Online Graduate Certificate in Psychology Programs

What is a Graduate Certificate?

A graduate certificate refers to a credential earned by completing a sequence of graduate courses concentrating in one specialty, such as health psychology. Admission to graduate certificate programs requires a bachelor’s degree and acceptance to graduate school. Graduate certificates differ from post-graduate certificate programs for master’s or doctoral degree holders, which typically qualify graduates with teaching licensure.

Graduate certificates carry a lighter course load than a master’s degree, with no thesis or internship requirements. Many students opt for graduate certificates to meet continuing education requirements, enter emerging fields, acquire new job skills, and improve their prospects for career advancement. Completed coursework from these certificates typically can be applied to master’s or doctoral degree requirements in the future.

What Should I Expect from an Online Graduate Certificate in Psychology?

How Long Does it Take to get a Graduate Certificate in Psychology?

The coursework required for a graduate certificate in psychology online typically includes four to six graduate-level courses that students complete in about one year of full-time study. Schools typically determine the sequence of required classes, and some programs include one or two electives. Most students complete graduate certificate programs faster than master’s programs. While some certificate programs incorporate final projects or weekend intensives, certificates carry no thesis requirement.

Occasionally, certificates require on-site fieldwork such as a practicum or internship in addition to coursework. Some programs allow students to transfer of up to 10 graduate credits towards their certificate. While distance learners in most certificate programs study at their own pace, some programs follow a cohort model in which a group of students progress through their studies in tandem.

What Classes will I Take in an Online Graduate Certificate in Psychology?

Courses for online graduate certificate programs in psychology vary widely both because each certificate program covers a specialized focus area and since schools emphasize different aspects of the material. Classes often take an interdisciplinary approach, examining the material through conceptual frameworks such as complex systems theory. Coursework typically covers topics like theory, research methods, literature review, and professional ethics. The table below features short descriptions of three classes that are commonly required within graduate certificate programs in psychology.

Clinical Health Psychology


This course emphasizes a complex systems perspective, examining the interactions at play among the biological, organizational, environmental, social, and psychological factors in health and illness. Topics covered include evidence-based psychological interventions; health promotion and wellness; ethical and legal concerns; political, economic, and policy issues; and clinical health psychology research methods.

Skills Gained:

  • Clinical interviewing
  • Appropriate use of relevant clinical assessment procedures
  • Application of psychological interventions


Family Systems Theory


Family systems theory courses survey the fundamental systems, functioning processes, and applications of general systems theory to family development. Topics covered include solution-focused models, therapeutic interventions, family development and life cycle stages, ethical and legal issues, family stress and coping, and counseling approaches to family function and dysfunction from multigenerational and structural viewpoints.

Skills Gained:

  • Identify and discuss factors hindering interpersonal relationships
  • Advocacy skills for family empowerment


Industrial/Organizational Psychology


This course explores key applications of behavioral theories in organizational contexts. Topics include group development and team dynamics, organizational design and development, job satisfaction, and employee motivation. Students examine the factors that drive success and productivity in organizational settings, including diversity, employee-manager relationships, personality, decision-making, organizational structure, work stressors, and conflict.

Skills Gained:

  • Team-building management strategies
  • Conflict management strategies

Concentrations Available for an Online Graduate Certificate in Psychology

Many students choose a graduate certificate in psychology online to re-specialize in an area of particular interest. Popular graduate certificate concentrations include:

  • Forensic Psychology
    Forensic psychology applies psychological principles and techniques to legal matters. Forensic psychologists often work in corrections, consult with trial attorneys and judges, and provide expert testimony in criminal and civil courtrooms. Common job titles include forensic analyst and forensic case worker.

  • Educational Psychology
    Educational psychology applies psychological principles and methods to the study of teaching and learning. Students explore theories of learning, cognitive development, instructional issues, development of educational materials, and educational process improvement. Graduates in this concentration often pursue careers as specialists in student testing, research, or program development.

  • Sports Psychology
    Sports psychology examines the psychological aspects of athletic performance, including injury, rehabilitation, and recovery. Topics include performance enhancement, intervention methods, biomechanics, athletic motivation, and peak performance. Graduates enter into the field as sports psychology trainers and performance enhancement counselors.

  • School Psychology
    School psychology is a clinical concentration specializing in the application of educational psychology principles and methods in K-12 school. Topics include effective instruction methods, behavioral and intellectual assessment, and program evaluation. School psychologists frequently work as program analysts or consult with parents, administrators, and teachers to facilitate learning.

  • Clinical Psychology
    Integrating theory, science, and practice, clinical psychology encompasses many specialities that involve the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of psychological disorders. Coursework focuses on the design and implementation of treatment, wellness promotion, intervention, and the evaluation of treatment outcomes. Common careers for clinicians include counseling in private practice or in healthcare settings.

What’s the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Certification?

Consider your career goals, learning style, and living situation as you explore options for a graduate certificate in psychology online. To help select the right program for you, consider the differences between online and traditional programs regarding accessibility and flexibility. Online programs offer flexibility that suits the schedules of working students, but remember that distance learners must self-motivate.

Flexibility

Online: Students choose among a range of specialities, increasing their chances of finding one that suits their needs without the need to relocate. Working students also enjoy the flexibility of online programs, given that many instructors deliver courses asynchronously.

Traditional: Students in traditional graduate certificate programs select from a more geographically-limited range of specialties. They either relocate to attend school or select a program within a reasonable distance from their current residence. Many students also leave their jobs in order to attend school full time.

Access (libraries, on-campus activities, office hours)

Online: Online programs offer reliable access to most student services through a learning management system. Distance learners typically have access to textbooks, library materials, tutoring, instructors, and career services through email and online portals.

Traditional: Students enrolled in on-campus programs receive in-person access to libraries, office hours, tutoring, technical support, and other student services. They attend lectures and events; gather with fellow students locally for group work, study, and networking purposes; and complete internships, practicums, and fieldwork through local community partnerships and organizations.

Motivation

Online: Students in online programs rely on self-motivation, discipline, and a proactive approach to learning rather than the structure provided by traditional classroom environments. Distance learners must exercise initiative, solve problems, keep themselves on schedule, and accept responsibility for learning material on their own.

Traditional: Students in on-campus programs often find that attending classes in structured environments provides an external motivation that keeps them on track. The ability to study and network with other students in person, attend on-campus events, and join local interest groups can also help keep students motivated.

Are Online Psychology Graduate Certification Programs Cheaper than Traditional Programs?

Earning a graduate certificate in psychology online costs less than a master’s degree, and tuition costs for online programs typically match traditional certificate programs. Additionally, online programs offer other opportunities to reduce costs. Some state-funded schools offer reduced tuition to residents, and many schools offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students.

Other potential savings pathways include military discounts, tuition discounts for association members, and avoiding costs associated with on-campus programs. You may want to ask your employer about tuition reimbursement, even if no formal reimbursement program exists. Some online graduate certificate programs offer small grants to eligible students for a limited time.

Other costs to consider include potential travel costs for in-person components, exam proctoring fees, resource fees, and student health services. Many students choose online graduate certificate programs because they value educational opportunities that permit them to work during the day and study at night.

How are Online Psychology Courses Different from Campus-based Programs?

Students in online graduate certificate programs in psychology complete coursework identical to traditional on-campus coursework. Distance learners require regular access to the internet and appropriate technology to complete coursework, but all academic requirements remain the same. For online programs, students log into a school’s learning management system — typically Blackboard, Moodle, or Canvas — to access their courses. Access to a learning management system enables distance learners to read digital course packs and textbooks; submit assignments; take exams; communicate with instructors; collaborate with fellow students; and track their enrollment, grades, and progress.

Distance learners access asynchronous classes and other instructional videos through their school’s learning management system. Synchronous classes, which meet at a specific time, require students to log on through a platform such as Adobe Connect to access lectures and participate in class discussions.

Do Online Psychology Graduate Certification Programs Require Students to be On-campus? Do any of the Programs Have Labs or Clinical Work?

The majority of online graduate certificate programs in psychology do not require on-campus attendance, though a few programs offer optional on-campus practicums, symposiums, directed research projects, weekend intensives, or internships. These electives typically include one to three credits. If you hope to eventually enter a clinical master’s or doctoral program, you may want to complete a clinical internship or other fieldwork opportunity.

Distance learners enrolled in certificate programs typically take full responsibility for locating and arranging their own on-site internships, including finding a faculty sponsor. Online students can also take advantage of career guidance services available through their school. Many students also use platforms such as LinkedIn or Handshake to help them find and secure clinical fieldwork opportunities.

Do Online Students Still Qualify for Financial Aid?

Eligible students enrolled in online graduate certificate programs in psychology typically receive the same access to financial aid as students on-campus, though some certificate programs only qualify for financial aid if students complete coursework while pursuing a graduate degree. Both on-campus and online students fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to determine their eligibility for grants, loans, work-study, and scholarship opportunities, and track their status through online portals. Eligibility for federal financial aid typically requires enrollment in an accredited school.

For more information on psychology scholarships, click here.

What License do I Need to Practice Psychology?

Professional licensure requirements in psychology vary by state. Students should research state-specific licensing requirements in their states of interest, select a program accordingly, and complete a master’s or doctoral degree with one to two years of supervised clinical internship prior to applying for licensure. Candidates must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, and some states also require additional jurisdictional exams. Online graduate certificate programs in psychology do not qualify certificate holders for professional licensure.

Licensing fees include $600 for the EPPP, $400 for an initial license, and additional fees for the application, exam appointment setting, and optional practice exams. For further information, you can check a state’s fee schedules and the handbook of licensing requirements through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Some states maintain reciprocity agreements permitting interstate licensure mobility and telepsychological services without the need to obtain additional credentials. Students who intend to maximize their future professional licensing opportunities in multiple states typically choose programs accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs

Choosing an Accredited Online Psychology Program

As you explore possibilities for pursuing a graduate certificate in psychology online, consider the value of selecting a school accredited by the APA. The APA establishes standards for the professional practice of psychology, regulates professional titles, and advances the science of psychology. Its responsibilities include publishing scholarly journals and creating a definitive style manual. The APA awards accreditation doctoral programs, internships, and postdoctoral residencies in counseling, clinical, and school psychology, with the exception of entirely online programs. Although the APA does not accredit graduate certificate programs or programs at the bachelor’s or master’s level, you may still benefit from attending a school offering APA-accredited doctoral programs. Doing so may help maximize your options for federal financial aid and enhance your prospects for career advancement, especially if you decide to pursue licensing.