A master’s degree may be sufficient for clinical psychologists who want to focus solely on therapeutic practice; it may also serve as an interim step toward attaining a doctorate degree, which is typically necessary for research or academic positions. Read on to learn the steps necessary to complete a master’s degree in clinical psychology, including details about the application and admission process, different types of programs and their availability, curricula, internship opportunities, and licensure requirements.

Master’s in Clinical Psychology: Finding the Right Program

Before undertaking any program, students should ensure it meets both their personal and professional requirements. Many states have specific rules about licensing and the types of classes students must take to become clinical psychologists. The following section provides a helpful list of things to look for in any prospective program.

Degree Path

Online master’s degrees in clinical psychology include options for both a terminal degree for those who wish to go into practice, and a predoctoral degree for those aspiring to complete a PhD. Students should choose a program that offers a path that matches their future plans.

Hands-on Training

Despite being offered online, the best programs also have innovative ways for students to be engaged in real-world learning, such as through internships, involvement with faculty research, and opportunities to connect with local professionals.

Initial Licensing Preparation

Upon graduating, students can apply to be licensed as either an LPCC or an MFT clinical psychologist. This rigorous process involves completing more than 3,000 supervised clinical hours and passing a comprehensive examination.

Required Coursework

Different states have different requirements for coursework, so students should check in advance that a program offers what they’ll need for their state’s specific coursework. See our state-by-state guide for licensing specifics in your state.

Student Success

How are the program’s alumni faring in their roles as clinical psychologists? Has a large majority passed their licensure examinations and moved into careers in the field? Asking about recent alumni will give prospective students a sense of how well the program is preparing its students for the workforce.

APA Standards

Despite not offering accreditation for online master’s programs, the APA does issue guidelines for education in clinical psychology. Students should consult the APA to ensure the program provides the necessary skills.

Earning the Campus or Online Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

Depending on their career aspirations, students can choose from two different paths to complete their studies.

Those who wish to gain licensure or certification to assess and treat individuals as a counselor often decide to pursue a master’s as a terminal degree.

Students aspiring to complete a PhD and work in a research or academic capacity follow the predoctoral track.

Prospective students who choose the terminal degree path also frequently select a concentration that allows them to focus their coursework on a particular population, such as children or families, or a particular condition, such as depression or substance abuse. For example, those who wish to work as marriage and family therapists may tailor their degree in that direction, specifically preparing them to take the National Counselor Examination and become an MFT after completing at least 3,000 supervised clinical hours.

Alternatively, students who want to work with a range of clients typically undertake a broader spectrum of coursework in preparation to sit for the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) certification offered via the National Counselor Examination. Students aspiring to become LPCCs must also complete at least 3,000 supervised clinical hours after finishing their degree.

After receiving proper certification and licensure, clinical psychologists are qualified to work in a variety of settings, including family service agencies, psychiatric hospitals, mental health offices, correctional facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, or in private practice.

Most students electing to undertake a clinical psychology degree at the master’s level have already completed a degree in psychology or a related topic during their undergraduate education. Prospective candidates pursuing this degree with an academic background in an unrelated field will likely be required to complete prerequisite coursework in psychology and statistics prior to being admitted.

Steps to Get into a Clinical Psychology Program

Graduate school is a big commitment, and once the decision has been made, students go through several steps to turn their goal into reality. The checklist below will guide you through the process, outlining the necessary steps and the recommended timeline for achieving them.

1.Which CP program?

Deciding to pursue a degree in clinical psychology opens the door to a number of other choices that must be made. Investigate the available programs to determine whether a terminal or non-terminal degree best suits your goals, and whether to pursue the thesis, clinical practitioner, or therapy track.

2.Take the Tests

To gain admittance to any clinical psychology program, you’ll need to take the GRE well in advance of your planned start. For example, students planning to begin school during the fall semester should take the exam the previous October, allowing ample time for schools to review scores and make decisions. GRE scores usually play a significant role in the decision-making process of an admissions committee, so the earlier you can start studying, the better.

3.Decide Where to Go

Once you receive your GRE scores, you’ll have a better idea of the types of programs that are best suited to your academic background and achievements, and which ones are mostly likely to accept you. Even if you have a strong preference for one or two particular schools, resist succumbing to tunnel vision. Apply to several schools that are viable possibilities to give yourself options if things don’t go quite according to plan.

4.Gather Documents

All graduate applications require a number of supporting documents, such as recommendation letters, high school and undergraduate transcripts, and information on previous extracurricular, volunteer and leadership activities. You’ll be relying on others to provide this information, so give them plenty of notice and start getting your paperwork in order as early as possible.

5.Write Your Personal Statement/Essays

Most programs will have varied essay prompts that students can use to demonstrate their writing ability and thought processes. In addition, almost all schools require a personal statement, which admissions panels use to ascertain whether or not candidates have thoroughly considered their decision to apply to a clinical psych master’s program, and whether they have a clear vision of their education and future clinical psychology goals. The personal statement, then, is an essential tool to clearly and concisely convey your individual reasons for undertaking the degree, and what you want to gain from it.

6.Apply to Schools

After doing the legwork to gather your documents, write essays, and ensure you’ve accurately followed the application instructions, make sure you get them in on time. Most universities suggest submitting applications either online or by registered mail to ensure you have a record that they were sent in advance of the deadline.

7.Apply for Financial Aid

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in accessing federal funds that are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Since early birds are rewarded, it’s best to apply in January of the year you plan to start school. Some students use their own financial information for this application; others use their family’s information. Know which one you’ll be doing, and allow yourself sufficient time to gather information so that you can complete the application in a timely fashion.

8.Accept and Decline Offers

Once you begin receiving responses from schools, it’s time to make a decision. Choose the best option from your acceptances, and then decline the ones that aren’t the best fit.

Clinical Psychology Master’s Admission and Program Requirements

Students interested in completing a master’s degree in clinical psychology must meet a number of requirements, both during the application process and after being accepted into a program. Individual schools will each have their own specific instructions, but there are several common requirements.

Some master’s applicants will already hold an undergraduate degree that relates to psychology, but those who do not will need to undertake foundational psychology coursework, including:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Statistics
  • Research methods
  • Developmental, cognitive, or social psychology
Other common requirements include:
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement and accompanying essays
  • Faculty interview

Most schools require applications and supporting materials to be received in December or January, with review and invitations to interview taking place during February and March.

Once admitted, programs typically vary between 36 and 60 credit hours required for completion, depending on whether a student is pursuing the terminal or predoctoral track.

Programs typically include:
  • Internships
  • In-depth projects
  • Obtaining a certain number of clinical practicum hours
  • Taking a comprehensive examination

Students who plan to obtain a doctorate degree and move into research frequently complete a thesis, although those in the terminal master’s track are also given this option. Most programs require students to maintain a GPA of at least 3.0, with no more than two classes resulting in a grade of B- or lower.

Goals of the Master’s in Clinical Psychology

Upon graduation, students awarded a master’s degree in clinical psychology should have gained a diverse knowledge base and a wide range of skills. Top goals and outcomes of graduates in these programs include:

Development of an Assessment Toolkit

Students will understand behavioral, cognitive, and developmental theories, and be able to apply them when diagnosing and treating patients with mental illnesses or disorders.

Initial Preparation for Certification or Licensure

After graduating, students can begin the required 3,000+ hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience to become licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).

Awareness of Clinical Research

Throughout the program, students are exposed to existing and emerging research on clinical psychology, helping them build fundamental knowledge in the field while also staying abreast of recent findings and trends.

Utilization of Research Methods and Statistics

Students will have a foundational and practical understanding of how to conduct research and use statistics to inform and substantiate their findings.

Understanding of Clinical Skills

Being able to assess, diagnose and treat patients is at the root of clinical psychology, and graduates will have the skills needed to perform these tasks proficiently and professionally.

Awareness of Factors Contributing to Mental Illness

Students will learn about varied underlying contributors to mental illnesses, such as family history, substance abuse, loss and trauma, religion, and societal factors.

Clinical Psychology Master’s Coursework

To become well-versed in the many subfields and theories that are encompassed by clinical psychology, students are exposed to a spectrum of topics and theoretical frameworks throughout their master’s degree coursework. Some of the areas covered include:

Assessment Techniques

Students review methods for assessing a patient’s inherent characteristics, such as personality type and level of intelligence.

Theoretical Frameworks

After learning how to obtain assessment data, students then use those findings to understand how they inform a patient’s mental state.

Counseling and Psychotherapy Methodologies

Students learn proper and effective counseling techniques, sometimes focusing their education on specific populations such as children, couples, or those dealing with specific problems such as trauma or substance abuse.

Biological Causes

Classes cover how biological factors affect mental states, with emphasis on neuropsychology, neuropsychopharmacology, and physiological psychology.

Research

Students learn how to review and interpret data, as well as how to design research studies that can provide both qualitative and quantitative data.

Practical Experience

Depending on their specific areas of interest, students typically have six hours of practicum classes, exposing them to hands-on training and real-world experiences within the field of clinical psychology.

The Online Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology

Online master’s degrees in clinical psychology may be undertaken either entirely online or as a hybrid degree with both online and on-campus requirements. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to review the requirements for licensure, as they vary by state. While most states allow online graduates to qualify for licensure, some mandate that the program must be completed on a brick-and-mortar campus.

Once enrolled, students are able to complete their online degrees in a flexible yet structured environment that allows them to work around their schedules but also ensures they are exposed to the same coursework and level of rigor as their on-campus peers. Students usually have weekly reading assignments and are required to discuss materials with their peers via an online forum. Other tasks may include research projects, examinations, or supervised practicum hours and/or an internship. Online students usually have access to many of the same services as their traditional peers, including library privileges, academic advising, tutoring, writing support, and technical help, although this may vary by school.

Q&A: Online Master’s Degrees in Clinical Psychology

Does the APA accredit online programs?

The American Psychological Association only accredits doctoral programs. There are no APA-accredited clinical psychology degrees at the master’s level, either online or on-campus.

Is the academic quality the same?

Students enrolled in online master’s degrees in clinical psychology are exposed to the same coursework, with the only difference being in the delivery format.

How does the online delivery format work?

Innovative technology such as learning platform apps, lectures saved as MP3 files, and video conferencing software allow learners to access coursework and faculty notes at times convenient to their individual schedules.

How do I collaborate with instructors and other students?

Online learning platforms offer a number of communication methods, including forums, document sharing, and live audio/video streaming, to ensure opportunities for collaboration.

How do I get the face-to-face experience required for this degree?

Students are offered assistance in locating appropriate local sites to complete practicum hours and supervised internships, ensuring that quality is not sacrificed due to location. Other programs may offer academic residencies, requiring students to come to campus for set periods of time to interact with faculty and peers. Virtual field experiences are an emerging option, allowing students to interact with professionals in real-world clinical settings via live streaming.

Funding Resources for Clinical Psychology Master’s Degree Students

APAGS Convention Travel Award

Available for graduate students who need travel support and have not yet attended the APA Annual Convention.

Bill Bendiner and Doug Morgenson Scholarship, Pride Foundation

For LGBT students pursuing a career in human services, health sciences or visual arts.

Fielding Scholarships & Grants, Fielding Graduate University

A list of opportunities offered to psychology students of Fielding. Most schools offer a similar assortment of opportunities.

NASP Students, National Association of School Psychologists

Scholarships and fellowships for psychology graduate students.

National Endowment for the Humanities, NEH Grants

A variety of grants available including collaborative research grants.

National Science Foundation: Find Funding

Funding opportunities for psychology research.

Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Scholarships: For students of Pepperdine’s graduate program in psychology.

Predoctoral Fellowship in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

For students in clinical, counseling and school psychology programs.

Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology, Awards and Grants

Available to graduate and undergraduate students for a variety of purposes including research funding.

Scholarships, Grants and Awards, APA

A wide range of grants, scholarships and awards compiled by the American Psychological Association.