Master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology program guide

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Master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology program guide

Although industrial and organization (I-O) psychology may not be the most well-known branch of psychology, the rise in popularity of this specialty has made it one of the fastest-growing occupations of the next decade. This can be attributed to a greater understanding of the importance of mental health in the workplace. An I-O psychologist applies the science of human behavior to a work environment. By doing so, they can improve workflow, employee morale, and the overall running of an organization. As a specialization, I-O can equip you with a wide range of knowledge and transferable skills that are required in a variety of job settings. If you are interested in data analysis, the application of psychological research, and working directly with people, then I-O psychology may appeal to you as a study and career choice.

What are the requirements to study industrial and organizational psychology at the graduate level?

To study I-O psychology at the graduate level, you need to first complete your bachelor’s degree. To apply for a master’s degree in I-O, previous study of I-O psychology is not essential. Having an undergraduate degree in an area such as finance can work to your advantage, as an understanding of this aspect of business could benefit your future study. In this case, taking undergraduate introductory courses in psychology and statistics is recommended.

General requisites to apply to a master’s program are academic transcripts from your undergraduate degree, letters of recommendation from your professors and supervisors, and a personal statement. Most colleges will require a minimum 3.0 GPA, with many schools also asking for good GRE scores.


Interestingly, the American Psychological Association doesn’t accredited I-O psychology programs or I-O internships. One of the main reasons behind this is that internships and work often take place in private companies and organizations. For the APA to accredit an internship, they must first observe and review it. This is not always possible in an organization.

A benefit of attending an accredited school in this field is that it can help you with your financial aid application.

Degree options

A master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology is generally offered as a 2-year, full-time program with the option of studying on campus, online, or as a hybrid combination of these 2 options. As this is a very specific area of psychology, different concentrations aren’t very common. Within industrial and organizational psychology, graduate degrees tend to be either a Master of Arts (M.A.) in industrial and organizational psychology or Master of Science (M.S.) in industrial and organizational psychology.

If before undertaking a graduate program, you have identified that your study and career goals will entail doctorate level study, then a combined master’s and doctoral program may be an apt choice. This involves earning your master’s degree as part of your doctorate, and your commitment to a lot of work and study. A combined graduate program will normally take 4-5 years to complete. This program option can save you money on tuition as it is possible to combine credits.

The decision on your preferred program should be based on your previous study, your interests, and your future goals. In addition to the required coursework in your master’s program, some schools provide the option of specializing in subjects that are of interest to you.

A M.A. program, as with many areas of psychology, looks at the human side of I-O psychology and how your acquired knowledge can be applied to people within a company. A M.A. can be preferable if you plan to continue with your studies to earn a Psy.D. and to work within human resources at an organization; dealing with recruiting, team building, and general morale of the company.

An example of some of the coursework in a M.A. program is:

  • Organizational behavior – these classes look at different dynamics within the workplace and different conflict resolution techniques. Other areas covered are training and motivational strategies to help the morale and smooth running of companies.

  • Job analysis and employee selection – this class teaches the important skills behind choosing team members for a company. It looks into the importance of job descriptions in recruitment processes, the assessment of resumes, and the selection of candidates to be interviewed.

  • Organizational leadership – this course looks at the behavior of management and other leadership positions within companies, including how their behavior affects employees.

  • Survey development – in this class, students learn about the way to conduct a survey and how to study and interpret the results.

If your goal is to complete a Ph.D., a M.S. can lead you to careers based on the collection and analysis of research data that will be utilized by a company, generally with the long-term goal of improving productivity. This program is heavily research-focused and can include the following coursework:

  • Organizational change and developments – the focus of this course is on improving the effectiveness of an organization. Students learn the theories behind organizational changes, planned and unplanned. In addition, the topic of how to reform an undesirable culture within an organization, which may include ethical considerations, is covered.

  • Psychological testing, measurement, and scientific survey methods – in this class, students learn psychological testing and measurement. This incorporates key skills and techniques needed to analyze, interpret, and report on test results.

  • Applied research study – this class looks at how to solve practical problems through psychological research. Students will learn how to find solutions to problems and issues that arise within the workplace.

What will you study?

You may choose a variety of classes to make up the required credits. The availability of specific courses will depend on the course and college.

The following are some common classes and topics:

  • Personnel selection
  • Performance measurement and rewards
  • Training in organizations
  • Work motivation and attitudes
  • Job analysis and performance management
  • Research methods
  • Employee selection procedures
  • Measurement and assessment
  • Survey development
  • Designing and delivering interventions
  • Organizational leadership
  • Organizational psychology
  • Analysis of psychological data
  • Personnel selection and placement
  • Personnel training and development
  • Psychology of work
  • Behavioral systems analysis
  • Psychometric theory
  • Stress and health in the workplace
  • Organizational development
  • Job analysis and performance appraisal

Practical experience is often a requirement for a graduate degree in industrial and organizational psychology. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) advertises different internships in healthcare facilities, businesses, and sometimes government facilities. An internship or work experience in a professional setting is invaluable as it provides you with deeper insight into your future career aspirations. Some colleges offer classes and certificates in additional topics, like conflict resolution. While not compulsory, they can add to your professional development and prepare you for scenarios that you will likely come across as an I-O psychologist.

How much does a master’s degree cost?

Let’s look at the cost of a master’s degree, as both an on-campus and online program.

On campus

For many students, the social life that comes with studying on campus is a major drawing card. However, some hefty additional expenses come with this option, especially for students who study at out-of-state universities and need to add the extra expense of accommodation and travel to the usual costs that apply to all students.

The cost of a graduate degree varies but, according to NCES, the average tuition for a graduate program is $19,314 per year.


Online study is also an option for this degree and, according to US News, an I-O psychology graduate student should expect to pay between $15,000-$48,000 in tuition for their 2-year course.

Financial aid

With the costs of a graduate degree being what they are, it’s good to know that financial support is available. There are scholarship programs, grants, loans, and federal financial aid programs that can help with the costs. The website for Federal Student Aid can provide you with information about these options. As a graduate student, you are considered to be independent, meaning that your financial status will be assessed without taking into account your family income. Apply online to FAFSA (federal student aid) to find out how much financial aid you are eligible for.

Further study

To do this, you can select one of 2 doctoral programs, a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology or a Psy.D. in industrial and organizational psychology. Both options increase the likelihood of securing a higher paying job than with only a master’s degree.

As is the same with a lot of psychology professions, you are more likely to be considered for higher-paying jobs with a higher level of education.

If you enjoy the research element in I-O psychology, a Ph.D. program may better suit your interests. Over a period of 4-5 years, possibly longer, you will research a topic that will become the subject of a dissertation. This can lead to a career as a psychology professor.

Alternatively, the decision to study for a Psy.D. might be made based on preference for the practical application of coursework. These doctoral degrees generally take 4-6 years of full-time study to complete and may require a period of practical experience under supervision. Following this degree, a career working as part of the staff of a public or privately owned organization is a likely employment scenario.

Career options

A master’s degree in forensic psychology will not get you recognized as a clinical psychologist throughout the United States. Your job options will likely be limited if you don’t take the next step of a doctoral level program. It’s important to note that you must have a doctoral degree to be eligible for a ABFP license, which will open career doors for you.

That said, there are some interesting career options available to you if you hold a master’s degree in this field.

This position involves the management of the human resources team in an organization. Tasks include strategic planning with other managers, recruiting, and hiring new staff. An HR manager is also responsible for being a “go-between” between executives and other members of staff. This could be an enjoyable and interesting career for anyone with strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills.

2019 average yearly salary: $116,720

An industrial and organizational psychology professor puts their years of research and experience to use by teaching future psychologists. They work on research projects

and deliver classes to students in colleges and universities. Research topics they may be involved in are motivation in the workplace, job performance, or discrimination in the workplace.

2019 average yearly salary: $80,050

Training and development managers work within companies and organizations to train new and existing employees to improve their skills. They research, often through surveys, the training needs of staff and then plan and deliver that training accordingly. This would be a good career for you if you enjoy working with people and can share and explain data that you have collected.

2019 average yearly salary: $113,350

A research analyst gathers, interprets, and works with data to improve the performance of a company or business. They work within businesses and present their data to executives who then make decisions based on that data. An example would be gathering data about poor productivity within the workplace and suggesting ways to improve it.

2019 average yearly salary: $84,810


Licenses for I-O psychologists in the United States are not compulsory in many states, although this can also depend on the job specification. To find out more about specific state requirements, visit the website of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), who also provide licensure. An article on the APA website explains that “licensure is designed to protect the public from harm, but in many cases, the clients of I-O psychologists are organizations, not individuals, so the opportunity to inflict harm on an individual is somewhat limited.” From this, it seems that licensure is not needed if you plan to work as a consultant to a company, as opposed to working directly with individual clients.

Although this is the official position of the APA, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), do have licensure available for those who are interested.


Similar to licensure, certification is not essential for an I-O psychologist, although it is an option if you want to show future employers that you are appropriately qualified. To apply, you must have a doctoral degree and be able to provide evidence of your training and experience. Certification can be arranged through the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP).

The American Psychological Association’s Psych Learning Curve aims to bring educational, psychological resources to the psychological community. Their blog keeps readers up-to-date with interesting and relevant psychological topics.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology is part of the American Psychological Association. Its main goal is the promotion of science, practice, and teaching in I-O psychology.

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