Do you see yourself working directly with patients, helping them work through life’s challenges by providing scientifically-backed guidance? Or could you picture a career working as a social science researcher, working with large amounts of data and collaborating with other researchers to ultimately contribute to scholarship in the field? Psychology might be a great degree choice for you.
Whether you’re still in high school looking into possible college majors, or a working professional who’s interested in going back to school, it can be tough to know where to find the best information. This psychology degree guide offers everything you need to know about selecting a psychology degree – from deciding this level of degree you need and which school might offer the best support for your interests.
But what can you do with a psychology degree these days? Well, there are dozens of career paths out there for professionals with training in psychology. The jobs that will be available to you are largely dependent on what level of training you receive and your chosen specialization or concentration area.
While salaries vary among occupations, students with psychology degrees often earn a good living. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for psychologists as of May 2020 was $82,180. Social scientists and professionals working in psychology-related positions similarly make about $82,280 per year.
Types Of Psychology Degree
Like other traditional academic fields with a long history, you’re able to choose from a wide variety of psychology degrees, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. The program you choose depends on how much education you already have, how long you want to be in school, and which types of psychology careers you might be interested in pursuing after you graduate. Let’s take a closer look at each level of psychology degree.
Associate Degree in Psychology
What is an Associate Degree in Psychology?
If you’re interested in getting into the job market quickly while still being able to work in health facilities, doctor’s offices, and labs, an associate degree might be a good choice. Most learners complete these programs in two years or less.
If you have transferable general education credits, you may be able to finish in a year. If not, no worries. A high school diploma or GED certificate is all you will need to apply for associate degree programs in psychology. You might also need to submit ACT/SAT scores for consideration.
After you finish an associate degree, you’ll be a contender for various entry-level positions that don’t require training in a specialty area. Associate degree-holders often pursue full- and part-time positions like home care aides, youth counselors, social services assistants, psychiatric technicians.
California Coast University
CCU offers six fully online associate degree programs, including an associate of science in psychology. The school holds recognition from the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) and national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
Learners in the program complete a total of 20 classes consisting of 10 general education courses, four credits of electives, and six major core credits. CCU students enjoy affordable tuition rates at $170/credit, along with flexible self-paced classes.
CCU subscribes to an open enrollment model. In other words, after gaining acceptance, you can begin your associate degree in psychology at any point during the year and complete classes on your own time. Prospective associate degree students must submit official transcripts, updated resumes, and application fees for consideration.
Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
These four-year degrees are quite common for learners who want bachelor’s-level training, including a full range of general education classes and rigorous training in psychology. Similar to the associate degree application requirements, you’ll only need a high school diploma or GED certificate to apply for bachelor’s degree programs in psychology.
Coursework and training in these programs include:
- Psychology and human behavior foundations
- Human development
- Clinical and abnormal psychology
- Learning, memory, and cognition
- Professional development
- Critical thinking and scientific inquiry
- Psychology ethics and social responsibility
The skills you gain in four-year psychology programs are quite diverse and prepare you for innumerable roles. Many professionals with psychology degrees move on to rewarding careers as market researchers, advertising specialists, child care workers, and career counselors. You can even go on to become a teacher, should you earn your teaching credential in addition to a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is also the first step for those learners who’d like to pursue additional education in master’s or doctoral psychology programs.
BA vs BS in Psychology: Which Degree Should You Get?
While psychology bachelor’s degree offerings vary among schools, you’ll probably see both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science programs. The BA in psychology is a good choice for learners who’d like to move on to non-psychology careers. BA programs provide a great mix of cognition and behavioral studies along with social science and humanities courses. In this way, the BA is a great springboard into dozens of fields.
If you’re interested in pursuing a more traditional career in psychology, such as a research role, university-level teaching, clinical psychology, or other mental health professional roles, the bachelor of science in psychology is the best choice.
Located in Phoenix, Arizona, GCU is a for-profit institution. It is one of the largest Christian universities in the world. GCU psychology undergraduate students can choose from a variety of bachelor of science degrees in psychology and behavioral health studies. Psychology majors also choose from concentrations in forensic psychology, performance and sports psychology, and general psychology.
This program features fully online, hybrid, or on-campus coursework. Remote students choose from asynchronous or synchronous classes. Regardless of the format, students need 120 credits for graduation. Incoming students can transfer up to 90 credits toward the degree. Online students pay $477/credit.
This private Catholic institution in Florida was established in 1889. Learners can take advantage of its bachelor of arts in psychology program, which offers concentrations in clinical/counseling, developmental psychology, experimental psychology, and general psychology. Both the clinical/counseling and general concentrations are available online.
In total, Saint Leo psychology students need 120 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Students need 15 hours of core psychology courses plus nine hours from their concentration area. BA students in the general psychology track choose from electives such as developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and physiological psychology. Online psychology students can expect to pay $380/credit.
Master’s Degree in Psychology
These graduate-level programs require learners to undertake much more rigorous studies in psychology than undergraduate programs. I These programs also typically give you the opportunity to develop your skills in a specialized area of the field, including:
- Educational psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Social psychology
- Forensic psychology
Master’s degrees typically take 2-3 years to complete, depending on the program and its graduation requirements. In order to apply, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Moreover, many graduate school applications require a personal essay outlining your career goals, 2-3 letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a 3.0 or higher GPA.
Who Should Get a Master’s Degree in Psychology?
You’ll find that schools may offer a master of arts or a master of science in psychology. The MA will offer you more liberal arts training and best suits learners who are planning on pursuing careers in nontraditional psychology roles in areas like market research and human resources. The MS in psychology, on the other hand, is a good choice for students planning on pursuing doctoral-level education and/or more traditional careers in mental health, industrial-organizational psychology, and forensic psychology.
A public research institution founded in 1869, Purdue offers dozens of online programs including a master of science in psychology. Students in this program need 60-75 semester credits for graduation. Full-time learners typically complete the master’s degree in two years. Online students pay $420/credit in this program.
Purdue psychology master’s students choose from six concentrations, including applied behavior analysis, forensic psychology, and general psychology. In order to meet graduation requirements, students complete either a traditional master’s thesis based on original research or take a final exam. Applicants should possess a bachelor’s degree with a 2.5 or higher GPA.
Doctoral Psychology Degree
Doctoral degrees are the highest educational level in the field. These programs often take full-time psychology students 4-7 years to complete, so you’ll need to be prepared for years of intensive studying and writing. Moreover, doctoral programs, in general, are designed to position you as an expert in a niche part of the field. With that in mind, you’ll be expected to conduct original research and academic writing while you’re in school that explores psychology topics and theories in a much deeper way than you experienced in your undergraduate program. You’ll probably have to complete an old-school dissertation that showcases what you’ve learned and, most importantly, what your original ideas and work contribute to the psychology field.
PsyD vs PhD: Which Degree Should You Get?
Both the doctor of psychology (PsyD) and the doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD) are valuable degrees and hold equal prestige, but they offer you different types of training. The PsyD is largely for students who are interested in providing counseling and psychological services. They typically work directly in patient-facing roles. The PhD, on the other hand, is geared toward teaching, research, and roles within academia. You’ll be prepared to work at colleges and universities as a professor, nonprofits, and research facilities, depending on your interests and specialty area.
MS vs PhD: Which Degree Should I Get?
Both the master of science in psychology and doctor of philosophy in psychology are worthwhile pursuits, but they prepare you for different types of careers. Many learners today who aren’t pursuing a traditional career as a psychologist or professor tend to be satisfied with their master’s-level training. They move on to rewarding and lucrative careers as substance abuse counselors, market research analysts, training and development specialists, and much more. The MS in psychology typically takes students about two years to complete.
PhD programs, in addition to taking 4-7 years to complete, are designed to prepare you for careers such as college professor, clinical psychologist, and industrial-organizational psychologist. These programs are quite rigorous and not for the faint of heart. If you’re interested in nabbing a great teaching or research role in the field, however, this is the route to take.
A private for-profit school established in 1970, Walden is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The school offers remote learners access to quality bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs, including its online PhD in psychology.
The school features a fast-track option for doctoral students who wish to complete more classes per semester than the normal course load. This can help you complete the required courses and move into writing your dissertation in less time. Applicants for the fast-track program must pass a writing assessment, submit a personal essay, and have a 3.0 or higher GPA.
Learners in this PhD program choose from specializations in:
- Educational psychology
- Health psychology
- Social psychology
- Teaching in psychology
- Self-designed concentration
For consideration, applicants for the PhD in psychology must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology or a related field from an accredited institution. You’ll also need to submit your official transcripts and complete an online application. Students in this program pay $495/credit.
Capella is a private for-profit institution founded in 1993. This online university serves approximately 38,400 students and offers more than 50 degree programs. Distance students enjoy remote access to its hybrid PsyD program.
The doctor of psychology program requires students to complete both in-person and online coursework, as well as face-to-face clinical practicums for hands-on training. In total, students need to finish 125 quarter credits or 25 required classes. In addition to required core classes, learners at Capella chose from specialization classes such as:
- Advanced psychopathology
- Theories of psychotherapy
- Strategies of clinical supervision and consultation
- Ethics and standards of professional practice
Prospective PsyD students at Capella need a master’s degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Applicants must also include official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. Doctoral applicants may also need to participate in an admissions interview. PsyD students at Capella pay $540/credit. Tuition rates for residencies and dissertation writing credits vary.
Psychology Program Areas and Specializations
Colleges and universities offer degree programs that reflect their faculty members’ strengths and access to resources. In this way, you’ll find that many programs offer psychology degrees in specific program areas or with designated concentrations. Here’s a quick look at common types of specializations that you may encounter while researching schools. While this is not a complete list, it will give you a good idea of what’s out there.
Clinical psychology concentrations prepare you for patient-facing work, sometimes as a clinical psychologist depending on your degree. You’ll help families, individuals, and children by diagnosing behavioral and mental disorders and providing personalized treatment plans. There are different ways, however, that people with training in clinical psychology serve at-risk populations, not just as clinical psychologists.
Depending on your degree level, you can find work in this area of the field as a school counselor, substance abuse counselor, psychiatric technician, and more with a bachelor’s degree. Advanced learners with a master’s in psychology can work in areas such as health psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology, and life coaching. Doctorate-holders, specifically PsyD graduates with a concentration in clinical psychology, are the ones who can practice officially as clinical psychologists.
A concentration in sports psychology can prepare you for exciting roles working with athletes at all levels. You’ll find that sports-focused specializations go by several titles, including exercise psychology, performance psychology, sports and exercise psychology, and allied sports psychology. Depending on the school, you’ll prepare for different types of careers.
Concentrations like sports and exercise psychology often focus more on applied psychology, where you’ll work to address athletes’ performance and behavioral concerns and develop counseling techniques accordingly. These workers usually hold licensure as a psychologist. Alternatively, educational sports psychologists focus on physical education and kinesiology and usually aren’t licensed. In these roles, you’re more of a counselor who provides mental health support for athletes.
Criminal psychologists bring a wide variety of skills to the table when it comes to studying criminal intent and malicious behaviors. The level of degree you earn in this area determines which career routes you can pursue. Depending on your training, you could be contributing to criminal investigations, helping the justice system evaluate criminal defendants, and helping investigators make predictions about criminal activity.
Bachelor’s degrees in criminal psychology require you to complete classes in areas like forensic psychology, sociology of crime and violence, and criminal justice research methods. They often move on to careers as community and social services managers, probation officers, jury consultants, and police officers.
Earning a master’s and a doctoral degree with a concentration in criminal psychology allows you to become a little more involved in the law enforcement and justice system side of things. Higher-level positions may require you to complete both a doctorate and an internship before earning licensure to practice as a criminal psychologist.
A concentration in counseling psychology prepares you for client- or patient-facing roles where you offer educated guidance to individuals. Professionals with a bachelor’s degree in this area often work in schools, prisons, substance abuse facilities, and community outreach programs.
More advanced positions require a master’s or doctorate. In these graduate programs in counseling psychology, you’ll study advanced counseling skills, psychological assessments, group counseling, and multicultural counseling. Most master’s and doctoral students complete some kind of internship as part of their training. If you wish to become a counseling psychologist, who can offer a wider range of more intensive patient counseling, you will need a doctorate, licensure, and likely certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).
Are you interested in the science of human behavior in work settings? A concentration in organizational psychology might be a great choice. You’ll learn how to understand the intricacies of workplace behavior and how to help human resources representatives improve the quality of life for their employees. You’ll study leadership development, workplace safety, and diversity issues, along with hiring and onboarding procedures and employee evaluation methods.
You’ll find that some programs in this area use “organizational psychology” or “industrial psychology.” They are, however, a little different from one another. Industrial psychology focuses on employees’ training, compensation, selection, and performance. Organizational psychology looks more at employees’ experiences in the work environment, including stress, socialization, motivation, and organization development. The path to becoming either type of psychologist is the same, but it’s good to be aware that there’s a slight difference between the two.
Most positions in this specialized area of the field require a bachelor’s or master’s degree and relevant work experience. Once you finish your program, you’ll be in the running for jobs like training and development specialist, human resource specialist, management analyst, and recruitment coordinator.
You might have seen forensic psychologists portrayed in popular TV crime shows, but what do they actually do? Forensic psychology is a specialized area of clinical psychology, which entails conducting psychological assessments of individuals under criminal investigation in legal settings. These professionals may also be involved in child custody evaluations, death notification procedures, screening of law enforcement applicants, assessing PTSD disorders, and beyond.
The types of tasks and jobs you’ll carry out depend on what level of education you complete. You’ll need at least a bachelor’s or master’s degree to obtain entry-level positions as a forensic science technician, court liaison, crime analyst, or psychological assistant. Those who work as licensed forensic psychologists need a doctoral degree and certification through the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP).
What Can I Do With A Psychology Degree?
Your education level, amount of experience, and location influence how much you’ll earn with a psychology degree. Additional training and experience can often lead psychology graduates to better-paying jobs. You can expect master’s and doctorate degree-holders to compete for higher-level positions that command a higher salary than associate and bachelor’s degree-holders.
Additionally, your earning potential is different depending on where you live. Psychologists in California, for example, make about $20,000 more per year than those living in Colorado. The number of available psychologist positions also varies by location.
Let’s take a look at four top-paying psychology careers today, their earning potential, projected growth, and what type of education and experience you’ll need to obtain them.
Psychology Career Salaries, Career Outlook, and Job Requirements
How To Become A Psychologist: Education and Licensure
Many students start out in a psychology degree program with the hope of becoming a psychologist. While there are many different career paths you can take with formal training in psychology, actual psychologists follow a pretty straight-ahead and predictable route in terms of education and licensure.
First, you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree program with a competitive GPA. You’ll then locate a master’s or doctoral program to pursue a graduate degree. Bear in mind that most doctoral programs today require students to possess a master’s degree in psychology or related field at the time they apply. That’s not the case in every instance, but it’s quite common.
When you apply for graduate school, you may need to submit GRE scores and letters of recommendation. Be sure to plan ahead and make sure you give yourself enough time to put together complete and thoughtful applications.
If you’re planning on becoming a clinical, research, or counseling psychologist, you’ll probably need to complete a doctoral degree. For jobs in industrial-organizational psychology, you can likely stop your formal education after you complete a master’s degree.
Doctoral students, whether in a PhD or PsyD program, usually need 4-7 years to complete their degrees. The PsyD is a clinical degree and is often best suited for learners interested in providing patient-facing clinical care and counseling. Training in PsyD programs usually includes a one-year internship for a hands-on learning experience.
Most states require psychologists to obtain licensure to practice. This usually means that after school, you’ll still need 1-2 years of supervised professional experience. You’ll also need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the ASPPB. Psychologists usually have to keep up with continuing education credits throughout their careers to ensure their licensure stays valid.
Everyone’s motivations for pursuing a career as a psychologist are different, but it’s helpful to hear from people who have done it as you set out on your own journey through school. Check out this interview with Dr. Juli Fraga, “How I Became a Psychologist,” for a close look at her educational experience.
Do I Need a Bachelor’s in Psychology to Become a Psychologist?
No, you don’t specifically need a bachelor’s degree in psychology to become a licensed psychologist. You do, however, need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in order to apply for master’s and doctoral programs. Even if you earn a bachelor’s degree in an outside field, you can still be a contender for graduate programs in psychology.
Psychology Degree Accreditation
When colleges and universities possess accreditation, it shows that they’ve met the academic standards of an accrediting body that’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools typically hold regional or national accreditation, depending on the type of school they are and what they offer.
Regional accreditation is widely considered to be the gold standard. Most schools with regional accreditation offer a wide range of degrees in traditional academic areas. National accreditation, on the other hand, is usually held by career, vocational, and trade schools.
Individual departments or programs within colleges and universities can also hold a field-specific accreditation, which is referred to as programmatic accreditation. This shows that schools have gone above and beyond to ensure their programs meet high academic standards that are specific to that particular area of study. Programs within institutions that possess regional accreditation will not always seek out this programmatic accreditation. Regional accreditation, on its own, is already a high distinction. However, it never hurts to look into programs with both.
When it comes to psychology degrees, you’ll want to seek out schools with regional accreditation. For programmatic accreditation, widely recognized and respected boards include the American Psychological Association (APA), Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS), Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), and Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP).
Scholarships For Psychology Students
Paying for a college degree can be challenging for most learners today. The good news is that there are many financial aid opportunities out there to help you offset the cost of your psychology degree. Scholarships are the best way to get money for school since, unlike student loans, you do not need to pay them back. Beyond this list of scholarships for psychology students, you can find more opportunities using our scholarship search tool here.
This award is for graduate students studying psychometrics or closely related fields. Selected fellows will conduct research alongside an academic advisor at this university for a full academic year. Fellows receive a stipend of $20,000 along with $8,000 to offset the cost of tuition and fees. Additionally, they’ll get some grant money to help support their research project.
This $6,000 scholarship is for high school graduates who are residents of northern or central California. They must be planning on pursuing a medical-related degree from an accredited school in their home state. The collaborative provides awards for approximately 18 students per year.
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago offers this award for Jewish students who were born in the area. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and pursue a career that helps the general public in some way, including roles in education, medicine, law, and psychology. Awards granted may be up to $4,000.
Students pursuing a degree in a science-related field can apply for this $1,500 award. Applicants must be enrolled in a school located in either the U.S., Canada, or Europe.
The Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity offers this $1,000 award for graduate students in psychology. Applicants must be interested in researching the psychology of bisexuality and contributing to the field of LGBTQ studies.
Frequently Asked Psychology Degree Questions
Yes. A degree in psychology can position you for jobs that pay well above average salaries. Moreover, you’ll learn valuable transferable skills and knowledge that can enrich your daily life.
Professionals with psychology degrees find rewarding work in dozens of major industries today, not just in healthcare. With a psychology degree, you could find yourself working as a human resources representative, college professor
Every psychology degree is valuable. If you’re looking to study psychology and get into a career where you can apply what you’ve learned, pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree in psychology is a good place to start.
Like many academic pursuits, you get out what you put in. While psychology topics may be unfamiliar and challenging at times, the harder you study the more you’ll take away from your time in school.
Salary ranges vary greatly among psychology degree-holders. Social scientists and psychologists make about $82,100 per year. That’s double the median wage in the U.S. when you look at all occupations at once.
Psychologists with a bachelor’s and master’s degree can usually get to that point after 5-6 years of study. Those with a doctoral degree can take up to eight years in total, depending on their educational path before they enter their PhD or PsyD program. Depending on the student, the doctorate can take 4-7 years on its own, on top of any other time you’ve spent in school.