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Online Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs 2021

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Online Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs badge

Clinical psychology refers to the branch of mental and behavioral health practice that applies theories and science to work in clinical settings. Professionals with a graduate degree in this field often promote patients’ well-being and personal growth.

Clinical psychologists typically assist patients who are dealing with issues that are more severe than a therapist or counselor would address. These professionals need a strong understanding of abnormal behaviors and common mental illnesses.

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Question Answer
What do clinical psychologists do? Clinical psychologists diagnose mental health disorders and design treatment plans. In most states, these professionals cannot prescribe medication.
What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a psychologist? Clinical psychologists primarily assist clients with severe mental health disorders. General psychologists generally provide counseling services to individuals with less severe mental health issues.
What is the main focus of clinical psychology? Professionals in this field diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists may treat obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety.
Is a clinical psychologist a therapist? Clinical psychology positions require more education than roles as therapists. Clinical psychologists typically diagnose and treat more complex mental health issues than therapists.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for psychologists to increase 3% between 2019 and 2029. In 2019, psychologists earned a median salary of $80,370. However, job availability and salary vary by state. According to BLS data, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in Oregon and California earn the highest average salaries.

Clinical psychologists need state licensure to practice, and candidates for licensure need a doctorate. The following sections detail requirements for doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology programs and list scholarships for clinical psychology majors.

What Can I Do With a Clinical Psychology Degree?

After completing a clinical psychology Ph.D. program, graduates often work in mental health hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, and government-run facilities. Some clinical psychologists work for schools or open their own private practice.

Regardless of employment setting, clinical psychologists typically interview and observe clients, diagnose disorders, and design treatment plans. Some states also allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medications. Treatment plans may also involve practices such as pulse therapy. Additionally, psychologists help patients identify their own behavior patterns and better understand themselves.

Doctoral degree-holders can also pursue careers in research and academia. Professors and researchers work to discover and explain the psychology behind emotions, feelings, and behaviors. Individuals with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology often write for scholarly journals and present their findings at industry conferences.

The following sections explore factors to consider before pursuing a doctorate or master’s in clinical psychology, including program requirements and accreditation status.

Accreditation for a Clinical Psychology Degree

When researching clinical psychology Ph.D. programs, prospective students should verify each school’s accreditation status. To earn accreditation, an institution must pass regular quality assessments from a third-party organization. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee these accrediting agencies.

Schools can receive regional or national accreditation. Because regional accreditation requires schools to meet higher standards than national accreditation, employers typically place more value on degrees from regionally accredited institutions. Each regional accrediting agency evaluates schools in a specific geographic area. For example, the Higher Learning Commission reviews schools located in the Midwest.

Prospective students can also look for programmatic accreditation, which demonstrates that the program adequately prepares learners for careers in the field. The American Psychological Association (APA) awards accreditation to clinical psychology programs.

Learners can use the ED’s searchable database to verify the accreditation status of any school or program.

What Are the Requirements for a Clinical Psychology Degree?

Most clinical psychology Ph.D. programs require about 96 credits. However, exact credit requirements vary by program. Doctoral programs in the field emphasize research skills, and learners typically complete an extensive thesis or dissertation. Graduates often present their thesis or dissertation at conferences, and they may publish their work in scholarly journals.

Clinical psychology graduate programs also require supervised clinical hours. Most states require at least 3,000 supervised clinical hours for licensure. Because most programs tailor the curriculum to meet state licensure requirements, prospective students should research schools in the state in which they plan to practice.

Courses in a Clinical Psychology Program

While each program sets its own curriculum requirements, most clinical psychology Ph.D. programs include similar courses. These classes prepare students to pass state licensing exams and succeed in their professional practice. Students develop skills including active listening and record-keeping. Courses also explore the theories behind modern treatments and examine best practices for research. Most courses require class discussions, exams, and essays.

Many clinical psychology Ph.D. programs include the courses below. Course availability and titles vary by program, so learners should contact their prospective school for detailed program requirements.

Learners explore the archetypes of human socialization. The course material examines how culture, childhood, and trauma shape an individual’s perceptions and communication methods. Students also discuss how socialization varies by age group and sex. Coursework often covers theories by notable psychologists such as James Hillman. Enrollees learn how to identify abnormal socialization patterns related to certain behavioral disorders.
Behavioral and Emotional Disorders
This class prepares students to diagnose mental and emotional disorders. The course examines how these behaviors disrupt individuals’ daily life, and learners prepare to design effective treatment plans. This course typically covers obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Students may also explore developmental disorders. Case studies and class discussions teach learners to identify these disorders in patients.
Developmental Perspectives
This course examines the relationship between clinical psychology and developmental stages. Learners explore typical physical changes from infancy to adulthood, and they discuss theories by researchers such as Sigmund Freud. Students examine the research behind modern therapies, and they learn about the impact of human physiology on emotional and behavioral health. Learners also discuss the assumptions underlying modern treatments. Coursework typically involves essays, case studies, and exams.
Practicum or Internship
Most clinical psychology programs include multiple practicum or internship courses. Learners typically complete practicums at multiple sites to understand how methods vary by setting. During a practicum or internship, learners gain supervised experience and apply classroom knowledge to work in clinical settings. Students practice therapeutic communication skills and observe the progression of treatment plans. Enrollees also study various approaches to clinical psychology practice, and they learn about professional behavior and ethics.
Thesis or Dissertation
Completing a thesis or dissertation requires extensive research. Most doctoral programs include multiple courses dedicated to thesis work. Students often work on their thesis throughout their program, and they must typically defend their thesis to a board of professors and industry experts. The average thesis contains 40-80 pages and generally includes statements or arguments that spark further research in the field.

Certifications and Licensure for Clinical Psychology Majors

Clinical psychologists need a state license to practice. Professionals can also pursue voluntary credentials to improve their job prospects or to qualify for specialized roles. Professionals with a degree in clinical psychology often pursue the three credentials below.

State Licensure

Clinical psychologists need state licensure to practice. Although licensure requirements vary by state, candidates must typically hold a doctoral degree in the field and complete supervised clinical hours. Candidates must generally pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which includes 225 multiple-choice questions.

American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology Certification

ABPP offers this certification for psychologists who work primarily with young patients. This credential can lead to specialized positions as adolescent psychologists. Candidates must pass an exam, which demonstrates expertise to clients and employers.

Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapist

Professionals who offer group therapy services can pursue this certification. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists awards this certification, which requires renewal every five years. Candidates can purchase a study guide to prepare for the licensure exam.

Professional Organizations for Clinical Psychology Majors

Joining a professional organization can help professionals stay current with industry advancements. Clinical psychology students and professionals can join organizations that host annual conferences, webinars, and networking events. Individuals pursuing clinical psychology careers can explore the professional organizations below.

  • American Academy of Clinical Psychology This professional organization offers a membership directory and virtual networking events and conferences. Members can submit articles for publication in the scholarly journal and receive access to exclusive documents and resources. The organization also provides continuing education opportunities to help members meet licensure renewal requirements.

  • American Counseling Association ACA offers membership levels for students, new professionals, experienced professionals, and retired professionals. Members receive discounts on liability insurance and education, and ACA provides materials for agency counselors, school counselors, and clinical professional counselors.

  • American Psychological Association APA advocates for federal policies and provides educational and research opportunities. Members can access exclusive educational materials and can mentor students and professionals with disabilities. APA also oversees accreditation for clinical psychology programs.

  • Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology Clinical psychologists who primarily work with adolescents can join this organization. SCCAP publishes a scholarly journal and member newsletters, and it advocates for improved mental health services for children. Members can apply for exclusive grants and awards. SCCAP accepts student members.

Scholarships for Clinical Psychology Students

Scholarships can help students graduate with less debt. Because scholarships are often competitive, learners can increase their chances of receiving an award by applying to field-specific scholarships. The scholarships below are reserved for graduate clinical psychology students.

AKA Educational Advancement Foundation Financial Need Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship from Alpha Kappa Alpha supports full-time graduate students in accredited programs. Candidates need a history of community service and a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants submit three recommendation letters, official transcripts, a current resume or CV, and a research project description.
Amount: Varies

Harry and Miriam Levinson Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The APA awards this scholarship to offset the cost of researching and writing a thesis or dissertation. Applicants must be enrolled in an interim graduate program and must be nominated by their psychology department.
Amount: $5,000

The Melanie Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Melanie Foundation offers multiple scholarships each year. Candidates must be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program in the mental health field. Applicants must attend an accredited institution and must submit transcripts, a CV, and two reference letters. Candidates also submit an essay detailing their reasons for pursuing a career in mental health.
Amount: $2,500

William and Dorothy Bevan Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Learners can apply for this APA scholarship to cover costs associated with researching and writing their thesis or dissertation. Applicants must be enrolled in an approved graduate program and must receive a nomination from their psychology department.
Amount: $5,000

AAUW Career Development Grant

Who Can Apply: This grant supports women of color who are pursuing their first advanced degree. The American Association of University Women accepts applications from female U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are applying to accredited graduate programs.
Amount: $2,000-$12,000

Online Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs 2021

  1. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA



    One of the world's most renowned private colleges, Harvard offers distance education programs through its Extension School, including a master's in clinical psychology. The master of liberal arts in extension studies, psychology explores human thinking, feeling, behavior, and socialization. The program uses a hybrid format that features both online and on-campus courses.

    Harvard's Extension School uses a unique admission format in which applicants complete three initial courses online to demonstrate their commitment and academic abilities. After successfully completing these trial courses, candidates can submit their application. Application cycles open in the fall, spring, and summer semesters.

    Psychology candidates choose from either a capstone or thesis track. The capstone emphasizes real-world applications of psychology principles, while the thesis emphasizes psychology research.

  2. National Louis University

    Chicago, IL



    A private college based in Chicago, NLU also maintains campuses throughout Illinois and Florida. The school's master of science in industrial and organizational psychology explores the application of psychology tools to workplace dynamics. The program uses a 100% online format that requires no campus visits, enabling full-time learners to graduate in 20 months.

    The interdisciplinary program incorporates content from psychology and human resources. Candidates complete 36-42 credits total, with common courses including research design, talent acquisition and retention, and work motivation and job attitudes.

    Candidates without a psychology background may need to complete up to six credits of prerequisite courses before beginning the main curriculum sequence. These foundation courses include research methodology, advanced social psychology, advanced theories of personality.

  3. Arizona State University-Skysong

    Scottsdale, AZ



    One of the country's largest colleges, ASU serves more than 74,000 students annually across multiple campuses and an online program. The school offers an online master's in clinical psychology that builds a broad understanding of psychological theories and empirical research practices.

    The program prepares students for work in social services, education, management, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. Graduates may also go on to pursue a clinical psychology doctor of philosophy program. Candidates complete a minimum of 36 credits, with courses arranged in 7.5-week blocks. The curriculum includes courses in quantitative analysis, research methods, and professional issues in psychology.

    ASU also offers elective courses in areas like abnormal psychology, affective science, and behavior analysis. The program concludes with a capstone in general psychology, which ties together major curriculum concepts. Full-time students can graduate in 18 months.

  4. University of Louisiana at Monroe

    Monroe, LA



    One of Louisiana's top public colleges, ULM also hosts one of the state's best graduate psychology programs. The school offers a master's in clinical psychology with optional concentrations in forensics and psychometrics. The general track and forensics concentration both occur fully online, while the psychometrics track occurs primarily online with one required on-campus semester.

    All learners complete a total of 36 credits, including core courses and concentration courses. Core courses cover topics like quantitative methods in behavioral science, research methods, and neuropsychology. In the general track, students complete an additional course in personality and social psychology, along with 24 credits of psychology electives. Specialized tracks include a selection of required courses that build advanced knowledge in areas such as sociology of law and counseling in criminal justice.

    ULM offers both thesis and non-thesis options. The thesis track generally serves candidates interested in doctoral study, while the non-thesis track serves those planning to enter the workforce directly after graduation.

  5. National University

    La Jolla, CA



    A private college based in San Diego, NU hosts one of California's top master's in clinical psychology programs. The school's master of arts in counseling psychology offers tracks in marriage and family therapy (MFT) and MFT/professional clinical counselor (PCC).

    The curriculum requires a minimum of 90 quarter units (equivalent to 60 traditional semester credits). Typical courses include lifespan development, child and adolescent psychology, human sexuality, and treatment of addictions. Learners in the dual MFT/PCC track complete additional courses in research and evaluation, testing and assessment, and career and academic counseling. They also complete additional practicum hours.

    While all courses occur online, the program traditionally only admits California residents because it prepares candidates specifically for California licensure. The counseling program may meet licensing requirements in other states, but out-of-state students should consult their local licensing boards to determine eligibility.

  6. McNeese State University

    Lake Charles, LA



    One of Louisiana's top public colleges, McNeese serves more than 7,500 students annually. The school offers an online master of arts in psychology with three concentrations: applied behavior analysis, counseling psychology, and general/experimental psychology.

    The applied behavior analysis and counseling psychology tracks both lead to professional licensure. These paths focus on practical applications of psychology principles, requiring a practicum/internship rather than a thesis. The general/experimental psychology track features a more academic focus, requiring a research-based thesis and preparing candidates for doctoral study.

    All students need at least 18 undergraduate psychology credits, including a minimum of three credits each in abnormal psychology, experimental psychology, and social psychology. All applicants also need at least three credits in statistics.

  7. University of West Alabama

    Livingston, AL



    Based in Livingston, UWA hosts one of Alabama's top master's in clinical psychology programs. The school offers a master of science in experimental psychology with an optional concentration in clinical psychology. With proper course selections, the degree can prepare graduates for the licensed professional counselor credential in Alabama.

    Clinical psychology candidates complete 39-57 credits, divided among core courses, clinical courses, practicum and internship requirements, and thesis courses. The program core builds foundational knowledge of statistics, research methods, and psychology theory. Clinical courses cover topics including personality assessment, marriage and family therapy, health psychology, and psychological tests and measurements.

    Students complete six credits of practicum/internship courses, gaining hands-on experience in a professional psychology or counseling setting. Thesis candidates also complete six credits of original research on an approved psychology topic.

  8. Ball State University

    Muncie, IN



    A major public college in Muncie, Indiana, Ball State offers an online master of science in quantitative psychology that emphasizes the role of quantitative methods in psychological study. Applicable to many fields, including business, education, and the social sciences, quantitative psychology examines the methods and tools used to measure human attributes. The program offers concentrations in quantitative psychology and mixed methods psychology.

    The 33-credit program includes 21 credits of core courses, six credits of concentration courses, and a six-credit thesis. The core covers topics like research design, applied regression analysis, and analysis of variance. The quantitative track builds deeper knowledge of data analysis techniques, while the mixed methods track explores other qualitative approaches.

  9. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI



    One of Michigan's largest public colleges, MSU serves nearly 50,000 students annually. The school's hybrid master of arts in applied behavior analysis builds the skills needed to work with children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The program prepares graduates to pursue the board-certified behavior analyst credential.

    The 37-credit program includes 21 credits of behavior analysis courses, six credits of thesis work, and 10 credits of practicum work. Core courses cover topics including autism spectrum disorders, verbal behavior in education, and ethics in behavior analysis. The practicum component enables candidates to build professional experience in an educational setting or other relevant environment. The thesis encompasses original research on an area of behavior analysis or education.

  10. Regent University

    Virginia Beach, VA



    A private evangelical college based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent offers one of the country's top master's in clinical psychology programs for Christian students. The school's online master of science in psychology offers six concentrations, including addictions, leadership coaching, and marriage and family counseling. Regent also offers a doctoral preparation concentration for enrollees interested in a clinical psychology Ph.D. program.

    Regardless of their concentration, all students complete a 27-credit core that includes nine courses total. The core covers topics such as research methods, biological bases of behavior, social psychology, and lifespan development. Concentration courses develop specialized knowledge in a specific area of the field. During the addictions track, for example, candidates complete courses in psychopathology, addictive behaviors, addiction intervention, and process addictions.

    All program tracks occur fully online, with courses offered in eight-week blocks. All of Regent's psychology tracks are non-licensure programs.

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    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.

    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

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