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Clinical Psychology Degree and Career Guide

Clinical psychology is a broad field, defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a “branch of psychology that specializes in the research, assessment, diagnosis, evaluation, prevention, and treatment of emotional and behavioral disorders.” Approximately one-third of the psychologists in the US are clinical psychologists, and the APA has recognized clinical psychology as a specialty area since 1998.1 The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) also offers Board certification for clinical psychologists with a certain amount of clinical experience.

Clinical psychologists are trained to assess for, diagnose, and treat the full spectrum of psychological diagnoses, including those that are considered to be the most severe. They also receive training in conducting and interpreting clinical research to help improve the services that are provided to patients and clients. Because of the breadth of training that clinical psychologists receive, they are qualified for employment in a variety of settings. Many work in outpatient clinical settings, such as behavioral health clinics, medical clinics, or private psychology practices. Others provide clinical services in inpatient or residential settings such as medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, or correctional facilities. Some clinical psychologists pursue research-oriented careers and conduct studies in universities or academic medical centers. Clinical psychologists who work at universities often also teach psychology courses and serve as advisors for graduate students.

To be eligible for all types of clinical psychology positions, you must earn a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. There are two types of doctoral-level psychology degrees: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in psychology and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Some schools offer stand-alone master’s degree programs in clinical psychology. These programs provide foundational training in clinical psychology, but are generally intended for students planning to apply for doctoral programs after graduation rather than those seeking a terminal master’s degree.

Degree Requirements and Coursework

PhD and PsyD programs in clinical psychology usually require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for admission, though a higher GPA is often needed to be a competitive applicant. These programs generally take four to seven years to complete and coursework covers psychological theory, clinical practice, and statistics. Students are also required to take a certain number of elective courses to round out their education. Many programs offer specialized tracks in areas such as child psychology, health psychology, or geropsychology. These tracks allow students to begin developing expertise in specific areas of professional interest. In addition to the required coursework, clinical psychology students complete clinical practica in different settings to gain hands-on experience with assessment, diagnosis, and therapy. APA-accredited programs require a year-long clinical internship, which is determined through a yearly national internship match that places students at locations throughout the country. Both PhD and PsyD programs also require students to complete a doctoral dissertation. Most students must also complete a master’s thesis, which allows them to earn a master’s degree partway through the doctoral program.

By the time they reach graduation, students in doctoral clinical psychology programs should expect to have developed proficiencies in psychological theory, clinical practice, and research. Although coursework varies across programs, the following are examples of classes that students may take:

  • Psychological Assessment
  • Personality Assessment
  • Psychopathology
  • Introduction to Clinical Practice
  • Theories of Psychotherapy
  • Research Methods
  • Introductory Statistics
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Biopsychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Practicum
  • Clinical Internship

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Clinical Psychology Programs

In the table below, we have compiled a list of the best value colleges and universities that offer APA-accredited doctoral programs in clinical psychology. All of the schools included are not-for-profit institutions with low net prices (under $20,000 per year) and a high graduation rate (70% or higher). We’ve also included other information to consider, such as the applicable degrees offered at each school, the percentage of tenured faculty, and US News & World Report national and graduate clinical rankings. You can sort the table by any of the columns by clicking on the header.

SchoolGrad Degree(s)US News National Rank1US News Grad Clinical Rank2Grad Rate3% Tenured Faculty4Net Price1
University of Washington – SeattlePhD Clinical Psychology#59 tie#8 tie84%51.3%$9,443
Brigham Young University – ProvoPhD Clinical Psychology#66 tie#113 tie83%45.7%$12,979
San Diego State UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#127 tie#25 tie74%33.4%$13,363
Stony Brook UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#80 tie#4 tie72%65.8%$14,330
University of Texas – AustinPhD Clinical Psychology#49 tie#8 tie83%49.5%$14,356
University of California – San DiegoPhD Clinical Psychology#41NR85%55.5%$14,616
University of Central FloridaMA Clinical Psychology
PhD Clinical Psychology
#165 tie#102 tie70%42.6%$15,341
University at BuffaloPhD Clinical Psychology#89 tie#50 tie75%35.3%$16,120
University of VirginiaPhD Clinical Psychology#25 tie#8 tie95%54.2%$16,594
Binghamton UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#80 tie#50 tie82%38.6%$16,775
Harvard UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#2 tie#15 tie96%45.5%$17,030

*See Table Notes and References below.

Profiles of Clinical Psychology Programs

Master’s Programs

Master’s degree programs in clinical psychology are often geared towards students who intend to continue on to doctoral programs in clinical psychology. Some focus heavily on research and do not include any clinical experience. Others provide training in clinical practice and offer practicum opportunities. Although most states require a doctoral degree for psychology licensure, some (such as Alaska, Kansas, and West Virginia) allow individuals with master’s degrees in psychology to engage in limited clinical practice.

Northwestern University: The Master of Arts (MA) in Clinical Psychology program at Northwestern University is a research-focused program intended for individuals who are interested in academic careers in clinical psychology. Students are required to take multiple courses in psychological theory, research methods, and statistics. Some classes cover skills specific to careers in academic psychology, such as grant-writing. In addition to the required coursework, students must work at least 10 hours per week in a research lab to complete a capstone project (such as a manuscript submission, conference presentation, or grant proposal) before graduation. Northwestern University’s MA in Clinical Psychology Program is housed within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine, which has been ranked #17 by US News & World Report in the Graduate Psychology Schools category.

University of Central Florida: The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers a Clinical Psychology MA program that takes two years of full-time study to complete. The goal of the program is to provide training in the practice of professional psychology through clinical coursework and practicum placements in the community. Although graduates of UCF’s Clinical Psychology MA program will not be eligible for licensure in all states, they can become credentialed as Licensed Mental Health Counselors in Florida after receiving additional postgraduate supervised experience. The program also offers a research-focused, non-clinical training option for students who are interested in academic psychology careers, though students must receive special permission from program faculty to pursue this track.

Doctoral Programs

Before selecting clinical psychology doctoral programs to apply to, it is important to decide whether a PhD or PsyD program will be the best fit for your career goals. Additionally, you will want to earn your degree from a program that is accredited by the APA, as this is required for licensure by most states. You can further narrow your search by looking for programs that include elective courses, practicum placements, or specialized tracks that interest you. If you are applying to PhD programs or smaller PsyD programs, you will also want to familiarize yourself with the faculty members’ research interests, as you may be asked to identify a specific advisor to work under if you are admitted.

PhD Programs

Stony Brook University (SBU): The Clinical Psychology PhD program at SBU has been accredited by the APA since 1970 and is highly ranked, standing at #4 in US News & World Report’s Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. The program provides rigorous training in the integration of research and clinical practice and offers multiple practicum placements within the department, on the SBU campus, and throughout Long Island. Research opportunities are diverse, but include LGBT issues, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, emotion regulation, and attention processes. SBU’s Clinical Psychology PhD program was an early pioneer in the application of behavioral approaches to clinical psychology and has since grown to include a variety of other research-supported theoretical orientations and practices.

San Diego State University (SDSU)/University of California San Diego (UCSD): The Clinical Psychology PhD program offered jointly by SDSU and UCSD has been APA-accredited since 1990 and is currently ranked #25 in US News & World Report’s Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. After students in this program complete their core coursework, they are required to choose one of three areas of specialization: Behavioral Medicine, Experimental Psychopathology, or Neuropsychology. Further coursework, clinical practica, and research activities are then completed within these specialty areas. The SDSU/UCSD program also emphasizes diversity issues in psychological research and practice. Practicum placements include opportunities to work with Spanish-speaking clients, LGBT individuals, and veterans, and multiple faculty members conduct diversity-related research.

PsyD Programs

Baylor University: The PsyD program at Baylor University has been APA-accredited since 1976 and has been ranked by US News & World Report as #62 in the country in their Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. The program includes a strong focus on clinical training, and students typically earn 2,000 to 3,000 hours of clinical experience before applying for internship. Students are required to practice at a minimum of three different practicum sites during their training, which may include the program’s Psychology Clinic as well as other locations throughout the community. All students are also required to complete 1,000 hours of research experience in a faculty research lab to enhance their ability to integrate science and clinical practice.

Rutgers University: The PsyD in Clinical Psychology program at Rutgers University has held APA accreditation since 1977 and provides training for individuals planning to become practicing clinicians. The program does not offer training under a single theoretical orientation, but instead exposes its students to multiple approaches. Rutgers’ PsyD program encourages students to work with a faculty advisor to develop an individualized area of concentration. Students are able to train in a wide variety of specialty treatment clinics, addressing issues such as Tourette syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety disorders. The program also offers a captive internship program that is open only to Rutgers students during the first round of applications.

Online Programs

Because the clinical and research components of clinical psychology doctoral programs require in-person, experiential training, the APA Standards of Accreditation mandate that programs must include at least one full year of in-person instruction. Therefore, there are no online-only APA-accredited programs in clinical psychology. Although the APA will consider accrediting hybrid programs (which contain a combination of in-person and online instruction), there are no APA-accredited hybrid clinical psychology programs in good standing as of March 2019. The APA does not provide accreditation for master’s degree programs.

Clinical Psychology Job Description

Many clinical psychologists work directly with patients and clients in settings such as psychology clinics, medical hospitals, and private practices. In these positions, they determine accurate diagnoses and provide treatment for individuals with psychological disorders or emotional distress. Some clinical psychologists in these settings also conduct comprehensive assessments for patients who are seeking disability benefits, job and school accommodations, or other types of assistance. For these types of jobs, you need to become licensed as a psychologist before you are able to practice.

Some clinical psychologists opt for research-focused careers at universities or academic medical centers. These psychologists spend the majority of their time conducting studies on topics related to clinical psychology. For example, they may investigate the effectiveness of specific therapies or research better ways to measure psychological symptoms. Clinical psychologists who work in universities often also serve as advisors to graduate students earning doctoral degrees and teach undergraduate and graduate courses. Clinical psychologists who do not engage in any clinical work may not need to apply for psychology licensure unless they are required to by their employers.

An additional option for clinical psychologists is to pursue positions that allow for a combination of clinical practice and research. These are most often available in academic medical centers, where psychologists may spend part of their time working with patients and part of their time conducting studies.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

A doctoral degree in clinical psychology will qualify an individual for a variety of positions. For more specialized positions, such as those targeted towards a particular population or disorder, employers may require candidates to have completed graduate coursework or clinical training (such as internship or a postdoctoral fellowship) in those areas. Examples of positions open to psychologists with doctoral degrees in clinical psychology include:

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of degree do I need to become a clinical psychologist?

You will need to earn either a PhD or PsyD in clinical psychology before becoming licensed to become a clinical psychologist. However, a master’s degree in clinical psychology may qualify you for some entry-level research positions or limited clinical licensure in some states.

How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?

Doctoral programs in clinical psychology usually take between four and seven years to complete. Some students choose to earn a stand-alone master’s degree before entering a doctoral program, which adds approximately two years to the process. After you have earned your doctoral degree, you will need to pass the national Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and may need to complete a year of supervised postdoctoral experience before you are eligible to apply for licensure. Therefore, the entire process of becoming a clinical psychologist after earning an undergraduate degree can take between five and 10 years.

Do I have to earn a master’s degree before applying to doctoral programs in clinical psychology?

No; in fact, most doctoral clinical psychology programs award master’s degrees to students after they complete a thesis partway through their studies. However, some people choose to earn a stand-alone master’s degree if they did not study psychology as undergraduates or simply want more psychology experience before applying to doctoral programs.

Where do clinical psychologists work?

A doctoral degree in clinical psychology is versatile and allows a psychologist to practice in a variety of settings. Many psychologists provide clinical services in inpatient or outpatient clinics. Others work primarily in research, often at universities where they also teach courses and mentor graduate students.

Clinical Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

May 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that the average annual salary for counseling, clinical, and school psychologists across the US is $85,340.2 The highest-paid psychologists in this category were those employed in offices of other health practitioners ($96,930); this is also the setting with the highest concentration of counseling, clinical, and school psychologists.2

As of May 2017, there were 110,490 counseling, clinical, and school psychologists in the United States.2 This number is expected to increase by 14.2% between 2016 and 2026, with an estimated 2,100 new jobs per year during this time period.3 Additionally, research suggests that counseling, clinical, and school psychology is one of the fields least susceptible to computerization of jobs (<1% chance), indicating that there will be a continued need for professionals in this area.4

Additional Resources

References:
1. APA Dictionary of Psychology, Clinical Psychology: https://dictionary.apa.org/clinical-psychology
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018 Occupational Employment and Wages, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Frey, Carl Benedikt, and Michael A. Osborne. “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 114, January 2017, pp. 254-280: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf

Table Notes and References:
All data is based on undergraduate statistics.
*The retention rate is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who continued to a second year of study at the same institution.
**The transfer out rate is the percentage of first-time, full-time students who transferred their credits to another institution within 150% of the normal time to complete their degree.

1. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
2. US News & World Report Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/clinical-psychology-rankings
3. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/