Online Graduate Certificate in Psychology Programs

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What Is a Graduate Certificate?

Students can earn a graduate certificate by completing graduate courses 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 postgraduate 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.

Learners can usually apply completed coursework from these certificates to future master's or doctoral degree requirements.

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What Should I Expect From an Online Graduate Certificate Program?

How Long Does It Take to Get a Graduate Certificate in Psychology Online?

A graduate certificate in psychology online typically includes 4-6 graduate-level courses that students complete in about one year of full-time study. Schools often determine the sequence of required classes. Some programs include 1-2 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 onsite fieldwork such as a practicum or internship in addition to coursework. Some programs allow students to transfer up to 10 graduate credits toward 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 together.

What Classes Will I Take in an Online Graduate Certificate Program?

Courses for online graduate certificate programs in psychology vary. Each certificate program covers a focus area, and schools emphasize different aspects of the material.

Classes often take an interdisciplinary approach, examining the material through conceptual frameworks like complex systems theory. Coursework often covers topics such as theory, research methods, literature review, and professional ethics. Three common classes are described below.

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.

Learners study 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

This course surveys the fundamental systems, functioning processes, and applications of general systems theory to family development. Students explore solution-focused models, therapeutic interventions, and family development and lifecycle stages.

Skills Gained:

  • Knowledge of 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, and decision-making.

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 respecialize in an area of particular interest. Some popular graduate certificate concentrations can be found below.

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 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. Learners study performance enhancement, intervention methods, biomechanics, athletic motivation, and peak performance. Graduates often work as sports psychology trainers and performance enhancement counselors.

School Psychology

School psychology is a clinical concentration specializing in 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 or guardians, 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 include counseling in private practice or in healthcare settings.

Should I Get a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?

While both a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) and doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.) train students for psychology careers, the focus differs between degrees, preparing graduates for different types of psychology professions.

Psy.D. programs prepare students for clinical work with patients and clients across professional settings, while Ph.D. programs prepare graduates to conduct research and provide various psychological services. Graduates with a Psy.D. typically pursue careers as clinical psychologists; graduates with a Ph.D. work as psychology researchers, licensed psychologists, and psychology professors.

Students enrolled in Psy.D. programs usually take 4-6 years to earn their degree, and Ph.D. students take 5-8 years.

Learners can explore a different program focus across doctoral programs. Psy.D. students focus on the direct application of psychology working with patients and clients. Also, the Psy.D. curriculum focuses on both groups and individuals.

Ph.D. students focus on statistics, teaching, and research on the practical and theoretical concepts of psychology.

What's the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Certificate Program?

Consider your career goals, learning style, and living situation as you explore options for an online graduate certificate in psychology. Note the differences between online and traditional programs regarding accessibility and flexibility. Online programs allow learners to keep their jobs but require a high level of self-discipline.


  • Online: Students can choose among a range of specialties, increasing their chances of finding one that suits their needs without relocating. Working students also enjoy the flexibility of online programs, since 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 a school or select a program within a reasonable distance from their current residence. Many students also leave their jobs to attend school full time.


  • 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 community partnerships and local organizations.


  • Online: Online learners rely on self-motivation, discipline, and a proactive approach to learning rather than the structure of 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 Certificate 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 include military discounts, tuition discounts for association members, and avoiding costs associated with on-campus programs. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement. Also, some online graduate certificate programs offer small grants to eligible students for a limited time.

Students should also consider potential travel costs for in-person components, exam proctoring fees, resource fees, and student health services. Many learners 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 Certificate Programs Require Students to Be On-Campus?

Most 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 1-3 credits. If you hope to eventually enter a clinical master's or doctoral program, consider completing a clinical internship or other fieldwork opportunity.

Distance learners enrolled in certificate programs typically take full responsibility for locating and arranging their own onsite internships, including finding a faculty sponsor. Online students can also take advantage of career guidance services available through their school. Many students 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 complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their eligibility for grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Applicants can track their status through online portals. Eligibility for federal financial aid typically requires enrollment in an accredited school.

Find out more on psychology scholarships.

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What License Do I Need to Practice Psychology?

Professional licensure requirements in psychology vary by state. Students should research state-specific licensing requirements, select a program accordingly, and complete a master's or doctoral degree with 1-2 years of supervised clinical internship prior to applying for licensure.

Candidates must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Some states also require additional 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, individuals can check a state's fee schedules and the handbook of licensing requirements through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Some states maintain reciprocity agreements permitting interstate licensure mobility and telepsychological services without the need to get additional credentials. Students who intend to maximize their future professional licensing opportunities in multiple states typically choose programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Choosing an Accredited Online Psychology Program

As you explore possibilities for pursuing a graduate certificate in psychology online, consider the value of selecting an APA-accredited school. 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 to 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.

Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs

Online psychology certificates can prepare learners to pursue a variety of careers, working with different types of patients and clients. Learners can explore our psychology careers page to research options.

School and Career Counselors

These counselors work with teachers, administrators, and parents or guardians to help students succeed. They help students overcome and understand behavioral or social problems through classroom guidance lessons and counseling.

Median Annual Salary: $60,510

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help clients develop useful skills and strategies to change their behavior and deal with difficult situations. They might refer their clients to other services and resources in the community, including treatment facilities and support groups.

Median Annual Salary: $49,880

Genetic Counselors

These counselors interview patients to gather comprehensive individual family and medical histories, allowing them to discuss testing options and associated risks, limitations, and benefits with patients, families, and healthcare providers. They also evaluate genetic information to determine patients' and families' risk levels for certain genetic disorders.

Median Annual Salary: $80,150


These professionals work with other social scientists and policymakers to explore sociological issues focusing on interaction, organization, and human behavior. They review the effect of social influences on different groups and individuals, designing research projects to test their theories about various social issues.

Median Annual Salary: $92,910


Responsible for diagnosing and treating patients with various mental disorders or disabilities, psychiatrists work to prevent disorders of the mind. These professionals often work in physicians' offices and psychiatric and substance use hospitals.

Average Annual Salary: $249,760

Page last reviewed January 19, 2023

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