How to Become a Psychologist

Any individual providing psychology services to patients or clients needs the proper certification and licensure. Each state has its own licensing requirements for psychologists and other psychology practitioners, and licenses are issued by the state psychology board or another similar authority. Although many states offer a single, general psychology license for doctoral-level clinical psychologists, some provide additional certification for specific areas of practice (such as school psychology) or for individuals who have a master’s degree in psychology. This page provides additional information on how to become a licensed psychologist.

Table of Contents
Licensure Requirements by State
Education Requirements
Experience Requirements
Licensing Exams
Three Steps to Becoming a Psychologist
Maintaining Your License and Continuing Education
License Reciprocity
Licensing and Specialty Certifications
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions

Psychologist Licensure Requirements by State

If you are interested in becoming licensed as a psychologist, you should check your state’s specific licensure requirements. Click on one of the links below to find out more about how to become a psychologist in your state, including the steps to become a psychologist and the licensing process for your state.

Education Requirements to Become a Psychologist

In order to earn a psychology license, use the title “psychologist,” and provide the full range of clinical psychological services, prospective professionals must earn a doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or school psychology. For school psychologists, a specialist-level degree is considered the entry-level degree and is usually accepted for licensure to provide the full scope of professional services in schools or educational settings. An Educational Specialist (EdS) degree is an advanced degree that is beyond a master’s degree but typically requires less coursework than a doctoral degree.

Additionally, some states offer licenses for limited (usually supervised) psychology practice with a master’s degree in psychology. Because the requirements vary by state and practice area, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends that students begin reviewing licensing laws in the state or territory where they intend to pursue licensure by their second year of study. State boards of psychology and local college psychology programs are great resources for finding further information on education requirements. If you are interested in more state-specific information about licensure, find your state(s) of residence or interest and read more in the psychology licensure requirements by state section above.

Experience Requirements for Psychologist Licensure and Certification

Before receiving a psychologist license, candidates must complete an internship as well as at least one to two years of supervised, postdoctoral experience. Though experience requirements can vary by state, candidates for psychology licensure should plan to complete an internship during graduate study as well as at least one year of postdoctoral supervised professional experience, for a total of two years of clinical experience According to the APA, the average licensing requirement for psychologists is 2,000 hours of internship experience and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral experience, though some states require more.

Licensing Exams for Earning a Psychologist License

In all 50 US states, earning a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is a requirement to qualify for a psychologist license. The EPPP is a standardized exam developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) that is used by state psychology licensing boards as one metric in the licensing process for measuring professional competency. Candidates take the exam after applying to the appropriate licensing board in their state or territory. They must earn a score of 500 or higher to pass.

State boards of psychology often require candidates to take additional examinations beyond the EPPP, such as jurisprudence exams specific to practice laws in the state and professional ethics examinations. Information on the exams required for pursuing a psychology license can be obtained through the state licensing authority or from a local accredited college psychology program.

Three Steps to Becoming a Psychologist

To become a licensed psychologist, there are three main steps you will need to take. You will need to complete educational prerequisites, which include a bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree in psychology (you may also choose to earn an optional master’s degree during this process). Your bachelor’s degree does not have to be in psychology, but it may be helpful if it is in a related field. There are various psychology schools to help you meet the educational requirements in your state. Sometime during or after your doctoral program, you will be able to start the formal licensure process, including submitting an application for licensure to your state’s board, gaining and tracking supervised experience, and passing national and state psychology exams.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology.

The first step for all future psychologists is to earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject; you do not have to major in psychology for this degree. Both Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees will fulfill this requirement. These degrees usually take four years (120 credits) to finish if you are enrolled full-time.

After you have finished your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to earn a stand-alone master’s degree. This degree is optional, as most students earn master’s degrees as part of their doctoral programs. To gain acceptance to a master’s program, you will need to meet some educational prerequisites, such as taking a certain number of psychology courses. Master’s degree programs typically require between 30 to 45 credit hours and take about one to three years to complete, depending on whether you attend full- or part-time. The degree awarded is either Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) degree.

2. Earn a PsyD or PhD in Psychology.

Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree and, if you choose, a master’s degree, you will need to earn a doctoral degree in psychology. There are two types of doctoral degrees in psychology: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Regardless of which type of program you choose, the doctoral program should be regionally accredited and, in most cases, accredited by the American Psychology Association (APA). Doctoral degrees in psychology usually take four to seven years to finish. You can learn more about the differences between these degrees here.

3. Accrue the required supervised experience and get licensed to practice as a psychologist.

In addition to the education requirements described above, you will need to gain supervised experience in your field. Each state requires a certain number of hours (typically spread over two years) supervised by a licensed psychologist before you are eligible for licensure. Most states allow you to include doctoral internships as part (but not all) of this requirement.

Once you have finished the education and experience requirements, you will be ready to begin the process of applying for psychology licensure in your state. To earn a license, you will need to submit an application to your state board and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), as well as any required state jurisprudence exams.

Maintaining Your License and Continuing Education

Following initial licensure, most states require licensed psychologists to complete continuing education to maintain their licenses. The APA provides detailed requirements by state.

Most states require psychology licenses to be renewed every other year, and around 36-40 hours of continuing education (CE) is required for each renewal period. Some states require certain content areas to be covered in CE hours, such as suicide intervention or ethics. Make sure to check with your state’s board for details on license renewal and CE.

Psychology License Reciprocity

Most states do not allow psychologists to automatically transfer their license from another state. However, most do have procedures in place to recognize licenses from other states if they meet certain criteria and are found to be equivalent. In these cases, qualified applicants can apply for licensure by what is known as “reciprocity” or “endorsement,” depending on the state. Practitioners typically must have been licensed and practicing for a number of years (five is common) to be eligible. In some states, qualified psychologists must hold a credential to qualify for licensure by reciprocity or endorsement. In addition to an application, state boards may require passing the jurisprudence exam and/or supplying letters of recommendation.

Psychologist Licensing and Specialty Certifications

Depending on the practice area, psychologists may need to become certified by a specialty board or licensing authority. For example, in some states, school psychologists are required to be certified or licensed by the state’s department of education. Not all psychologists are not required to earn board certification, but this achievement demonstrates a high level of professional expertise. As discussed previously, certification also can be beneficial when applying for licensure by reciprocity for psychologists changing states.

Practitioners in 15 areas of psychology, including clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and behavioral and cognitive psychology, can become eligible for specialty certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) offers the Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology (CPQ) and the National Register of Health Service Psychologists (NRHSP) Health Service Psychology (HSP) credential to qualified psycholgists. Other specialty professional certifications are awarded by organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN). A list of specialties and recognized certification boards is available through the Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Are specific courses required to earn a psychologist license?

Licensing requirements for psychologists, including coursework requirements, vary by state. All states require that you attend an APA-accredited program, which must include coursework in topics such as ethics, diversity, and supervision skills. Some states may also require you to have completed coursework in topics that are not mandated by APA, such as human sexuality, substance use, or child abuse. For specific information on how to become a licensed psychologist in your state, check with your state psychologist licensing authority.

How can I find out if a specific degree program will qualify me for a psychology license?

Psychology degree curricula vary widely between schools. Most state boards of psychology require candidates for psychology licensure to hold a graduate degree from an accredited school. Accreditation from one of the six regional education accrediting associations and/or from the APA is commonly required. These requirements are usually outlined in each state’s psychologist licensing laws. You can also contact the degree programs you are considering to verify whether the program meets licensing requirements in your state.

What is the difference between a psychologist license and psychologist certification?

A psychologist license is a license to practice psychology granted through a state licensing authority, whereas psychologist certification is an additional credential, usually in a unique specialty, granted by a professional association or licensing board. Pursuing certification beyond initial licensure can demonstrate a higher level of professional competency and may allow a psychologist to command a higher salary.