Find your best-fit program and explore key psychology resources
A psychology degree is one of the most popular degrees available today, and for good reason: not only does it open the doors to interesting careers working to understand human behavior, it also provides a broad educational background that can be useful in a variety of professions. Research and writing, statistical analysis, critical thinking and logical reasoning skills are all basic concepts learned through a psychology degree program. To discover more about what you can do with a psychology degree and the potential careers available, enjoy the rest of this comprehensive guide.
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Top Psychology Programs
Figuring out which psychology degree program is the best is not easy. Not only is it difficult to fairly compare programs against one another, but each student also has his or her own unique idea of what makes a particular program right for them. However, there are several major characteristics that many students deem important when deciding among schools, such as tuition, student-to-faculty ratio and graduation rate. All of these, and more, are factored into our 2016-17 rankings.
The scoring methodology includes factors such as:
- Cost & financial aid
- Number of programs and program offerings
- Student-teacher ratios
- Graduation rates
- Placement or Support Services
- Academic/Career Counseling Services
- Employment Services
and many others
These factors are assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or 'bang for your buck' of a college or degree program.
Find Psychology Programs Near You
When choosing between psychology programs, geographic location is a major consideration. Students who want to save as much money as possible could look for a college closer to home, or those who want to work in a particular location upon graduation could seek out a school located in that area.
Psychology Degree Options: What’s the Difference?
Psychology degrees are available at many different levels of academia. They are most commonly found at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels, but associate degrees in psychology are fairly common as well. Depending on the ultimate goal of the student, each degree will offer advantages. Getting a doctorate will provide the widest selection of professional opportunities of any single psychology degree. However, it takes the most time, money and effort. And depending on the student’s goal, the terminal degree may be unnecessary. On the other hand, getting an associate degree will usually be the fastest and easiest psychology degree to get, although graduates will have the narrowest professional advancement opportunities. Most psychology degrees are earned at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, with either degree providing a wide range of career opportunities.
An associate degree in psychology can usually be obtained in about two years and consists of about 60 to 65 credits. The length of the program is its biggest strength, as well as the ability to transfer associate degree credits into a bachelor’s degree with another two years of study.
The A.A. degree in psychology requires students to fill non-psychology related classes with courses in the humanities or social science fields.
The A.S. psychology degree is similar to the associate of art, except the non-psychology classes are more likely to be filled with science and math-oriented class work.
The A.A.S. provides the most practical training curriculum. The advantage is that students will have more real world skills, but the drawback is that it will be harder to turn the degree into a bachelor’s degree.
The B.A. will provide a solid background in psychology. However, there will be a higher number of non-psychology or non-science/mathematics courses within the bachelor’s degree curriculum.
The B.S. will have an increased emphasis in psychology, science and math courses compared to a bachelor of arts degree. This degree is ideal for students planning on moving into graduate school.
The M.A. in psychology will cover the same core classes that a master of science will cover. However, the additional coursework will be in humanities or social science topics.
The M.S. psychology degree is similar to a master of art psychology degree, except there will be additional emphasis on science and research concepts within the curriculum.
An education specialist degree in school psychology is more specialized than the other master’s degrees in that the curriculum will narrow the focus to preparing graduates for a career in school psychology.
The Ph.D. option for psychologists is unique in that it places the strongest emphasis on scientific, mathematical and theoretical concepts. As a result, graduates are best suited for careers in academia and research.
The Psy.D. is tailored less toward academics and theory and more toward applied psychology topics. Graduates who want to treat patients are more likely to get this degree.
The doctor of education degree is somewhat a hybrid of the doctor of philosophy and doctor of psychology degrees in that it places emphasis on both applied and theoretical psychological principles.
Psychology Careers at a Glance
In the broadest sense, a psychologist is someone who studies how the mind works and its relationship to human behavior. Given the complexity of the human mind, there is a range of applications for psychological principles. As a result, psychologists can work almost everywhere, in any number of specialties. Two broad distinctions include research-oriented and applied work. Since so much of the human brain and behavior has yet to be understood, there is a strong need for continued psychological research. And given the prevalence of mental disorders and psychological issues faced by individuals, there is also a continued demand for applying psychological principles to directly help others.
Where do psychologists work?
With so many specialties available in the psychology field, there are also numerous work settings for psychologists. They can be found in the private and public sector, as well as research and treatment centers. Here are some of the more common places of work for psychologists.
The school setting is the single largest work environment for psychologists. This should come as no surprise given the importance of education in modern society and the complexity in understanding the development and maturation of the human mind.
Psychologists are also needed in higher education. Colleges and universities are where much of the formal psychology related teaching takes place, so many psychologists work as professors to fill this role. In addition, a great deal of psychological research takes place at universities.
The government sector contains psychologists fulfilling a wide range of roles. Given how the government is a major funding source for psychological research, psychologists are often found working for government agencies and departments. Since there is much government regulation of private industry, there is a strong need for industrial-organizational psychologists for government positions.
Treating mental health problems is a major responsibility for psychologists. Since a large number of mental health care treatments will be provided by a healthcare facility, many psychologists can be found working in any number of hospitals, clinics and treatment centers.
A significant aspect of running a successful organization is being able to effectively understand and manage workers. As a result, many organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, hire psychologists to help them understand the needs and wants of their workers.
Private practice is the work setting most people think of when they think of the psychology profession. However, the private practice setting actually has the fewest number of psychologists in relation to other settings.
How to Choose a Psychology Degree Program
Because there are so many career paths for psychology majors, prospective students must properly plan which degree program they want to pursue. The program type, academic level and psychology area of focus will shape what professional and academic possibilities are available down the line.
- Thoroughly research the psychology field
- A comprehensive understanding the psychology field is the first step. Reading about and talking to other professionals within the field will help provide an understanding of what to expect.
- Identify the goal for getting a psychology degree
- In order to figure out which psychology degree program is best, students need to figure out their ultimate goal. Research? Patient treatment? Teaching? Each of these careers will require a different academic plan.
- Figure out which program has the necessary area of concentration
- Depending on the end goal, students will probably want to specialize in a particular area. For example, if research is the goal, students should opt for a program with an experimental psychology area of concentration.
- Confirm the program is accredited
- Accreditation is the process by which an independent organization confirms that a given academic program or school provides an education that meets certain minimum requirements. Prospective students should check to make sure their program of choice is accredited.
- Determine how well the program will prepare students for licensure, if applicable
- Becoming a psychologist usually requires licensure. Students who are sure they will need a license should choose a program that does the best job preparing and assisting students to become licensed.
- See which program offers the most financial assistance
- Post-secondary education is expensive. In order to ease this financial burden as much as possible, look at which schools offer the most scholarships and best student loans with advantageous terms.
- Decide which program has the best professional growth opportunities
- From internship opportunities to partnerships with research institutions, prospective students should see what kind of professional growth opportunities are available. These opportunities can establish connections that make professional advancement much easier.
Your psychology degree led you down an interesting path...
I have been an academic organizational specialist for 20 years and have a private practice at my office in Wellesley, MA and by Skype. I help students develop note taking and study skills, test taking strategies and provide numerous other academic support services. I work with teachers and professors, editing their writing and helping them organize their professional and personal lives. I am a coach who uses positive reinforcement to help those who struggle feel they may tackle challenges they have been unable to do previously.
How can students choose the right psychology program?
Make sure you talk with a lot of people in the psychology field so you may fully understand your multiple options. There are many degrees in psychology and each allows you to practice in a different way. I spoke with anyone in the field who would spend the time to answer my questions and tell me about what they do, what they liked and also what they did not enjoy about their professional choices.
Was there anything you wish you had known before you went into psychology?
It was not really a surprise but my advisor suggested I not go into counseling psychology, but instead he felt I should work toward developmental and educational psychology (his field) and after I graduated I decided that it would have been helpful to have the counseling degree also, although in the long run it has not affected my practice.
Any other tips?
Thoroughly investigate your options. Understand all the possibilities. Talk with anyone who might be helpful. Along with talking to your professors, also ask other professors in the field who do not have a vested interest in your career decision.