Master’s degree in psychology complete program guide
What is psychology?
The word ‘psychology’ originates from the Greek for psyche (life) and logos (meaning). It is the study of the mind and behavior; a vast field full of opportunities that offers numerous career avenues.
Master’s degrees in psychology
Psychology is one of the top 5 majors students choose at undergraduate school. Students are drawn to psychology for a variety of reasons. These include understanding oneself and other people better, being able to help others, and a plethora of career options from counseling to forensics to research, and much more.
For a master’s level degree in psychology there are 2 options: a master’s of science (M.S.) in psychology or a master’s of arts (M.A.) in psychology. The main difference being that the M.S. has a heavier focus on math, statistics, and research, and a M.A. program offers a wider range of electives from outside the psychology field. Regardless, both degrees contain similar foundational courses, with some programs allowing psychology majors to specialize in a specific concentration like school psychology or clinical psychology. It is important to research the availability of concentrations when deciding on prospective schools.
In addition, an increasing number of schools now offer specific master’s programs, such as an M.S in experimental psychology, or M.A in human factors psychology. Mostly these are regular psychology programs with concentration coursework, although some may have a greater focus on the specification. This can be a positive or a negative advantage, depending on how sure you are of your career goals.
What can I do with a master’s degree in psychology?
With a master’s degree in psychology in your back pocket, it is time to decide whether you want to work in clinical practice, research, or academics.
Employment options include:
- being a psychological consultant
- part of a hospital-based healthcare team
- working in school settings, community services, government agencies
- working in the public or private sector, or for a non-profit organization
- a career in research or academia
Should you get a master’s degree in psychology?
If undergraduate courses in psychology have piqued your interest in this field, a master’s program with the longer term goal to become a psychologist is understandable. At the master’s level students take their studies deeper and develop insight into individuals, groups, and communities. The field of psychology is so broad, that it is difficult to identify a sector that it doesn’t relate to.
Know that a doctoral degree is required for most professional psychology careers. Also be aware that many colleges offer doctoral programs that require only a bachelor degree to be eligible to apply. But, if your goal is expanding your knowledge – dive in to a master’s degree.
Another factor that may sway your decision is the cost of the program and the earning potential it gives you. The following table shows the average earnings of a master’s student 2 years after graduating. By earning a master’s degree, the average graduate earns $12,893 more than someone with a bachelor’s degree.
Programs you might be interested in:
Pepperdine UniversityPepperdine University – Master of Arts in Psychology
Bachelor’s holders do not need a specific professional background to advance their psychology careers. With no GRE scores required to apply, the 18-month online MA in Psychology from Pepperdine allows you to pursue further doctoral study or advance your human services career and be a catalyst of change.
We generate revenue largely by advertising schools and programs that pay a fee when a prospective student has been referred. We are transparent about when and where we are compensated. When a specific school listing or a general feature is sponsored, it will be clearly marked with an “advertising” label.
Debt and earnings
Graduate degree premium
Earning over bachelors
Annual debt repayment
The figures above give an indication of the debt incurred by graduates, and their salaries 3 years after graduation. The table on the left compares median debt and median earnings. The right-hand table compares how much a master graduate earns over a bachelor graduate 3 years after graduation, after deducting median debt repayments.
How to pick a master’s in psychology program
The decision regarding which master’s degree to enroll in, is often based on the area of psychology that most interests the student. At the master’s level, students take coursework in specializations that commonly lead to doctoral studies and a career in this area. Do your research on the courses, faculty members, and research projects available at the colleges you are interested in. This can help guide your choice. Most of all, ensure that your program has been accredited (more on this later).
Master’s degree programs are becoming more flexible in terms of course availability, type, and program speed. Programs are mostly available as on campus, or hybrid options which provide more flexibility for students who have commitments outside their education.
Yet, with only 6.8% of master’s degrees in psychology being fully available online, there is a lot of potential for colleges to extend their online psychology program options. One reason this has been slow to happen may be related to the need for students to participate in lab based psychological experiments, for example observations of subjects reacting to stimuli.
Master’s in psychology
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
It is highly recommended that prospective students choose a program that is accredited. Accreditation proves that you have been trained extensively in the field and are able to utilize evidence-based practices and interventions. The American Psychological Association, APA, is the main accrediting agency for master’s programs in psychology.
Best master’s in psychology programs
Find below our ratings of the comparative earnings, debt, debt to earnings ratio, and the earning premium by graduate program. Please review our methodology for more information on what metrics we look at, and how to determine comparative value between institutions. Note that missing information is usually due to insufficient data for reporting.
Earnings: The median earnings of masters students 3 years after graduation.
Grad school premium: The marginal median annual earnings a grad student earns above a student with a bachelor degree in the same subject. The annual median debt repayment amount is deducted from this figure. For instance:
Graduate earnings: $100,000
Bachelor earnings: $45,000
Annual debt repayment: $15,000
Grad school premium = $100,000-$45,000-$15,000=$40,000
Debt: The median total debt of students graduating from the program, at the time of graduation.
Debt to earnings: Debt divided by earnings. The lower the better.
Economic score: The debt to earnings divided by the grad school premium percentage. The lower the economic score the better.
Middle Tennessee State University
Grad school premium: $53,131
Debt to earnings: 0.4
Economic score: 0.14
The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
Grad school premium: $39,417
Debt to earnings: 0.4
Economic score: 0.17
California State University-Fresno
Grad school premium: $38,089
Debt to earnings: 0.4
Economic score: 0.18
Florida State University
Grad school premium: $28,621
Debt to earnings: 0.4
Economic score: 0.23
University of Pennsylvania
Grad school premium: $38,377
Debt to earnings: 0.5
Economic score: 0.26
Utah State University
Grad school premium: $15,375
Debt to earnings: 0.5
Economic score: 0.30
Grad school premium: $17,938
Debt to earnings: 0.6
Economic score: 0.37
George Mason University
Grad school premium: $26,473
Debt to earnings: 0.7
Economic score: 0.41
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville
Grad school premium: $7,769
Debt to earnings: 0.6
Economic score: 0.47
Humboldt State University
Grad school premium: $17,282
Debt to earnings: 0.7
Economic score: 0.47
How much does a master’s in psychology degree cost?
The figures that you can see in the table below shows the median debt that master’s of psychology graduates have at the end of their degree program. Note that will graduates from private colleges end up with approximately $5,000 more in debt, the salaries of both public and private school graduates are similar.
Debt to earnings
Debt to earnings
Debt to earnings
Median earnings and median debt of graduates of this degree program. The debt-to-earnings ratio compares student debt to annual earnings. The lower the debt-to-earnings ratio the better, and total debt should never exceed annual earnings (a debt-to-earnings ratio of 1.0).
Financial aid and scholarships for psychology majors
As is the case for all college students, the first place to beginning looking for financial support is the Federal Student Aid website. On this site, you complete the FAFSA which assesses your eligibility for financial aid.
Financial aid options are numerous and it is worth knowing about all of them as changing circumstances may demand changes to your student financing. For example, considering that government agencies commonly employ psychologists, this can make you eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The PSLF program cancels or forgives the balance of student loans for graduates after 10 years of working in governmental organizations.
Specific scholarships for psychology graduate students also exist. They come with the advantage of having less competition due to the eligibility criteria, and because like all scholarships they do not need to be paid back.
What to expect from a master’s in psychology program
Psychology degree programs focus on learning about cognitive, emotional, and social processes. Students learn how individuals process information to understand the world, make decisions, express emotion, relate to one another, and interact with their environment.
What are the admission requirements for a master’s in psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) there are several prerequisites needed to apply to a graduate degree program. These typically include:
- B.S. or B.A. degree in psychology or a related field
- GPA of 3.0 or higher
- previous work experience
- clinically related public service
- involvement in extracurricular activities
- research or volunteer experience
Most graduate degree programs also require you to submit GRE test scores, along with a personal essay or statements, resume, and letters of recommendation. After submitting the above information, you may also be asked to complete an admissions interview.
It is important to note that not all programs require the above-mentioned prerequisites, and requirements may differ if the program is online.
What type of courses are there in a master’s in psychology?
Typically, the coursework in a master’s program includes subjects such as:
This course looks at the history, development, and future trajectory of clinical psychology. Coursework often includes the study of clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and evidence-based interventions.
In this course, students study the life-long development of humans from birth until an older age. Coursework usually covers topics such as language development, social development, attachment styles, identity development, and so forth.
In this course, students study past and current evidence-based counseling theories. They also further explore different psychological theories and techniques that can be utilized when working with clients.
Statistics is a staple of most master’s in psychology programs. In this course, you will learn about different statistical methods and techniques that measure human behavior.
This course covers the different factors like environmental, cultural, or biological, that cause or intensify abnormal behavior and a variety of mental health disorders.
Practicums usually take one semester and involve treating clients under supervision. Internships last longer and students have more independence when it comes to working with clients.
Can I specialize my studies with a master’s degree?
The short answer to this question is, yes you can. The following are a list of the most popular specializations. Check which specializations your school of choice offers.
- Counseling psychology – This specialization focuses on wellbeing, with evidence-based interventions to treat emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues. Related counseling activities may include diagnosis, teaching, research, assessment, and psychotherapy.
- School psychology – With this specialization, you can work with students of all ages and assist them through the schooling process. School psychologists typically conduct psycho-educational assessments and implement the relevant intervention to the individual, group, or family. They also direct the development of coping skills, program development, and consultation services.
- Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology – I-O psychologists focus on group behavior and productivity in the workplace. Professionals in this area tend to be involved in research, employee training, or human resources.
- Addiction psychology – Assisting individuals who are struggling with substance use disorders in addition to mental health disorders. Treatment usually includes both individual and/or group sessions, along with case management or medical services. Due to the rise in substance use disorders, more patients are also participating in MAT programs (medication assisted treatment) in which individuals are prescribed medications — for example Methadone or Naltrexone—that help control urges to use or prevent clients from becoming high after use.
- Forensic psychology – Another up-and-coming career which has steadily increased over the past few years. A forensic psychologist assists law enforcement to help profile criminals, assess mental competency and risk, and provide evidence in court.
- Social psychology – The study of how an individual is influenced by the presence of others has helped to close the gap between sociology and psychology. Social psychology typically involves topics such as social influence, group dynamics, and interpersonal attraction.
- Experimental psychology – This subject area involves the scientific study of the mind. Experimental psychologists seeks to teach us something about the mind and human behavior, they rarely work with individuals—their focus is research. Experimental psychologists are employed in various areas, such as academia, research centers, government, and business.
What careers can I have with a master’s degree in psychology?
For most psychological specialists, a doctorate degree is required for licensure. There are some exceptions, for example industrial and organizational psychologist, and other exceptions that are based on state licensure regulations. Below we provide details for clinical psychologists. While the I-O psychologist can work independently, a clinical psychologist without a doctorate degree is limited in the role, and generally requires supervision.
Industrial-organizational psychologistMedian salary: $87K
Working in I-O can be both a rewarding and interesting experience for several reasons. I-O psychologists utilize psychological knowledge and principles in areas such as recruiting and hiring employees, job training and development, maximizing workplace wellness and productivity, and organizational development. I-O psychologists also help improve employee performance, and design equipment and work procedures that are better suited to employee abilities and/or limitations. They often work alongside human resource personnel in various types of companies. Most I-O psychologists only need a master’s degree to be able to practice in their field.
Typical courses in the I-O master’s degree program include industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research design.
Clinical psychologistMedian salary: $83K
Clinical psychology is one of the larger subfields of psychology and offers a multitude of sub-specializations, including child psychology, adult mental health, substance abuse, or geriatrics. Clinical psychologists can work in different settings, such as private practice, non-profit organizations, academic settings, or hospitals.
Daily tasks can include completing clinical notes or assessments, diagnosing patients, facilitating individual or group counseling sessions, and completing treatment plans for patients. Clinical psychologists typically have extensive training in administering and scoring official assessments, which assess for personality disorders, mental health disorders, learning disabilities, career placement, etc.
Although a master’s degree can be enough to get started in this career, a Ph.D. or Psy.D. is needed to work independently, without restrictions.
Continuing your education
After obtaining a master’s degree in psychology, you may want to continuing to a doctorate. It can provide more of a competitive edge and better job opportunities if you obtain postdoctoral work experience and specialize in a specific field.
In addition, every state has a credentialing board that requires continuing education credits to renew your license every 2 years.
A master’s degree in psychology can be a worthwhile and satisfying endeavor. There is high projected growth for this field and the U.S. needs more psychologists. Currently we are facing a growing mental health crisis, especially since the COVID19 pandemic began.
While this can truly be a rewarding field, it can also be challenging. It is important to take care of yourself, especially when working in the mental health field.
Frequently asked questions
Is getting a master’s in psychology degree worth it?
This degree is worth it, if you have a genuine interest in psychology and want to learn more about the human mind and behaviors. Earning this degree can also increase your job options and salary potential if you are already working.
How long does it take to earn a master’s in psychology?
Typically, if you are a full-time student, a master’s degree in psychology can be completed in 2 years.
Can I earn a master’s of psychology online?
Yes, it is possible – although only 6.8% of programs are available exclusively online.
A leading organization that helps inform students, professionals, and society about the field of psychology and its ability to improve lives.
In the U.S. this is the primary organization responsible for the creation, execution, and maintenance of rules, laws, and standards set forth by the psychological profession.