November 17, 2020

How to Become a Psychologist

by | Nov 17, 2020 | Healthcare Workers

We’re honored to have aspiring and working psychologists as MedCircle Members. Becoming a psychologist allows you to potentially help millions of people suffering from debilitating mental illnesses. Psychologists help a wide range of people with issues such as anxiety, stress, depression, personality disorders, suicidal thoughts, relationship troubles, and more. 

In America, nearly one in five adults will experience a mental illness during their life. Despite this staggering number, 20.6% of these Americans who experience mental illness report that they try to get treatment and cannot.

Working in the mental health field is challenging but rewarding. In this position, you have the potential to earn a high salary, meet a wide variety of people, and run your own business. Some other useful benefits include: 

  • Continuing education.
  • The opportunity to conduct research.
  • Flexible work schedules.
  • Advancing the field of psychology.
  • Choosing an area to specify in. 
  • Conducting psychological testing.
  • Helping clients improve their mindset and behaviors.
  • Inspiring others to live happier, healthier lives.

If you’re always advising your friends, offering support to others, or are interested in mental health topics, then you might enjoy becoming a psychologist. 

You can specify many different areas, depending on your specific interests. Some popular career options as a psychologist include:

  • Forensic psychologist
  • School counselor
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Child psychologist
  • Professional researcher
  • Academic Professor

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Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a psychologist is getting your bachelor’s degree in psychology. This degree is necessary to apply to graduate schools. It will also help you get a leg up for applying to internships, volunteer positions, and other essential experience. Most schools offer this degree program, and some accredited universities specialize in psychology.

What to Consider When Choosing a School

One of the first things to consider when deciding between schools for your psychology degree is if the school is accredited. Accreditation shows that a school reaches and upholds certain levels of academic standards. Without an accredited degree, it might be more challenging to enter your career post-graduation.

Most universities in the United States are nationally accredited. The universities that also hold Regional Accreditation or Programmatic Accreditation are more prestigious because their standards are more specific. 

The highest standard of accreditation for psychology majors is given by the American Psychology Association (APA). The APA awards programs with superior faculty and curriculum. 

You might even be able to find a school that offers a fast track program, so the transition from your Bachelor’s program to graduate school is more seamless. This option may be attractive for students who can commit to a rigorous schedule. 

There are many variables to consider when looking into schools for your psychology degree. You should also look into the types of research they conduct, awards the faculty has won, and the scholarships they offer. 

If you require distance learning, make sure the online version of their program is also accredited. Consider the class sizes, location, and if they offer career placement or assistance. 

Bachelors of Psychology Coursework:

In your undergraduate program, you’ll take many different classes that help you prepare for your career as a psychologist. At the beginning of your degree program, you’ll take some general education classes, but you’ll still have the option to choose electives. 

Some of the electives you choose might be prerequisites for future, more advanced psychology courses. It’s also not uncommon to take classes in the following disciplines: 

  • Human Development.
  • Health Sciences.
  • Sex, Evolution, and Human Behavior.
  • Communications.
  • Criminal Justice.
  • Social Work.
  • Public Affairs.
  • Women’s and Gender Studies. 
  • Anthropology. 

After you complete your general education requirements, you’ll complete high-level, degree-specific courses. These can include:

  • Behavioral psychology.
  • Developmental psychology.
  • Human behavior.
  • Social psychology.
  • Abnormal psychology.
  • History of psychology.
  • Experimental psychology.
  • Cognitive psychology.
  • Personality Psychology. 

These classes will help you understand how the human brain works in terms of thought processes and behaviors. You should develop your skills in helping others, applying different techniques, and problem-solving. 

While you’re working on your degree, you can start building your resume and networking. Talk to your professors and classmates about internship and volunteer opportunities, study groups, and career advancement opportunities like conferences.

It’s also smart to see if your school has organizations to network and gain experience in. Joining organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists, American Psychological Association Division of School Psychology, and Student Affiliates in School Psychology can help you enhance your resume and graduate school applications. 

Meet clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula

Applying to Graduate Schools

The average undergraduate degree requires 120-course credits. Each school has its own requirements, and it’s important to make sure you understand what they are.

Many students choose to pursue graduate studies after completing their degree. Most psychology careers require at least a master’s degree. However, to become a psychologist, you need a doctorate program. It’s essential to consider your optimal career goals when deciding between graduate programs. 

It’s helpful to gain experience where you can while you’re still in school. If you don’t do this while you’re in your undergraduate program, you can still do it when you’re in graduate school. Talk to your professors if they need any help in their research. You can also work in relevant fields. Many people take on jobs as case managers, caseworkers, or even tutors. 

Hands-on experience helps you decide what you want to specify in, and it makes your application for graduate school stronger. If you don’t have the experience, there are other ways to improve your graduate school applications. 

How to Improve Your Graduate School Applications:

  • Talk with current students to determine which graduate program might be the best fit.
  • Get to know potential professors and learn about their research.
  • Study hard during your undergraduate program. Most schools require a minimum of 3.0 or 3.3 GPA to be considered, but the higher your GPA, the better a chance you have to stand out.
  • Get letters of recommendation from your psychology professors or the head of your department.
  • Talk to your professors and connections about what to include in your application essay.
  • Know what you want your emphasis to be in and show your passion for the subject in your application.
  • Prepare for your in-person interview.
  • Study for your GRE. You might need to take the GRE Subject Test specifically for psychology. As of 2018, the average total GRE score was 618.

Each graduate school has slightly different application needs. Make sure to do research specifically on the programs you like best and the items they require. 

Understanding the Difference Between Graduate Programs

Before applying to graduate programs, it’s important to understand the difference between the types of programs available. These all help you pursue a career in psychology by increasing your knowledge, gaining more experience, and improving your skills. Below represent some of the professionals who work in the field of psychology.

Your degree emphasis and career program determine what kind of graduate programs you should apply to. For example, if you want to start a private practice, you might consider pursuing a PsyD. If you intend to conduct research, the PhD might be a better fit. In other cases, a master’s degree may be even more appropriate.


PhDs (Doctor of Philosophy) in psychology are highly competitive and offered by most traditional universities. This is the conventional psychology degree that places an equal emphasis on research and clinical training. These programs typically take five to eight years to complete and include a dissertation. 


A PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) is more a practical degree offered by professional schools of psychology. These degree programs are newer. They emphasize hands-on, clinical practice and don’t focus as much on research. 

These degrees are generally less competitive than PhD programs. Typically, people enter into this degree program when they want to pursue counseling or psychotherapy. Psyds take four to six years, and they don’t usually require a dissertation. 


Many students pursue an EdD in psychology to increase their skills if they work in schools. Others use it to change careers when they decide to work as professors, hospitals, or in private practice. Depending on your state’s licensing requirements, this type of degree might limit you to school settings. 


The EdS is a unique degree and generally offered by the departments of education. It’s the only non-doctoral degree you can get that will let you practice psychology. Typically, it leads to jobs in school psychology and takes about three years to complete.

Meet double board certified psychiatrist Dr. Domenick Sportelli.

Gaining Appropriate Clinical Experience

At all levels of your academic path, you’ll need to think about gaining clinical experience. Completing an internship or a training program is necessary to get your license and credentials to practice psychology.

When choosing your internship experience, consider if you need something that fulfills a degree requirement or further education requirement. If neither of these applies, you probably need one that prepares you for your career post-graduation. 

You will need to complete anywhere between 1000-4000 clinical hours during your training period. Each doctorate program has its own specific requirements. 

Either way, plan for your clinical experience to take one to two years to complete. In some states, you must complete at least 600 of these hours in a school setting. Make sure you double-check the state laws for your area of residence. 

Your area of emphasis and career goals determine where you should get clinical experience. If you want to work as a social worker, you could look into internships at local government offices’ social services department. If you’re going to work in a hospital setting, you can look at hospitals or inpatient and outpatient centers. 

Some students that want to do counseling or clinical psychology will find opportunities in private practices or clinics. If you’re working on your EdS or EdD, you can gain experience in schools. 

Some questions to consider when choosing an internship:

  • Will they provide a chance to get a full-time job post-graduation?
  • Is the position paid or unpaid?
  • What extra steps need to be taken to ensure the internship counts toward your degree?
  • Have they offered internships before?
  • What kinds of things have the past interns learned?
  • Will they be able to give you the hours you need?
  • Do they offer unique networking opportunities?
  • What does the supervision process consist of?

In your internship, you’ll want to grow in your confidence as a psychologist and gain valuable experience to teach you how to help others. Consider the type of work you’ll be doing, the skills you’ll gain, and the knowledge you’ll acquire.

Talk to professors, peers, and your school’s career guidance office for tips on places to apply. They will know places that are reputable in the field and set you up for a successful experience. 

Getting Licensed as a Psychologist 

Licensing is necessary because it protects the public by showing that you’re qualified to help treat them. Some states also require that you pass a jurisprudence exam. 

Decide which state you want to practice in and research their requirements. Start looking into this around the second year of your graduate program. From there, you can structure your internship and post-doc work appropriately. 

To gain your license, you’ll have to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPP). This is a 225-question, multiple-choice test developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

This tests you on core areas of psychology, such as assessment and diagnosis, and social and biological bases of behavior. Most states require at least a 70% score to pass. You may be more likely to pass the test if you take it just after completing your program. That way, the information remains fresh in your mind.

Make sure you plan ahead for your licensure. This includes studying and asking for help when needed. It also means planning financially; licensure fees can range from $500 to more than $1,000. These fees consist of the application fee, initial licensing fee, exam costs, and costs of any study material you might need. 

After you pass your exams, you’ll receive approval from a state licensing board that you meet the requirements to practice psychology officially. 

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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