How to Become a Psychologist

psychologist talking with a patient during a session

Psychology can be a rewarding career, as it allows you to serve others by helping them overcome challenges and trauma. If you enjoy interacting with other people, are fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind and have the determination necessary to earn a psychology degree, this field could be a great choice for you. If you are still in high school, there are a few ways to further your career ambitions. Once in college, you should plan to earn an undergraduate and graduate psychology degree. You will put in long hours of hard study and work, but the investment is well worth it for the passionate student.

Identifying What to Do in High School

One important thing to do while still in high school is to meet with your guidance counselor. Discuss your career aspirations and ask how you can adjust your course load to meet your goals. Some high schools offer psychology courses. Some of them even offer AP Psychology courses, which enables you to earn college credits while still in high school.

Even if your high school does not offer a psychology class, you can still prepare to excel in college. Aspiring psychologists benefit from a strong science and mathematics background, so taking advanced courses can be helpful. Biology, chemistry, statistics and physiology are all helpful. Psychologists need to have a strong understanding of human behavior and diverse cultures, so it is also useful to take courses in comparative religions, philosophy and history. Lastly, consider meeting with your language teachers for feedback on your writing skills to prepare for you to take reading and writing-intensive courses in college.

Earning an Undergraduate Psychology Degree

When the time comes to apply for admission to universities, look for a school that offers multiple psychology degree options. If you are uncertain about sure which specialization you have an interest in, a general psychology program can prepare you for your graduate degree or help you decide on which programs to transfer into later.

Although it is important to allot a significant portion of your time to studying and completing your assignments, it is also a good idea to join clubs, sports teams and other activities on campus. These fun activities can introduce you to diverse groups, refine your communication skills and help you start networking.

You can also start looking for internship opportunities. While there may be internships available at local mental health facilities, you can also look for opportunities at hospitals, cultural centers, juvenile intervention programs and research labs. There are three main purposes to working in an internship:

  • Internships let you explore various aspects of your career field, which can help you narrow the focus of your studies.
  • An internship experience will improve your curriculum vitae (CV).
  • Internships build your professional network, which may allow you to land a job more easily after graduation.

Earning Your Master’s in Psychology

To work with mental health clients, you must earn a master’s or doctorate degree. Before applying to a program, you should carefully research the licensure and certification requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. Your state may require you to earn a doctoral degree and obtain licensing to qualify as a clinical psychologist. However, all states do allow practitioners with a master’s degree and credentialing to practice independently, if they use a title like therapist, counselor or social worker, rather than psychologist. It is important to understand potential licensure and certifications for these titles too. If you decide that earning a master’s degree is your best option, you can expect to study for two to three more years depending on your schedule. Master’s degree programs that require a thesis may take longer to complete.

Working Toward a Doctoral Degree

If you decide to earn a doctoral degree in the field of psychology, then you can expect several years of study and research. Doctoral students choose an independent research project that makes an original contribution to the field. This research project culminates in a dissertation. Choose a topic area that you are passionate about and that is aligned with the psychology specialization or patient population you wish to work with. The personal nature of your dissertation research degree program means that your program could take as few as two years or over four.

Your path to becoming a fully qualified psychologist begins at Grand Canyon University. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers multiple degree options for aspiring psychologists. Begin by enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program, or choose from one of our specialization options. Upon graduation, apply to earn your graduate degree at GCU. In addition to the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in General Psychology, our other specialization options include forensic psychology, geropsychology and health psychology. To learn more about the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and our programs, visit our website or click on the Request Info button on this page.

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