In January 2021, 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder — a 30% increase from the previous year. The need for treatment is unmet for about one-third of those suffering from a mental illness. As a result, the therapy, counseling, and psychology career fields are expected to grow.
Of particular importance is clinical psychology, which is the branch of mental and behavioral health practice that applies theories and science to work in clinical settings. These professionals need a strong understanding of abnormal behaviors and common mental illnesses to effectively work with those seeking their help.
This type of work can pay off in both fulfillment and salary. Careers in psychology range from about $50,000 per year to $100,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those working in government and private practices tend to earn more, and salary tends to increase with experience. If you’re interested in entering this field, a graduate degree in clinical psychology can also improve your salary and employment prospects. Tuition for a graduate degree in clinical psychology will typically cost around $20,000. You can find out more about this field, and how to earn an online degree in clinical psychology, below.
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The 25 Best Online Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs of 2021
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.
National Louis University
A private college based in Chicago, NLU also maintains campuses throughout Illinois and Florida. The school's M.A. in clinical psychology explores the application of psychology tools to mental health needs, with a special focus on diverse client populations. The program uses a 100% online format that requires no campus visits.
The program features courses that focus on clinical experience, career preparation, ethics, intervention, disorders and assessment, and licensure preparation. The mental health needs for different cultural, LGBTQ, and disabled populations is a core part of the curriculum as well.
Arizona State University-Skysong
ASU 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.
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.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
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.
Core courses cover topics like quantitative methods in behavioral science, research methods, and neuropsychology. Specialized tracks include a selection of required courses that build advanced knowledge in areas such as sociology of law and counseling in criminal justice.
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.
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.
University of West Alabama
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. Students complete six credits of practicum/internship courses, gaining hands-on experience in a professional psychology or counseling setting.
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.
Ball State University 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 core curriculum 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.
- Graduation rate: 67%
- School status: Public
- Tuition cost: $34,105
- Estimated years of completion: Two years
- Credit requirements: 38 credits
- Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree, work experience
- Contact: (517) 355-1855
- Website: https://online.msu.edu/programs/aba-hyb
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.
Virginia Beach, VA
A private evangelical college based in Virginia Beach, Regent offers one of the country's top master's in clinical psychology programs. 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.
The courses cover 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.
- Graduation rate: 57%
- School status: Private
- Tuition cost: $15,552
- Estimated years of completion: Two years
- Credit requirements: 39 credit hours
- Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree, 2.75 GPA
- Contact: 800-373-5504
- Website: https://www.regent.edu/program/ms-in-psychology/#
A public Texas college based in San Angelo, ASU hosts one of the state's top master's in clinical psychology programs. The master of science in applied psychology offers broad perspectives on psychology and its varied applications, exploring the field's role in improving health and safety and promoting democratic principles. The program accepts applicants of all undergraduate backgrounds, though candidates without psychology credits must complete a leveling course before beginning the degree.
All candidates complete core courses including research methods, social psychology, social perception, and neuroscience. Thesis candidates complete six credits of research on an approved psychology topic, presenting and defending their findings at the program's conclusion. Non-thesis candidates complete six additional electives, choosing from options such as sport psychology, forensic psychology, and teaching psychology.
Carlos Albizu University-Miami
A private college based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, CAU also maintains a campus in Miami and a distance education program. The school hosts a master of science in industrial and organizational psychology that examines the application of psychological knowledge and tools to workplace environments.
The program includes foundation courses, core industrial and organizational psychology courses, elective courses, and a final project. The foundation section introduces key topics including small group theory and process, advanced research methods, and attitude theory. The core builds specialized knowledge in areas such as employment law, personnel psychology, and organizational training and development.
A small liberal arts college located in Buffalo, New York, Medaille offers one of the state's top-ranked master's in clinical psychology programs. The master of arts in psychology prepares students for doctoral study and careers in education, human services, government, and business.
The accelerated, fully online program takes just one year of full-time enrollment to complete. Courses use both asynchronous and synchronous elements, with live course meetings on weekends and weekday evenings. Learners study topics like cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology, and psychopathology.
- Graduation rate: 38%
- School status: Private
- Tuition cost: $21,621
- Estimated years of completion: One year
- Credit requirements: 36 credits
- Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree, GRE scores or 3.5 GPA
- Contact: (716) 217-4191
- Website: https://www.medaille.edu/academics/psychology-ma
Mercy college operates a main campus in Dobbs Ferry along with additional campuses in Yorktown Heights, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The school hosts an online master of science in psychology that highlights psychology theory, practice, and research methods. The program emphasizes career development and mentorship, preparing graduates for professional practice or doctoral study.
Mercy also offers an accelerated four-plus-one program for undergraduate psychology majors who wish to pursue graduate study. These candidates can apply to the master's in clinical psychology program during their junior year, enabling them to begin taking graduate courses during their senior year. Candidates in the accelerated program can then complete their master's with just one year of additional study.
- Graduation rate: 44%
- School status: Private
- Tuition cost: $16,686
- Estimated years of completion: 1-2 years
- Credit requirements: 36 credits
- Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree, 3.0 GPA,
- Contact: 1-877-MERCY-GO
- Website: https://www.mercy.edu/academics/programs/psychology
Touro University Worldwide
Los Alamitos, CA
Part of the Jewish Touro University system, TUW offers distance education to students around the world. The school's fully online master of arts in psychology emphasizes the application of psychology principles and research to professional contexts.
Candidates complete a minimum of 12 courses, including nine required courses and three elective or concentration courses. The program offers four concentrations: psychology, educational psychology, health psychology, and forensic psychology. Full-time enrollees can graduate in one year.
University of Southern California
One of California's top private colleges, USC operates a main campus in Los Angeles along with a respected online education program. The school's master of science in applied psychology explores the uses of psychology research, theory, and practice in the context of business. Candidates gain advanced knowledge of psychology in relation to business practices, including organizational development, talent management, marketing, and recruitment. The program offers concentrations in organizational and consumer psychology.
The program includes core courses, concentration courses, and practicum requirements. The core covers topics including research methods in social psychology and applications of human behavior. Concentration courses build specialized knowledge in business psychology applications. For example, the consumer psychology track includes courses in marketing analytics and decision analysis/behavioral decision theory.
A private Christian college located about 30 miles north of Tampa, Florida, Saint Leo hosts a top-rated master's in psychology program. Offered in a generalist format, the program gives students a comprehensive overview of developmental, social, and physiological psychology. The program uses a fully online format that requires no campus visits.
The program emphasizes psychology research and its applications to various professional fields rather than counseling or clinical practice. The program does not lead to any form of licensure, and, unlike many psychology master's degrees, it does not include an internship or practicum component. Candidates explore topics including diversity and ethics, lifespan development, and learning and cognition.
- Graduation rate: 49%
- School status: Private
- Tuition cost: $14,568
- Estimated years of completion: Two years
- Credit requirements: 36 credit hours
- Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree, 3.0 GPA
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://www.saintleo.edu/online-masters-in-psychology
A major public college based in Moscow, U of I offers a master of science in psychology that explores the psychological factors affecting humans' interactions with technology. Combining courses in psychology and computer engineering, the program highlights user experience in the context of information technology.
The program accepts applicants with backgrounds in psychology, computer science, engineering, and business. Applicants need only complete an introductory course in statistics and psychology as a prerequisite. The curriculum covers topics including sensation and perception, engineering psychology, ergonomics and biomechanics, and human-computer interaction.
Golden Gate University-San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
A San Francisco-based private college, GGU emphasizes education for working students. Students can choose from fully online and hybrid formats. The program features an average class size of just 14 students, and 95% of learners are over the age of 25.
The school's master of arts in industrial and organizational psychology examines psychology's applications to workplace interactions and dynamics. Students learn how to use psychological tools to improve employee training, market research, employee relations, productivity, and international evaluation. The core highlights key topics including personal leadership, executive coaching theory, conflict resolution, and diversity in organizations.
Indiana Institute of Technology
A private college focused on career-oriented programs, Indiana Tech operates a main campus in Fort Wayne along with several other campus locations throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. The school's online master of science in psychology prepares candidates for careers in fields such as business, social services, criminal justice, and education.
The program includes courses on topics like multicultural psychology, statistics for behavioral science, advanced social psychology, and advanced counseling theory. The program concludes with a capstone in psychology that synthesizes and assesses overall student learning. As part of the capstone, candidates must pass a comprehensive final exam related to program learning outcomes.
Austin Peay State University
Based in Clarksville, Tennessee, APSU offers an online master of science in industrial and organizational psychology. This fully online program employs a scientist-practitioner model, incorporating research and science in application to workplace dynamics.
The major includes courses in research methods and statistics, training and development, leadership and organizational change, and personnel psychology. Candidates can fulfill the culminating requirement with either a thesis or two additional elective courses plus a comprehensive final exam. The thesis track requires original research on an area of industrial and organizational psychology.
One of Ohio's largest private colleges, Franklin offers a variety of professionally focused degrees across several campus locations and online. The school's unique master of science in business psychology explores the psychological factors that motivate and influence consumer decision-making.
The program covers topics such as individual and organizational intelligence, managerial psychology, behavior economics, and psychology of organizational coaching. The program also incorporates two microcredentials that demonstrate specific skills in business psychology foundations and organizational psychology.
Franklin's master's in clinical psychology program serves the needs of working students with its fully online format. Many candidates graduate in about 14 months while continuing to work full time.
A private college based in Marietta, Georgia, LIFE is best known for its chiropractic programs, but the school also offers an online master of science in positive psychology. One of the only degrees of its type available online, the positive psychology program focuses on the study of positive human functioning. Candidates can pursue a general track or a counseling psychology track.
This master's in psychology program uses a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous components, with live online meetings held weekly. All candidates must visit the LIFE campus for quarterly weekend residency sessions. These campus meetings include hands-on learning activities and opportunities to meet with peers and faculty.
Eastern Kentucky University
One of Kentucky's major public colleges, EKU hosts one of the state's top-ranked master's in clinical psychology programs. The master's in psychology, applied behavior analysis emphasizes strategies for addressing mental health disorders. The program qualifies candidates to sit for the board-certified behavior analyst exam.
The core courses cover topics such as behavioral research and management, building new behaviors, and ethics and professional conduct. Supporting courses include social psychology and cultural diversity, biological bases of behavior, and advanced developmental psychology. EKU offers courses in accelerated eight-week terms. The program's prerequisites include at least three courses in psychology, one course in research, and one course in statistics.
Based in Tiffin, Ohio, TU hosts one of the state's top master's in clinical psychology programs. The online master of science in psychology builds broad knowledge in cognitive, developmental, and social psychology. The curriculum includes courses such as statistical procedures, research design, history and systems of psychology, advanced theories of personality, and psychology law and ethics.
All psychology courses occur fully online, with no campus visits required. The program enrolls candidates from around the country, using a flexible format that enables many students to work full time while earning their degree. Courses generally occur asynchronously, enabling online learners to complete coursework at their convenience.
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Clinical psychologists diagnose disorders, design treatment plans, and provide counseling. A clinical psychologist will focus on mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders in a research or treatment capacity.
General psychologists provide counseling services to healthier individuals with less severe psychological issues. Clinical psychologists primarily assist clients with severe mental health disorders.
Typically, clinical psychologists will need a doctoral degree to become a licensed psychologist in their state. You may also need several years of internship experience and to pass a comprehensive exam. You can choose to complete an online clinical psychology doctoral program while pursuing work experience.
On average, master’s degree programs take two years to complete. A doctoral program can take anywhere from four to eight years to complete, with some of those years being an internship or residency. For clinical psychology masters programs online, you can usually choose a more flexible schedule.
Most clinical psychology master’s programs will require a 3.0 GPA, a bachelor’s degree in psychology (or a related field), letters of recommendation, and a personal statement to apply. Some programs may also ask for GRE scores, and some may allow you to submit scores in place of a high GPA.
Once you begin a program, you’ll need to hit a certain number of credits and complete a program project. Most clinical psychology Ph.D. programs require about 96 credits to graduate. Doctoral programs in the field emphasize research skills, and learners typically complete an extensive thesis or dissertation in addition to classroom hours. 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.
Clinical Psychology Graduate Degree Courses
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.
Career Path for Graduates with Clinical Psychology Degrees
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. A clinical psychologist can also pursue a career as a substance abuse counselor, family counselor, forensic psychologist, or psychotherapist.
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.
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. Online Ph.D. clinical psychology programs will even include publishing research in the curriculum.
Clinical Psychologist Job Outlook & Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a psychologist earns an average salary of $82,180 per year. Your exact salary will vary depending on your employer (government and private practice jobs tend to pay more), experience, certifications, specializations, and the career path you choose.
You can also use a clinical psychology degree to pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist, a field which earns an average of $51,340 per year. Industrial-organizational psychologists have a higher annual average at $96,270 per year, while social workers are at the lower end at $51,760 per year.
Average Salary for Psychology Occupations
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have a passion for human behavior and helping others, there are a number of ways to specialize your studies. Clinical psychology is a popular option, but other common degrees include:
A general degree in psychology will include more general courses that train you for counseling, research, psychopathology, and more specializations. There are a wide number of career options for this degree, including psychologist, counselor, and human resources manager.
This degree will focus on the criminal and law applications of psychology. When studying for a forensic psychology degree, you’ll learn to analyze criminal behavior, assist in investigation, diagnose victims and witnesses, and design rehabilitation programs. This degree will prepare you for potential careers as a forensic psychologist, probation officer, FBI or CIA agent, or victim advocate.
Compared to psychology, this degree will zoom out a bit and focus more on society and culture as a whole, as opposed to the individual. A sociology degree will study relationships, organizational dynamics, and human behavior at a global level. Some potential sociology careers include a sociologist, market research analyst, human resources manager, or survey researcher.
A degree in social work will help you use psychology to assist individuals in public programs and social services. You’ll take courses in ethics, public policy, childhood psychology, and human behavior. This degree will prepare you for a career in social work, public policy, case worker, or probation officer.
Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.
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