“Congratulations! You have a degree, you have a job, and you can bathe in the ubiquitous praise thrown your direction. Cash rains from the heavens. The government forgives your loans. Sigmund Freud and William James smile from above. Smooth sailing from here.”
…is what I wanted to tell myself.
Yet, like a marathoner realizing that she still has to walk to her car, I was surprised to learn how much remained before I could call myself “psychologist.”
Licensing protects you, the public, and the profession. I appreciate that it exists, now that I have joined the ranks of licensure. However, the pursuit inspired many sighs, groans, and eye rolls between me and my colleagues. Complaints formed for many reasons – cost was (and still is) one of them.
What should you do to prepare – financially, at least – for licensure? Below, I outline seven steps with an estimated time that it will take for each. I will give you concrete suggestions, with real numbers and links included.
A few things to remember: First, I am not a financial planner, nor do I pretend to be. Second, Time2Track and myself are not affiliated with any of the links I provide (however, if Capital One sends me a check, I won’t complain). Third, I’ll consider the cost of “licensure” to include testing fees, licensing fees, and study materials for the sake of this article.
1. Determine Licensure Requirements
Estimated Time: 20 minutes
Most states have similar licensure requirements. Usually an exam of one’s competency (e.g., EPPP) and an exam regarding rules and regulations (e.g., Jurisprudence Exam).
To get the most accurate picture, you need to know the requirements of your particular state. For instance, an oral exam is also required to be a psychologist in Texas. Obviously, if you may move to one of several states or do not know exactly what state in which you plan to practice, either investigate your most preferred states or take a sampling of many to get a basic idea.
Here are some links to help you understand the requirements of your state:
Marriage & Family Therapy License
2. Calculate Costs
Estimated Time: 20 minutes
Figure out how much each step will cost in the state(s) in which you may seek licensure. For brevity, I will calculate the costs of becoming licensed as a psychologist in Massachusetts, where I practice (these costs are current as of the publication date of this article).
- EPPP: $687.50
- Massachusetts Jurisprudence Exam: $282
- The Actual License (for two years or until June 30th of the next even-numbered year): $270
- Total: $1239.50
2. Determine Time to Eligibility
Estimated Time: 15 minutes
Let’s say you live in a state that requires you to finish your hours before applying for licensure or taking tests like the EPPP. Let’s also say that the state requires 1500 hours of supervised practice after internship. Divide those hours by your expected weekly training (40 for the sake of this exercise).
Simple math says it will take you about 38 weeks of post-internship experience to complete the hours requirement (1500 / 40 = 37.5). And yes – we are breaking this down into weeks.
So now you have a better idea how long it will take to apply for licensure. If you work in university counseling as I do, many positions start around August 15. Adding a week of vacation, which does not count towards your hours, May 15 becomes the hypothetical date you may be eligible to apply for licensure (use a calculator like this one). With this in mind, figure out how long you have to save for the costs.
Add the time left until you graduate. Where are you in your training? End of internship, 10 months from applying for licensure? Maybe in your second year of a PhD, four years from walking the stage? Determine the number of months until you fold an application into an envelope to send to the state board.
3. Figure Out How Much to Save
Estimated Time: 5 minutes
Let’s say you are the advisor of a student named Kelly. She’s applying for psychologist licensure in 10 months, in Massachusetts, at a cost of $1239.50. That means she needs to save $123.95 each month. Sounds like a lot on a postdoc salary. If she had four years until her postdoc, plus 10 months until licensure, she would have 58 months and only need to save $21.37 per month.
This may still seem like a lot of money each month, especially to save for the next five years! The concrete understanding of how much money this actually takes is part of the benefit of this exercise. Licensure isn’t cheap! If you do not save before licensure, you will pay for it afterward. With the amount each month you (or Kelly) need to save for licensure, you need to figure out how you can keep that money separate and automatically contribute to it.
4. Open a Subsavings Account for Licensure & Automate It
Estimated Time: 30 minutes
You may already use an online bank that allows subsavings accounts, or you can open a separate savings account (just be mindful of minimum balances and fees). The purpose is to create a savings account for a particular goal.
For our purposes, we are saving towards licensure. Many banks allow patrons to schedule automatic transfers on a recurring basis each month. I use Capital One 360 Savings accounts, and add nicknames to each of my subsavings accounts. Through such behavior, I automatically save for professional fees, but also other predicted costs, such as a laptop I know I’ll need every four-ish years and the cost of gifts and plane tickets around the holidays.
Making the process automatic is crucial! We (humans, not therapists) tend to be cognitive misers who resist mental effort . That means that automatic behavior tends to be more successful than intentional, repetitive, difficult choice.
The least effortful method for saving money is to make computers do the repetitive task of depositing money into an account each month. In contrast, a painful, effortful, improbable way to save money is to log on to your bank each month and do it yourself. Make the initial choice and then delegate the hard work to the system.
5. Add Ancillary Costs as You Know Them
There may be other costs to consider, like study materials (e.g., AATBS, Taylor Study Method) or software to track supervision (e.g., Time2Track).
Study materials can be cheap or really, really expensive. Flashcard apps for phones range from free to $30. Study materials, like those from AATBS, can cost up to $1700. Copies of study materials from colleagues may cost you a cup of coffee, or you may split fees with your cohort. Remember that many jobs and training sites will have study materials or will be willing to subsidize the cost.
You should not wait until you decide what study materials you want to start saving – you may wait forever. Start saving for the base cost of licensure and then revise your automatic monthly contributions as you tally more costs. If you get a windfall of cash, add it to this account and reduce the monthly savings. Put the money out of mind and out of your greedy little fingers and you’ll be better prepared down the road.
6. Prepare for Indirect Costs
Remember, you may not be able to start work until you are licensed or, more realistically, you may experience a lull between positions. Although lazy summers were a necessary rest from non-paying practicum positions in grad school, they now represent stressful income deserts. If you’re savvy and able, add the cost of living for 2-3 months to cover those expenses.
7. Seek Methods of Reducing Cost, but Treat Them as Bonuses
Some jobs may include professional development funds that you can use for licensure. Negotiate for such funds, if you can, and be clear and direct with your desire to use them for licensure. Make sure your supervisor or director sees licensure as an appropriate use of funds before you count on that money. If they do not agree, make your case!
Although not ideal, you may also indirectly use student loans to pay for tests. Again, I am not a financial planner nor am I a lawyer. Student loans are meant to cover education costs, including room and board. Assuming you have income from a source other than loans, you may be able to save the money you make flipping proverbial burgers while you use student loans to live during school.
Get started now. Like any goal, the earlier you begin the easier it will be. However, unlike losing weight or studying, to save for licensure only requires that you make the first few steps above and let the system do the hard, ongoing work. If you follow these guidelines, you may celebrate licensure with a dinner and eat something fancier than ice cubes.
 Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (Eds.). (2010). Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- How to Burn Out in Grad School (or at Least How I Did) - January 1, 2018
- The Definitive Guide to Financially Preparing for Licensure - October 9, 2017