Best Graduate Degrees in Psychology

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Understanding human behavior lies at the heart of every psychological enterprise.

Students who pursue online graduate degrees in psychology usually qualify for entry-level positions in fields such as human resources, public relations, healthcare management, and community development. Most advanced positions require applicants to hold at least a master’s degree.

Several accredited colleges and universities offer online graduate degrees in psychology, which enable working students to keep their jobs while earning their degree. Master’s programs typically take two years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree, while doctoral programs take an additional 4-6 years beyond a master’s degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned an annual median salary of $80,370 in 2019, which is much higher than the $39,810 annual median salary for all workers. The BLS projects psychology jobs to grow 3% between 2019 and 2029, which is just as fast as other sectors.

What Can I Do With a Graduate Degree in Psychology?

On-campus and online graduate degrees in psychology require a significant investment of time and money. About 25% of psychology bachelor’s degree-holders continue on to graduate school to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree.

Some learners pursue an advanced degree because of the field’s breadth and depth. Psychology is a broad discipline that offers several subfields. Master’s and doctoral students can build a career in diverse areas such as industrial and organizational psychology, neuropsychology, forensics, and sports psychology.

Students who earn a graduate degree in psychology also expand their career options. They can work in academia as tenure-track professors, consult for government agencies and international organizations, or establish private practices.

Doctoral-level practitioners can pursue a practice-oriented doctor of psychology (Psy.D) or a more research-based doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). Both degrees significantly expand students’ career options in a variety of growth-oriented professional arenas.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Psychology?

According to the BLS, earning a graduate degree substantially increases professionals’ earning potential while considerably lowering unemployment odds. For example, professionals with a doctorate earn a median weekly salary of $1,883, which is much higher than the median weekly salary of $1,248 for bachelor’s degree-holders. Those with a doctorate also enjoy a lower unemployment rate than undergraduate degree-holders at 1.1 and 2.2%, respectively.

Many advanced and specialized positions in psychology require graduate-level education and training, including tenure-tracks positions in colleges and universities. Employers looking for someone to lead a research team or fill a managerial position typically prefer applicants with graduate-level credentials and several years of professional experience.

Accreditation for a Degree in Psychology

Colleges and universities throughout the United States regularly submit to the accreditation process as a way to signal their commitment to providing top-quality education. The voluntary process involves the evaluation of an institution’s educational programs by a recognized accrediting agency.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) oversee the accreditation process. They ensure that accreditors apply the same standards to all schools within their jurisdiction throughout the accreditation process.

Nonprofit, degree-focused postsecondary institutions usually apply for regional accreditation, while vocational and career-centered sectarian schools apply for national accreditation. Regional accreditors typically adhere to more rigid accreditation standards, which is why many employers consider regional accreditation the more prestigious designation. However, CHEA and ED recognize both types of accreditations.

Some accrediting agencies focus on specific programs rather than entire schools. In the psychology field, ED and CHEA recognize the APA as the main accrediting agency for doctoral-level psychology programs.

FAQ


  • How long is a graduate degree in psychology?


    A master’s in psychology usually requires an additional two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree. A doctorate often requires 4-6 years of study beyond a master’s degree.

  • What kind of jobs can I get with a master's degree in psychology?


    Depending on the focus of their graduate studies, professionals with a master’s degree in psychology often qualify to work as forensic psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, healthcare administrators, occupational specialists, and clinical psychologists.

  • Do you need a bachelor's degree in psychology to get a master's?


    Several master’s programs in psychology do not require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in the field. However, applicants with a non-psychology undergraduate degree may need to complete certain courses prior to enrolling for graduate-level coursework.

  • What does a psychologist do?


    Psychologists’ duties and responsibilities often depend on their specific field. Clinical psychologists gather, organize, and interpret data, counselors meet with clients, and professors lecture and prepare various teaching materials for students.

What Are the Requirements for a Graduate Degree in Psychology?

Schools offering on-campus and online graduate degrees in psychology usually maintain the same admission and graduation requirements for onsite and offsite enrollees. Common requirements for a master’s program in psychology include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university (preferably, but not necessarily, in psychology), a 3.0 GPA or higher, and the completion of prerequisite courses such as statistics and experimental methods. Some doctoral programs in psychology accept only master’s-trained applicants, while others accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Graduation requirements for master’s psychology programs vary. Some programs require a thesis while others require a capstone project or comprehensive exam. Most doctoral programs require a dissertation.

Courses in a Psychology Program

Just like admission and completion requirements, courses for on-campus and online graduate degrees in psychology remain basically the same within individual institutions. However, curricula between different schools often vary depending on each school’s specialization areas and academic objectives.

See below for common offerings in many accredited graduate psychology programs. In many of these foundation courses, enrollees develop the critical and analytical skills necessary for top leadership positions.

The course familiarizes students with common cognitive testing tools such as the Stanford-Binet Development Achievement Scales and the Wechsler Intelligence Scales. Learners study different theories of human intelligence and various methods of measuring cognitive ability. The course examines the validity and significance of traditional assessment and testing methods. Students learn how to score tests and interpret results. They also explore how cultural and socioeconomic factors can sometimes impact exam results and relevance.

Commonly offered in an applied psychology program, this course explores how organizations behave and studies the reasons behind the behavior. Students examine how individual actions influence group behavior and decisions. The course covers leadership, organizational change and processes, rigid versus fluid hierarchy, and productivity. Students examine case studies to identify effective tools and techniques to successfully manage organizational change and growth.
A common requirement in a clinical psychology program, this course teaches enrollees how to conduct psychological assessments in a variety of settings. Students gain ample opportunities to hone their interviewing and listening skills. With interviewees’ knowledge and permission, sessions are usually recorded and analyzed to help identify students’ strengths and improvement areas. The course often allows students to engage interviewees from diverse backgrounds to improve their ability to communicate across ethnic and socioeconomic constraints.
The course teaches students about the different types of common pathologies. Learners explore the roots of these pathologies and examine possible treatment options. The course familiarizes students with the anatomy, physiology, and characteristics of the brain and the nervous system. Enrollees learn how to use various tools and techniques to diagnose, evaluate, and treat various psychological conditions with physiological origins. The course includes lectures, labwork, and field observations.
Many on-campus and online graduate degrees in psychology require students to enroll in at least two semesters of experimental methods and research design because it serves as a foundation for so much of graduate-level work. Even a practice-oriented graduate degree (such as a Psy.D.) requires students to understand quantitative and qualitative research methods, how to structure a questionnaire and evaluate responses, and how the experimental process itself can influence possible outcomes.

Certifications and Licensure for Psychology Majors

Professionals with a license can legally practice within a state or jurisdiction. State licensing authorities typically issue licenses. Certification refers to an additional credential from an industry-specific licensing board or a professional organization. Psychology practitioners can apply for several types of licenses and certifications depending on their educational qualifications, expertise area, and location.

To become a CCBT, professionals need at least a master’s degree in psychology or a closely related field such as social work, occupational therapy, or counseling. Certification applicants must also show a minimum of six years of postgraduate professional experience providing cognitive-behavioral therapy. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists administers the credential.
A licensed psychologist holds a doctorate (often a Psy.D.) and can engage in one-on-one counseling and group therapy sessions. Licensure requires 2,000-4,000 supervised clinical hours. Depending on the state in which they practice, licensed psychologists are known as LPCCs (licensed professional clinical counselors), LMHCs (licensed mental health counselors), or some other designation.
Administered by the National School Psychology Certification Board, this credential requires applicants to complete at least 60 graduate-level credits and a supervised laboratory or field-based practicum. Applicants must also complete an internship of at least 1,200 hours, of which 50% must be in a school environment.

Professional Organizations for Psychology Students

Most professional organizations deliver several member benefits, including networking and career development opportunities. Read below for some professional organizations in psychology that seek to preserve and promote the field’s integrity while also helping members advance in their careers or reach their educational objectives.


  • American Psychological Association Comprising more than 121,000 members, APA includes clinicians, educators, students, and researchers in its roster of psychology practitioners. The association issues a members-only magazine featuring information on the field's latest trends and research developments. APA also offers continuing education units, discounts on professional liability insurance and other risk management services, and a student loan refinancing program.

  • Association for Psychological Science APS sponsors several webinars and virtual meetings throughout the year that allow members to network, collaborate, and explore mentoring opportunities. APS updates members on federal grant programs and other funding opportunities for psychological research. The association website maintains an employment network for members seeking or offering jobs in the field.

  • National Association of School Psychologists NASP publishes online and hard copy magazines and newsletters containing relevant developments and current policies and regulations impacting school psychology practitioners. Members enjoy significant discounts on several professional resources such as liability insurance and continuing education units available through the Online Learning Center.

  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology The organization offers full fellowship and stipend-only programs for qualified members pursuing an accredited graduate degree. Members can also apply for funding to cover research-related travel locally or abroad. SPSP maintains an online career center where members can post and apply for jobs and internships.

Scholarships for Psychology Students

Colleges and universities offering onsite and online graduate degrees in psychology usually open scholarship and fellowship opportunities to on-campus and off-campus enrollees. Psychology students can also research financial assistance programs from private professional organizations and state and federal agencies. See below for five scholarships and fellowships for psychology students.


  • David H. and Beverly A. Barlow Grant

    Who Can Apply: APA accepts applications from graduate students involved in research related to anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Early career researchers (no more than 10 years postdoctoral) can also apply for the grant but must show affiliation with a nonprofit, educational, or research institution. Applicants must include a proposal describing their research or project and their qualifications for completing the work.
    Amount: $8,500

    More Information


  • National Association of Junior Auxiliaries Graduate Scholarship Program

    Who Can Apply: Students accepted to a graduate program with a focus on children and youth and who reside in a state with a NAJA chapter can apply. Acceptable areas of study include counseling, psychology, mental health, and special needs. Recipients can apply for funding every year.
    Amount: Varies

    More Information


  • National Board for Certified Counselors Scholarship and Fellowship Programs

    Who Can Apply: TNBCC offers several funding opportunities for graduate psychology students pursuing an accredited master’s or doctoral program. There are financial assistance packages available to minority students, clinical supervisors, and mental health providers. Application requirements vary.
    Amount: Varies

    More Information


  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

    Who Can Apply: SIOP welcomes nominations from accredited industrial and organizational psychology programs. Each school can submit the name of one doctoral student who meets the criteria of one of the scholarship or fellowship opportunities. The organization only accepts nominees pursuing a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology.
    Amount: $3,000-$10,000

    More Information


  • Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The program welcomes applications from students engaged in graduate-level research or a project that seeks to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Applicants must demonstrate a longstanding commitment to the field of mental health counseling. They must also submit a proposal detailing the objectives of their research and their qualifications.
    Amount: $5,000

    More Information


Best Graduate Degrees in Psychology 2020

  1. Touro University Worldwide
    Location

    Los Alamitos, CA

    The online master of arts in psychology at Touro University comprises 36 credits and offers courses that follow eight-week delivery schedules. Most students graduate from the program after just one year of enrollment. The program permits students to transfer up to nine credits from another accredited institution. Students can concentrate in one of four areas: education, health, media, or forensic psychology.

    The program requires enrollees to complete 27 core credits and nine concentration credits. Core coursework covers topics such as developmental issues across the lifespan, principles of consumer psychology, professional ethics, and the psychological impact of media and technology.

    Although the MA program does not lead to licensure, the degree provides an excellent foundation for further studies in psychology and other fields, such as business, education, and media and communication. Students culminate the degree with a capstone project that synthesizes degree knowledge and skills.

    Touro University Worldwide is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  2. Regent University
    Location

    Virginia Beach, VA

    Regent University offers an online master of science in psychology that features eight-week courses. The 39-credit program includes 27 credits of core courses and 12 credits of concentration coursework.

    Students can choose from six concentrations, including industrial-organizational psychology, marriage and family, and addictions. The program also offers a doctoral preparation concentration for enrollees who plan to continue on to a doctoral program after graduation. The core curriculum includes courses in contemporary psychology; affect, cognition, and motivation; lifespan psychology; and biological bases of behavior.

    The program gives preference to applicants with an accredited bachelor's degree in counseling or psychology. However, students with an undergraduate degree in a related human behavioral field (such as sociology or social work) are also encouraged to apply.

    Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Saybrook University
    Location

    Pasedena, CA

    Saybrook University in Pasadena, California, offers online graduate degrees in psychology at the master's and doctoral levels. The master of arts requires 32-35 credits and does not lead to licensure or certification. The program offers specializations in creativity studies; consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health; psychophysiology; and existential, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology.

    Saybrook University offers two doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programs. Practitioners in non-clinical careers usually pursue the Ph.D. in psychology, which builds on their existing license or certification but does not lead to new ones.

    The Ph.D. in clinical psychology aligns with professional licensure requirements in California and several other states, including New York, Texas, Washington, and Ohio. The degree offers six specializations in areas such as child and adolescent psychology, psychotherapy, data analyses and meta-analyses, and humanistic-integrative psychology.

    Although most of the required courses are offered online, candidates for any of the online graduate degrees in psychology must attend two, five-day on-campus residential conferences per year.

    Saybrook University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  4. Golden Gate University-San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    The online master of arts in industrial-organizational psychology at Golden Gate University comprises 39 credits. Students can choose from hybrid or fully online formats. The program focuses on key workplace issues such as how to evaluate internal problems, improve employee training, and increase productivity by enhancing employee relations.

    Students complete 30 credits of core coursework and nine elective credits. Required courses include organizational behavior and development; structure, theory, and ethics of conflict resolution; diversity in organizations; and applied psychological research.

    The program gives MA candidates the option to complete an internship toward the end of their studies. Online students can complete their internship at an approved local site. The internship adds three credits to the MA program, bringing the total number to 42.

    Golden Gate University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  5. Arizona State University-Skysong
    Location

    Scottsdale, AZ

    Arizona State University offers two online graduate programs in psychology. The master of science degree comprises 36 credits and accepts full-time and part-time enrollees. Full-time students typically graduate after 18 months of continuous enrollment. All students must complete the program within six years from the time of their initial enrollment. Courses cover topics like quantitative analysis, research methods, and professional issues in psychology.

    The master of arts in political psychology consists of 30 credits. Classes cover subjects such as cognition and emotions in political thinking; prejudice, stereotypes, and intergroup relations; and attitudes and persuasion. Both programs feature 7.5-week courses.

    Applicants to the MS and MA programs must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA or higher during their last 60 undergraduate credits.

    Arizona State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  6. University of West Alabama
    Location

    Livingston, AL

    The online master of science in experimental psychology at the University of West Alabama offers three tracks of study. The general psychology track and health and sports psychology track each consist of 36 credits. Students pursuing general psychology culminate the degree with a thesis. Health and sports psychology enrollees can choose to write a thesis or pass a comprehensive exam as the culminating activity.

    The clinical psychology track comprises 39-57 credits. The total number of credits required for the degree depends on a student's educational background. Clinical psychology candidates enroll in 12-24 credits of clinical coursework and six internship or practicum credits. Regardless of the track they pursue, all students begin the program by completing 18 credits of core classes and nine credits of statistics and research methods coursework.

    University of West Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    USC offers an online master of science in applied psychology through the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Full-time students can complete the 34-credit program in 16 months. Enrollees can choose to specialize in organizational psychology or consumer psychology.

    Regardless of their specialization, all students complete five core courses: research methods in applied social psychology, principles of consumer psychology, organizational psychology, and two seminars in the foundation and application of human behavior. Students also take eight credits of concentration coursework.

    Students must complete an internship and a psychological treatise to graduate. Online enrollees can fulfill the internship requirement within their geographical area with the approval of the program coordinator.

    The University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  8. National Louis University
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    The College of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at National Louis University offers a fully online master's in industrial and organizational psychology. The master of science program requires 36-42 credits and integrates content from psychology, human resources, and organizational development.

    Through class lectures, case studies, and onsite observations, students examine how to apply psychological principles to maximize productivity, enhance employee satisfaction, and solve modern-day workplace issues.

    Courses cover subjects such as performance analysis and measurement, organizational effectiveness and development, talent acquisition and retention, and work motivations and job attitudes. Students culminate the degree with a capstone project. Students with an interest in human resources can combine the MS in industrial and organizational psychology with an MS in human resource management and development.

    National Louis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learn Commission.

  9. Ball State University
    Location

    Muncie, IN

    The Teachers College at Ball State University offers an online master's in quantitative psychology through the Department of Educational Psychology. Students learn how to measure human attributes, analyze psychological data, and design research studies

    The program offers quantitative and mixed-methods concentrations. The 33-credit program includes 21 core, six concentration, and three elective credits. Core classes include applied regression analysis, multivariate statistics and data mining, human learning and achievement motivation, and analysis of variance.

    Students can optionally write a research paper instead of a thesis to culminate the program. This option comprises only 1-3 credits and may require enrollment in another elective course to reach the 33 credits required to graduate.

    Ball State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  10. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    The online master of liberal arts in psychology at Harvard University comprises 48 credits. Applicants must pass a critical reading and writing test before they can register for three degree-applicable courses that form part of the admission process. The three classes include an introductory course in scholarly writing for social sciences, an intermediate statistics course, and a psychology class.

    Although courses for the degree are available online, the program requires students to enroll in three classes on campus. Students can craft an individual study plan that includes courses and activities that support their educational and career objectives. Students need a minimum 3.0 GPA to graduate, and no grade can fall below a B- for any course. Candidates can write a thesis or complete a capstone project to culminate the degree.

    Harvard University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

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