The Path to Becoming a Psychologist

The time it takes to become a psychologist depends largely on your specialty area, career interest, and previous level of education.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes road that a future psychologist may travel.

Here’s our take on the possible path to becoming a psychologist:

Bachelor’s Degree (4-5 years, time may vary)

First, you will need a bachelor’s degree, either in psychology or another field of study. A bachelor’s degree is typically four years, however the time may vary depending on the individual and institution.

Applicants to doctoral programs in psychology often have a wide variety of backgrounds with degrees in fields as varied as social work, English, biology, and even IT. A bachelor’s in psychology, however, can provide you with a solid foundation in human learning, emotions, and behaviors.

After the bachelor’s degree, you will need a master’s degree.


Master’s Degree (up to 4 years, time may vary)

A master’s degree can typically be completed in two to three years, however the time can vary depending on numerous factors including program, previous credits, etc.

No matter your undergraduate specialty, pursuing a master’s degree will give you a broad introduction to the field of psychology. During your master’s studies, you’ll also have an opportunity to choose electives that focus on particular interests or subfields.

The type of doctoral degree you choose, clinical or research focused, will depend on your career goals.

Doctoral Degree (7-8 years, time may vary)

According to the National Science Foundation, graduates typically earn their research psychology PhD degrees 7 to 8 years after starting their graduate program. Clinical psychology programs have different requirements and time to complete may vary.

Licensure requirements vary, but all states require that psychologists complete doctoral-level work in order to obtain a license for practice. You may choose to earn a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), depending on whether you want a career in practice (PsyD) or in research (PhD), or some combination of the two. The PsyD is a professional degree and focuses more on practice and clinical work. The PhD places more emphasis on experimental methods and research. For both PsyD and PhD degrees, employment settings to explore include schools and colleges, health care systems, government, and social service agencies.

Initial Work Experience

To be granted a license to practice psychology, most prospective psychologists must have pre-or post-doctoral supervised experience (typically 1-2 years of professional experience). The specific requirements, including the number of clinical hours varies by state.  Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists

This work is the final step in a long journey that can lead to a career as a licensed psychologist working with diverse populations in a variety of work settings.

Considering a career in psychology? Learn more about Capella’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree offerings in psychology.

Capella University psychology degrees are not accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Capella University cannot guarantee licensure, endorsement, other professional credential, or salary advancement.