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Certificate in Psychology

According to estimates, between 1.2 million and 1.6 million undergraduates take introductory psychology classes each year. However, within those students there is a wide range in level and specificity of interest.

A certificate in psychology is a route that many students take in order to tailor their education in psychology. Read on to learn about the three types of certificates, why you would get one, and what you can do with them.

What Is a Certificate in Psychology?

A certificate in psychology is an academic credential that can be earned either in conjunction with or after completing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree program. There are three types of certificates: undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral. Each has a different focus and purpose.

The following table compares the three types of certificates.

Type of CertificateDescriptionAverage Compeletion TimeWho This Certificate is Good For
UndergraduatePursued prior to or in the course of completing an associate or bachelor’s degree6 months–1 year
  • Students interested in psychology but want to learn more before deciding how far to pursue the field
  • Students majoring in a different field but feel that knowledge of psychology will help them with their chosen career
  • Working professionals who want to enhance their career and marketability
Graduate / Post-BaccalaureatePursued by students who have completed a bachelor’s degree, possibly prior to a master’s or doctoral program1–3 yearsStudents who want to expand their knowledge and/or focus on a particular specialty in psychology
Post-DoctoralPursued by students who have completed a doctorate program1–4 yearsDoctoral students who want to become licensed as clinical psychologists and specialize

Undergraduate Certificate in Psychology

Undergraduate certificates in psychology programs give students the chance to learn about the field of psychology without having to major in it. Some programs also provide concentrations for those who want to learn more about a particular area of psychology.

How to Get an Undergraduate Certificate

Some undergraduate psychology certificate programs are geared toward students with no prior degree and allow you to roll over your credits earned into an associate degree program or bachelor’s degree program, if you choose to continue your studies.

If you are interested in getting your certificate alongside your bachelor’s degree, you will usually apply for the certificate program after you have completed the first or second year of your bachelor’s program. You will need to have maintained a specified grade point average and show that you can take on additional coursework.

Curriculum

Undergrad certificate programs tend to focus on introductory courses in psychology. However, some schools do offer concentrations in areas such as child psychology or behavioral psychology.

Typical introductory courses might include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Research methods
  • Human development
  • Personality types

What You Can Do With It

An undergraduate certificate in psychology does not usually lead to a specific job or a career. However, having the certificate has a number of career advantages.

There are numerous other fields that can benefit from knowledge in psychology. For example, an understanding of psychology can help teachers, business managers, those in marketing or advertising, and those who work with customers. In addition, candidates with a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in psychology are often more marketable in the work field.

Graduate or Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Psychology

Certificate programs geared toward students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree provide an overview of psychology topics. You don’t have to have majored in psychology in undergrad to obtain a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology. Some who pursue a certificate program may be testing out if they want to do a full master’s degree or even doctoral degree in psychology, and some programs may allow credits taken in the certificate program to apply toward those degrees.

Students already enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program may wish to expand their knowledge about a particular area of psychology. Or, they might want to change specializations but don’t want to have to start over again. A graduate certificate in psychology is ideal for these students.

How to Get a Graduate Certificate

You can apply for a graduate certificate program after obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree or even during a master’s or doctorate program, if you are taking the program alongside an existing graduate program.

Those who wish to get a certificate after obtaining a bachelor’s degree will need to provide transcripts and have graduated with a specified grade point average. They might also need to provide letters of recommendation or personal statements.

You will need to show official transcripts (bachelor’s degree or master’s degree) with a specified GPA, letters of recommendation, and possibly a personal statement.

Curriculum

Typically a student will choose one specialty area for their certificate program. Examples of specialty areas offered include:

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Family and marriage counseling
  • Forensic psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Social psychology
  • School Counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling

Certificate programs at the graduate level usually include an internship. Doctoral students may have to write a dissertation.

What You Can Do With a Graduate Certificate in Psychology

Having a graduate psychology certificate can open the door to a variety of careers, based on the specialty you choose. (However, only those who obtain a doctorate can work as psychologists, and counselors typically need a master’s degree in psychology.) Examples of careers and concentrations include:

Counselor:

  • Substance abuse/addiction counselor: You will work to help those with addictions overcome their addiction and lead productive lives.
  • Marriage and family therapist: You will counsel individuals, couples, and families in order to facilitate communication, help them understand interpersonal dynamics, and provide strategies for overcoming dysfunctional relationships.
  • School counselor: You will assess and counsel students who are having difficulty in school due to learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and emotional issues.

Psychologist (requires doctorate):

  • Industrial-organizational psychologist: You will help companies improve efficiency by assessing work relationships, production, and other business dynamics. You will formulate plans of action and provide training.
  • Forensic psychologist: You will integrate psychology and criminal justice in order to assess and treat criminals. You will also aid law enforcement officials by creating profiles and providing testimony.
  • Clinical psychologist: You will work face to face with clients to help them deal with behavioral and emotional issues.
  • Sports psychologist: You will use your knowledge of psychology to help amateur and professional athletes address any behavioral, emotional, or mental health issues affecting their ability to perform.

Having a graduate degree at the master’s level can also be beneficial if you intend to pursue a doctorate.

Post-Doctoral Certificate in Psychology

Post-doctoral certificate programs generally focus on clinical practice. They are geared toward post-doctoral individuals who focused more on academia or research in their doctoral program but wish to work in clinical practice.

How to Get a Post-Doctoral Certificate

Once you obtain your doctorate you can enroll in a post-doctoral certificate program. You will be required to provide official transcripts, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. You may be asked to provide a resume if you have been in the work field.

Curriculum

You will take courses that will prepare you for work as a clinical psychologist. Topics might include:

  • Assessment
  • Intervention techniques
  • Personality theories
  • Psychology morals and ethics
  • Psychotherapy

In addition to coursework, you will be required to participate in clinical practicum to gain supervised experience.

What You Can Do With a Post-Doctoral Certificate

Having a post-doctoral certificate can help individuals gain a fuller understanding of a particular specialty, or provide a well-rounded set of health services in a particular patient setting.

Online Psychology Certificate Programs

Many undergraduate certificate programs are offered online. You can take advantage of flexibility and work at your own pace. You can also select a program based on your needs rather than having to choose based on location.

Although graduate certificates are offered online, some are hybrid programs that require hands-on experiences. Check with the online programs you are interested in to find out the specifics of what is required for the hands-on component.

Post-doctoral psychology certificates programs online are few and far between and may also require an internship or other in-person participation.

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