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. Just how long you will spend in school depends on what type of psychologist you want to be. Some programs require as little as one or two years of graduate school after earning your undergraduate degree, while others can take an additional seven years.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?

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Four-Year Degrees in Psychology

Psychology degrees are popular at the undergraduate level. A bachelor’s degree in psychology 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, although it’s not uncommon for students to take longer – 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 physiological psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology and experimental psychology.

Coursework 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.

Although graduating with your bachelor’s degree in psychology is an important milestone and a major step on the path to your career, it does not make you a psychologist. You need at least a master’s degree, if not a doctoral degree, to hold that job title, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Degrees in psychology also exist at the associate’s level, but these programs often act as stepping stones to a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degrees in psychology may prepare students for junior-level roles only in fields like mental health and human services.

Psychologist Jobs With a Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is the next level of education after the bachelor’s degree. This graduate degree program typically requires two years of full-time study, although some programs can be completed in less time, and some can take three or more years to finish. If you complete your bachelor’s degree on time and get started immediately in a master’s degree program with modest credit hour requirements, you can complete your education in six total years.

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. In a master’s degree program in industrial-organizational psychology, students might take classes in psychological principles as they relate to organizational development, personnel selection, work motivation, employee training, strategic change, leadership, work performance measurement and graduate-level research methods and statistical analysis.

A couple of states accept a master’s degree for school psychologist roles, according to the BLS, but more commonly, this career path calls for a slightly more advanced degree 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 mental health, developmental and learning and behavioral disorders. For many school psychologist positions, you need what’s called a specialist degree that requires additional coursework and practical internship experience.

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, including classes in educational research, consultation and collaboration in the classroom, educational leadership, program evaluation, curriculum instruction and academic intervention. Other classes lean toward an emphasis on psychological principles, including multicultural perspectives, behavioral and crisis intervention and cognitive behavior therapy. Ed.S. degrees often take three years of full-time study to complete, including 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. Although the potential areas of specialization in this field are numerous and varied, there are three particular roles that require a Ph.D. or Psy.D. Earning a doctoral degree in psychology typically takes at least four years of study, but some graduate students take up to eight years or longer to get their degree.

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, taking coursework in psychophysiology, clinical neuropsychology, psychoanalytic models, human development through the lifecycle, social psychology and 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 counseling and therapy, including multicultural counseling and couples and family systems therapy.

Research is another area of psychology that requires a doctorate. Traditionally, Ph.D. programs are more heavily based in research than professional Psy.D. programs, and as a result, are better choices for psychologists who intend to work primarily in research.

Additional Resources  

How Long Does It Take to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

How Long Does It Take to Become a School Psychologist?

What is the Difference between a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Psy.D.?

What is the Benefit of a Ph.D. in Psychology vs. a Psy.D.?