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.
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.
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.
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 AssociationComprising 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 ScienceAPS 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 PsychologistsNASP 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 PsychologyThe 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.
Best Graduate Degrees in Psychology 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tiffin University offers an online master of science in psychology comprising 37 credits. The program focuses on experimental and scientific psychology rather than clinical and counseling psychology. It does not lead to licensure or certification. The program consists of two, eight-week terms each semester and features six start dates throughout the year.
Students begin the program with courses in statistical procedures and research design and analysis. These foundational courses help enrollees develop analytical and critical thinking skills that they can apply in a variety of workplace settings.
Doctorate-trained faculty members develop each course. The curriculum consists of classes in developmental psychology, advanced theories of personality, psychopathology, and cross-cultural issues in psychology. Degree candidates must complete a capstone project to graduate. The program provides an excellent foundation for doctoral studies in psychology or a related field, such as social work or sociology.
Tiffin University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The master of science in industrial and organizational psychology at Carlos Albizu University consists of 48 credits. Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. The school may consider applicants with an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.5 who show academic promise. However, students admitted under this condition must attain a 3.0 GPA during their initial enrollment period to continue the program.
Applicants must also show completion of an upper-division statistics course for which they received a grade of B or higher. Students accepted to the program without this background must take the course during the first term.
The curriculum includes coursework in employment law, organizational training and development, psychological assessment techniques in organizations, and personnel psychology. Candidates must complete an applied research and capstone project to graduate.
Carlos Albizu University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The 36-credit, fully online master's in psychology at Saint Leo University offers asynchronous courses that follow eight-week delivery schedules. The master of science program features a cohort model, capping cohorts at 15 students. Students take one class per eight-week session, which allows them to earn the degree within two years.
The curriculum includes courses in advanced social psychology, learning and cognition, tests and measures, and diversity and ethics. Students gain foundational knowledge and skills in general psychology, which prepares them for professional opportunities in a variety of work settings. The MS program does not lead to licensure or certification.
Students must complete a capstone project to graduate. The project must demonstrate mastery of research design and analysis, ethical decision-making, and academic writing ability.
Saint Leo University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The School of Science and Behavioral Sciences at Mercy College offers a 36-credit online master's in psychology comprising 24 credits of core coursework and 12 elective credits. Applicants must show completion of an accredited bachelor's program, preferably in psychology, education, sociology, or behavioral science. The undergraduate degree must include at least 12 psychology credits and a statistics course with a grade of B or higher.
Students can transfer up to six credits from another accredited institution or program. The school only considers transfer courses for which a transferee received a grade of B or higher and completed within five years of applying.
After completing 27 credits, MS candidates can either complete a thesis or take a comprehensive exam to culminate the degree. Students who opt for a thesis must enroll in a thesis supervision course. Enrollees who choose to take the comprehensive exam must inform the program coordinator at the beginning of their final term in the program.
Mercy College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The online master's in counseling psychology at National University in La Jolla, California, requires 90 quarter credits. The master of arts program offers a specialization in marriage and family therapy (MFT) and professional clinical counseling (PCC) combined with MFT.
The standalone MFT curriculum meets the educational requirements to sit for the exam to become a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. The MFT/PCC program qualifies graduates for licensure as an MFT and as a professional clinical counselor. Students who wish to pursue the MFT/PCC option must enroll in three additional courses that address the scope of practice of a licensed professional clinical counselor in California. MFT/PCC enrollees must also complete additional practicum hours to meet the licensing requirements.
Regardless of the specialization they choose, all students enroll in core courses in lifespan development, case management, counseling paradigms, perspectives in psychology, and clinical assessment.
National University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
The 36-credit online master's in psychology at Southern New Hampshire University consists of 24 core credits and 12 concentration credits. The master of science program features concentrations in child and adolescent development, forensic, and industrial-organizational psychology.
Applicants without an undergraduate degree in psychology may be required to enroll in foundation courses in statistics, psychology, and research methods. Credits for foundation coursework will not count toward the degree. The program does not require the submission of GRE or GMAT scores. Students can transfer up to 12 graduate-level credits from another accredited school toward the degree.
All students take core courses on topics like cognitive processes, measurement and assessment, theories of personality, and ethical practice in psychology. Students culminate the degree with a capstone that synthesizes degree knowledge and skills.
Southern New Hampshire University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Medaille College offers an online master's degree in psychology with an optional concentration in sport psychology. Coursework for the sport psychology concentration focuses on sport counseling and intervention and psychological factors in coaching, performance, and rehabilitation.
The 36-credit master of arts program explores several psychology subfields, such as behavioral neuroscience and cognitive and social psychology. The program also familiarizes students with research design, statistical methods, and academic writing techniques.
The curriculum includes coursework in psychopathologies, biological basis of behavior, evolutionary psychology, and statistics. MA candidates can culminate the degree with a thesis or an internship. Thesis writers must enroll in a thesis guidance course.
Medaille College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Most students graduate from the online master's in business psychology at Franklin University after just 14 months of continuous enrollment. The program allows students to transfer up to 12 credits from another accredited school or program toward the degree. However, MS candidates must complete at least 24 credits at Franklin University.
Learners study topics such as individual and organizational intelligence; psychology of creativity, innovation, and change; behavioral economics and neuro-finance; and managerial psychology. Each course consists of four credits. In the final course, students complete a major project that synthesizes the core learning outcomes of the program.
The 36-credit master of science program does not require GRE or GMAT scores from applicants with an accredited bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.75 GPA.
Franklin University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers a 36-credit online master's in psychology with concentrations in forensic and psychometric psychology. The master of science program accepts applications from bachelor's degree-holders with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. The program considers applicants with a lower GPA who meet certain GRE score and other requirements.
Regardless of their concentration, all students begin the program by enrolling in courses in neuropsychology, quantitative methods in the behavioral sciences, and research methods. Students who do not choose a concentration enroll in an additional course in personality and social psychology before choosing 24 elective credits.
Candidates can complete the general psychology and forensic psychology programs entirely online. The psychometric concentration requires students to spend one semester on campus.
University of Louisiana at Monroe is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The College of Business and Education at Southwestern Assemblies of God University offers an online master's in clinical psychology through the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Services. The 63-credit program meets the educational and practicum requirements for licensure as a psychological associate in Texas.
Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, such as counseling, social work, or sociology. The applicant's undergraduate program must include domain courses such as developmental psychology and statistics.
Students complete six research, 39 core, and 12 elective credits. A six-credit practicum (450 clock hours) completes the credit requirements for the degree. Classes cover topics like social and cultural diversity, methods and techniques in counseling, objective personality assessment, and advanced psychopathology and treatment planning. Students must pass a comprehensive exam and complete a capstone project to graduate.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The online master's in psychology at Indiana Institute of Technology comprises 33 credits and features six-week courses. The master of science program aligns with the educational guidelines set forth by the American Psychological Association. However, it does not currently lead to licensure.
Applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and at least two years of relevant work experience. The program requires applicants without previous professional experience to submit GMAT scores.
The curriculum includes courses in advanced biopsychology, statistics for behavioral sciences, legal and ethical issues in psychology, and lifespan development. During a capstone course, students take a comprehensive exam that tests their mastery of the learning outcomes of the program.
Indiana Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
McNeese State University offers an online master's in psychology through the College of Nursing and Health Professions. The master of arts program offers three concentrations: applied behavioral analysis (58 credits), counseling (60 credits), and experimental psychology (39 credits).
The applied behavior analysis concentration meets the educational and supervised experience requirements to take the board-certified behavior analyst national certification exam. The counseling concentration prepares students to take the licensure exam to become a licensed professional counselor in Louisiana. The experimental concentration prepares graduates for doctoral studies and requires a thesis for completion.
Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher and submit GRE scores. An applicant's undergraduate program must include at least 18 psychology credits and at least one class each in experimental, abnormal, and social psychology.
McNeese State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Students admitted to the 36-credit online master's in applied psychology at Angelo State University can pursue a thesis or non-thesis track. The thesis option requires 18 credits each of core coursework and electives, as well as six credits for the thesis. Students pursuing the non-thesis program complete 18 core credits and 24 electives built around a psychology topic or subfield that supports their career and research objectives.
The master of science program welcomes applicants with an accredited bachelor's degree in any field and a minimum 3.0 GPA. However, applicants must have completed at least 18 general psychology credits, including a statistics course, during their undergraduate studies. Applicants who do not meet this requirement must enroll in a graduate levelling class before beginning the program.
The curriculum includes coursework in theories of personality; motivation, emotion, and stress; applied economic psychology; and applications of industrial organizational psychology.
Angelo State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Keiser University offers an online doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology that accepts bachelor's- and master's-trained applicants. Bachelor's degree-holders enroll in an additional 18 credits of graduate-level psychology classes and complete a thesis to receive a master's degree while enrolled in the doctoral program. The university does not offer a standalone online master's in industrial and organizational psychology.
Students who enter the program with a master's degree must complete 54 credits, while bachelor's degree-holders complete 75 credits total. The Ph.D. program features a cohort model and offers courses that follow eight-week schedules. Students take one or two classes concurrently, depending on the schedule of their cohort. During the dissertation portion of the program, doctoral candidates enroll in two dissertation courses each semester.
Although an online degree, the Ph.D. requires candidates to attend two residency intensives at the beginning and toward the end of the program.
Keiser University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The 30-credit online master's in psychology at the University of Idaho offers a human factors concentration. The master of science program examines topics that lie at the nexus of traditional psychology and ground-breaking engineering principles. Enrollees study how modern-day interactions between humans and technology impact mental health, brain development, consumer behavior, and the workplace.
MS candidates can opt to pursue a thesis or a non-thesis track. Students who choose the non-thesis track must pass a comprehensive exam to graduate. All full-time online students pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live. Applicants must show an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and completion of an introductory statistics class.
University of Idaho is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.