How to Choose the Best Clinical Psychology Degree?

This article will tell you about the different types of clinical psychology degrees that you can earn and how to choose the best one. We will talk about what a clinical psychologist does, what they study, the different levels of degrees you can earn, and recommendations for good online clinical psychology degree programs.

What Is a Clinical Psychology Degree?

A clinical psychology degree – which is either a master’s degree, Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree – focuses on assessing, diagnosing, treating and preventing mental disorders. Clinical psychology is the largest specialty field in psychology, and there are many subspecialties in clinical psychology as well that you can study in your degree program. Some of these are:

  • Child mental health
  • Adult mental health
  • Learning disabilities
  • Emotional trauma
  • Substance abuse
  • Geriatrics
  • Health psychology

Some psychologists work as clinical psychologists with only a master’s degree, but the majority of positions today will require you to eventually earn either your Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in clinical psychology.

A Ph.D. is focused largely on psychological research and science, and is often the preferred degree for the psychologist who wants to work in academia and research. The Psy.D. degree is generally a clinical and practice-focused degree.

For most clinical psychologists, the master’s program that you take is preparation for the eventual doctoral program that you will enter. Typical clinical psychology classes at the master’s level include these:

  • Psychopathology
  • Lifespan development
  • Ethics and standards in clinical practice
  • Interventions
  • Research theory, designs and methods
  • Culture and psychology
  • Group process and dynamics
  • Social psychology

After you earn your master’s and/or doctoral degree, you will need to earn your license to practice in your state of residence. You must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, and have the appropriate number of clinical internship hours that your state requires. You can learn about your state’s licensure requirements at the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

As far as your bachelor’s degree, some schools recommend that you earn a bachelor’s in psychology as a good background for a career in clinical psychology. But you also opt for a degree in another liberal arts field that may be suitable for getting into a master’s in clinical psychology program.

Why Get a Degree in Clinical Psychology?

Earning a master’s and/or a doctoral degree in clinical psychology is often a path to a rewarding career, where you can both help people to deal with their mental health problems, and earn a good salary.

There will be steady demand for all types of psychologists in the next decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that the number of jobs in the field will rise by three percent in the ten years leading up to 2029. This level of job growth is consistent with the average, and is being driven by more people having access to mental health coverage on their health insurance.

The median wage for all clinical psychologists is $79,820. Remember that you will probably need to earn your Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree eventually to earn the maximum salary. You also do need to have your doctoral degree to practice independently.

Clinical Psychology Online Programs

There are many online clinical psychology degree programs from which you can choose today, particularly at the master’s degree level. As you are weighing which program that is best for you, we recommend that you consider the following factors:

  • Is the program totally online? There are some psychology programs that will require you to come to campus several times during the program. That is fine, but it is something that you want to know about in advance.
  • Are the classes asynchronous or synchronous? If you want to take an online master’s or doctoral program, you probably have family and work obligations. It is important to know if you can take some or all of your classes whenever you want, or if there are set class times for most of your instruction.
  • How much opportunity will you have to interact with your professors and fellow students? Some students are concerned about being more isolated with doing an online program, but many good psychology programs online have plenty of connection with professors and students during classes and various assignments.
  • Is the program accredited? You should check that the school at least has been accredited by one of the regional accreditation institutions recognized by the Department of Education, which we outline later in this article.

We recommend that you consider the master’s and doctoral level clinical psychology programs below:

Master’s Level Degree Options

Walden University offers a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology that focuses on the intellectual, emotional and biological areas of human behavior. You will learn in this two or three year program online how to foster psychological health in all types of people – individuals, families, groups and organizations.

This program is made to prepare you for a clinical counseling career, but it also can serve as a basis for your future doctoral studies as well. Graduates who complete this program may be able to qualify for state licensing exams, but you will need to check with your state to see what the specific requirements are.

The required courses in this accredited master’s program are:

  • Foundations for Graduate Study in Psychology
  • Psychology and Lifespan Development
  • Psychology and the Art of Assessment
  • Psychology and Culture
  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology and Research Theory
  • Clinical Perspectives on Psychotherapy

This program has 60 credit hours, which includes 50 credit hours of core courses and 6-9 credit hours for your practicum. You can complete your practicum hours in a clinical psychology setting in your area. You will work with your mentor and instructor supervisor to find an appropriate setting for your practicum.

Psy.D. Level Degree Option

Cal Southern University in California offers a very popular Psy.D. degree in clinical psychology. It is an applied and clinically focused degree that meets all of the educational requirements to earn a clinical psychologist license in California; you should verify if this program will meet your state’s licensure requirements.

The Cal Southern four year Psy.D. program attracts professionals and students from around the world. This is a very innovative and respected program that has an outstanding set of foundational classes and also many electives that you can use to tailor the focus of your education and career.

The program does not have a dissertation, but it does conclude with a doctoral project where you can focus on a topic in clinical psychology that interests you the most. It can be a community action based project, an analysis of literature in the field or some type of clinical application analysis.

The program also features an optional internship program where you can work in a one year, 1500 hour internship under the supervision of a clinical psychologist. Some students choose this option because some state boards of psychology require you to be involved in an internship program as part of your doctoral degree program.


Choosing a clinical psychology program is important, and you can make the selection easier by checking that your university has been accredited by one of these regional accreditation agencies that are approved by the US Department of Education:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Having a regional accreditation for the university tells you and future employers that your clinical psychology degree is rigorous and taught you what you need to know to succeed in the field.


By earning a master’s and possibly a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, you will be preparing yourself for a highly rewarding career in psychology.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for Psychologists represents national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2021.