the way human behavior intersects with a person’s environment, both on a personal level (social groups) and more broadly (within a person’s culture, city, and the planet at large). They study how various environments—urban, suburban, rural—and major environmental issues, such as climate change, affect behavior and human well-being and help in planning environments that encourage positive growth. To become an environmental psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree.

Psychology licensure requirements by state

Licensure requirements for psychologists includes meeting specific standards in three key areas: education, examination, and supervised experience. Most states require a doctoral degree in psychology to receive a license but some offer a category (often called a psychological associate), allowing individuals to practice psychology with a master’s degree under the supervision of a doctorate-level licensed psychologist.

Most U.S. states require you to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) in order to be a licensed psychologist. Find out what your state requirements are by contacting your preferred school’s office of admissions. Others require a jurisprudence examination and/or an oral exam in addition to the EPPP. 

In order to receive a license, it is almost always required that you have successfully completed at least a one-year internship and at least a one-year postdoctoral program. To better understand a specific state’s licensing requirements for psychologists, consult the PSYBook from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Earn an MA in Psychology Online from Pepperdine

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months



How long does it take to become a psychologist?

To become a psychologist in a state that allows master’s degree holders to practice with some restrictions, you will need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree program and two-year master’s degree program. To become a psychologist with a doctorate degree, which is typically required to receive a license, it can take an additional four to six years to complete a PsyD program or an additional five to seven years for a PhD.

What courses are required to earn a master’s degree in psychology?

Examples of courses in a master’s degree program in psychology include theoretical psychology, developmental psychology, ethics and psychology, research, and communication.

What courses are required to earn a doctoral degree in psychology?

Courses in a doctoral degree in psychology program might include psychopathology, developmental disabilities, basic emotional processes, prevention and intervention, and quantitative analysis.

What are the best undergraduate majors for psychologists?

Undergraduate majors that may be useful to aspiring psychologists looking to pursue advanced degrees and specialize in the field include psychology, biology, neuroscience, education, social work, and sociology.

Last updated November 2023