How to Become a Psychologist: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Psychology is the study of the human mind—how it works, how people behave, and how mental disorders occur and can be treated. There are several different career paths in psychology.

Many psychologists work in clinical settings, like hospitals or schools—they counsel patients and help to treat patients with mental illnesses, addiction, or mental health problems.

Psychologists also have careers as researchers, usually working in universities. These psychologists conduct scientific studies, developing and testing theories about human behavior.

Other psychologists, known as industrial-organizational psychologists, put their skills to work in business, applying psychological insights to areas such sales, marketing, and the management of a company. They help develop and sell new products, or make organizations run more efficiently.

Regardless of the path psychologists take, they need outstanding knowledge of the human mind, intelligence, curiosity, and a good head for numbers and data.


Annual salaries for psychologists will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for clinical psychologists working in the U.S. was $72,710 per year. Industrial-organizational psychologists made an average of $87,960. All other psychologists made an average of $88,400.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for psychologists, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work in Psychology

California has the most clinical psychologists: there are currently 17,970 jobs statewide, with a yearly average salary of $80,450. New York State is second, with 10,510 psychologists making an annual mean wage of $83,260. (In addition, there are research, industrial and other positions for psychologists in each state.)

The metro areas employing the most clinical psychologists are:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach (6,220)
  • New York-White Plains (6,090)
  • Chicago-Joliet (3,040)

The metro areas employing the highest concentration of clinical psychologists are:

  • Lebanon, PA (4.58 jobs per thousand)
  • Hanford-Corcoran, CA (3.6 jobs per thousand)

The metro areas employing the best-paid clinical psychologists are:

  • San Luis Obispo, CA (average annual salary $114,560)
  • Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA (average annual salary $110,640)

Employment and Salary Information for Psychologists

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a psychologist. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Psychologist

Why Become A Psychologist?

Scientific training, the ability to treat mental health problems, and insight into human nature—psychologists have a lot of talents. There’s a lot of study and training to go through, but here’s why it’s worth it:

  • Helping people. Clinical psychologists, in particular, help people strengthen their mental health and recover from mental illness, making a powerful difference to people’s lives.
  • Combine people skills with scientific knowledge. If you like numbers, statistics, and hard science, but are engaged with people, psychology gives you a good combination of responsibilities.
  • Pays well. The average salary for psychologists ranged between $72,710 and $88,400, depending on specialty.
  • Be your own boss. One-third of psychologists were self-employed in 2012. That’s a very high rate.
  • Learn the secrets of the human mind. It’s not only interesting to know how people tick, you’ll learn insights that can help to make you happier and more balanced.

Psychology: What You Need To Know

The skills a psychologist needs vary greatly depending on the type of role they have, but most psychologists will need a mix of strong interpersonal skills, a deep understanding of the science, and the ability to understand and interpret data. A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Counseling and Therapy
  • Analytical Skills
  • Quantitative Skills
  • Scientific Research

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about psychology careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Psychology Careers

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a few positions in counseling, but in general, psychologists need a master’s degree.

Master’s degree

Schools and clinical settings require a master’s degree. In order to enter a master’s program, students do not have to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology, but they will typically ask students to have completed coursework relating to the program, such as statistics, introductory psychology and experimental psychology.

Licensure is also required in most states to use the title ‘psychologist,’ or to work in a job that involves the practical application of psychology. The requirements vary from state to state, but most states require a graduate degree, followed by one to two years of professional experience gained through internships and supervised practice, as well as passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.


Psychologists specializing in research may pursue a PhD. Unlike most other PhD programs, psychology programs often ask those who have already graduated with a Master’s degree to perform one year of supervised internship and pass exams rather than writing a dissertation.