Exploring a Master's Degree in Psychology
Maybe you’re a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree or perhaps you’re considering going back to school to pursue a new career. Psychology can be an exciting field, especially as you learn more about the varied possible fields and the many different ways you can apply your psychology degree in the workplace.
When you’re ready to pursue a Master’s Degree in Psychology, it’s important to choose an area of specialization and determine whether you want to work in the clinical, educational, research or business setting. To get into a program, you will need to have completed the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), demonstrating the required passing score, while keeping a solid grade point average (GPA) at an accredited university for undergraduate work.
You can pursue a masters degree in psychology if your bachelors is in another area, but it is important to have undergraduate psychology classes on your college transcript. Once accepted into a program, expect close to 60 hours of coursework, which will vary by institution and state standards. Many universities require at least a 1-year internship, while some will also expect a master’s thesis. Some universities stipulate both.
There are a lot of things to consider when deciding on a master’s degree program in psychology and we hear from many students asking questions about their options. Below are the top five most frequently asked questions about psychology master’s degrees. We hope these answers will help you as you develop your own educational plan!
1. What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Psychology?
While the highest paid jobs and most flexibility in the workplace are reserved for those who have earned a doctorate degree, master’s degree holders still have many options when looking for employment.
Of course, your particular job prospects will depend on the area in which you live as well as the focus of your degree, but in many states a master’s degree will allow you to provide clinical psychology assessments under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.
If your degree has focused more on the research of how the human brain functions, a master’s degree can get you into many research-based positions, such as a research or lab assistant. Many psychology master’s degree holders also find themselves in writing positions, working for blogs or online magazines (all that writing you do as a student should pay off right?).
As with any degree, especially in a field like psychology that often expects a doctorate for full independent practice, you may have to think outside the box a little when considering your job options. Some interesting uses of your psychology master’s degree may be:
Public relations manager
Child care manager
But, in all honesty, many students with a master’s degree in psychology do plan to continue their education and pursue a doctorate degree at some point in their career. Why? The numbers don’t lie. Depending on the focus of your degree, earning a PhD can increase your overall earning potential by as much as 60%.
2. How Do I Qualify for a Master's Degree Program?
Most jobs in the psychology field require at least a master’s degree (and many require a doctorate), so a bachelor’s degree is often just a stepping stone to graduate school. However, that doesn’t always mean that you need a bachelor’s in psychology before you can apply to a master’s program.
Of course a bachelor’s in psychology can help! If your undergraduate degree is in a field other than psychology, you’ll want to be able to make an argument that your degree will still aid you in your master’s work (for example, if your bachelor’s degree is in finance and you are interested in studying business psychology at the master’s level, you can point out how your finance background can assist you in studying business psychology).
Another thing to consider is how to make your application stand out! Depending on the program, school and field of study you’re interested in, many graduate programs can be very competitive. Just having a bachelor’s degree and a stellar GPA may not be enough. Consider doing volunteer work as an undergrad or pursuing a certificate or associate’s degree in a psychology specialty that you’re interested in. Round out your studies with electives in a related field (for example, if you plan to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology, consider taking legal or law courses as an undergraduate).
Extracurricular and sports activities can also help make your application shine. And never underestimate the importance of sports scholarships!
3. How Long Will it Take to Complete a Master's Degree in Psychology?
A master’s degree in psychology is generally going to take about two to three years to complete, but there are obviously a lot of factors that could change that timeframe. Will you be a full-time student or will you be working as well? Do you have a family to care for? Will you be pursuing a certificate in a related field while working toward your master’s degree?
The exact path will vary for each individual, but here is a typical timeline and to-do list for prospective master’s students:
1Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
2Consider joining the American Psychological Association (APA) for support, resources and maybe even grant or scholarship opportunities
3Research schools and find the programs that are the best fit for you
4Decide on a psychology specialty or area of focus
5Submit applications, collect letters of reference, complete your application essay etc
6Apply for financial aid if necessary
7Begin general and specialized course work in the first year of your program that focus on practical skills in your field
8In the second year, you’ll usually be asked to write a thesis and gain work experience through an internship program
9Consider applying to be a research assistant or volunteer at local clinics to gain more hands-on work experience
10Complete your course work
4. What is the Difference Between an MA and an MS? Which Should I Pursue?
Students entering a graduate program for a master’s degree in psychology can choose from a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) degree. In a nutshell, an MA degree will focus more on the practice of psychology (counseling, social work, clinical psychology, etc) whereas an MS will focus more on the science of psychology (how does the brain function, what is the connection between society or culture and our actions, etc).
So, if you are interested in becoming a practitioner and see yourself working directly with people in a clinical setting, the MA is most likely your preferred route. On the other hand, if you feel drawn to research or teaching, an MS would work better for you.
How do you know if a Master’s of Arts (MA) in Psychology is right for you? MA psychology students may find themselves specializing in:
applied behavior analysis, counseling, social work, child psychology or human services
How do you know if a Master’s of Science (MS) in Psychology is the better option for you? MS psychology students may be more interested in:
developmental, experimental, cognitive, forensic or neuropsychology
Of course, some students may have interests that overlap. If this is the case for you, look for programs that allow for interdisciplinary work or consider pursuing a certificate in a related field along with your master’s degree.
5. Can I Study Online for a Psychology Master's Degree?
Yes! Online degrees are flexible and allow you to study when it’s most convenient for you and at your own pace (which actually means that many online psychology students finish their degrees early).
Many online schools allow for asynchronous programs, meaning that you can access class materials and lectures that have been pre-recorded whenever it fits your schedule (class lecture at 2am on a Saturday? Why not!). Other schools may require a certain number of synchronous classes where you will be expected to stream live lectures and work with students or professors at specific times.
Another consideration before enrolling in an online program is the technical aspect. Do you have the requisite computer and software to access the materials? If not, look for programs that provide their students with the devices they will need.
Even though online master’s programs can be done through your computer, do keep in mind that as a psychology major you will still most likely be working hands-on at some point during your program. Internships and supervised field work are more often than not going to be part of your degree program, no matter where (or how) you study.