What Degree Do You Need to Become a Psychologist?

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The path to becoming a psychologist involves deciding the type of career you want, your preferred work setting and the salary level for which you'll be satisfied. These factors often dictate the specific type of degree you need to pursue. Once you earn your psychology degree, you likely will have a variety of career options available.


All individuals with the psychologist title earn graduate degrees. You can earn a Ph.D. if you want to graduate with a research-focused degree. The Doctor of Psychology degree, or Psy.D., gives you a more hands-on approach to practicing psychology with clients by requiring you to spend more time in clinical training, rather than research. Some school psychologists earn the Education Specialist degree, or Ed.S., in educational psychology. Industrial/organizational psychologists -- those who work in business or human resources -- usually earn either a master's or doctorate in industrial/organizational or business psychology.

Time Frame

Earning a doctorate in psychology requires about five to seven years, on average. Most doctoral programs require about four years of full-time course work combined with either research activities and/or clinical practicum courses. During the fifth year, you complete a full-time internship in your chosen specialty. Earning the master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology and the Education Specialist degree in educational psychology requires less time -- usually two full-time years of course work and one year of internship.


State residents paid median annual tuition rates of $7,104 and $27,072 for a doctoral degree at public and private universities, respectively, during 2008-09, according to the 2010 report by the American Psychological Association's Center for Workforce Studies. Approximately 30 percent of psychology graduates surveyed in the 2007 Doctorate Employment Survey from the Center for Workforce Studies reported no graduate-education-related debt. Graduates who reported having education-related debt had approximately $70,000 in debt, on average. Though tuition can be costly, many universities offer scholarships, and teaching and research assistantships through which you can pay tuition and earn a monthly stipend.

Work Settings

A graduate degree in psychology allows you to work in diverse work settings. You can find careers with private or governmental research laboratories or organizations. You can work in schools, social service agencies, psychiatric hospitals and mental health centers, or in business and human resource departments for organizations, depending on your specialization. Or you can be self-employed and run your own small business or consulting practice. The 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that approximately 34 percent of all psychologists are self-employed.


The earning power of a psychology degree typically grows over time. Earning a research-focused psychology degree, such as a Ph.D., and working in a research facility usually allows you to earn more than those working in clinical settings. For example, the 2009 APA Salary Survey reported 2009 average salaries of about $98,000 for individuals with five years or less experience working in a government research facility versus $72,000 annually, on average, for individuals working in a public hospital. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' May 2009 data shows that all clinical, counseling and school psychologists earn an average of about $72,000 annually, while industrial/organizational psychologists average about $102,000 a year.