Is it Appropriate to Get Your Degree as a Psychologist Online?

Reader’s Question

I have a quick question. Would you say that getting your degree online as a Psychologist is appropriate? I mean there are so many options, but I really want to know what your thoughts are on that. I go to traditional school and I like it thus far, and I get good grades. I just wanted some input. Thank you in advance for your efforts.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are many issues in that short question. As you suggest, a degree in psychology is available from online colleges and universities. When you mention getting a degree as a Psychologist, however, I assume you are referring to a graduate degree such as a Master’s Degree, Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. Here are some things to think about:

  • No university offers a graduate degree as a “Psychologist”. Graduate schools offer degrees in Psychology, Clinical Psychology, School Psychology, etc. The professional label of “Psychologist” is granted to individuals who have met requirements to practice psychology and have been granted a license by their state (in the US), their government, or other licensing authority. To be considered for licensure as a Psychologist, a graduate degree in psychology is actually the minimal requirement.
  • A graduate degree in psychology — required for licensure as a Psychologist — must meet the standards of the licensing board in your specific state/country. If you receive a Ph.D. in Psychology from an online university that is not recognized by your psychologist licensing authority, then your money, effort, and degree will not give you a license as a psychologist. This is an area where many online universities and colleges have issues. It’s impossible for an online university to create a degree that is 100% acceptable to all states in the USA and all countries in the world. In fact, most don’t promise the degree you receive will allow you be obtain a license as a Psychologist. An online university in California can’t tell you the degree will meet the requirements for licensing in Ohio for example. The solution to this problem is contacting your appropriate Psychologist licensing board/authority to check if a specific online university psychology program is acceptable for their licensing requirements. Many licensing authorities post a list of acceptable traditional and online university programs on their website.
  • The term “online” is often misleading, giving the impression that you can obtain your Ph.D. in Psychology while sitting at your computer in your pajamas. Acceptable online university programs involve meetings with other students, contacts with instructors, and practicum and internships at mental health facilities. Most involve traveling, often 500 miles away for workshops. A good online university program requires just as much effort as a traditional program. If it didn’t require the same amount of internship hours, practicum placements, dissertation requirements, etc., it wouldn’t be eligible to fill the requirements for licensing as a Psychologist.
  • In my experience, online graduate programs in Psychology have been very valuable. These programs offer the opportunity to obtain graduate school degrees to students in rural or isolated areas of the country, those who live far away from traditional universities, and those who are already working in the field. Online universities offer flexible hours and other advantages as well.

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I would recommend staying where you are at this point. If you are enjoying school and doing well, continue on that path. There is often a difference between academic education and the academic experience. If the question arises “What would Freud think about Cognitive-Behavior Therapy?” — I’d want to hear and experience that classroom discussion. As a psychologist-in-training, you need to hear and witness how other people think, feel, and react — and as much as possible. As you continue your education over the next several years, an online university may be a viable option.

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