If you already have an M.S.W., earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology might provide you with a number of career-enhancing benefits. While clinical psychologists and social workers often offer similar services, like psychotherapy, psychologists are also qualified to provide psychological testing. In addition to being able to call yourself "doctor," clinical psychologists earn a higher yearly salary. On average, clinical psychologists earned $72,220 per year, while social workers earned $54,870, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Competition Begins
Although you've already applied to graduate school once before, you'll need to go through a similar application process for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology. But clinical psychology Ph.D. admission procedures can be even more stringent than those of M.S.W. programs. Clinical psychology doctoral programs tend to be more competitive than M.S.W. programs, and most only accept a handful of candidates each year. Doctoral programs in clinical psychology are some of the most competitive in the country, according to clinical psychologist Lynn Friedman in the "Washington Post."
Doing What It Takes
Although clinical psychology programs might look favorably on your previous graduate and work experience, you still need to meet certain admission requirements, whether you have an M.S.W. or not. While most M.S.W. programs don't require the GRE, you'll need to take it to apply to clinical psychology programs. Clinical psychology doctoral programs usually require students to have a GRE score of at least 1200, but some might even have higher standards. Students in certain programs, like Northwestern University's Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program, have averaged over 1400 on the GRE. You also need to show strong academic achievement in your undergraduate and M.S.W. work -- many programs require a GPA of at least 3.4.
The Long Haul
Earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology usually requires an additional four to six years of study. Since M.S.W. programs have different course work and internship requirements, your credits probably won't be transferable -- you'll likely need to complete all of the courses required by the Ph.D. program. After all, it's not even guaranteed that credits from master's degrees in psychology programs will transfer to Ph.D. programs, says the Hunter College Department of Psychology. Clinical psychology doctoral programs require a combination of course work, internships, research and a dissertation.
Think About It
Considering your personal and professional reasons for wanting to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology can help you avoid incurring unnecessary student loan burdens and extra time spent in school. You should not obtain a Ph.D. just for prestige, concerns that you're not smart enough or due to external pressure, says Laura E. Buffardi in "Psychology Today." Examine your ultimate career goals. For example, perhaps you want to conduct research or teach clinical psychology. But with an M.S.W., you can open a private practice, work in a school, medical facility or community services agency, just as clinical psychologists can. And many social workers in private practice earn higher salaries than the average reported by the BLS. Although it's not common, they can earn up to $130,000 per year, according to the 2009 Salary and Compensation Study.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 :19-3031 Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: 21-1029 Social Workers, All Other
- Washington Post: Jobs: Getting Into Graduate School in Clinical Psychology
- Northwestern University: Department of Psychology: What Does It Take to Get Into Graduate School in Clinical Psychology?
- Hunter College Department of Psychology: Choosing the Right Degree: MA, PhD, PsyD and others
- Psychology Today: Master's versus Ph.D.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.