A master’s degree in psychology prepares students to work in a variety of professional occupations, including school psychology and industrial-organizational psychology. Some students pursue an online master’s in psychology in order to prepare for a PhD program, which is typically required for those who want to work as clinical, research or counseling psychologists. Most psychology master’s degree programs offer both thesis and non-thesis degree options. The best programs provide students with supervised internship opportunities, which may be required for licensure and certification.
There are many specializations in psychology. The niche chosen will greatly impact the career of a professional. Some options include Experimental Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Social Psychology and Child Development. Each of these master’s degrees are offered as a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS). MS degrees are typically much more research-based. Professionals who know they want to go onto earn their PhD may be better off applying directly from undergraduate into a PhD program, however a master’s program can work as an in-between step for those unsure whether or not they want to pursue a doctorate.
Research and faculty publication greatly impacts the notoriety of a university’s psychology program. Students and professionals interested in graduate work should take time to read up in some of the most respected psychology publications and look for which universities are yielding research in studies and fields that are of interest to them.
- Educational Psychology: Students learn how cognitive, emotional and social processes are involved in student learning. They discuss current issues in student outcomes, instructional processes and learning disabilities.
- Clinical Psychology: Students learn to assess and treat a variety of mental illnesses and abnormal behaviors. Most programs require students in this specialization to complete rigorous residency and field training requirements that help develop practical clinical skills.
- Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Students in this specialization learn to conduct employee assessments in order to identify the best people for particular jobs within an organization. They focus on strategies to improve employee performance in order to promote business productivity.
- Developmental Psychology: Students will gain an understanding of the developmental processes that occur during the different stages of human life from infancy to old age.
- Social Psychology: Students in this area of psychology study how an individual acts within the context of a group. Topics covered in this type of concentration include social learning theory, social ecology, criminal behavior and attribution theory.
Length of Study
A master’s degree in psychology takes two to three years (about 65 quarter-credit hours) to complete.
Depending on if a person opts for a MA or MS in Psychology, curriculum and coursework will vary greatly. In general, all prospective students should look for a graduate program which combines academic training in general psychology with research in the student’s preferred specialization. This balance of theory and hands-on training will help graduates be prepared for the workforce whether they choose to work as a resident psychologist in a corporate setting, in a private practice, or in the field of research. Professionals with a MA or MS in Psychology can move into many exciting career fields such as Behavioral Therapist, Psychology Associate, Neuropsychometrist, Health Project Coordinator and more. Also, MA graduates can enjoy higher salaries than those offered to peers with BAs. For example, a school psychologist can make up to $96,000/year or an Executive Director position in some cases offers up to $144,000 – both positions which require a master’s.
Graduate students learn many valuable skills, including patient assessment, data collection and experimental design. Students also study key knowledge areas in psychology, from behavioral and cognitive psychology to the principles of psychoanalysis.
Common classes taken by students enrolled in online masters programs in psychology include:
- Psychopathology provides an overview of common mental illnesses and abnormal behaviors. Students focus on anxiety, depression and gender identity disorders, as well as anorexia and schizophrenia.
- Neuropsychology covers brain behavior and brain function – some areas included are developmental disabilities, behavior control disorders and the effects of aging on the brain.
- Forensic Psychology applies principles of psychology to the legal system. Students use case studies to examine issues in civil commitment and legal competency, and learn about producing psychological evaluations for courts.
Many online master’s degree programs in psychology require applicants to submit the following:
- Application form
- Undergraduate transcripts
- Revised Graduate Records Exam scores (Revised GRE)
- Personal statement or essay
- Letters of recommendation
Programs generally desire that candidates have either a bachelor’s degree in psychology from an accredited school, or a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as Sociology, Human Resources, Anthropology, Criminology or Public Administration.
Psychology master’s graduates can consider a wide spectrum of different career options, including:
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist: Industrial-organizational psychologists provide business managers with strategies to improve hiring protocols, training programs and employee productivity and morale. Industrial-organizational psychologists earn about $87,330. This field is expected to grow 35 percent over the next decade.
- School Counselor: School counselors typically work in elementary, middle and high school settings. Their primary responsibilities include helping students with social and behavioral problems, teaching students life skills and working with parents and teachers to identify student academic needs. The median salary for school counselors is $53,380. Job growth is expected to be 19 percent.
- Mental Health Counselor: Mental health counselors usually work in hospitals, family service centers and alcohol and substance abuse centers, helping patients develop strategies to overcome mental and emotional disorders. Mental health counselors make less than other occupations in this field, with an average salary of $38,150. Jobs in this occupation are expected to grow 37 percent.
The job outlook for psychologists is growing at 22 percent. This is because a large number of psychologists are retiring and therefore many new positions are opening up both publically and privately around the country. The median pay for a psychologist is $68,640/year, but with a master’s degree in psychology, this salary can be greatly increased. By achieving a MA in Psychology, professionals can choose to pursue a doctorate, get into research or pursue a specified field of psychology aimed at helping individuals and communities become healthier.