How to become a psychologist

If you’re searching for a fulfilling, challenging career where the work you do helps others, try psychology. From conducting experiments to leading group sessions, there are an endless array of job possibilities within this scientific branch. All an aspiring psychologist needs to do is find which subfield most interests them.

While there are plenty of career paths, pursuing psychology is a time-intensive effort. Future practitioners must be willing to commit to advanced degrees and licensing requirements after they graduate.

Earning the title of psychologist requires a major commitment to yourself but it’s a rewarding one.

What are the Requirements for Becoming a Psychologist? 

For most psychological specialties, there are four steps you must follow to be qualified practice this discipline. Depending on your career aspirations and goals, it may take eight years or more before you’re in the field.

  1. Getting a Bachelor’s: Being accepted into a college and earning your bachelor’s degree is the first step to being a psychologist. Once you’re accepted, you’ll need to choose your major. Some of the most common choices are psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and social work. Depending on your college’s psychology program, you may have more options. It varies by university. Your undergraduate years will be filled with lectures, conducting experiments, and writing research papers. Completing this part will take four years if you keep a regular course load. Some students graduate in three years, while others take five.
  2. Pursuing an Advanced Degree: Depending on which branch of psychology you want to study you’ll need either a master’s degree or a doctorate. Master’s programs will take two to three years to complete, while a doctorate requires four to six years of study.

Choosing the doctorate route also means selecting the type of doctorate you want to earn. The two most popular types are a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology and a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.).

It’s equally important that your graduate degree is from an accredited institution, especially one that is endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA). Graduates from non-APA approved programs may need to prove the veracity of their degree, even if their coursework is comparable to an APA one. Checking accreditation status is an important part of choosing your graduate school to save yourself from a future headache.

  1. Doing an Internship or a Postdoctoral Program: Once you’ve earned your advanced degree of choice, the next step is completing an internship. In this part of your psychological job journey, you’ll gain real-world experience in in the field. You’ll spend between 1,500-2,000 hours working with licensed psychologists learning how to apply your college knowledge base. The hours aren’t standardized since this training is regulated at the state level. As you accrue hours, make sure to compare them with what your advisor is tracking — you won’t want to deal with a discrepancy in your timesheets after your years of hard work.
  2. Earning a Psychology License: Once you’ve completed college and your post-degree work, it’s time to get licensed. Like the internship, this part of the process is also managed at the state level. No matter the state, you’ll need to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Most states set 500 as a passing grade.

Besides the EPPP, a majority of states require a separate jurisprudence test and an oral exam as well. The jurisprudence portion tests psychological candidates’ knowledge about psychological laws in their practice state, ethics as outlined by the APA, and other questions about practice standards.

If an oral exam is included, it varies greatly depending on the region. In states that don’t require the jurisprudence test, the oral exam may quiz candidates on their psychological knowledge — especially related to laws and ethics. The test can also include examples of patient behavior and require the test-taker to demonstrate their ability to respond to nuanced situations.

The goal of all the testing and licensing requirements is ensuring a psychologist’s thorough understanding of and willingness to follow ethics, and their knowledge of region-specific rules.

After completing these four tasks, you’ll be a licensed psychologist, ready to practice in your state. The next step is finding a great job.

What Psychology Jobs Are Available With an Advanced Degree? 

While there are plenty of interesting associate’s- and bachelor’s-level careers, earning an advanced degree gives you greater flexibility in the type of psychology jobs you’re qualified for.

  • Master’s Degree:  Depending on your psychology career of interest, you may not need to pursue a doctoral degree. There are about 28,000 students who graduate with a master’s in psychology every year — compared to the 6,000 who earn their doctorate. With a master’s degree, you can find work as a counselor, social worker, clinical psychologist, school psychologist, and in many other roles. There may be more competition at this level.
  • Ph.D. in Psychology: This advanced degree in psychology is the most common type of doctorate that psychologists pursue. A part of earning your degree is completing research and writing a dissertation. This degree leads to jobs like professor, health service administrator, and business consultant.
  • Psy.D.: Getting a Psy.D. means learning from a program with a clinical focus, rather than a research-based one. If you’re interested in being a therapist or counselor, this can be a great option.
  • Ed.D. in Psychology: There are some colleges that offer a psychology doctorate program through their school of education. While these degrees have a reputation for not being as rigorous as their Psy.D. and Ph.D. counterparts, this isn’t true. An Ed.D. in psychology gives future psychologists an education in school systems and how these function. Graduates can find work education administrators, chief academic officers, and school psychologists.
  • Ed.S. in Psychology: This is another graduate program housed in a university’s school of education. Ed.S. courses focus on teaching students how to help children and their families in school systems. After completing the program, attendees may work in a variety of jobs, including school psychology, educational research, and educational psychology.