COVID-19 Update: To help students through this crisis, The Princeton Review will continue our "Enroll with Confidence" refund policies. For full details, please click here.

We are experiencing sporadically slow performance in our online tools, which you may notice when working in your dashboard. Our team is fully engaged and actively working to improve your online experience. If you are experiencing a connectivity issue, we recommend you try again in 10-15 minutes. We will update this space when the issue is resolved.

A Day in the Life of a Psychologist

By doing research and performing examinations, psychologists study all aspects of the mind. Health facilities employ approximately 30 percent of all working psychologists, while 40 percent work in educational environments, in such positions as counselors, educators, and researchers. Most often, these academically connected psychologists maintain a private practice while teaching or conducting research. Psychologists working in academic settings have flexibility in their schedules, but the demands on their time are high. Private practice is the goal of many psychologists. While seeing private patients means a psychologist is her own boss, it also means accommodating patients with evening or weekend hours. A government or corporate psychologist, by contrast, works in a more structured environment. Their hours are fixed and they often work alone. There’s some relief and enjoyment in the occasional conference that takes them away from writing reports. Despite potentially grueling schedules and emotional demands, psychologists report great satisfaction in their jobs; the gratification they receive from helping others keeps them in the field. Wrote one psychologist, “The best thing about this job is that people open up their lives to you-that’s a great responsibility but also an honor.”

Paying Your Dues

Plan on spending many years in school if you want to embark on a career in psychology. A Ph.D. will enable you to work in the widest range of positions, and doing graduate work toward a doctoral degree consumes between five and seven years. Obtaining this distinguished degree hinges on completing a dissertation based on original research. Before you begin this research, you must complete coursework in quantitative research methods, statistics, and computers. If you want to work in a clinical or counseling setting, you will begin to work with patients under supervision before the degree is completed, and at least another year of supervised work experience is required afterward. Most academic programs require counseling psychology students to undergo psychoanalysis as part of their training. The newer Psy.D., Doctor of Psychology, will qualify you for clinical positions. The Psy.D. is awarded based not on a dissertation but on clinical experience and exams. The time and effort it takes to get this degree are comparable to the Ph.D. The difference is the emphasis on counseling, while the Ph.D. candidate also does research. Thus, employment options for those with a Psy.D. are less flexible than for those with a Ph.D. Besides the years of study and internships, psychologists offering patient care must be certified and licensed by the state in which they intend to practice. Most of these licensing exams are standardized tests, but some states require applicants to pass essay or oral exams. These tests are designed to ensure that candidates have both knowledge of the field and appropriate personal qualities. Without a doctoral degree you can find job options within psychology, but these positions will always require supervision by doctoral-level psychologists. Candidates holding master’s degrees can work as assistants and may administer tests, conduct research and psychological evaluations, and counsel certain patients. The master’s degree requires a minimum of two years of full-time study and a one-year internship. The candidate has the choice of obtaining practical experience or completing a research-based thesis. Those with only a bachelor’s degree in psychology find their options more limited. They can work as assistants to psychologists and other mental health professionals. Graduate schools tend to look favorably on undergraduate degrees in psychology. Other good majors for future psychologists are biological, physical, and social sciences, statistics, and mathematics.

Present and Future

In the seventeenth century, the French philosopher Rene Descartes separated human behavior into two classes, involuntary and voluntary; the field of psychology stems from his theory of involuntary behavior. In 1892, Edward Titchener brought this “psychology of introspection” to the United States, at the same time that Sigmund Freud was developing his theory of the unconscious. Since then the study of psychology has grown into many disparate areas. As a profession, psychology has enjoyed formal recognition in this country since World War II. As a relatively new science, psychology enjoys wide and varied prospects for the future. In fact, psychology is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations for at least another decade. The demand for psychologists is expected to be high in corporate, correctional, educational, and public settings. The old stigma attached to therapy is fading, as more people turn to therapists to help them get through difficult times, and as chronic problems like depression are recognized as treatable disorders rather than personal failures.

Quality of Life


Because of the extensive academic and emotional commitment required to obtain their degree, very few psychologists leave the field at any time in their careers. While those at the onset of their careers are sometimes intimidated by the strict supervision they are subject to, they are usually excited by the long-awaited opportunity to begin practicing their calling.


After a few years, psychologists begin to see changes in the lives of their patients, and progress in their research provides another source of intellectual reward. Building up a client base depends to a great extent on referrals by satisfied patients, and successful practitioners may be able to establish a private practice within five years. A hospital affiliation can also be a good source of patients.


Many psychologists choose to break away from a university or hospital with which they are affiliated to focus on building their full-time practice. Otherwise they may be involved in hospital administration, or clinical testing or ongoing research through a hospital or university.