Guide to applied psychology degrees
Are you thinking about a career in psychology? Do you know what options exist? Keep reading to understand more so that you can make the best decision possible.
Psychology is a broad field with many potential future opportunities. It has 2 main areas: experimental and applied. Experimental psychology focuses on research, while applied psychology uses knowledge to solve problems. Below, you can find extensive information about degrees and careers in applied psychology.
What is applied psychology?
Professionals in this field seek to identify and understand the problems people face. They then help develop solutions for their clients. For example, they can apply their knowledge to mental health, criminal behavior, business practices, education, or sports. Through applied psychology, people can achieve a better quality of life.
In-depth knowledge of theory and practice is necessary to excel in this area. Such expertise typically requires postgraduate study. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists earn an average of about $82,180 per year. The next section shows some of the job opportunities available.
Branches of applied psychology
There are many ways to use an applied psychology degree, such as one of the following fields:
Clinical psychology is a very popular specialty and involves working closely with patients. This interaction can occur individually or in a group setting. Professionals in this area focus on abnormal psychology. They diagnose and treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. A few states allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medications.
Clinical psychologists may choose to treat many different types of disorders or focus on one. They work to help clients identify their emotional and behavioral challenges and guide them as they develop plans and goals that will improve the quality of their lives. These professionals tailor their interventions to meet the needs of individual clients.
Self-employment is an option for clinical psychologists who decide to establish a private practice. They may also work in partnership with other mental health professionals in a joint practice. Additional settings include:
- mental health hospitals
- group homes
- government or nonprofit programs that serve the community
- eating behavior residential programs
- university programs that serve staff and students
Counseling psychologists work with clients in many of the same settings as clinical psychologists. They can also have private or group practices or work in larger organizations. The main difference is that clinical psychologists typically work with people who have more significant mental health impairments.
Psychologists in this field focus on how their clients handle personal relationships. They use the results of neuropsychological studies to help people deal with physical, emotional, social, work- and school-related problems. They can help clients make choices regarding career development.
School psychologists typically work in elementary and secondary schools. They support students as they deal with interpersonal issues and can help improve communication skills. School psychologists can provide information and guidance to students who are unsure about their class and career choices. Professionals in this field collaborate with teachers and parents to help them provide a healthy learning environment for children and teens. They can also offer behavior management techniques for use in the classroom and at home.
Psychologists who work in schools can assist students in individual and group settings. They can also work on a more organizational level, providing services like:
- consultation and collaboration
- instructional support for the development of academic skills
- mental health services
- school-wide learning strategies
- mediation of the relationship between school and family
- diversity in learning and development
- program evaluation
School psychologists can also find employment in schools, universities, hospitals, state agencies, and private clinics.
Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists
District of Columbia
Projected growth (2018-2028)
Bachelor’s or master’s
Forensic psychologists provide services in the justice system, working with judges, lawyers, and other legal specialists regarding the psychological details of specific cases. They have the expertise to:
- give expert testimony in court
- develop profiles of suspects
- perform child custody evaluations
- evaluate whether a suspect is mentally competent to stand trial
- screen potential police officers for employment
- investigate suspected child abuse
Forensic psychologists may specialize in one area, such as family, criminal, or civil law. They usually earn approximately $71,731.
Industrial and organizational psychology
Industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists apply knowledge and principles to workplace behavior, including areas like sales, human resources, marketing, and organizational development. Professionals in this field assist businesses with the following tasks:
- recruiting and selecting employees
- organizational development
- job training
- improving productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness
- maximizing employees’ quality of life and wellness
- deciding which job best fits a worker’s skill set
I/O psychologists can work as independent consultants, serving a company on an as-needed basis, or hold a fixed position. The median annual salary for industrial/organizational psychologists is about $84,898.
Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals who have physical or developmental disabilities or chronic illnesses. They help treat psychological issues like stress and depression, to improve their clients’ quality of life, including health and learning outcomes.
These professionals can work in several different settings, including:
- rehabilitation facilities
- counseling centers
- assisted living facilities
For example, in a rehabilitation facility, a psychologist might help patients accept their condition and adapt to any necessary assistive technology. They can also assist clients and their families in adjusting to new routines after illness or injury.
District of Columbia
Projected growth (2018-2028)
Sports psychologists work with athletes to improve their mental and emotional health so they can perform their best. These professionals can help coaches and team owners assess talent and understand what players need to reach their potential. They may participate in developing training programs that respect athletes’ developmental and social particularities.
These professionals can aid athletes in enhancing performance through:
- mental rehearsal
- cultivating positive attitudes and self-talk
- improving attention and focus
- managing anxiety
Sports psychologists also work with injured athletes to help them overcome strong emotions associated with the need to take time off from their sport. They can provide treatment for those suffering from depression or eating disorders.
Professional athletic teams tend to emphasize performance enhancement. However, sports psychologists who work with children and teenagers may focus more on how athletics improves overall mental health.
Sports psychologists can earn an average yearly salary of $72,257.
Cognitive and developmental psychology
Cognitive and developmental psychology fall on the border between research and application. We’ll explain a bit more about each in the next few paragraphs.
Cognitive psychologists study mental processes like thinking, memory, language, attention, and perception. They also deal with issues related to problem-solving and learning. While there’s a lot of research involved, there are also practical applications. For instance, professionals in this area can help people:
- recover and adapt after brain injury
- deal with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s or other dementias
- improve learning outcomes
- increase accuracy in decision-making
- structure curriculum to facilitate learning
- treat sensory or perceptual issues
They use strategies from research psychology to give people a better quality of life. For example, by understanding that attention is limited and selective, these professionals can guide people to develop practical solutions to improve their concentration.
Professionals who study cognitive processes can use different titles, such as counseling psychologist or clinical psychologist. Many psychiatrists also apply principles of cognitive psychology in their practice.
Developmental psychologists study the phases of life from infancy through late adulthood. They conduct research and create theories about how people change during their lifetime. These professionals focus on growth and development in all of the following areas:
There are many practical uses for this research, resulting in the field of applied developmental psychology. These professionals contribute to society in the following ways:
- evaluating children to see if they have developmental delays or disabilities
- informing educators regarding how children acquire language skills
- developing ways to help elderly people stay independent
- helping parents understand how to interact with their children at different ages
Developmental psychologists may choose to concentrate on one specialty area, such as developmental delays. Others might focus their research or practice just on children, teens, or the elderly. These professionals can work in hospitals, private or government services, offices of mental health practitioners, or schools.
Skills necessary for applied psychology
Psychologists should complete a degree program before beginning work in this field. However, coursework isn’t the only requirement. They also need certain personal characteristics to succeed in their profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following qualities as essential:
- Analytical skills – examining information and making logical conclusions
- Integrity – being trustworthy and discreet with patients’ sensitive problems
- Communication skills – listening, speaking, and writing well
- Interpersonal skills – working well with others
- Patience – being able to wait for results
- Observational skills – understanding and interpreting people’s actions and expressions
- Problem-solving skills – collecting information, evaluating, and finding solutions or treatments
Bachelor’s programs in applied psychology
As mentioned earlier, a graduate degree is usually necessary before you can work as a psychologist. However, a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology may qualify you for other positions in human services. For example, some options to consider are:
- administrative assistant
- social service worker
- market research analyst
- rehabilitation assistant
Master’s programs in applied psychology
Psychologists often need a doctorate in psychology. Yet, a master’s degree can also be sufficient for positions in schools or industries. Some states also allow licensure for counselors who have an M.A. or M.S. in applied psychology. A master’s level professional may also serve as an assistant to a licensed psychologist. They can work in a clinical or counseling setting.
Prerequisites and requirements
To enter a master’s program in applied psychology, you usually need the following:
- application form and fee
- personal statement
- GPA of at least 3.0
- bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field
- letters of recommendation
- transcript from previous institutions attended
- test scores (TOEFL or IELTS) proving English language proficiency
You can apply directly to a university that offers the program you’re interested in. Schools publish applicable deadlines and requirements on their websites. Be sure to read carefully. Admissions procedures can vary significantly from one college to another.
Accreditation exists as a safeguard to ensure that universities have the necessary academic qualifications. Two different bodies qualify psychology programs in the U.S.
The American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) accredits professional education in 3 areas:
- Clinical psychology
- Counseling psychology
- School psychology
Search the site to find programs that meet adequate standards.
The National Association of School Psychologists also accredits graduate programs in school psychology. It works with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
When starting a degree in the above areas, it’s essential to find a school that holds credentials from one of these organizations. For other areas of study, check if the college has a qualification from a regional accreditation board.
Coursework and concentrations
A master’s degree in applied psychology typically includes advanced topics. They include:
- clinical counseling
- diagnosis and treatment of emotional and mental disorders.
You may choose a concentration like developmental, clinical, or child psychology. Your decisions will help guide future career possibilities. Programs usually require a practicum or internship.
Cost of a master’s degree in applied psychology
The cost of a graduate degree varies significantly based on several factors. These include:
- public or private school
- online or in-person studies
- In-state or out-of-state tuition
A recent report titled Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid indicates that the average yearly cost for a master’s degree at a public institution is approximately $9,000 per year for off-campus students. Those who live in a residence hall pay about $10,000 more. At private universities, tuition and fees average near $30,000. Room and board cost an additional $12,500 for on-campus students.
You can compare various institutions to help you choose the one that’s most beneficial to you. For example, you might consider aspects like:
- program length
By weighing these factors, you can determine which program best meets your needs.
Online and hybrid options
Online degrees in psychology are available at all higher education levels. They often cost less than in-person attendance. These programs can make it easier for professionals to work and learn at the same time. Many online courses require a supervised practicum or internship in which the student applies their knowledge in a real-life setting. Such programs are classified as hybrid since they mix internet-based classes with in-person activities.
Licensing or certification
Most states require a psychologist to obtain a license before practicing in a clinical setting. Regulations vary from one state to another and typically include:
- proof of a certain number of internship hours
- completion of a master’s or doctoral degree
- scores above a given level on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology
- (EPPP) developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
School psychologists typically need an advanced degree. Licensure or certification is also necessary to receive permission to work. Psychologists often must complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
Some psychology boards provide certifications that prove competence in specific areas of practice. For example, the American Board of Professional Psychology offers a specialty examination process. It allows professionals to certify competencies in 15 different fields. Candidates usually need to complete a written test, practice samples, or an oral exam.
If you choose clinical or counseling psychology, you’ll likely need a doctoral degree. You can select a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. It depends on your career goals, including work setting, salary, and targeted client groups.
A 1-year internship is usually part of the following programs:
- school psychology
- counseling psychology
- clinical psychology
- health services psychology
The following information can help you choose the right doctoral program:
Ph.D. in Psychology
This degree is mostly research-oriented and prepares students to become researchers or professors. This course tends to take longer to complete than a Psy.D. Graduates typically work in hospitals, government agencies, or educational institutions. Psychologists with a Ph.D. sometimes work in a clinical setting, but it’s not the main focus for this degree. The exception is the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. This degree normally requires a dissertation as a final evaluation.
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
A Psy. D. involves mostly clinical work. Graduates of this program who obtain licensure can provide services to patients in an independent practice, diagnosing and treating mental disorders.
Those who obtain a Psy.D. can also work in hospitals, government offices, mental health clinics, and schools. They could also serve as consultants for private organizations. Though the focus is usually clinical, some who graduate with this degree may also choose to teach or conduct research. Exams and practical work typically take the place of a doctoral dissertation.
Financial aid opportunities
Many programs offer funding to help applied psychology students pay for their studies. You might consider beginning your search with the Federal Student Aid website. It provides general information about grants, scholarships, and other forms of aid. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to discover which funding sources may be available to you.
Award amounts start as low as a few hundred dollars. In other cases, they can reach thousands. It all depends on the organization offering the funding. Each group sets time limits and eligibility guidelines for scholarship applications. Thus, it’s critical to research the opportunities available. We’ve listed a few possibilities that may be helpful:
- The APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship offers $1,000 research fellowships to 12 first- and second-year graduate students. To qualify, they should be members of both Psi Chi and APAGS.
- The APA Society Convention Research Awards recognizes outstanding empirical research presentations at the annual APA convention. It awards $400 to 2 undergraduates and $500 to 2 graduate students. Submissions are due by April 15 of each year.
- The APF Graduate Student Scholarships program awards 21 graduate scholarships annually. The amount ranges from $2,000 to $5,000.
- The APS Society Convention Research Awards recognize outstanding poster presentations at the annual APS Convention. Prizes of $500 go to 2 graduate students, and 2 undergraduates receive $400 each. Applications are due by February 1.
- The Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award is a $1,200 cash prize that goes to an outstanding Psi Chi chapter president each year. It is awarded by nomination rather than application.
- The NASP-ERT Minority Scholarship Program (NASP-ERT MSP) supports the graduate education of minority students studying school psychology. Selected scholars receive awards of $5,000 each year.
- The Scott and Paul Pearsall Grant awards $10,000 to 1 graduate student working to increase public understanding of the challenges adults face when they have visible physical disabilities.
Many sites can provide useful information to students considering a degree in psychology. See below a listing that can help you get started on your quest for knowledge:
The American Psychological Association (APA) provides information on research and practice. It also has a section on psychology in daily life.
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers information about specialized boards and certifications.
The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) advocates for graduate student development.
The Association for Psychological Science (APS) allows members to share advanced research. It also provides resources for graduate students.