Psychologist isn’t the kind of career you can prepare for quickly. It takes years to complete the advanced coursework required to work in this field. However, there are still ways for ambitious students to accelerate their education and get to work faster. If you’re looking for the quickest degree programs in psychology, you need to consider the fastest options at the undergraduate, dual-degree, master’s and doctoral levels and figure out what path makes the most sense to you.
Fast-Track Bachelor’s Programs in Psychology
For many prospective psychologists – as well as graduates who go on to work in other fields – a bachelor’s degree is the first step into their careers. This undergraduate degree typically requires four years of full-time study during the fall and spring semesters. Shorter bachelor’s degree programs in psychology can include degree-completion programs, competency-based programs and accelerated course formats and schedules.
Through its optional Fast-Track plan, the online Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology program at Arizona State University allows students to finish their undergraduate studies in just two and a half to three years. Instead of spreading their coursework over eight terms – four fall semesters and four spring semesters – students take as many as three courses per half-term. Counting multiple summer sessions over multiple years, students in this accelerated program take the same number of classes as traditional students but in an accelerated format spread out over 14 terms.
The psychology degree program from Western New England University allows students to transfer up to 90 credits, so students with previous studies can graduate in as little as a year. Capella University’s competency-based bachelor’s degree takes as little as 13 months.
Dual-Degree Psychology Undergraduate and Graduate Programs
If you know you want to go to graduate school, another option for shortening your education is to choose a dual degree program. Sometimes called 4+1 programs, these paths often allow undergraduate students to start taking their graduate coursework early and count the credits toward both degrees.
Students in Walden University’s online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology program can choose to follow the Accelerate Into Master’s (AIM) option to start earning a Master of Science (MS) degree in psychology, forensic psychology or industrial and organizational psychology. The BA in Psychology program at Goddard College puts students on the path to a Master of Arts (MA) degree in psychology or clinical mental health counseling.
One fact students should be aware of is that, in most fields of psychology, a master’s degree is not enough to qualify you to become a psychologist. You typically need a doctorate to be a psychologist, although industrial-organizational psychologists usually require just a master’s degree to get started, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Often, students with a master’s degree build on their graduate education as they pursue a doctoral degree, shortening the time it takes to get that terminal degree.
Unlike doctoral programs, master’s degree programs aren’t eligible for accreditation from the American Psychological Association.
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The Fastest Options for Earning a Doctorate in Psychology
A doctoral degree is necessary to acquire a license as a psychologist, the BLS reported. However, students can choose from different degree options at the doctoral level. Generally, students consider Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degrees.
Both Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees are acceptable for most roles in psychology. The long-established Ph.D. has traditionally been considered a research degree that requires students to complete a dissertation. The Psy.D. degree is newer and focuses more on service and on the clinical application of doctoral-level psychological concepts. Another difference to consider is the Psy.D. programs at certain schools are somewhat shorter than Ph.D. programs. At the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, for example, Psy.D. students typically take four to six years to complete the program, compared to five to eight years for Ph.D. students. Not all Psy.D. degree programs take less time than Ph.D. programs, so this is something students should investigate when comparing schools and degree programs.
Some colleges also allow doctoral students to accelerate their coursework through a fast-track format. Walden University’s Ph.D. in Psychology program is eligible for the Fast Track Option that allows students to complete coursework earlier by taking an extra class per semester as well as starting work on their dissertation sooner.
Many Psy.D. programs still require a thesis or dissertation, just as Ph.D. programs do, but they may not require additional research projects that Ph.D. students would encounter. Graduates of both Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs must complete post-doctoral experience.