How to Become a Psychologist
Having surveyed what psychology is, what psychologists do, and where it all came from, you might be wondering how people get to be psychologists in the first place. There are several routes; but here is the most common one. First, you major in psychology as an undergraduate student, also taking as many natural science, math, and computer courses as you can work in to your schedule. And you make very good grades throughout.
Next, you apply to graduate programs in psychology, many of which also require that you score high on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). You will also need strong letters of recommendation from faculty members whom you somehow managed to get to know as an undergraduate. Work experience in psychology, especially any research experience that you managed to gain as a lab assistant, helps a lot too. Basically, you do everything you can to prepare yourself and make yourself a strong candidate — competition is fierce and only a very small percentage of applicants are admitted. If you are applying to be a clinical psychologist, it also helps to get volunteer or practicum experience working in human services, such as homeless or domestic violence shelters.
If you're thinking about earning a graduate degree in psychology, then it is important to take the courses required for entry into most graduate programs. A 1996 survey published in American Psychologist listed the top five prerequisite courses: statistics, experimental methods, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, and personality psychology.
Now comes the really hard part: You have to do the work, and you're likely to find that it's quite difficult and demanding — especially during the first year, which is always the hardest. In all, you have to really want to be a psychologist, and while in graduate school you have to devote your life to it.
If all goes well, you eventually receive your Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), which are the most common types of degrees for psychologists. If your degree is primarily clinical, it probably took you three or four years in the graduate program plus another year of internship in a mental health setting — not counting how much additional time it took you to do your dissertation. If your degree is primarily experimental, the time was much the same except for the internship. But, especially if your primary interest is research, either clinical or experimental, you'll probably want to continue past the PhD or PsyD with at least a one-year “post doc” to continue your training and help you get established.