Clinical Psychology Degree and Career Guide

Clinical psychology is a broad field focused on the research, diagnosis, evaluation, prevention, and treatment of emotional and behavioral disorders, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).1 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

Clinical psychologists assess, identify, and treat the full spectrum of psychological diagnoses, from common ones to the most severe. They receive training in conducting and interpreting clinical research to improve patient and client services. In addition, clinical psychologists are trained in individual assessment, including academic screening, IQ testing, projective tests, and interviews.

To be eligible for 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 and are generally intended for students planning to also complete a doctoral degree.

Quick Facts

  • There are 209 not-for-profit colleges and universities with a clinical psychology program.2
  • 2 schools offer a certificate in clinical psychology.2
  • 2 schools offer an associate degree in clinical psychology.2
  • 13 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology.2
  • 198 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in clinical psychology.2

Table of Contents

Clinical Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
Top-Ranked Clinical Psychology Degree Programs
Best Value Schools With On-Campus Clinical Psychology Programs
Select Clinical Psychology Degree Programs
Clinical Psychologist Career Information
Becoming a Clinical Psychologist
Job Description
Salary and Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions

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 clinical psychology programs offer specializations (also called concentrations, specialties, and emphases) in areas such as child psychology, health psychology, or geropsychology. These specialized tracks allow students to develop expertise in areas of professional interest. Clinical psychology students must also complete clinical practica, or internships, 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 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.

Students in doctoral clinical psychology programs develop proficiencies in psychological theory, clinical practice, and research. Although coursework varies across programs, the following are examples of classes that students may take:

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

Top-Ranked Clinical Psychology Degree Programs

US News & World Report’s Best Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programs 2020

  • University of California-Los Angeles (#1)
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (#2)
  • Stony Brook University-SUNY (#3 tie)
  • University of California–Berkeley (#3 tie)
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (#5 tie)
  • University of Washington (#5 tie)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (#5 tie)
  • University of Pennsylvania (#8 tie)
  • University of Pittsburgh (#8 tie)
  • Harvard University (#10 tie)
  • Indiana University-Bloomington (#10 tie)
  • Pennsylvania State University–University Park (#10 tie)
  • Temple University (#10 tie)
  • University of Colorado-Boulder (#10 tie)
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#10 tie)
  • University of Texas-Austin (#10 tie)
  • Washington University in St. Louis (#10 tie)3

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 undergraduate net prices under $20,000 per year and undergraduate graduation rates of 70% or higher. A high undergraduate graduation rate is an indicator of a school’s success, and net price is important to prospective students as they consider the return on their investment. We’ve also included other information to consider, such as related degrees offered at each school, the percentage of tenured faculty, and US News & World Report national and graduate clinical rankings.

SchoolGrad Degree(s)US News National Rank4US News Grad Clinical Rank3Grad Rate2% Tenured Faculty5Net Price2
University of Washington-SeattlePhD Clinical Psychology#59 tie#5 tie84%51%$9,443
Brigham Young University-ProvoPhD Clinical Psychology#66 tie#101 tie83%46%$12,979
San Diego State UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#127 tie#33 tie74%33%$13,363
Stony Brook UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#80 tie#3 tie72%66%$14,330
University of Texas-AustinPhD Clinical Psychology#49 tie#10 tie83%50%$14,356
University of California-San DiegoPhD Clinical Psychology#41#33 tie85%56%$14,616
University of Central FloridaMA Clinical Psychology;
PhD Clinical Psychology
#165 tie#120 tie70%43%$15,341
University at BuffaloPhD Clinical Psychology#89 tie#50 tie75%35%$16,120
University of VirginiaPhD Clinical Psychology#25 tie#18 tie95%54%$16,594
Binghamton UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#80 tie#37 tie82%39%$16,775
Harvard UniversityPhD Clinical Psychology#2 tie#10 tie96%46%$17,030

Select Clinical Psychology Degree Programs

Traditional Master’s Programs

Northwestern University

The Master of Arts (MA) in Clinical Psychology program at Northwestern University is a research-focused program intended for individuals 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 by US News & World Report in the top 10 Graduate Psychology Schools category.

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers a Clinical Psychology Master of Arts (MA) program that takes two years of full-time study to complete. Two tracks are offered: an Applied Pre-Licensure/Non-Thesis track for students interested in performing clinical work and a Research/Thesis track for students who wish to work in clinical research or enter a doctoral program. The goal of the Applied Pre-Licensure track 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, students in the Applied Pre-Licensure track can become Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs) in Florida after gaining additional postgraduate supervised experience. While a bachelor’s degree in psychology is not required for admission, the vast majority of admitted students do have an undergraduate psychology degree. Among approximately 250 applicants, only 25 students were admitted to recent incoming classes.

Traditional Doctoral Programs

Baylor University

The PsyD program at Baylor University has been APA-accredited since 1976 and includes a strong focus on clinical training. Students typically earn 2,000 to 3,000 hours of clinical experience before applying for an internship. During their training, students are required to practice at a minimum of three different practicum sites, which may include the program’s Baylor Psychology Clinic (BPC) as well as other locations throughout the community. All students must 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’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology has held APA accreditation since 1977 and trains students planning to become practicing clinicians. Most students work with a faculty advisor to develop an area of concentration. They might tailor their training to a theoretical orientation (such as cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, or systems) or a problem area (such as children, serious mental illness, community/organizational, or substance abuse). Past students have trained in specialty treatment clinics addressing areas such as Tourette syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety disorders. The program also offers an internship that is open only to Rutgers students during the first round of applications.

San Diego State University/University of California San Diego

The Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) in Clinical Psychology offered jointly by San Diego State University (SDSU) and University of California San Diego (UCSD) has been APA-accredited since 1990 and has been ranked in US News & World Report’s Best Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. The PhD JDP emphasizes diversity issues in psychological research and practice. After completing their core coursework, which takes two years, students choose one of three major areas of study: Behavioral Medicine, Experimental Psychopathology, or Neuropsychology. Clinical activities begin during the second year of study and include around 30 training sites to choose from, including opportunities to work with Spanish-speaking clients, LGBT individuals, and veterans. Students typically complete the APA-accredited clinical internship during the fifth or sixth year.

Stony Brook University

The Clinical Psychology PhD program at Stony Brook University (SBU) has been accredited by the APA since 1970 and has been consistently ranked in US News & World Report’s Best Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. As an early pioneer in the application of behavioral approaches to clinical psychology, SBU’s Clinical Psychology PhD program has since grown to include a variety of other research-supported theoretical orientations and practices.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. During their first three to four years, students take classes in foundational clinical psychology, research methods, and ethics. By the end of their third year, students complete two projects that advance them to candidacy, followed by their doctoral dissertation. Most students present their research at professional conferences and publish at least one paper during their doctoral training. Research opportunities are diverse, but include LGBT issues, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, emotion regulation, and attention processes. SBU’s Clinical Psychology PhD program is designed for students interested in pursuing academic and research careers and requires students to complete at least two semesters of Supervised Direct Instruction (SDI), which involves teaching and lecturing undergraduates under the supervision of the instructor.

Clinical Psychologist Career Information

How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

To practice as a clinical psychologist, you need to be licensed in your state, which requires a minimum education of a doctoral degree in clinical psychology; this may be a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a PhD in Psychology. In addition, prospective clinicians must complete extensive supervised experience and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). While the steps to licensure vary by state, the basic steps for becoming a licensed clinical psychologist include:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
  2. Earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Psychology.
  3. Complete the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
  4. Pass the required exam(s) for your state, including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
  5. Apply for and receive a psychology license from your state psychology board.
  6. Begin practicing as a licensed clinical psychologist.
  7. Complete the required continuing education mandated by your state to keep your license current.

Job Description

Because of the breadth of training clinical psychologists receive, they are qualified for employment in a variety of settings. Many clinical psychologists work directly with patients and clients in outpatient clinical settings, such as behavioral health clinics, medical clinics, or private psychology practices. They also provide clinical services in inpatient or residential settings such as medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, or correctional facilities.

In these positions, clinical psychologists 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 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 to practice.

Some clinical psychologists opt for research-focused careers at universities or academic medical centers. These psychologists spend most 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 serve as advisors to graduate students earning doctoral degrees and teach undergraduate and graduate courses. Psychologists who do not engage in any clinical work might not need psychology licensure unless employers require it.

Clinical psychologists can also pursue positions that allow for a combination of clinical practice and research. These are most often available in academic medical centers, where psychologists work with patients and conduct studies. For more specialized positions targeted toward a particular population or disorder, employers may require candidates to have completed graduate coursework or clinical training (such as an internship or a postdoctoral fellowship) in those areas. Examples of positions open to psychologists with doctoral degrees in clinical psychology include:

*A doctoral degree is usually required for this job title.

Salary and Job Outlook

May 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates an average annual salary of $99,640 for clinical and counseling psychologists across the US.6 Clinical and counseling psychologists working in employment services earned the highest average salary of $139,160.6 The highest concentration of employment for these psychologists was in the offices of other health practitioners with 22,720 employed as of May 2021.6

According to the BLS, there were 58,100 clinical and counseling psychologists in the US in May 2021.6 This number is expected to increase by 10.4% between 2020 and 2030, with an estimated 9,400 new jobs per year during this time period (including for school psychologists).7 Additionally, research suggests that counseling, clinical, and school psychology is one of the fields least susceptible to automation (<1% chance), indicating a continued need for professionals in this area.8

Additional Resources

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 as 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. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) also offers Board certification for clinical psychologists who meet clinical experience requirements.

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.

How do I choose a clinical psychology degree program?

Before applying to clinical psychology doctoral programs, it is important to decide whether a PhD or PsyD program will be the best fit for your career goals. You can read about the main differences and similarities between the two degrees on our home page. 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 research interests of faculty, as you may be asked to identify a specific advisor to work under if you are admitted.

Can I get a clinical psychology degree online?

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 use 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.

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 master’s 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 may also teach courses and mentor graduate students.

Is it worth it to get a master’s degree in clinical psychology?

Master’s degree programs in clinical psychology are often geared toward 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.

1. APA Dictionary of Psychology, Clinical Psychology: https://dictionary.apa.org/clinical-psychology
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. US News & World Report Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/clinical-psychology-rankings
4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, Clinical and Counseling Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193033.htm
7. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
8. 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