Cornell University


Several different graduate degrees may prepare you to pursue a clinical or counseling career in psychology; you must determine which one provides the best match for your academic preparation, intellectual interests, and career goals. A brief description of the most commonly pursued degrees follows. For additional information about differences among degrees and related topics, see the following books available in the Human Ecology Career Development Center, 172 MVR or in the Arts and Sciences Career Library, 55 Goldwin Smith Hall.

  • Getting In: A Step by Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology. (2007). American Psychological Association. Washington, DC. (Can be purchased from APA, 800/374-2721, or online)
  • Graduate Study in Psychology, 2009. (2008). American Psychological Association (APA). Washington, DC. (Can be purchased from APA)
  • The Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology: 2008/2009 Edition. (2008). John C. Norcross, Michael A. Sayette, and Tracy J. Mayne. New York: The Guilford Press. 

Highly recommended Commonly Pursued Degrees

Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

  • A research based degree providing training to be a scientist, scholar, and practitioner. A versatile degree: it allows you to work in mental health settings and hospitals, private practice, research, teaching, and consulting.
  • Very competitive admissions standards.
  • Programs are typically in university psychology departments, though some are in medical schools.
  • Many programs fund you with teaching or research assistantships.
  • There is no APA accredited master's degree in clinical psychology.
  • Time frame: 4 to 5 years of graduate school, 1 to 2 years of internship, and possibly a postdoctoral position.

 Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology

  • Provides training to be a practitioner, typically in private practice or counseling centers, e.g. university counseling centers. It is also possible to work in mental health centers or hospitals and conduct research. Allows you to teach in counselor education and some psychology departments.
  • Programs are usually in university psychology or counselor education departments.
  • You can receive a master's degree, and in some states, obtain a license to engage in a private practice with a master’s degree. New York State has recently added a process for individuals with master’s degrees to become licensed. Regulations vary by state. Contact the state to get the latest information (see contact information under licensing below). Some individuals admitted to Ph.D. programs in counseling psychology already have master's degrees in psychology or counseling, others go directly into Ph.D. programs.
  • Time frame: 4 years of graduate school, 1 year of internship.

 A comparison of clinical psychology and counseling psychology

While a private practice in clinical and counseling psychology might look very similar and licensing for graduates of APA–accredited programs in both areas is similar, clinical psychologists are more likely to work in health care settings. Clinical psychologists typically work with patients with more severe disorders, while counseling psychologists deal more with personal growth and adjustment problems. Typically admission for counseling psychology programs is less competitive than clinical psychology programs. You can be admitted to counseling psychology programs without majoring in psychology or related fields, and, in fact, humanities majors are admitted. Prerequisites may be required depending on the school. Clinical psychology programs typically require a more extensive background in psychology and place more emphasis on experimental psychological research. Research methods used by counseling psychologists generally include structured tests, interviews, interest inventories and observations.

Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology

  • Provides training to be a practitioner, usually in private practice or community mental health centers. Heavily based on course work and clinical experiential training; less emphasis on research than Ph.D. degrees.
  • Programs can be either in free standing professional schools or in universities.
  • Typically admission is less competitive than clinical psychology Ph.D. programs. Some programs prefer applicants with more work and life experience.
  • Programs often do not provide teaching or research assistantships, so students must fund themselves.
  • Time frame: 4 years of graduate school, 1 year of internship. For some programs, graduate school can be completed in 3 years, including summers, followed by 1 year of internship.

M.D. in Psychiatry

  • Psychiatry is an area of specialization studied after receiving a medical degree. Typically leads to a practice doing psychiatric diagnosis and therapy. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, but typically do not perform psychological tests (compared to Ph.D.s in clinical psychology who typically perform tests, but cannot prescribe medication).
  • Time frame: 4 years of medical school, 4 years of medical residency.

Master's Degree in School Psychology

  • Provides training to become a psychologist in a school setting for those interested in children, families and the schooling process. Allows you to perform testing, assessment, and counseling and provide consultation. A Ph.D. in school psychology provides the opportunity to teach in a school psychology program, but is not an advantage as a practitioner in an elementary or secondary school setting.
  • Programs are typically in school psychology or psychology departments, and admission is less competitive than Ph.D. programs in psychology.
  • Salaries parallel teachers' pay scales.
  • Time frame: 2 years of course work and internships. The number of internships and duration for each varies depending on the program.

Master's Degree in Social Work (M.S.W.)

  • Provides training to be a practitioner working in a mental health clinic, hospital, nursing homes, human service agency, or private practice. Allows you to consult with businesses, but not to teach or perform psychological tests. A versatile degree that is increasingly in demand given the trend toward managed health care in the United States. A doctorate provides the opportunity to teach in a social work program, but is not an advantage as a practitioner.
  • Programs are typically in university social work departments.
  • Admission is less competitive than Ph.D. programs in psychology.
  • Time frame: 2 years of course work which includes 450 hours of field placement. Licensure examinations are required and determined by U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions.

Typical hourly rates in private practice
Psychiatrist $110-160
Ph.D. in Clinical or Counseling Psychology or Psy.D. $80-140
M.S.W. $60-100

Note: Salaries can vary a great deal and the American Psychological Association does not track hourly rates as it may be considered “fixing the market.”

For an annual salary predictor, visit Salary Wizard and enter job title and geographic location.



Licensing may have some bearing on your choice of a degree program depending on the career option you hope to pursue. Each state has its own licensing requirements. If you know in which state you want to practice, you may want to find out which programs automatically allow you to sit for the state licensing exam. For information on New York State requirements, call the Office of the Professions within the Department of Education at 518/474-3817, or visit their website.

When investigating programs you may want to ask questions about how easy it is for graduates to get licensed. If you have questions about whether a specific degree will allow you to be licensed in a particular specialty area in New York State, the Office of the Professions website also has helpful information.