How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?

A psychologist talking to a client
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How many years do you need to go to school to become a psychologist? The amount of time it takes to complete your college education depends largely on your specialty area and career interests.

If you are considering a career in psychology, it is important to be aware of all of the educational and training requirements it takes to become a licensed psychologist. Take the time to research all of your options and carefully examine your goals before you decide if this is the right career for you.

So How Long Will It Take to Become a Psychologist?

At a minimum, you will want to earn your undergraduate degree in psychology or in a related field such as sociology, education, anthropology, or social work. Then, you will want to decide if you want to earn a doctorate-level degree.

The reason you should make this decision at this point is because many psychology programs do not offer a terminal master's degree in psychology. In such cases, you will enroll in a graduate program after earning your bachelor's degree and then spend 4 to 7 years working on your doctorate.

In order to become a licensed clinical psychologist, you need an undergraduate degree (4 to 5 years of college) plus a doctorate in psychology (4 to 7 years of graduate school).

For this specialty area, most people will spend between 8 to 12 years in a higher education setting.

Of course, there are other career options in psychology that do not require as many years of college.

For example, you could become a licensed marriage and family therapist with master's degree, which would require 2 to 3 years of graduate study.

If you decide not to pursue a doctorate at this point, you should start looking at different master's degree programs in psychology or in related fields such as counseling or social work.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how long it might take to become a psychologist:

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree (Timeline: 4 to 5 Years)

As noted earlier, you might want to begin by earning your undergraduate degree in psychology, but some people choose to pursue a degree in a related social science field. While it depends upon the requirements of the individual graduate school you attend, some programs also accept students who have undergraduate degrees in subject unrelated to psychology or social science. If you do have a degree in a different field and want to become a psychologist, you may have to complete a number of prerequisites before you are accepted to a graduate program in psychology.

Earn Your Master’s Degree (Timeline: 2 to 3 Years)

A master’s degree can be a great way to delve deeper into a specific field of interest.

As noted earlier, however, a master’s degree is not always necessary. If you are interested in what is known as a terminal master’s degree in a field such as counseling, social work, or school psychology, you can often enter the workforce immediately after earning your degree.

In other cases, you might use your master’s degree as a stepping stone toward a doctorate, or you might choose to forgo a master’s program and go directly into a PhD or PsyD program immediately after earning your bachelor’s degree.

The path you take depends largely on your career plans as well as the graduate offerings at the school you choose to attend.

Earn Your Doctorate Degree (Timeline: 4 to 7 Years)

The length of your doctoral program depends on many factors including the specialty area you are pursuing as well as whether or not you already earned a master’s degree. In order to become a licensed psychologist, you will need to earn either a PhD or a PsyD in psychology.

Which degree should you earn? Again, this really depends on your career goals. If you are interested in a career in research, a PhD might be the best choice.

PhD programs place greater emphasis on research, experimental methods, and training graduates to work as scientists.

If you are more interested in professional practice, consider a PsyD. The PsyD option tends to be more centered on professional practice and clinical work, preparing graduates to enter careers in mental health.

In addition to your doctorate, you will be required to complete a year-long postdoctoral training period before you can become licensed to practice in your state.

Psychology Careers and Minimum Degree Options

Becoming a licensed psychologist working in the field of mental health is certainly not the only career option if you are interested in working in the field of psychology. Careers in forensic or sports psychology, for example, have differing requirements.

Please note that these represent the minimum educational requirements in these fields. Job opportunities and pay are generally greater with advanced training. Learn about different degree options and requirements for various careers in psychology.

A Word From Verywell

Becoming a psychology requires a substantial commitment of time, but this can be a rewarding and challenging career. Before you decide if becoming a psychologist is the right choice for you, consider your goals and resources as well as some of the potential alternatives. For example, you might also consider becoming a psychiatrist, counselor, physical therapist, or some other career centered on helping people. There are also a number of types of psychologists and each field has its own educational and training requirements of which you should be aware.

Sources

Dinos, S & Tsakopoulou, M. Becoming a Psychologist: Is Psychology Really the Right Career for You? BPP Learning Media; 2012.

Kuther, TL. The Psychology Major's Handbook. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2016.

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