It's not surprising that 27,542 people in the 2016-2017 academic year alone earned a master's degree in psychology, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. This popular discipline allows you to prepare for a number of diverse positions within the field — whether you're passionate about fostering effective developmental experiences for children, helping people deal with trauma or creating company policies that support improved employee performance. By earning an online master's degree in psychology, you can enter several rewarding careers, including practice as a clinical, developmental, forensic, industrial-organizational or counseling psychologist.
Thanks to the enhanced critical-thinking abilities, refined communication skills and heightened powers of scientific reasoning taught in graduate-level psychology programs, you can gain the knowledge and abilities you need to build a successful career in practice or research, or continue on to doctoral study. Whether you want to help people directly through one-on-one therapy sessions, use your skills to design company policies that promote general prosperity or contribute to research that helps enhance professionals' understanding of the human mind and best practices for patient care, an online master's in psychology is one of the building blocks you can need. Continue reading this page to learn what earning a master's in psychology entails and what you can do with your degree after graduation.
This depends on the specific online master's degree in psychology program you enroll in. Some programs allow you to earn your degree entirely online. At other schools, psychology programs are offered in a hybrid format, with some of the classes available online and other coursework conducted on campus.
Most online psychology master's degree programs contain courses designed to make you an expert in vital areas, such as research methods, professional ethics, cognitive assessment, behavior and qualitative and quantitative reasoning. In addition, if you aspire to focus all your energy on scholarly work, you may be able to specialize in research and writing or psychology education. The following section contains detailed information on what you can expect when you enroll in a psychology master's programs online.
How long does an online master's degree program in psychology take?
An online master's degree in psychology usually takes two years to complete, but some programs may take up to four years to finish. In most cases, graduate schools for psychology allow you to enroll in dual degree programs, where you conveniently earn a master's in psychology while completing a second master's in a closely-related field. These programs run two to three years in length, which is possible because so much of the basic coursework for each degree program overlaps.
Requirements to start an online master's degree program in psychology
In order to be admitted into graduate schools for psychology, you are required to complete an undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field, earn at least a 3.0 grade point average and receive a high score on the GRE.
Completing core classes:
Upper-division core online psychology courses introduce you to advanced psychology concepts and practices. This foundational knowledge can later be applied to your area of specialization.
Learning more through electives:
You are encouraged to take elective courses so you can become familiar with areas of psychology outside of your concentration.
Preparation for thesis:
As you complete your first year in an online master's, you may be expected to choose a thesis advisor and work on getting a subject approved.
Mastering a specialization:
You are expected to focus your coursework on gaining expertise in your chosen area of specialization.
You spend this year working closely with your advisor on your thesis. Your thesis is expected to be written, revised and approved by the end of the year.
Preparing for comprehensive examination:
In some online degree programs for psychology, you may be required to take a comprehensive exam that covers all of the material you learned in your core classes, as well as your concentration. You should be ready to take this test at the end of the year.
In order to give you the expertise you need to reach your goals and thrive in the profession you choose, psychology graduate programs allow you to enroll in a specialization. The following are some examples of the concentrations your school's psychology department may offer.
Clinical psychology. This specialization provides a wide range of knowledge that practitioners use in order to assess, diagnose and treat mental disorders. Students in this area take courses that prepare them to work with individuals and families, as well as specific groups of people, such as those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or struggling with an addiction disorder.
Educational psychology. By becoming experts on how people learn, as well as how to improve learning, people who specialize in educational psychology are able to help schools with student assessments, curriculum design and classroom management. In addition, these students become familiar with the learning processes of different age groups.
Forensic psychology. Those who are interested in the psychological issues that may be addressed in legal settings can enroll in this concentration to gain expertise on how psychology is used in criminal and civil cases. This prepares students to testify before a judge and jury, examine someone to determine if they are fit to stand trial and make recommendations about child custody cases.
Industrial-organizational psychology. How can a company motivate employees? What are the keys to creating an environment where workers are highly satisfied? How can organizations prevent problems like absenteeism? Students who are interested in the psychological answers to these questions can enroll in an industrial-organizational psychology specialization, which can prepare them for consultant, management or human resources positions.
Health psychology. Students who focus on health psychology learn about the connection between mind and body. Topics studied may include the mental and emotional toll that a physical ailment can take on patients and the psychological strategies for educating the public about illnesses.
Art therapist. Art has always been considered a way to express the human condition, and those who enter the art therapy profession apply their knowledge of psychology to that medium to better understand their patients — and to help them better understand themselves. The work of these professionals includes using art therapy sessions to help people cope with traumatic experiences, analyzing patients' artwork in the assessment process and developing treatment plans based on clients' needs. Art therapists may work in schools, mental health facilities or private practice.
Counseling psychologist. Counseling psychologists are often the type of psychologist people think of when they think of the profession. These psychologists may work with individuals, families or groups to help diagnose or treat certain conditions, address addictive behaviors, heal damaged relationships, or educate support networks on effective strategies for helping a loved one through a difficult time. Their scope of practice typically involves solving situational problems between generally healthy people, while cases of psychotic disorder or severe mental illness are typically left to clinical practitioners.
Experimental psychologist.These psychologists help to shape the entire field through their dedication to researching a myriad of topics. Employed in research centers, colleges and universities, government agencies and private companies, experimental psychologists explore topics such as memory, cognition, learning, language and emotion. In addition to conducting research and publishing articles in industry journals, experimental psychologists may also teach.
Industrial-organizational psychologist. An industrial-organizational psychologist is a type of counselor who works to foster constructive professional relationships and a healthy, functioning workplace. The specific duties of the job are typically as diverse as the issues they might address, which can include enhancing employee training, designing business policy, solving problems in organizational productivity or improving employer-employee relations. They may be employed in-house, particularly at larger companies, or they may work on contract as employees of psychological consulting firms.
School psychologist. Working with students, parents and educational staff, school psychologists foster an environment in which students feel empowered to learn and teachers feel supported in their efforts to teach. They typically work in elementary or secondary school environments and address issues such as student behavior, student and parent counseling and development of evaluation procedures for teachers and administrators. Depending on the state, both public and private schools may have positions for school psychologists on staff.
Provided by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, this certification is for professionals who provide high-quality services to patients with disabilities.
Requirements: Applicants must have a master's degree and 600 hours of supervised experience.
Exam format: 175 multiple choice questions
How long does the certification last? Five years
Counselors who have a board certification are eligible to earn this designation.
Requirements: At least a master's degree and 3,000 hours of work experience.
Exam format: 200 multiple choice questions
How long does the certification last? Five years
This certification from the National Association of School Psychologists is designed for those who have both expertise and high professional standards.
Requirements: Applicants must complete at least 60 hours of graduate education in school psychology courses and 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience.
Exam format: 140 questions
How long does the certification last? Three years
This certification is designed to help art therapists demonstrate their education, experience and ability to work to the high standards expected of professionals in the field.
Requirements: At least a master's degree and 1,000 hours of work experience
Exam format: 220 multiple choice questions
How long does the certification last? One year
Earning a master's in psychology can lay the groundwork for a career, as well as online PsyD programs, but it's important for professionals to be lifelong learners. You can continue learning and adding to your skill set by participating in professional organizations. The following are some associations that workers can join.