Written by: Staff Writer
Last Updated: May 2020
Clinical psychologists use knowledge of cognitive processes and development to provide counseling services. These professionals assess and treat emotional, mental, or behavioral disorders. They may help patients deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marital problems, and job stress.
Clinical psychologists can work for private counseling firms, universities and colleges, government agencies, and healthcare facilities. They may also open an independent practice. Some psychologists teach college-level courses in addition to providing counseling services. To become a clinical psychologist, individuals must earn a master's and doctoral degree in clinical psychology, complete the number of clinical hours required by the state certification board, and pass a licensing exam.
This guide provides an overview of the clinical psychology profession, including educational requirements to practice. Students can use the information below to assess and compare online master's programs. Many of the highest quality and most affordable online psychology degrees include similar foundational curricula.
Learners can pursue various specialties and subfields of clinical psychology. Students should choose a program that aligns with their intellectual passions and career goals. This guide includes a ranking of the best online master's in psychology programs, along with common course offerings and degree requirements.
Top 10 Online Programs in Clinical Psychology 2020
1. Touro University Worldwide
2. Golden Gate University-San Francisco
3. Arizona State University-Online
4. Saint Leo University
5. National Louis University
6. National University
7. Tiffin University
8. University of West Alabama
9. Mercy College
10. Regent University
Clinical Psychology Overview
Clinical psychologists study, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. These professionals use observation and assessment to monitor, research, and evaluate patient conditions. After delivering a diagnosis, clinical psychologists work with patients to help them manage short-term and chronic issues.
Psychologists may also research behavioral or emotional patterns, conduct studies on brain function and neurological conditions, publish articles in academic journals, and design behavior modification programs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects employment for psychologists to increase 14% from 2018 to 2028, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations.
After obtaining an online master's degree in psychology, graduates can pursue careers or doctoral-level training in the mental health field. Graduates often work at mental health facilities as master's-level clinicians, developmental specialists, and case managers.
A master's degree does not qualify professionals for licensure in the United States. While master's degree-holders cannot practice independently, they can work under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. Graduates of master's programs can also continue their education and earn a doctorate to qualify for licensure.
Master's programs in clinical psychology typically require 36-60 credits. Major coursework often covers topics including psychopathology, cognitive assessment, ethical and professional issues, developmental psychology, and psychometrics. Many master's programs in the field include a practicum or supervised clinical experience. Other programs require students to complete a supervised research project and a thesis.
Students who continue their education and earn a doctoral degree are eligible to pursue licensure. While licensure requirements vary by state, candidates must typically hold a doctorate in psychology, have completed an internship and 1-2 years of supervised clinical experience, and pass a professional practice exam.
Common Clinical Psychology Courses
Lifespan and Development: This course introduces students to theories of human development and the health implications of various developmental issues. Students explore social, biological, and cognitive processes involved in aging. Coursework covers topics including genetic influences in human development, infancy and childhood, early childhood psychosocial development, adolescent physical and sexual development, and middle and late adulthood. Students also learn about cultural differences in development and the therapeutic implications of long-term care and end-of-life grief issues.
Psychopathology: This course explores models of psychological disorders, paradigms of mental and emotional dysfunction, and assessment and evaluation techniques for measuring psychological disturbance. Coursework also covers practices of diagnosis and psychopathology classifications. Students examine case studies and learn to identify disorders using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. Students learn about anxiety, bipolar, depressive, feeding and eating, obsessive compulsive, and personality disorders. The class also covers multicultural, ethical, and legal issues related to abnormal psychology.
Group Counseling: This course introduces students to the theories, concepts, and practices used in professional group counseling. Students learn basic principles of group dynamics, and they examine group developmental stages and member roles. Learners prepare to establish and lead counseling groups. Coursework explores topics including group counseling research and professional ethics of group therapy. Students may also gain experience as group participants and leaders. When available, the experiential component typically comprises group therapy sessions with classmates.
Principles of Couple and Family Counseling: This course helps students develop the skills necessary to understand the dynamics of couples and families. Students explore relevant theories and techniques, as well as recent research and development in the field of couples and family therapy. Theoretical frameworks include psychosocial, psychodynamic, transgenerational, strategic, cognitive-behavioral, and social constructionist models. Class topics include family systems and intervention methods. Students also explore how culture, gender, ethnicity, spirituality, and values impact an individual's understanding of family dynamics.
Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling: Students in this class develop an understanding of legal and ethical theories and principles related to counseling practice. Students explore the history of ethics in counseling-related professions. Learners examine the legal and ethical responsibilities of counselors in matters related to confidentiality, mandatory reporting, involuntary hospitalization, the counseling of minors, and patient privilege. Additional course topics include ethical decision-making processes, psychological context of moral development, and multiculturalism.
Clinical Psychology Concentrations
Many clinical psychology programs offer concentrations, which allow students to specialize within the field and prepare to work with a specific population. Common concentration options include clinical forensic psychology, clinical health psychology, clinical neuropsychology, childhood adolescent psychology, and behavioral medicine.
Choosing a concentration area can improve job prospects for individuals seeking specialized positions. For example, a graduate with a specialization in developmental psychology would be a strong candidate for a position as a clinical psychologist at a university, since knowledge in this area is applicable to challenges that students face. Developmental psychologists may also work in mental health organizations that serve families and children.
A concentration in forensic psychology may qualify a psychologist to serve as an expert witness in court cases. Graduates with a concentration in forensic psychology can also qualify for positions as master's-level clinicians. These professionals work in settings that do not require licensure, such as mental health and drug courts, offender rehabilitation programs, and other public service agencies.
Learners attending many of the most affordable online master's degree programs in psychology can also specialize in neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists study brain function and diagnose and treat neurological disorders.
While most clinical psychologists work in research and clinical settings, some specialty areas can lead to roles in forensic or industry settings. Concentrations typically require specialized coursework, in addition to core courses. Students can improve their marketability by pursuing an externship or clinical experience in a setting or position aligned with their concentration area.
Clinical Psychology Requirements
Applicants to most clinical psychology master's programs must have a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, meet minimum GPA requirements, and possess sufficient GRE scores. Candidates with bachelor's degree in a discipline other than psychology may need to complete prerequisite courses in the discipline, such as introduction to psychology, statistics, and research methodology.
Applicants must typically submit official transcripts, a curriculum vitae, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Some programs conduct admissions interviews.
Master's programs typically require applicants to have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some schools offer probationary admission for candidates who do not meet GPA requirements. Students who receive probationary admission must generally meet certain requirements during their first semester of coursework. Although many schools require applicants to submit GRE scores, some programs require no standardized test scores. Other programs offer waivers to qualified applicants, such as those who hold a master's degree in another field.
Master's students must typically maintain a certain GPA throughout their studies. Degree requirements often include coursework, a clinical internship or supervised experience, a comprehensive exam, and a thesis. While completing a thesis, students usually work with a faculty advisor to complete a research project and a report on the results. Institutions often tailor comprehensive exams to a learner's specific program of study.
How to Become a Clinical Psychologist
1. Complete a Master's Degree
A master's degree in clinical psychology typically requires 36-60 credits and takes 2-3 years to complete. Students must meet all degree requirements and must usually maintain a minimum GPA. Master's programs often require clinical experience and a comprehensive exam or a thesis. Clinical psychology students can pursue a master of arts or a master of science. Master of science curricula often emphasize research and neurological processes to a greater extent than master of arts programs.
2. Enroll in a Ph.D. Program
Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology generally require 90 credits of coursework and take 4-7 years to complete. Ph.D. students receive training in psychological theories and research methods to prepare for independent research in the field. Ph.D. programs typically require students to complete a research project and a dissertation. Learners may also pursue a doctor of psychology degree, which focuses on treating patients rather than conducting research.
3. Complete Clinical Training
Most states require candidates for licensure to have some clinical experience, though the number of required hours vary by state. Individuals typically complete some supervised clinical training hours while earning their doctorate. However, this experience does not usually meet licensure requirements. For example, candidates for a clinical psychology license in Texas must have at least 3,500 supervised experience hours. Candidates may have earned 1,750 of these hours during a doctoral internship but must complete the rest in a postdoctoral clinical setting.
4. Become Licensed
Licensure requirements vary by state but generally include a doctoral degree, a certain number of supervised clinical experience hours, and a passing exam score. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards administers the examination for professional practice in psychology, the most commonly required test. After earning licensure, practicing clinical psychologists must complete continuing education to maintain their credentials. Requirements for licensure renewal vary by state and jurisdiction.
Top 20 Online Master's Programs in Clinical Psychology
1. Touro University Worldwide
Ranked among the country's most affordable online colleges, TUW offers a master of arts in psychology with four concentration options: media psychology, educational psychology, health psychology, and forensic psychology. While the program does not lead to licensure, it prepares graduates for doctoral study or a variety of careers.
The curriculum requires 12 courses: nine core courses and three concentration courses. TUW allows students to complete their degree online without ever visiting campus. TUW offers six annual start dates to maximize flexibility for working students, and full-time students can complete the degree in one year.
TUW prioritizes accessibility for all students, and the college does not require an application fee or GRE scores from graduate applicants. All applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5, while transfer applicants from other graduate programs must have a minimum GPA of 2.75.
2. Golden Gate University
A private college based in San Francisco, GGU offers a master of arts in industrial organizational psychology available in both fully online and hybrid formats. The program applies psychological principles to workplace dynamics, giving students the skills to improve employee training and productivity, evaluate organizational problems, and conduct market research.
GGU's online master's in psychology curriculum requires 42 credits: 33 credits of core courses and nine courses of electives. Core courses explore the fundamental principles of industrial organizational psychology, including group dynamics in organizations, tests and measurements, and organizational change. Electives focus on specialized topics such as work and workforce trends, coaching, and the ethics of conflict resolution.
GGU offers comprehensive career resources for students, including consulting and advising, events and networking, and jobs and internships. Psychology students can take advantage of the school's network of employers both in the Bay Area and throughout the nation.
3. Arizona State University
One of the country's largest public colleges, ASU is also a major provider of online education, ranking highly for its innovation and academic excellence. ASU's online master of science in psychology explores human behavior, emotions, cognition, and attitudes, emphasizing both empirical research and psychological theory.
The 36-credit curriculum includes required courses in professional issues in psychology, quantitative analysis, and research methods. Electives explore specialized subfields such as developmental psychology, affective science, behavioral analysis, and social psychology. All students complete a culminating capstone in general psychology during the program's final semester.
ASU offers several annual start dates and condensed 7.5-week courses. Full-time students can complete the degree in about 18 months, while part-time students have up to six years to complete their studies. Around 80% of graduates report that ASU has inspired them to consider new career opportunities.
4. Saint Leo University
A private college located near Tampa, Florida, Saint Leo offers one of the most affordable online psychology degrees in the state. The university's master's in psychology offers comprehensive perspectives on human behavior, highlighting the role of research, data analysis, and teaching. The program uses a fully online, fully asynchronous format, enabling students to complete coursework at any time.
The curriculum requires 36 credits, encompassing topics such as learning and cognition, lifespan development, advanced social psychology, and diversity and ethics. Students complete the curriculum in a set sequence, taking one course at a time in a cohort of 15 students. Each course lasts eight weeks.
The program concludes with a six-credit capstone thesis, which requires students to propose and execute a significant research project. The capstone emphasizes research design and ethical decision-making.
5. National Louis University
Chicago-based NLU offers a master of science in industrial organizational psychology that prepares graduates to work in one of the fastest-growing psychology career fields in the country. The program uses psychology tools to address workplace issues and maximize organizational productivity.
This interdisciplinary program combines courses from NLU's School of Business and Management and School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Learners complete a minimum of 36 credits, including a 27-credit core that introduces key topics in performance analysis and measurement, research design, work motivation and job abilities, and organizational effectiveness and development.
While NLU does not require applicants to hold a background in psychology, admitted students may need to complete up to six credits of foundational courses. Foundation courses include research methodology and writing, advanced social psychology, and advanced theories of personality.
6. National University
A professionally focused private college based in San Diego, NU offers a master of arts in counseling psychology with tracks in marriage and family therapy and professional clinical counseling. Both pathways lead to licensure in the state of California.
Both tracks require a minimum of 90 quarter credits. Each track includes three core course sequences covering topics such as clinical assessment, case management, treatment of addictions, and psychology of trauma. Each track also includes 13.5 credits of concentration-specific coursework.
Learners can also pursue a combined marriage and family therapy/licensed professional clinical counselor track, which adds courses in assessment techniques, research, and career counseling. This pathway includes additional practicum hours to meet state requirements. NU's curriculum meets licensure requirements for California, but residents of other states should consult their local licensing boards to determine eligibility.
7. Tiffin University
Ohio-based TU offers a master of science in psychology that explores human behavior and thought using research and analytical tools applicable to several professions. The program emphasizes scientific/experimental psychology rather than counseling/clinical practice, preparing graduates for doctoral study or employment.
Students complete a minimum of 37 credits, including courses in statistical procedures, research design and analysis, history and systems of psychology, and advanced theories of personality. TU offers two academic terms per semester, with program start dates available in January, March, May, July, August and October.
The program concludes with a two-part capstone research project that synthesizes overall program knowledge and skills. Students design and execute an extensive research project in an approved area of psychology, which includes a significant literature review and ethical data gathering. The capstone integrates students' overall learning, focusing on an area of professional and/or academic interest.
8. University of West Alabama
A public college based in Livingston, UWA offers one of Alabama's most affordable online master's degree programs in psychology: an online master of science in experimental psychology with optional concentrations in clinical psychology and health and sports psychology. The program prepares graduates for doctoral study and research-based careers in behavioral science and health psychology.
Both the general and health and sports psychology tracks require a minimum of 36 credits, including 18 credits of core courses and 18 credits of applied courses. Both tracks share the same core curriculum, which focuses on theory, statistics, and research methods. The clinical psychology track requires 39-57 credits, including 12-24 credits of clinical courses.
While the curriculum may meet requirements for licensed professional counselor certification, students seeking licensure should consult their state licensing board to determine eligibility.
9. Mercy College
Integrating research, coursework, professional colloquia, and clinical internships, Mercy's master of science in psychology builds broad knowledge in the theory, methodology, ethics, and practice of psychology. Offering both clinical and research opportunities, the program prepares students for both professional employment and doctoral study.
Mercy's online master's in psychology requires 36 credits divided between a 24-credit core and 12 elective credits. The core builds knowledge in key areas like contemporary theories of psychology, psychopathology, and professional issues and ethics. Elective options vary, and many students complete a six-credit graduate thesis to fulfill half of the required elective credits.
Program applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in psychology, behavioral science, sociology, or another related field. All students must have completed at least 12 undergraduate credits in psychology and at least one course in statistics — all with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Applicants must also submit an application essay and complete an interview with the program director.
10. Regent University
Regent offers an online master of science in psychology with several concentration options, including addictions, cyber psychology, industrial organizational psychology, leadership coaching, and marriage and family psychology. The program also offers a pre-doctoral track that prepares students to earn their Ph.D. after graduation.
Regardless of concentration, all students complete a 27-credit core sequence that covers contemporary psychology, biological bases of behavior, integrative psychology, and lifespan psychology. Each concentration includes unique courses that build specialized skills. The cyber psychology concentration, for example, examines the effect of online interactions on human behavior.
Regent offers rolling admissions and several annual start dates throughout the year. Most applicants hold undergraduate degrees in fields like psychology or counseling, though Regent also considers applicants from other backgrounds. Applicants must hold a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75, though the school recommends a 3.0 for competitive applicants.
11. University of Southern California
One of California's most respected private colleges, USC offers a master of science in applied psychology that explores the intersection of psychological research, theory, and practice in business environments. The program offers concentrations in consumer psychology and organizational psychology. Both tracks emphasize psychological tools in the context of workplace management and marketing services.
Learners complete a minimum of 34 credits, including a program core, concentration electives, and a practicum. The core curriculum explores topics including human behavior, research methods, and organizational psychology. Electives cover specialized topics such as marketing and organizational analytics, psychology of interactive media, group dynamics, and leadership.
While students typically complete eight credits of concentration courses, USC also offers the option to divide credits evenly between both tracks, enabling students to customize their degree based on professional interests. All learners also complete a professional internship and a two-credit psychology treatise.
12. Angelo State University
Ranked among the most affordable online colleges in Texas, ASU offers a master of science in applied psychology that takes a broad approach to the field. While the program takes place entirely online, students also have the option to complete some elective courses on ASU's campus in San Angelo.
The curriculum requires 36 credits and offers both thesis and non-thesis tracks. All students complete core courses in social psychology, theories of personality, applied economic psychology, and social perception. Students in the thesis track complete a significant research project into an approved psychology topic, while non-thesis students complete six additional credits of electives.
ASU does not require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in psychology. However, applicants with fewer than 18 psychology credits must take a graduate-level course that introduces major concepts.
13. Indiana Institute of Technology
Specializing in technical and professional programs, Indiana Tech operates campuses throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, along with a distance education program. The school's master of science in psychology aligns with American Psychological Association curriculum standards, emphasizing modern research, theories, principles, and practices.
Students complete a 36-credit curriculum that includes coursework in lifespan development, multicultural psychology, advanced counseling theory, and legal and ethical issues in psychology. While the program does not lead directly to licensure for private practice, it may meet academic requirements for licensure in several U.S. states.
Indiana Tech's online master's in psychology degree concludes with a capstone course that assesses overall knowledge and competencies gained throughout the program. Learners must successfully complete a comprehensive exam that encompasses major course content and program principles. The program prepares graduates to enter non-licensed professional roles or move on to doctoral study.
14. Harvard University
One of the country's most prestigious colleges, Harvard offers a master of liberal arts in psychology degree through its Division of Continuing Education. While the program uses a primarily online format, students must complete at least three courses on Harvard's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Harvard's online master's in psychology uses a unique admissions format in which students complete several courses before actually applying to the program. Prospective students demonstrate commitment and competency by completing an initial three-course sequence, after which they officially enroll in the program. Learners then complete an additional nine courses along with either a thesis or capstone.
The thesis emphasizes academic research, requiring students to produce an in-depth, publishable study on a psychology topic under the close supervision of a thesis advisor. The capstone takes an experiential approach, requiring students to provide a solution to a real world psychology issue.
15. Southwestern Assemblies of God University
A Christian college based in Waxahachie, Texas, SAGU offers a faith-based approach to psychology. The school's master's in clinical psychology explores clinical assessment and counseling techniques for adults, adolescents, and children. Students gain specialized knowledge in the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental health issues and disorders.
Learners complete a comprehensive 63-credit curriculum that includes a research component, a professional component, a practicum component, and related electives. The research component covers statistical methods and research design, while the professional component includes courses in social and cultural diversity, cognitive assessment, and advanced psychopathology and treatment planning.
All students must complete a two-part practicum in psychology, which requires a minimum of 450 hours in an approved psychology setting. The practicum builds professional experience, giving students the opportunity to demonstrate practical skills in a supervised environment.
16. McNeese State University
McNeese's master of arts in psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis emphasizes both assessment and intervention practices, preparing graduates to obtain national board certification in behavior analysis. The program is accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International and approved by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board.
The curriculum consists of 58 credits divided between 18 core credits and 40 concentration credits. Courses include principles of learning and behavior, conceptual foundations of behavior analysis, human growth and development, and verbal behavior. All learners complete both a graduate thesis and an extensive applied behavioral analysis internship.
While the program does not require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in psychology, prospective students must have at least three credits in statistics and 18 credits in psychology, including courses in abnormal, social, and experimental psychology.
Program applicants must hold a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 and a cumulative GRE score of at least 285.
17. University of Louisiana at Monroe
Ranked among the most affordable online colleges in Louisiana, ULM offers a master of science in psychology available fully online. The program features a general track along with optional concentrations in psychometric psychology or forensic psychology. Regardless of concentration, students complete a minimum of 36 credits divided between nine credits of core courses and 27 elective credits.
The program's core includes three required courses: research methods, neuropsychology, and quantitative methods in the behavioral sciences. Students in the general track complete one additional course in personality and social psychology along with 24 psychology elective credits. The psychometric and forensic psychology tracks include unique courses that build specialized skills, such as counseling in criminal justice and sociology of law.
Applicants must have either a minimum 3.0 GPA or a 2.75 GPA and a score of at least 290 on the GRE. Prospective students must also meet undergraduate prerequisites, including nine credits in psychology with at least three credits dedicated to statistics.
18. Albizu University
A private college specializing in graduate psychology studies, CAU offers a master of science in industrial organizational psychology that prepares students to apply psychological knowledge and techniques to the workplace. The degree emphasizes selection and placement, performance management, training and development, and organizational development.
Students complete a total of 48 credits, including a 42-credit academic core and a six-credit capstone. The program core includes both foundational psychology courses and specialized industrial organizational courses, such as personnel psychology, organizational psychology, work motivation, and performance appraisal and feedback.
All students can complete an industrial organizational practicum in an approved professional setting, which builds practical experience and draws connections between coursework and professional practice. CAU does not permit students to complete the practicum at their current place of employment. However, students typically complete the practicum at sites in their own community.
19. Lynn University
Based in Boca Raton, Florida, Lynn University offers a master of science in psychology that features both a general track and a specialization in industrial organizational psychology. The program's curriculum emphasizes research and program evaluation, leadership and management of organizations, and advanced social psychology.
Regardless of concentration, students complete a 37-credit academic program that covers testing and assessment, social psychology, human growth and development, psychobiology, and leadership and management. The program culminates in a practicum that combines professional fieldwork and one-on-one mentoring from a faculty member.
Lynn does not require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in psychology, and the program does not include prerequisites. Lynn recommends a GPA of at least 3.0, but the psychology program evaluates applicants holistically, giving equal weight to each part of the application. Applicants do not need to take the GRE.
20. Southern New Hampshire University
One of the country's largest and most affordable online colleges, SNHU offers a master of science in psychology with three concentrations: forensic psychology, industrial organizational psychology, and child and adolescent development psychology. This fully online program emphasizes research, ethics, measurement, and experiential learning.
Each concentration requires learners to complete a minimum of 36 credits. Along with a general program core, students complete concentration courses that build specialized knowledge. For example, the forensic psychology track includes courses in psychology of the courtroom and intersection of law and psychology.
SNHU offers rolling admissions with five start dates each year. Applicants need not hold an undergraduate psychology degree, but prospective students who lack psychology credits may be required to complete courses in foundations of psychology, statistics, and research methods. While the program does not lead to state licensure, it prepares graduates to pursue several career paths and doctoral study.