The 2021 Guide to Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology Programs

A master’s in clinical psychology program can prepare you for a multitude of therapy, psychology and consulting career paths. These programs coach you to become a marriage or family therapist, a licensed professional counselor, a forensic psychologist, a rehabilitation counselor or another clinical psychologist position. 

This degree provides a comprehensive education including crisis intervention, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, biological aspects of behavior and more. It also provides training in communication and ethics, two key aspects of psychology. The days when you had to be a full-time student on a university campus are long over. Now you can earn a master’s in clinical psychology online.

Earn an MA in Psychology Online from Pepperdine

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months


What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychologists work with individuals, couples and/or families to address mental health and behavioral issues. They may be general or specialized, work with all ages, and can be in private practice as therapists or work with community organizations and nonprofits in education or research. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that clinical psychologists should be versed in psychopathology issues. They can assess, diagnose and treat clients, consult with other health-care professionals and research psychopathology topics. 

Can You Earn a Master’s in Clinical Psychology Online?

Absolutely. There are many online master’s programs for clinical psychology at colleges and universities across the country. Online degree programs have advantages that are making them more attractive to students, and many have the same academic rigor as their on-campus counterparts. In fact, an Urban Institute analysis in 2018 found that more than 50% of master’s students report taking at least some online coursework (PDF, 326 KB). The only caveat is that the graduate program you choose has to be APA-approved.

Online Master of Clinical Psychology Program Admissions Requirements

Typical requirements for an online master’s program in clinical psychology include a bachelor’s degree (often in psychology or sociology), a transcript and a GPA that meets school requirements (typically 3.0 or higher), your score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), letters of recommendation, your resume and an essay or statement of intent that includes information on your research, volunteer experiences or student fellowships. 

Some schools require you do a case study analysis, which gives admissions officers insight into your education and reasoning abilities. If appropriate, you may need to take an English-proficiency test, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Some programs do not require a GRE, putting greater weight on other admission requirements (see below).

Online Clinical Psych Programs with No GRE Required

More colleges and universities are choosing to drop the GRE from their graduate admissions requirements. Even schools such as Brown, Yale, Pepperdine and Princeton are allowing individual departments to decide whether to require the test. Those that have dropped the test believe there are better ways to judge potential incoming students, in part due to their desire for diversity in the student body. 

Clinical Psychology Online Program Curriculum

Online students in all psychology programs tend to study a core curriculum and then branch out into specific areas of interest. For clinical psychology, students will take courses that cover the following:

  • Counseling skills
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychopathology 
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Developmental psychology
  • Biological aspects of behavior
  • Couple and family therapy
  • Crisis intervention
  • Personality theory
  • Ethics

In addition, APA standards (PDF, 799 KB) require programs to provide what’s called discipline-specific knowledge (DSK), such as history, research methods, quantitative methods and integrative knowledge.

Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology Concentrations

Within your degree program, you may be able to select concentrations that enhance your knowledge in the areas of your greatest interest. There are many directions a psychology student can go, and schools offer different programs and concentrations including the following:

  • Child, adolescent and family
  • Licensed professional counselor
  • Forensic psychology
  • Substance abuse and addictions
  • Neuropsychology
  • Multicultural psychology

The marriage and family therapy concentration and the licensed professional counselor concentration will lead you in directions where you can help make an immediate difference in people’s lives.

Marriage and Family Therapy Concentration

In addition to training in psychotherapy, a marriage and family therapist (MFT) is educated in family systems and dynamics. In general, MFTs can evaluate and treat behavioral issues, mental and emotional disorders and relationship problems (between couples and/or in families). They are trained not only in individual behaviors but also in how individuals function within relationship structures. Daily issues for which a person might consult a marriage and family therapist include depression, alcoholism or drug abuse or conflict.

Licensed Professional Counselor Concentration

A licensed professional counselor (LPC) uses any of a variety of methodologies and kinds of therapy, working collaboratively—primarily with individuals—to resolve problems. Often the solutions to those problems come from therapy that explores the individual’s psychological and social development. Similar to in marriage and family counseling, daily issues might include depression, alcoholism or drug abuse or conflict, but the process would be different. While an individual certainly is affected by his or her relationships, marriage or family situation, the counseling in this concentration focuses on individual solutions rather than couple-oriented or group-oriented solutions.

What Can You Do with a Clinical Psychology Master’s Degree?

Working as a marriage or family therapist or a licensed professional counselor are just two of the possibilities for psychology careers. With a master’s degree in clinical psychology, you can become a career counselor, a consultant, a forensic psychologist, the executive director of a community or social service organization, a company psychologist in a human resources department or a rehabilitation counselor. Licensing requirements will differ by state. Some states allow those with master’s degrees to pursue certain positions, while other states require doctorates.

Clinical Psychologist Salary and Career Outlook

There’s a continuing need for people in the psychology field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates jobs for psychologists will increase 14% from 2018 to 2028, “much faster than average.” The median pay in 2019 was $80,370, with the lowest 10% percent earning $45,380 or less, and the highest 10% earning $132,070 or more. As far as workplaces, government positions paid the most—a median annual wage of $96,870. Hospitals were next on the list, with median pay of $88,480; then ambulatory health care services, at $82,250, and schools, at $76,960.

Jobs for marriage and family therapists are expected to grow at an even faster rate—22% from 2018 to 2028. Median pay in 2019 was $49,610. Government positions again paid the most—a median of $72,230, while outpatient care centers ($52,140), individual and family services ($45,660), and offices of other health practitioners ($45,150) were next on the list.

There is no individual BLS category for licensed professional counselors, but mental health counselors had a median wage of $42,840. Government pay was again the highest, a median of $55,880, followed by offices of other health practitioners ($50,640), outpatient care centers ($44,770), individual and family services ($44,580), and residential mental health or substance abuse facilities ($39,060).

Why Pursue a Master’s in Clinical Psychology?

With a master’s degree in clinical psychology, you can make a difference in people’s lives when it matters most. People seek therapy when they have decided they need help with a situation, disorder or mental illness, and being there to help can be very fulfilling.

If you’re not feeling challenged enough in your current work, if you feel that your job has become too repetitive or stagnant or if you’re worried about job prospects in your industry, psychology may be the perfect place for you to turn. Especially if you’ve always been interested in listening to people or fascinated by the inner workings of the brain.

There are many career options for psychology students. Many colleges and universities have financial aid programs, and if you want to pursue even more education and opportunities after your master’s degree, you will be qualified to apply to doctoral programs. Completing a doctorate can provide even greater career flexibility and earning opportunities.

Online Master’s in Clinical Psychology Programs to Consider

When you decide to pursue an online master’s in clinical psychology, you’ll want to research the best school for you, based on a combination of curriculum, faculty, admission requirements, the number of credits needed to graduate, overall time frame to earn your degree, flexibility in scheduling, cost and availability of financial aid. Here are several schools to consider (note: credit units may not be measured the same way from school to school):

Last Updated July 2020