How to Become a Cognitive Psychologist


The brain is the most important part of the human body. It is the control center – the area that stores and processes all the information that we gather during our lifetimes and tells us how to feel about that information.

Cognitive psychologists study how the brain works – including memory, perception and learning. The brain is so complicated and often multi-tasks. For example, it allows humans to process new learning while recalling and retrieving old bits of information and associating it with smells and colors. Cognitive psychologists not only research this, but also treat patients that have trouble with cognitive functions such as memory and perception.

A healthy interest in how the brain functions is a great way to start down the path towards a career in cognitive psychology. The cognitive psychology field is perfect for someone who has always wondered how memory works – or why it doesn’t in certain cases. Or for a student that has struggled with learning issues, and would like to research and improve the ways the learning disabilities are handled.


How does one go from brain enthusiast to cognitive psychologist? The first step is committing to the years of work it will take to gain a PhD, complete practicums, internships, and supervised licensure hours.

Completing four years and obtaining bachelor’s degree is the first step towards a career in cognitive psychology. A BA in psychology is ideal, although many biology students make great candidates for a PhD in this field. A working knowledge of the human brain is going to be essential in pursuit of an advanced degree.

Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree, you need to work towards advanced degrees. Some individuals stop their education at master’s level. However, most continue their journey and earn a doctoral degree.

A master’s degree is not necessary to enter a doctorate program. Many future cognitive psychologists might go straight into a PhD program to receive a doctorate and begin work in the field. However, it depends upon the nature of bachelor’s degree and the PhD program.

Related: How to Get a Degree in Cognitive Psychology

Many schools offer specialized programs in cognitive psychology – choosing the right one is up to you.  Find the school that has the right program, and is a good fit: location, budget, connections to internships. It’s important to do your research before applying to just any school.

Many professors will freely offer advice based on personal experience, so a professor in the cognitive psychology field should be the first person to talk to. Professionals in the field can also be helpful – ask about their alma mater and how it helped their career path.

After identifying the cognitive psychology programs of interest, make contact with admissions counselors or professors at the school. They can offer information about letters of reference, GRE scores and other information that might not be on the admissions page of the school’s website.


Internships are important, and unfortunately, hard to find in many fields of psychology. Students must complete an internship to graduate, and if they cannot find and complete an internship they must keep trying until the do. Internships can be found at non-profit agencies, schools, research agencies, community organizations and hospitals where patients with brain disorders are treated.

Entry Level Jobs

A freshly graduated cognitive psychologist can be used at a rehabilitation center or hospital – dealing with patients recovering from trauma or those who may have disorders. Prisons, non-profits and schools might also employ these graduates.

Cognitive psychologists can start a private practice or head research studies. Some software companies also employ this type of psychologist to better understand how the brain works while interacting with computers.

Licensure Hours

Licensure requirements vary by state. In order to be considered licensed, a cognitive psychologist must complete 3,000 supervised hours of practice. Graduated doctoral students typically gain these hours at their internships, practicing therapy and entry level positions.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a general psychologist makes an average salary of $68,640. A cognitive psychologist can make this amount, give or take, depending on which institution he or she works for. This profession should remain steady, as traumatic brain injuries and disorders will always need cognitive psychologists in order to be treated.

Training and Self-Development

Degrees, internships, entry level jobs are all important steps in becoming a cognitive psychologist. But a truly successful one will not rest on his laurels after accomplishing all possible career goals.

Self-improvement is an important practice to any professional, especially in the psychology field. Continue learning by attending professional trainings, symposiums and conventions. Stay in touch with the newest brain-based research and up and coming methods and techniques in the cognitive psychology field.

Career Opportunities

An undergraduate degree in cognitive psychology may prepare your for following careers:

  • Human Factors Specialist
  • Research Assistant
  • Psychiatric Technician
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Human Resources Representative

An master’s degree in cognitive psychology may prepare your for following careers:

  • Psychometrist
  • Research Assistant/coordinator
  • Research Institute Administrator
  • Human Factors Engineer
  • Operations Analyst
  • Policy Analyst

With a PhD in cognitive psychology you officially become a cognitive psychologist and my qualify for specialized roles like a professor, consultant and researcher.

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Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.