Working in psychology means becoming a practitioner or researcher in the field of science that pertains to the mind, thinking and behavior. Psychologists can work in many different capacities relating to mental health and scientific research. Each of these areas of focus is rewarding in its own way.
Licensed psychologists make a difference in people’s lives in ways like the following:
- Intervening in matters of serious mental illness
- Helping individuals understand and modify their own thinking and behavior
- Conducting research to advance the field of psychology and the treatment of mental health conditions
If you’re wondering how long does it take to become a psychologist, you’re likely to find that patience is a necessary virtue for students pursuing this opportunity.
Psychologist isn’t a career path that you can attain with minimal time and effort. You have to be willing to commit to putting in the coursework, field experience and research required for becoming a psychologist with full qualifications, including licensure.
Aspiring counseling psychologists, clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists and other mental health professionals should expect to be in this career preparation stage for the long haul.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?
The timeline to becoming a psychologist is longer than that of many other occupations.
While you can earn an undergraduate degree in as little as a few years, an advanced education is required for careers with the job title of psychologist. Earning the license required to work as a psychologist may require additional credentials. The credentials needed to work in a field like clinical psychology include supervised work experience and licensing examinations.
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All told, the answer to the question “how many years does it take to be a psychologist” is at least the better part of a decade, in most situations.
Becoming a Psychologist: How Many Years?
So, how many years of college to be a psychologist? Just how long you will spend in school depends on what type of psychologist you want to be. For many types of psychologist, how many years becoming a psychologist takes is close to a decade, if not longer.
Some programs require as little as one or two years of graduate school after earning your undergraduate degree. You may be able to become qualified as an industrial-organizational psychologist in as little as five or six years.
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Other types of psychologists require a lot more preparation. If you want to work in clinical psychology or research psychology, for example, you need a doctoral degree in the subject.
Earning a doctorate in psychology typically takes at least four more years and may take up to seven years. By the time you factor in the postdoctoral experience that is required in many areas to qualify for licensure, you’re likely looking at 12 years of career preparation beyond high school. (That’s assuming you complete your undergraduate studies on schedule.)
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Only a very small portion of active psychologists were under age 26 in 2019, according to the American Psychological Association. That’s largely because of the extensive study and preparation required to become a psychologist.
Of the more than 110,000 psychologists surveyed, fewer than 1,000 were under age 26. In contrast, nearly 5,000 were in the 26- to 30-year-old age range. The 31- to 35-year-old age range included more than 17,000 psychologists.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Psychology Degree?
If you’re wondering how long for psychology degree, it depends on the level of degree you’re seeking. There are degrees in psychology at every level you can imagine, from the two-year associate’s degree to terminal doctorates.
When it comes to earning a psychologist degree, how many years may range from one to two years to as long as seven years.
Another thing to keep in mind when considering how many years for psychology degree programs is that some of these degrees build on top of each other. This means your years of schooling may stack on top of each other.
For example, a doctorate in psychology takes four to seven years of study. However, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree to pursue a doctorate degree. This means this educational path really requires a minimum of eight psychologist schooling years.
Two-Year Degrees in Psychology
For newcomers to a college education, the quickest degree you can earn in psychology is the associate’s degree. Offered by community colleges and junior colleges, associate’s degree programs typically consist of at least 60 college credits. Assuming that students take a full load of courses, they can complete this program in two years of full-time study.
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Much of an associate’s degree curriculum is general education coursework. However, students pursuing an associate’s degree in the field of psychology might take classes in the following areas:
- Research methods in psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Social psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Personality theory
- Child or adolescent psychology.
At the associate’s level, degrees in psychology often act as stepping stones to a bachelor’s degree. If you opt not to pursue any further studies, you will have very limited career opportunities in the field of psychology.
Associate’s degrees in psychology prepare students for junior-level roles only in fields like mental health and human services.
Four-Year Degrees in Psychology
At the undergraduate level, the answer to the question “how many years for psychology” is typically four.
Psychology degrees are popular at the undergraduate level. A bachelor’s in psychology program usually requires around 120 college credits to complete. Students who enroll full-time can often earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in psychology in just four years. It’s not uncommon for students to take longer than four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, especially if they change their major during the course of their college studies.
In a bachelor’s in psychology program, students develop an undergraduate-level understanding of the study of the mind, mental processes and behavior. Most programs include coursework in areas like the following:
- Physiological psychology
- Social psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Experimental psychology
Coursework in a bachelor’s degree program in psychology might include everything from the psychology of personality to the psychological principles behind learning.
Because research matters in psychology, students often take classes in psychological research, experimental psychology, statistics and data analysis. Graduates of a bachelor’s degree in psychology should understand the systems of psychology and of psychological testing and assessment, even if they don’t plan to work in a clinical or research role.
Graduating with your bachelor’s degree in psychology is an important milestone and a major step on the path to your career. Still, earning this degree does not make you a psychologist. You need at least a master’s, if not a doctoral degree, to hold that job title, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Master’s Degrees in Psychology
Most psychologists don’t end their careers at the undergraduate level. Becoming a psychologist usually necessitates going to graduate school to earn at least a master’s, if not a doctorate.
Master’s degrees are available in many different areas of psychology. The extent to which they qualify you to work in actual psychologist roles varies.
This graduate-level degree can be enough to land a role as a psychologist in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, the BLS reported. In all other areas of psychology, you usually need a higher level of study than a master’s to work as a psychologist.
Some schools offer standalone master’s programs in clinical, counseling or research psychology. Mor commonly, though, students earn master’s degrees in these areas along the path to a doctorate. If you do earn a master’s in one of these areas of psychology, you may qualify for advanced standing in your program which cuts down the time it takes to earn your doctorate.
Master’s degrees typically take one to two years of study. In the field of psychology, master’s programs usually require a thesis, which may be based on original resources.
You can find master’s degree programs in areas like industrial-organizational psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and experimental psychology. Master’s degrees require at least 30 credits of graduate study and less than 60 credits.
Most master’s programs offer internships and other opportunities for professional training and experience. These degrees also tend to offer electives in advanced and specialized areas of study.
Specialist Graduate Degrees in Psychology
One type of graduate degree that’s rarely talked about is the specialist-level degree. These degrees include at least 60 credits of graduate study.
Some specialist-level degrees are the Education Specialist (EdS) and the Specialist in Psychology (PsyS). Both of these degrees can prepare students to work as school psychologists.
Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees that comprise 60 credits of study are also specialist-level degrees despite the name “master” appearing in the degree title, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
Doctorates in Psychology
Finally, there are doctoral degrees in psychology. The most common doctorates in this field are the traditional research-based Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the professional practice-based Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree.
A doctoral degree in psychology is an intense endeavor. It includes a great deal of research or practical experience hours.
Doctoral degree programs in psychology require at least four years of study and research or fieldwork. These programs can take as long as seven years to complete.
Earning a PhD tends to take slightly longer than a PsyD, Psychology Today reported. Typically, students take five to seven years for a PhD, compared to four to six years for a PsyD.
Psychologist Career Requirements Beyond the Degree
How long does it take to become a psychologist? It takes longer to meet the full requirements to become a licensed psychologist than it does to simply complete an academic program (or a series of academic programs throughout undergraduate studies and graduate school).
You should know, when thinking about how many years, psychologist careers that require licensure take the longest to fully attain.
Generally, calculating how many years for psychologist careers requires you to consider not only the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s program, a terminal master’s degree and/or a doctoral-level degree but also the experience required for licensure.
Licensed psychologists are highly educated professionals in the field who have met state licensure requirements as reported by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). In most states, a licensed clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist must have at least one to two years of supervised experience practicing psychology in a clinical setting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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An advanced degree is generally required for licensure as a professional psychologist. However, that’s not the only requirement.
Most states require psychologists in counseling and clinical practice to complete an internship as part of their doctoral degree. Becoming a psychologist who qualifies for licensure also typically requires a year or two of supervised experience, according to the BLS.
Earning your license in psychology also requires you to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, the BLS reported.
Psychologist Jobs With a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree is the next level of education after the bachelor’s. This graduate program typically requires two years of full-time study. Some programs can be completed in less time, while some can take three or more years to finish.
What if you complete your bachelor’s degree on time and get started immediately in a master’s degree program with modest credit hour requirements? In this case, you can complete your education in six total years.
If you’re wondering “how long to become psychologist” in a role that requires only a master’s degree – and no license – the answer is as little as five or six years. However, it’s generally only industrial-organizational psychologists who fit this description. Most careers in psychology, like clinical psychologist and forensic psychologist, typically require a more advanced degree level, extensive training and a license.
The main type of psychologist career you can hold with a master’s degree is industrial-organizational psychologist. Industrial-organizational psychologists draw on the theories and principles of psychology to address problems and goals in workplace settings.
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In a master’s degree program in industrial-organizational psychology, students might take classes in psychological principles as they relate to the following areas:
- Organizational development
- Personnel selection
- Work motivation
- Employee training
- Strategic change
- Work performance measurement
An industrial-organizational curriculum typically also includes studies in graduate-level research methods and statistical analysis.
A couple of states accept a master’s degree for school psychologist roles, according to the BLS. More commonly, though, this career path calls for a specialist degree. This slightly more advanced degree falls somewhere in between a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.
Psychologist Jobs With a Specialist-Level Graduate Degree
School psychologists work primarily work with school-aged children who have any of the following:
- Mental health conditions
- Developmental disorders
- Learning disorders
- Behavioral disorders
For many school psychologist positions, you need what’s called a specialist degree. This degree requires additional coursework and practical internship experience.
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In an Educational Specialist in School Psychology (Ed.S.) degree program, students learn children’s cognitive abilities and intelligence, their academic skills and the behavioral, emotional and social issues they are facing.
Some coursework in an educational specialist degree program has more to do with the education side of the field. This coursework includes classes in areas like:
- Educational research
- Consultation and collaboration in the classroom
- Educational leadership
- Program evaluation
- Curriculum instruction
- Academic intervention
Other classes lean toward an emphasis on psychological principles, including multicultural perspectives, behavioral and crisis intervention and cognitive behavior therapy.
If you’re asking “how many years to be psychologist specializing in school psychology,” you should know that Ed.S. degrees often take three years of full-time study to complete. This curriculum includes a year-long supervised internship.
Some employers of school psychologists will also consider candidates with a Ph.D., Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
Psychologist Jobs That Require a Doctorate
In other areas of psychology, a doctoral degree is mandatory if you want to use the title of psychologist. This is why most practicing psychologists attend either PhD programs or PsyD programs.
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In particular, professional psychologists who act as mental health professionals, like the clinical psychologists who administer psychological assessments and treat mental health conditions, need an advanced education and professional license.
Earning a doctoral degree in psychology typically takes at least four years of study. Some graduate students take up to eight years or longer to get their degree.
The potential areas of specialization in this field are numerous and varied. However, there are three particular roles that require a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
Clinical psychologists treat patients with diagnosed mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They can hold either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology. A clinical psychology program of study usually included coursework in the following areas:
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Psychoanalytic models
- Human development through the lifecycle
- Social psychology
- Professional and ethical issues in psychology
Upon completion of a clinical psychology program, graduates have classroom education and hands-on work experience in psychological assessment, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Counseling psychology focuses more on applying psychological approaches to helping patients who are dealing with difficult situations or life events than on treating diagnosed mental disorders. As a result, students in a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program in counseling psychology tend to take more courses in methods of counseling psychology and therapy. Examples of coursework a counseling psychologist might take include classes in multicultural counseling and couples and family systems therapy.
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Scientific research into human behavior and the treatment of mental illness is another area of psychology that requires a doctorate. Traditionally, a Ph.D. program is a doctoral program that is more heavily based on research than professional Psy.D. programs. As a result, doctoral programs are better choices for psychologists who intend to work primarily in research.
What Degree Do I Need to Be a Psychologist?
How Long Does It Take to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?