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APA Accredited Online PhD Psychology: A Complete Guide

African psychologist, graduate of APA accredited online PhD psychology, holds hands of girl patient

As more and more universities open their programs to online learners, certain types of online programs face obstacles when it comes to accreditation. One such degree is the online PhD psychology program. Let’s say you want to earn an online PhD or a counseling master’s degree, changing your career from sales management to mental health counseling or therapy. What are the best online PhD psychology programs for that goal?

Naturally, you may seek an online counseling program that the American Psychological Association accredits. Is there a list of APA accredited online programs?

Many psychologists consider the American Psychological Association (APA) approval the gold standard for accredited professional psychology degrees, which is especially true in counseling and educational psychology. Most professionals agree that the best online psychology degrees should have full APA approval.

That said, the APA does not accredit master’s degree programs or bachelor’s degree programs. It makes no difference if you earn your psych degree online or on campus. The APA will only accredit doctoral programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, or a combination of those above. The APA reviews and approves only three doctorates: PhD, PsyD, and the EdD in psychology, all from regionally accredited universities.

Quick Facts About Online Psychology Program Accreditation

What is APA accreditation?

The APA is the primary programmatic accreditation agency in the US dedicated to professional training and education in psychology. Only doctoral graduate programs in school psychology, counseling psychology, and clinical psychology may be accredited by the APA, as well as postgraduate internships and residencies in those areas. While the accreditation review is voluntary, it is seen as a gold standard in the psychology world.

What does APA accreditation mean?

APA accredited programs have undergone a voluntary review process that certifies the curriculum meets rigorous standards ensuring students graduate with the skills required to be exception psychology professionals. In 2022, there were over 400 doctoral programs accredited by the APA in the United States.

Is it necessary to complete an APA accredited program to get a job in psychology?

APA accreditation is voluntary, so it may not always be a deal-breaker regarding what careers students wish to pursue. However, to pursue a career in school counseling, counseling psychology, and clinical psychology, APA accreditation can help find the best jobs. In any case, students should still seek out a psychology program that other agencies verifiably accredit.

Which online psychology programs are APA accredited?

There are no fully online APA accredited psychology programs. Still, we know of one blended (in-person and virtual) program offered in California that has earned and held the elusive status. Otherwise, the APA retains a strict policy against accrediting primarily or entirely online PhD psychology programs.

What other accreditation should you look for when searching for online psychology programs?

All verifiable accrediting agencies have been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the United States Department of Education or by both. Suppose you come across a program with no accreditation or an accreditation status that CHEA or USDE does not recognize. In that case, it is likely a degree mill or accreditation mill, which you want to avoid.

How much do psychologists make annually?

The median annual salary of psychologists as of May 2020 was $82,180. This is about $40,000 more than the average pay of all workers at that time. The top 10% in this field earned over $137,000 a year.

Online APA Accredited Programs

At present, the APA, like many old school accreditation agencies, struggles with online psychology schools and how to test them against accreditation standards.

Most hybrid or online PhD psychology programs that have flirted with APA accreditation have ended up on probation. Probation means they failed to pass a review post-accreditation and have been given notice to correct specific problems or lose their APA accreditation.

The Fielding Graduate University, located in California, is the first and only regionally accredited online psychology school to hold APA accreditation. Their clinical psychology doctoral program utilizes a distributed model (blended). Students take theory courses online and attend regional meetings and make extended session visits to the main campus in California for mentoring and committee meetings.

Online PhD Psychology: APA Approval Necessary?

You may not need an APA accredited online psychology degree program. Is APA approval required for your career path or to meet your professional goals?

There are several online/hybrid PhD, EdD, and PsyD programs that are not APA approved. These programs come from regionally accredited online universities such as:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth of psychology careers from 2020-2030 sits at 8%. On its own, clinical, counseling, and school psychology is projected to grow by 10% over the next ten years, with about 12,300 more jobs opening up in the marketplace.

Other Accrediting Agencies for Online Psychology Degrees

The APA only accredits doctoral programs, such as degrees, internships, and residencies. Since it is voluntary, other accrediting agencies might approve bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral psychology degrees online or on-campus.

All viable accrediting agencies have either been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education or by both. Here is a shortlist of other accrediting agencies recognized by CHEA:

  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS)
  • Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)

Online Psychology Programs in California & APA Approval

Mental health counseling is a career that often requires more than a degree. It also generally requires state or national licensing. Let’s look at an example of California’s laws and licensing regulations by consulting the California Board of Psychology.

The California State Board licenses psychologists who practice in California. This board legally regulates who can call themselves a “psychologist” in this state and what “psychologists” can and cannot do career-wise once they have earned a doctorate in psychology.

California State Board Requirements to Become a Psychologist

According to the California Board, if you want to call yourself a “psychologist,” you’ll need to meet the following degree requirements:

  1. c) …Possess a doctoral degree in psychology, educational psychology, or in education with a field of specialization in counseling psychology or educational psychology from a nationally or regionally accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.

An applicant holding a doctoral degree in psychology from an approved institution is deemed to meet the requirements of this section if all of the following are true:

  • (1) The approved institution offered a doctoral degree in psychology designed to prepare students for a license to practice psychology and was approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education on or before July 1, 1999.
  • (2) The approved institution has not, since July 1, 1999, had a new location, as described in Section 94721 of the Education Code.

Therefore, you can become a licensed psychologist in California without attending an APA accredited doctorate program.

You can take the state-issued psychology exams in California if you attended a non-accredited but state-approved school and completed your degree before 1999.


State approved here means “approved” by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. The BPPVE was once recognized as a licensing agent for California trade schools. Many distance learning psychology PhD programs in the 1980s through the 1990s were awarded by unaccredited schools that were state-approved by the BPPVE. The BPPVE no longer exists.

Careers in Psychology

The psychologist title covers a broad range of professions. Even with an associate’s degree in general psychology, students can pursue assistant-level jobs and apply those credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

To become an independent, licensed psychologist, you need to earn a doctoral degree, pass a licensing exam, as well as any state-issued examination to become certified. Each state may have slightly different requirements, but all 50 states in the US require a doctoral degree in psychology to become a psychologist.

What Fields are APA Accredited Degrees Helpful In

American Psychological Association accredited degrees are helpful in the following psychology fields:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • School psychology
  • A combination thereof

What Career Can You Have With a Bachelor’s of Psychology

The following is a list of some psychology bachelor’s degree jobs in the field:

  • Job analyst
  • Financial aid counselor
  • Employment counselor
  • Policy worker
  • Caseworker
  • Psychiatric attendant
  • Social services aide
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Technical writer

Careers With A Master’s in Psychology Degree

Psychology master’s degree careers include but are not limited to:

  • Human resource management
  • Consulting
  • Social science research
  • Marketing analysis
  • Political strategy careers
  • Policy evaluation
  • Forensic psychology (limited scope of practice without a doctorate)

Psychologist Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary of psychologists as of May 2020 was $82,180, and the top ten percent earned an average of $137,590. The top earners primarily worked in government settings, followed by hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, and finally, elementary and secondary schools.

While clinical, counseling, and school psychologists may make the least of the broad range, their projected job growth between 2020 and 2030 is the highest, currently projected at 10%.

Often psychiatrists can make their own hours, but generally, they work to accommodate clients, which, with today’s telehealth and online counseling resources, is more accommodating than it once was.

Find an Online PhD Psychology Program that Works for You!

Online degrees in psychology exist at undergraduate and graduate levels. While APA accreditation may be preferred for a particular career path, not all careers require an APA accredited online PhD psychology program. And don’t forget about The Fielding Graduate University, the only hybrid program with APA accreditation!

GetEducated possesses a database of accredited online degrees in psychology. Don’t hesitate to browse the best schools and degrees offering flexible programs designed for working adults, those with families, and students just beginning their academic careers with!

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