Master’s in Psychology Degree Guide

Earning a master’s degree in psychology (MS or MA) is an exciting opportunity to continue your education in an area of psychology you are passionate about and gain critical hands-on experience. 

Psychology could lead to job security, too, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the psychology profession is on track to grow 3% in the next ten years.

Depending on your goals and what state you plan to practice in, a master’s degree prepares you for a successful life-long career as a psychologist in many settings. However, note that some states and jurisdictions require a doctorate degree to practice as a clinician, counselor, or a professional in a school setting. 

What is a Master’s in Psychology?

A master’s degree in psychology provides a robust foundation of knowledge and skills that can launch a successful career of helping others in both the public and private sector. 

Research and practice make up the two main functions of psychology. Your career goals, areas of interest, and personality type help determine which subsection of psychology is right for you.    

A master’s degree in psychology does not make you a licensed psychologist. To obtain a license, you need to follow the licensing requirements of the state you want to work in. In most cases, licensure does require a master’s degree.

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Psychology?

The field of psychology contains many different areas and specialties that lead to a wide variety of career options.  

Depending on your passion and area of interest, obtaining a master’s in psychology can lead to careers in the following industries:

  • Human resources
  • Market research
  • Family services
  • Social services
  • Employee training
  • Research
  • Intervention 
  • Data Analyst 
  • Health programs
  • Community college 
  • Court system
  • Mental health
  • Forensic psychology
  • Industrial/organizational psychology

If you choose to earn a master’s in psychology, there are many more subfields you can pursue depending on what you are interested in. 

Master’s in Psychology Salaries and Career Outlook

The area of psychology, industry, and job location help determine your salary. According to the BLS, the median salary of a psychologist in 2019 was $80,370 with jobs in government and healthcare paying the most. 

The career outlook for people holding a master’s in psychology is good with a projected growth of 3% from 2019-2029. However, this projection is not a guarantee of industry growth. 

Psychology Master’s Degree Career Paths

Because the subject of psychology is so diverse, there are many career paths and specialties to choose from. A few popular career paths are highlighted below. 

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Psychologists$80,3703%Psychologists are trained to analyze emotions, thoughts, and behavior and how it affects individuals as well as society as a whole.
Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)$49,61022%The demand for therapists is on the rise. MFTs use tools and proven techniques to help couples and individuals work through emotions, behavior, and thoughts to better their lives and relationships.
School and Career Counselors$57,0408%School and career counselors help students with social and academic skills that will help them both in and out of the classroom. 
Survey Researchers$59,170-4%Survey researchers use their psychology skills to design surveys, do research, and analyze data in many different industries. 
Source: BLS

Earning a Master’s in Psychology Degree

Earning a master’s degree in psychology is a commitment to advancing both your skills and expertise in psychology while also opening up many career paths and opportunities in the field of psychology.  

Also, a master’s degree is required to pursue a doctorate degree in psychology.

There are many things to consider when considering a graduate school program including the pros and cons, coursework, what skills you’ll master, and the required time commitment. 

Pros and Cons of Master’s in Psychology Programs

Psychology offers many specialty areas and subfields that you can choose from. To accommodate the diversity of psychology, many colleges and universities design master’s programs to focus on specialized areas in the field. The most popular psychology programs include:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Child and adolescent development
  • Counseling psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Behavioral psychology

The pros of obtaining a master’s degree in psychology include:

  • Diversity of career paths
  • Job opportunities available
  • Projected growth of the industry
  • The opportunity to help people
  • Possibility to earn a good income

The cons of obtaining a master’s degree in psychology include:

  • Potential stress
  • Requirement to work odd hours
  • The financial burden of attending school
  • The amount of time it takes to obtain a graduate degree 

While a master’s degree in psychology offers many different types of careers, it may also be necessary to obtain a doctorate degree to achieve your career goals. A doctorate degree opens up even more opportunities to practice clinically, earn a higher income, and become an expert in your field. However, it also requires more time in school and the associated costs. 

Courses in Master’s in Psychology Programs

Psychology program curriculum for the master’s level varies significantly based on what program you specialize in.  

However, there are many general core psychology courses that are usually required for all types of psychology programs. These core classes may include:

  • Learning and Cognition
  • Memory and the Brain
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Bias, Ethics, and Reasoning
  • Group Dynamics
  • Multicultural Psychology and Diversity
  • Principles of Neuroscience
  • Psychological Statistics
  • Graduate Research Methods in Psychology

Master’s level degrees are highly associated with research and statistics, and most programs require the completion of a thesis project to graduate.

Skills Learned in a Master’s in Psychology Program

You develop a number of invaluable skills during the course of a master’s degree program that prepare you for a both a successful career in psychology while preparing you to obtain a doctorate degree (if that is included in your career aspirations). 

The vital skills that you learn during your time in a master’s program can include:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Computer literacy
  • Information-finding skills
  • Research skills
  • Measurement skills
  • Environmental awareness
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Data analysis

How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s in Psychology Degree?

On average, a master’s degree in psychology program usually takes about 2-3 years to complete. This timeline depends on:

  • Whether you study online
  • full-time or part-time learning
  • Previous education
  • Your specialization
  • How long it takes to complete your thesis project 

Master’s programs in psychology typically require 60 semester credits depending on area of concentration and program modality.

Choosing the Best Master’s in Psychology Degree

Master’s in Psychology Degree Specializations

Within the psychology umbrella, there are many specializations and subfields that you can choose to focus on. These subfields all come with different potential careers and outcomes that can open many doors for job opportunities. 

SpecializationDescriptionPotential Careers
Clinical PsychologyClinical psychology is one of the most popular master’s programs in psychology. Students learn how to diagnose and treat people suffering from debilitating mental disorders. This profession typically requires a license and possibly a doctorate degree.Clinical psychologists are qualified to work in:

Mental health settingsHospitalsPediatric medical centersPrivate practice
Forensic PsychologyThis program prepares students to apply restorative justice principles and make an impact in the criminal justice system focusing on substance abuse, gender, race and class issues, PTSD, and mental health disorders. This degree is not license eligible. Forensic psychologists are qualified to work as:Probation or parole officerRestorative justice advocateVictim advocate Correctional facilitiesCommunity-based advocacy groups
School PsychologySchool psychologists help to support student learning, and address educational and behavioral issues in the school setting. School psychologists are qualified to work in:

K-12 school settingsPrivate companiesMental health agenciesIndependent contractors
Child PsychologyChild psychologists help children foster mental wellness, academic success, and health development. To be a licensed child psychologist, you need to obtain a doctorate degree.Child psychologists are qualified to work as:

Child and family therapistSchool counselorsProgram developerSchool psychologist
Behavioral PsychologyA behavioral psychology master’s program prepares students to apply psychological theories, methods, approaches, and principals to the real world setting.Behavioral psychologists are qualified to work as:

Marriage and family therapistProbation officerSubstance abuse counselorBehavior disorder counselorRehabilitation counselor
Industrial/Organizational PsychologyThis type of psychology program teaches students to apply their skills to the corporate/non-profit/government setting by learning to improve a company’s effectiveness by creating hiring, training, and evaluating systems.Organizational psychologists are qualified to work as:

Human resource specialistTrainerTalent Management specialistBehavior analystResearch analystConsultant

Master’s in Psychology Certification and Licensure

Many careers in psychology also require a license or certification to practice or obtain a job. It is important to research requirements for your desired career path, and choose a school, program, and speciality that prepare you to meet your career goals. 

The specific license or certification required varies by state. Make sure to check your desired field’s requirements before you commit to a school or program.  

Can I Earn a Master’s in Psychology Online?

Online master’s of psychology programs are becoming more abundant, and many schools allow students to complete the degree on a part-time or full-time basis. The biggest benefits of online learning include:

  • Flexibility and self-paced learning
  • Better time management
  • Improved virtual and communication and collaboration
  • No commute
  • Faster graduation times
  • Ability to work from anywhere

However, many students may choose to complete an in-person program for its networking and social aspects.

How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?

On average, an online master’s degree in psychology usually takes about two years to complete. However, this timeline is dependent on if you study full-time or part-time, as well as previous education completed.

Master’s degree programs in psychology typically require about 36 credits depending on your area of concentration and program modality.

Accelerated programs are also available that allow you to complete the program in as little as one year, but are faced-paced and rigorous. 

Psychology Accreditation

Accreditation is critical for any education institute as it certifies that the school and its curriculum meet the appropriate standards and qualifications outlined by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education accreditation. 

Choosing a school that is accredited is extremely important as it gives degrees credibility and is valued by employers. 

Many programs and departments within a school may have a separate accreditation called programmatic accreditation. This accreditation elevates the credibility of the program and shows that the department has designed a program that meets industry standards. 

Programmatic accreditation also ensures that students receive the appropriate training and knowledge to be successful in their given fields. 

Applying to Master’s in Psychology Degree Programs

Admissions requirements for master’s in psychology degree programs depend on the type of school, degree, and program modality desired. A bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, GRE score, work experience, and prior grades are a few examples of typical application requirements.

There are many resources available to help you find schools, research financial aid packages, and apply to college programs. 

Admission Requirements for Graduate Psychology Programs

Admission requirements for a master’s in psychology degree program typically include:

  • Transcripts (usually a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate studies)
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Essay
  • In-person interview
  • 2-3 Letters of recommendation
  • GRE score
  • Application fee

Paying for a Degree in Master’s in Psychology

Deciding to go back to school is not only a big time commitment, but it is also a big financial commitment. Tuition costs can vary depending on the school, program, required units, and projects. 

There are many avenues of financial assistance available to help with tuition costs including financial aid, scholarships, grants, internships, work study programs, and corporate reimbursement from your current company. 

  • Financial aid – The process is typically the same for online or campus-based programs. You can take advantage of federal, state, or school-based financial aid programs that usually range from merit-based to needs-based scholarships. Start by completing your FAFSA!
  • Scholarships – Many organizations offer scholarships specifically for psychology students to help supplement tuition costs. Unlike loans, scholarships do not need to be repaid. 
  • Grants – Applying for a grant is a great way to raise funds for your education and, like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid. Consider applying for a Federal Pell Grant or a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. State and local government, universities, and non-profit organizations are also great places to look for grant opportunities.
  • National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program – A loan forgiveness program that grants $50,000 to work in an underserved location for two years. 

Master’s in Psychology Degree Costs

Tuition costs for a master’s program depend on if the school is private or public and instate vs. out-of-state residence status. Depending on this criteria, one can expect to pay in the range from $10,000-$35,000 to complete a master’s program.

Scholarships for Master’s in Psychology Students

Many scholarship opportunities are available for psychology students. Here are a few avenues to consider.

Master’s in Psychology Career Resources

Professional organizations are a great way to stay up-to-date on current psychology trends as well as a place to seek networking and educational opportunities. Here are a few options:

FAQ

What can I do with a master’s in psychology?

Psychology is a diverse field with an abundance of career opportunities for those holding a master’s degree including counseling, school psychology, law enforcement, social work, legal and public policy, veteran counseling, etc. 

Is getting a master’s in psychology worth it?

Yes. A master’s in psychology opens a lot of doors for career advancement and increase in income. It is also a necessary stepping stone for those that want to obtain a doctorate degree in the field of psychology.

Is a master’s in psychology hard?

Obtaining a master’s degree is challenging and time consuming and students can expect to work hard. The hard work is rewarding and the skills and knowledge you obtain will last a lifetime. 

Can you be a psychologist with a master’s?

You can pursue a career as a therapist or counselor with a master’s degree. However, in order to become a licensed psychologist, you need to obtain a doctorate degree. 

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