Master’s degree in psychology complete program guide

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What is psychology?

The word ‘psychology’ word originates from the Greek words psyche (life) and logos (meaning), and is the study of the mind and behavior.  This is a vast and opportunistic field that offers numerous career avenues.

Psychology is one of the top 5 majors students choose when in undergraduate school. As more prospective students enroll in college, there is a growing need for additional information to help make the best career choice. Students are drawn to psychology for a variety of reasons that include understanding other people better, understanding oneself better, being able to help others, and a plethora of career options.

Typically, psychology degree programs focus on learning about cognitive, emotional, and social processes.  One of the teaching methods used to make this possible is by studying how individuals relate to one another and their environment.

In general,  if you hold a master’s degree in psychology you need 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

About the degree

To earn a master’s degree in psychology, you can choose between 2 degree types. The first is a master’s of science (M.S.) degree in psychology.  Typically, applicants to this program have a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree in a related field.  A M.S. in psychology allows you to specialize in a particular area such as counseling, child, clinical, school, educational, social, and forensic psychology.

Most career options fall under the umbrella of healthcare including mental health services, or government. However, it is also possible to obtain a career with a M.S. in psychology in the fields of business, sales, advertising, or marketing. Jobs that fall into the business category may include human resources, market researcher, public relations representative, store manager.

The second degree option is a master’s of arts (M.A.) in psychology, often chosen by graduates with a bachelor of arts (B.A.) in subjects such as English or history. A M.A. degree in psychology allows you to study similar topics or courses that are covered in a M.S. program but without specializing in a particular area. Students who choose a M.A. degree program often do so because of their interest in working in a general field such as counseling or social services.

Both degrees cover similar topics and courses, with only minor differences. The degree program that you choose may also differ depending on what college you decide to go to and what they offer.


Cost of the degree

Overall tuition costs depends on multiple factors such as whether the college is private or public, course format, and if you are an in-state or out-of-state student. Projected tuition rates for 2021, suggest a master’s degree from a public 4-year college will cost around $19,630, and $42,030  if you attend a 4-year private non-profit college. Both projected estimates include tuition cost, fees, room and board. There are variations in the in-state and out-of-state tuition rates of typically $10,000 or more, with in-state tuition being the cheaper option.

For general information about financial aid options open to students, visit Federal Student Aid, where you can complete the free FAFSA application form that will check your eligibility for federal aid.

Admission requirements     

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) there are several prerequisites needed to apply to a graduate degree program. To apply to a master’s degree program in psychology you will need to have:

  • B.S. or B.A. degree in psychology or a related field
  • GPA of 3.0 of 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 your GRE test scores along with a personal essay or statements, resume or curriculum vitae, and at least 3 letters of recommendation.

After submitting the above information, you may be asked to complete an admissions interview. It is important to note that not all programs require the above-mentioned prerequisites and may differ if the program is online.

Degree flexibility 

Master’s degree programs are becoming more flexible in terms of course availability, type, and program speed.  Programs are typically available on campus, online, or as a hybrid program which has both online and in-person components. Degree programs are now increasingly tailored to the needs of students to better accommodate a work-life balance. It is possible to complete your degree while working or staying at home but the time to complete the program may differ. Going to school part-time will take longer, although this can be a better option for students who are working full-time.

Online courses also have the option of being synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous courses are classes that occur on set days and times, with both students and instructors online at the same time for class. Asynchronous courses allow students to complete their work on their own time usually within a one-week window. During that week students participate in assignments to show the professor that they are actively engaged in the course.


Typically the coursework in this master’s program includes subjects such as:

Clinical psychology

This course looks at the history, development, and future trajectory of clinical psychology. Coursework often includes study of clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and evidence-based interventions.

Human development

In this course, you 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.

Counseling and psychotherapy theories

In this course, you will study past and current counseling theories that are evidence-based. During this course, you will further explore different psychological theories and techniques to utilize when you are working with clients.


Most likely at some point in your program, you will be taking a statistics course as part of your program. In this course, you will learn about different statistical methods and techniques that measure human behavior.

Abnormal psychology

In this course, you will study the different factors like environmental, cultural, or biological that cause or intensify abnormal behavior and a variety of mental health disorders.

Internship or practicum

A practicum can be the duration of one semester and involves you treating clients under supervision. Internships, on the other hand, last longer and students have more independence when it comes to working with clients.


Counseling psychology

This specialization focuses on wellbeing across the lifespan and 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 will likely 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.


It is highly recommended for prospective students to choose a master’s program in psychology that is accredited. Accreditation lets the public know that you have been trained extensively in the field and are able to utilize evidence-based practices and interventions.

Career options

Clinical psychology is one of the larger subfields of psychology and offers a multitude of 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 that are often involved in clinical psychology include completing clinical notes or assessments, diagnosing patients, facilitating individual or group counseling sessions, and complete treatment plans for patients. Clinical psychologists typically have extensive training in administering and scoring assessments that assess for personality disorders, mental health disorders, learning disabilities, career placement, etc.  Clinical psychologists may also choose to conduct research and publishing their findings.

Although having a master’s degree is sufficient to obtain this career but a Ph.D. or Psy.D. may increase your chances of being hired or earning a higher salary.

The average salary earned in this career for psychologists with master’s degrees is around $82,180. Over the next 10 years, the job projection for clinical psychologists is 3%.  

Working in I-O can be both a rewarding and interesting experience for several reasons. I-O psychologists utilize psychological knowledge and principles in the workplace 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 help design equipment and work procedures that are better suited to employee abilities and/or limitations. I-O psychologists often work alongside human resource personnel in a wide array of companies.

Typical courses that are usually included the I-O master’s degree program include industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research design. In addition, most I-O psychologists only need a master’s degree to be able to practice in their field.

The average salary for an I-O psychologist is $96,270. Although the expected to job growth is 3% in the next decade, professionals in this field may face competition due to larger number of qualified applicants.

Continuing education

After obtaining your master’s degree in psychology, you may want to consider furthering your education. You will have more of a competitive edge and better job opportunities if you pursue your doctoral degree, obtain postdoctoral work experience, and specialize in a specific field. In addition, every state has a credentialing board in which you must take a certain amount of continuing education credits to renew your license every 2 years.

Should I get this degree

Based on the above information, obtaining a master’s degree in psychology can be a worthwhile and benefitting endeavor. Overall, there is a high projected growth for this field and the U.S. is in need of more psychologists. Currently we are facing a growing mental health crisis, especially since the COVID19 pandemic began.

This can truly be a rewarding field if you are interested in helping others. Although being a psychologist can be a rewarding career it can also be challenging at times. It is important to take care of yourself, especially when working in the mental health field.

American Psychological Association (APA)

A leading organization that helps inform students, professionals, and society about the field of psychology and its ability to improve lives.

American Board of Professional Psychology

In the U.S. this is the primary American organization responsible for the creation, execution, and maintenance of rules, laws, and standards set forth by the psychological profession.