On this page
- FAQs About Becoming a Psychologist
- Step 1: Make Sure Becoming a Psychologist is Really for You
- Step 2: Explore Psychology Specializations and Map Out Your Degree Path
- Step 3: Apply for Scholarships and Other Financial Aid
- Step 4: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or a Related Field
- Step 5: Pick Your Specialization and Pursue Graduate-Level Studies
- Step 6: Get Licensed in Your State
- Step 7: Consider Becoming Professionally Certified
- Step 8: Find Standout Job Opportunities and Apply
- Step 9: Maintain License & Certification Through Continuing Education
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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Psychologist
From college education requirements to choosing a specialization and getting your license, follow these key steps to become a professional psychologist.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
More than 181,000 psychologists practiced in the U.S. as of 2018, with numbers projected to rise by 14% over the coming decade. Becoming a psychologist takes years of education, focus and determination, but earning your license and getting to help others every day often makes the process more than worth it. If you’ve thought about becoming a psychologist but don’t know where to begin – or exactly what the journey entails – you’re in the right place. Here you can learn step-by-step what it takes, from starting your undergraduate degree and choosing a psychology specialization to earning your state license.
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FAQs About Becoming a Psychologist
Make Sure Becoming a Psychologist Is Really for You
Becoming a psychologist takes a great amount of dedication and a willingness to sacrifice free time for years as you pursue the required degrees. It also requires a substantial financial commitment. Before moving any further, consider whether the work of a psychologist aligns with your interests and skills. We’ve provided a few questions to help you figure out if this is the best path for you.
- Do you enjoy school and learning enough to complete all of the degrees required to work as a psychologist?
- Do you enjoy conducting research and learning about new studies and data findings that can inform your work?
- Does the thought of maintaining an active client roster and working with many different types of people appeal to you?
- Can you see yourself in this position for a long time?
- Does the average salary meet your requirements for a profession?
If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, a career as a psychologist is likely a good choice for you.
Explore Psychology Specializations and Map Out Your Degree Path
Before starting college, taking time to research the available specializations within the psychology profession can help you determine the type of degree you’ll need and how long it will take to meet all requirements. The American Psychological Association officially recognizes 17 psychology specializations and three proficiencies. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular specializations:
Apply for Scholarships and Other Financial Aid
With the cost of college rising each year, and psychology education taking so long to complete, finding ways to cover tuition and fees is more important than ever. Take time to learn about various types of financial aid – including scholarships and student loan forgiveness programs By doing the research now, you may be able to avoid substantial student loan debt.
Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or a Related Field
Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and related studies serve as the foundation for your future career as a psychologist. While many students who know they want to work in this field begin their academic journey with an undergraduate psychology degree, it’s not required at this stage. If you want to work as a forensic psychologist, for instance, a criminal justice bachelor’s degree may best suit your needs. Alternatively, those who want to work as a school psychologist may consider an undergraduate degree related to education or teaching.
Many bachelor’s degrees in psychology and related fields exist online, making them a great fit if you prioritize flexibility and accessibility. Aside from educational considerations, your undergraduate years also offer a great opportunity to job shadow practicing psychologists to figure out which psychology specialization appeals most.
Pick Your Specialization and Pursue Graduate-Level Studies
After earning a bachelor’s degree, it’s time to pick your specialization and make important decisions about which graduate degree(s) will help you reach your goals. A few options exist, some of which we highlight in the following section.
Get Licensed in Your State
Any person who wants to legally call themselves a psychologist must first receive and maintain licensure, but rules and requirements around getting a license vary across states and specializations.
Consider Becoming Professionally Certified
The American Board of Professional Psychology currently offers 15 different psychology specializations. Other organizations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists, offer additional credentialing pathways. Becoming certified helps psychologists stand out from their competition while also demonstrating advanced knowledge and competencies. Many employers prefer job seekers with board certification as well. While you don’t necessarily need to seek board certification directly after receiving licensure, it’s something to put on your to-do list.
Find Standout Job Opportunities and Apply
Now that you hold licensure, it’s time to find a meaningful job. Before launching yourself into the endless sea of job postings and applications, take time to fully consider your path. A few questions to ask yourself include:
- What does my ideal working day look like?
- What does work-life balance mean to me?
- If I could design the perfect job, what would that look like? Should I consider working for an organization or going into private practice?
- Have I spoken with my networking contacts from previous internships and field experiences to get their advice?
- What types of positions are currently open in my area? Do I want to stay where I currently live or would I consider moving?
After identifying the type of job you want and finding suitable openings, it’s important to adequately prepare for the interview process. Tips for achieving success include:
- Reach out to your network and let them know if you used them as a reference so they can provide thoughtful answers.
- Tailor your resume to the needs of the employer and use buzzwords you find on their website.
- Learn as much as possible about the company before your interview.
- Answer interview questions in a way that speaks to both your experience and the ethos of the organization.
Maintain License & Certification Through Continuing Education
Requirements vary by state, but most mandate that psychologists renew their licenses every 2-5 years. To meet renewal requirements, psychologists must complete a certain number of continuing education credits. Contact your state board of psychology to learn about specifics in your area and review the American Psychological Association’s guidance on the topic.