Getting a degree in psychology is an undertaking that can take between four and 14 years depending on the level of commitment that a student has to the discipline and his professional goals. Depending on how you would like to use your degree, you may need to do more study than what is needed for a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor's degree in psychology typically takes four years.
Why Get a Degree in Psychology?
There are many reasons that might prompt an individual to get a degree in psychology, whether it's a bachelor's degree or a Ph.D. or Psy.D. In undergraduate studies, students may simply want to pursue a bachelor's degree in psychology because the discipline interests them and is so connected to virtually all of the other humanities.
At the master's level, you have students who have chosen to get a degree in psychology because they imagine that in some way the study will be effective in the career they intend to pursue. A master's in psychology has a variety of applications, from academic and agency work to marketing, branding and other commercial industries.
Earning a doctorate degree is the highest level of academic study possible for someone who is intending to pursue a career in clinical psychology or a career in academia. Professors are almost always required to attain a Ph.D. before being eligible for tenure-track positions.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?
The time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree can vary among individuals. Generally, the most critical factor in determining how long earning a degree takes is the amount of time that a student can devote to the degree. Typically, a bachelor's degree in psychology will take a student approximately four years of full-time study.
Some students who have responsibilities like family, work or other scheduling conflicts may not be able to devote four years to full-time study and may instead opt to do one or all four of the years of their degree on a part-time basis. This can be time-consuming and can result in spending a longer portion of life without a bachelor's degree.
In other cases, students may find that high school credits accrued through AP or baccalaureate classes or courses taken over the summer can help them to get a leg up on their studies. Students who have previous credits that can be applied to their undergraduate degree may find that they are able to complete the requirements for their bachelor's degree in only three years.
Does a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology Make You a Psychologist?
It is a common misperception that getting a bachelor of psychology will culminate in the student becoming a psychologist. However, there are a number of professions that an individual may enter upon studying psychology besides becoming a psychologist. Psychology is useful for disciplines as wide ranging as business management to medicine.
When most people contemplate the word "psychologist," what they are actually thinking of is a therapist. A psychologist is someone whose job it is to study human behavior, thought processes, motivations and emotions. Some people who study psychology do find themselves working in a therapeutic capacity with patients, while others remain firmly on the academic side.
The academic side of psychology refers to research. The fact is that psychological research can be useful to people in all walks of life and particularly in disciplines related to communications and humanities. Psychology and the study of behavior and motivation play a tremendous role in advertising, marketing, product design and architecture as well as more hard-line academic-adjacent disciplines such as education, health care, politics and city planning.
How Many Years of School Does It Take to Be a Psychologist?
Earning the psychology degree required to become a psychologist means devoting years of your life to academic study beyond your undergraduate work. While it is not required that your undergraduate major be psychology to pursue a career as a psychologist, students whose undergraduate work was far outside of the social science discipline may have to take additional prerequisite courses before being able to enroll in a master's or Ph.D. program.
When considering a Ph.D. in psychology, it is important to be aware that there is more than one kind of psychologist. A clinical psychologist, someone with training and licensing to practice as a therapist, must typically undergo approximately 12-14 years of schooling. There are four years of undergraduate study followed by two to three years of master's coursework and then enrollment in a Ph.D. program, which can take between four and seven years.
Following the completion of a Ph.D. program, candidates who wish to become clinical psychologists can spend between one and two years completing their training and licensing requirements, much of which is made up of counseling hours.
How Long is a Psychology Program?
Depending on the end goal of your psychology studies, you may only need to attend school through the completion of your master's degree, which can be between 7 and 12 years. Some fields, such as counseling, social work or education often allow you to join the workforce immediately after completing your master's degree.
For other students, the master's program is the second step in a process designed to take them through a Ph.D. or Psy.D. course. For many students, the option exists to entirely forego a master's program and go straight from undergraduate into Ph.D. or Psy.D. studies in order to more quickly get the licensing needed to begin to practice psychology. These programs vary in length and in scope, and the most appropriate one is dependent on your end goals.
Why Get A Ph.D. in Psychology?
A psychology degree is required for anyone who wants to practice psychology as a researcher, a social worker or a counselor. A Ph.D. in psychology is a requisite for anyone who is intending to practice clinical psychology, which is the discipline related to therapy, research involving subjects and any variety of psychological experimentation.
A Ph.D. or doctorate in psychology is a psychology degree that is also useful for anyone who is planning to become a professor of psychology. Many practitioners enjoy the research aspect of their job and have that as their main focus and find that working in a university setting allows them to both maintain a research lab and teach students in an undergraduate or graduate capacity.
Finally, pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology means getting to spend more time studying the field about which you are most passionate. To be able to devote your time and energy to the study of the topic you find most fulfilling is for many people an end unto itself. The added bonus is that a number of Ph.D. programs offer payment to students who are pursuing a degree in the field, considering it an investment in the future of the discipline. This means that getting a psych degree is also a job.
What Is Clinical Psychology?
Clinical psychology is the field of psychology that is focused on providing mental health care and behavioral health assistance. Clinical psychologists work with patients, communities, institutions and agencies. It has a wide variety of applications and is critical to understanding public health.
In addition to encompassing the knowledge of psychology, clinical psychology draws on an understanding of a number of different disciplines, including sociology, psychopathology, science, literature and media.
A clinical psychologist must demonstrate an understanding of diagnostic and behavioral intervention, mental health issues and problems from childhood to old age as well as an understanding of how to test and assess behavior and personality data and use it to inform treatment and intervention measures.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.