Master’s in applied psychology program guide

HomePsychologyMaster’s degree in applied psychology

Introduction to applied psychology

Applied psychology is a specialized discipline within the broader subject of psychology. Someone working in the field will take information from theory and research and use it in practice.

Most often, psychologists in this field identify and tackle problems in human behavior. Applied psychology can be used to approach science, industry, politics, and society. The primary factor is that it has a useful function in everyday life. Examples include counseling, improving the appliances we interact with in our homes, or encouraging people to vote.

Psychology is known for being an academic field that involves several theoretical concepts. However, studying applied psychology means you get to witness the results of implementing those ideas. Some specific areas where you could use it include emotional wellbeing, sports, and optimizing performance. Since its early development, the applied psychology field has impacted psychometric testing, intelligence evaluation, and rehabilitation.

More recently, psychologists have made numerous contributions to daily life, such as shaping cutting edge technology that solves sleep issues. They’ve also played instrumental roles in designing driver interfaces in cars to reduce the number of accidents. Studying applied psychology could put you in a position to solve environmental issues. Alternatively, you could improve community relations or prepare for a mission to Mars.

Applied psychology online

There are opportunities to obtain a Master’s of Science (M.S.) degree in applied psychology online. Online programs are convenient because you can fit your studies around work or family commitments. Plus, you don’t need to commute to school.

You’ll find that the majority of master’s degrees in applied psychology are hybrid or campus-based programs. That’s due to the practical nature of some modules, which focus on counseling and group work. You might also find that a program requires lab research, a practicum, or an internship. These elements need to occur at the university or a workplace, which means you can’t complete it all digitally.


The American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) is a prominent certifying body. It focuses on schools with pre-doctoral and doctoral programs, which means it doesn’t certify all master’s degrees. Instead, you’re more likely to see accreditation from the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC).

One other option to look out for is a regional accreditation body, such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Most universities will display the initials or logo of a certifying body on their website or course literature. The benefits of earning a degree at a certified school are that it should meet high standards, as it will have been peer reviewed. Earning a degree from a certified school could also help with future employment or applications to other institutions.

Program concentrations

You might encounter 2 types of master’s degrees in applied psychology. One is a regular master’s program, and the other is a doctoral preparation course. The latter covers similar topics but also lays the foundation for pursuing a doctorate.

Most degree programs have foundation courses. They generally cover human behavior, research methods, consumer, and organizational psychology. You might also learn about biological and cognitive psychology, ethics, and psychopathology. These courses can give you a thorough knowledge and understanding of the subject.

The majority of master’s programs allow you to choose 1 of 2 course specializations. They vary by school, which means it’s crucial to find an institution that offers the approach you prefer. At some schools, you could opt for a science-based or a practitioner course. Others might ask you to choose between counseling, or industrial-organizational and consumer psychology.

Programs build on the foundational courses with electives, which relate to other disciplines where you can apply psychological theories. They can broaden your knowledge and the opportunities you’ll have to apply what you learn to areas that genuinely interest you. You could choose to concentrate on behavior and decision analysis, addiction, or group dynamics. Subjects like marketing, business relationships, sports, environmental, and educational psychology might feature as well.

Electives could equip you with skills suited to specific industries. For example, decision analysis and marketing might help you with a role in the design or sales department of a commercial enterprise. Alternatively, social perception, health and wellness psychology, and addiction could assist with a role as a substance abuse counselor.

Career options

Many graduates with a master’s in applied psychology progress to a doctorate and become licensed psychologists. However, there are several career options for those that choose to seek work before that level. One possible role is to work as an addictions counselor, with an average annual salary of $46,240. Another career option is as a case manager in a social care setting, with an average annual salary of $39,271.

You could find yourself equipped for several roles outside of healthcare, too. These include working as a forensic psychologist, with an average annual salary of $70,781. In this role, you could provide help in criminal proceedings, such as profiling or providing expert testimony.

Another potential role is as a sports psychologist, with an average annual salary of $71,645. In this position, you could support individual athletes or teams with their performance. You might also look at their approach to winning and losing.

A career as an industrial-organizational psychologist, with an average annual salary of $69,076, is also an option. This job title is broad, and you could end up working in several sectors, such as manufacturing plants, multinational enterprises, or labor unions.

Admission requirements

The requirements for admission into a master’s program vary depending on the university. Many look for a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a minimum of prerequisite courses like general psychology, a second psychology course, and statistics. You might find institutions that accept prospective students with other bachelor’s degrees on the condition that they complete a graduate leveling course.

You’ll most likely need to fill out an application form. Your submission might include all your school transcripts. There’s generally a minimum entry requirement of a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) or higher. Schools usually ask you to submit your test scores, such as that of your Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Alongside your application, you typically need to supply 2letters of recommendation and a professional statement. This short essay should state your goals for studying and your career aims.


You can expect to study for 2 years on a master’s of applied psychology program. However, accelerated courses do exist. Those programs may take just 1 year to complete. Most require you to complete somewhere between 34 and 48 credits.

Programs that act as preparation for a doctorate might have a research focus. This concentration shapes your classes by including more methodology, statistics, and potentially more laboratory work. You’ll look at the experimental side of psychology and then discover ways to apply it. The majority of courses begin with the core principles of psychology. These include behavior, personality, and social perception.

Applied psychology is all about putting knowledge into practice. That’s why you’ll likely complete a practicum and an internship. Some programs also include capstone projects. However, it’s possible to find a program with a non-thesis option. Though the practical experience could be beneficial as it helps you to see the results of applying your theory.

An internship or a practicum also gives you the opportunity to gain experience in a workplace, and you could network and build credibility with potential future employers. Applied psychology often means working with people, especially in sports or counseling. That’s why gaining experience in this area is vital.

Licensing or certification

Some psychologists roles, such as opening your own practice, require you to have a license. Almost all states require a doctoral degree. You can check the prerequisites of a particular state licensure board through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

Continuing education

After earning a master’s in applied psychology, some students go on to complete a doctorate. The 2 options are a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology or a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.). A Ph.D. is typically focused on research and education. A Psy.D., on the other hand, might place more emphasis on working with the public.

Potential programs include:

  • Applied psychology
  • Applied psychology and science prevention
  • Clinical psychology
  • Applied developmental psychology

Costs of the degree

There are various costs associated with studying a master’s in applied psychology. You might need to pay an application fee. There’s usually a fee for registration, as well as tuition and other costs. Some programs charge per credit, which can be around $1,100. Others have an annual tuition, which can range from $20,000 to $35,000.

Financial aid

You might be eligible for financial support to help you pursue a master’s degree in applied psychology. Determine if you qualify for aid or a direct federal loan by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Alternatively, you might be eligible for a grant or scholarship. You could obtain one from your institution or a state organization. However, there are also larger awarding bodies, like the National Science Foundation (NSF), which has a Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) that provides annual stipends to those studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses.

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) also offers scholarships and awards throughout the year to psychology students.

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)
This is the website for the accreditation council. It certifies several schools offering applied psychology programs.

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
This site can help you find the appropriate licensure board for a particular state and its requirements.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
The NSF has a program that offers fellowships to graduate researchers in science.

American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS)
This branch of the American Psychological Association awards grants and scholarships to graduate psychology students.

Did you enjoy this post?