THINKING ABOUT A PSYCHOLOGY DEGREE? START HERE.
At its core, the field of psychology is a science studying the behaviors and processes of the mind with the goal of better understanding complex social and biological dynamics for individuals and among groups. The discipline is rooted in using the scientific method. Ultimately, its advances seek to help society better cope with a variety of social challenges and mental disorders. As the American Psychological Association notes succinctly, psychology is “the understanding of behavior.”
Psychology Degree 411 is a comprehensive informational resource for prospective students interested in pursuing a degree in psychology that can lead to a wide range of career paths. In addition to the route of pursuing a terminal degree to become a psychologist, psychology students may also go on to start careers in every sector of the economy, from business to healthcare to education. In fact, the majority of graduates utilize their acquired knowledge and analytical skills in careers not directly related to psychology. Continue reading to explore popular psychology degree levels, to find schools with psychology programs, and to learn about some of the top careers in psychology. If you’re interested in earning an online bachelor’s degree in psychology, you may also be interested in our guide for top online psychology programs.
Table of Contents
Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
Senior Researcher, UCLA Children’s Digital Media Center
- What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?
- Job Opportunities for Degree Holders
- Psychology Degree Levels
- Associate’s in Psychology
- Bachelor’s in Psychology
- Master’s in Psychology
- Doctor of Psychology
- PhD in Psychology
- Bachelor’s in Psychology
- Finding Accredited Psychology Programs
- Psychology Degree Specialties and Proficiencies
- Psychology Specialties
- Psychology Proficiencies
- Other Psychology Degrees
- Psychology Proficiencies
- Find Schools with Psychology Programs in Your State
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Additional Resources
What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?
There are various psychology degree options at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but only those with a doctoral degree in psychology and the necessary licensure can become licensed psychologists. One of the many reasons why psychology is a popular undergraduate degree is because it produces well-rounded, analytical students who are able to work in a variety of fields that require a comprehensive understanding of human behavior like social services, management, administration, marketing, sales, social work, and more.
Even though the number of psychologists employed in the United States is expected to increase by 19% through 2024, which is much faster than the average occupation, job prospects are best for graduates who hold a specialized psychology doctoral degree, especially those with a doctoral or specialist degree in school psychology.1
Job Opportunities for Degree Holders
Different career choices require different degree levels, but regardless of the area of study, practicing licensed psychologists need to have a doctoral degree. Psychology degree holders may hold jobs as criminal psychologists, school psychologists, forensic psychologists, and more. Those with an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree can find jobs in many different fields in support positions or as counselors, but may not practice as licensed psychologists.
Psychology Degree Levels
Getting into a psychology program can be competitive. While most master’s degrees don’t require an undergraduate degree in psychology, they do typically require applicants to have completed classes in introductory psychology, statistics, and experimental psychology. While some doctoral degrees will require a master’s in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is sometimes sufficient. Continue reading below to find out more about levels of psychology degrees and the requirements for each.
Associate’s in Psychology
Typically completed in two years, an associate’s degree in psychology is offered at most community colleges. After completion, students will often transfer to a four-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree. Because more education is required to work in psychology, an associate’s in psychology is usually a stepping stone degree that offers an educational foundation for further studies. Consider pairing a psychology associate degree with other courses in social or health sciences, business, or education to become more employable. Graduates may find rewarding careers working with children, teens, or adults in residential treatment programs, mental hospitals as psychiatric technicians, or helping people who call crisis hotlines.
Bachelor’s in Psychology
As one of the most popular four-year, undergraduate programs in the nation, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is offered by most schools as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or as a Bachelor of Science (BS) with a major in psychology. A BA degree typically requires more liberal arts and general education classes, while a BS focuses on the science- and math-related general education courses. Students should choose a BA or BS depending on their interests and career aspirations, but they are comparably valuable. Those who earn bachelor’s degrees in psychology may become employed in a wide range of industries. Graduates are well-rounded, analytical thinkers who understand human behavior and succeed in jobs that require strong social and communication skills. See PD411’s Job Board for openings in your state. A growing number of bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are being offered online. See our list of top online psychology programs for more.
Much of the popularity of a bachelor’s in psychology is due to the fact that it prepares graduates for a wide range of career opportunities. Jobs within the mental health and social services industries include career counselors, rehabilitation specialists, psychiatric technicians, and case managers. A bachelor’s degree in psychology can also serve as a solid foundation for a career in business, sales, management, marketing, human resources, or any industry where understanding human behavior is a critical component to success.
Up to 95% of psychology bachelor’s degree holders end up working in careers non-related to their degree. In fact, while nearly 100,000 students graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology in 2008, most graduates had no intentions of pursuing careers as psychologists.2 For those seeking a career as a psychologist, a bachelor’s in psychology is the perfect stepping stone to a graduate degree in psychology.
Master’s in Psychology
As the standard minimum level of education for practicing psychologists, a master’s degree in psychology is a two- to three-year graduate degree. Offered as a Master of Arts or Master of Science, the job outlook for those holding a master’s in psychology is highly positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of psychologists is projected to grow by 19% by 2024.3
Clinical psychology, industrial/organizational or business psychology, and counseling psychology are the three top master’s degree programs for students planning to start their careers in psychology immediately after graduation from a master’s program in psychology.4
Typical careers for master’s in psychology degree holders include data analysts and collectors, researchers, counselors working in the private sector, academia, or government. Those with significant working experience can have successful careers in market research and consulting. Master’s in psychology degree holders commonly work under a doctoral psychologist’s direction.
Doctor of Psychology
A Doctor of Psychology, or a PsyD, is a professional doctoral-level degree that prepares students to practice in psychology, including clinical psychology, business psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology, and counseling psychology. The primary focus of this degree is assessing and treating clients and graduates are prepared to become licensed in their state to practice psychology.
Doctor of Psychology programs usually take between four and seven years to complete. The best career options with the highest pay are available to individuals who earn doctorates in psychology.5 According to the latest study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2009, 72% of psychologists receiving a doctorate in psychology between 2008–2009 were working in one full-time position without a second position.5
PhD in Psychology
A research-oriented, doctoral-level degree, a PhD in psychology typically requires between five and seven years of graduate study. Students may focus on specific areas of practice like addiction, education, or human services. The primary focus of psychology PhD programs is to prepare graduates to conduct research or teach at the university level.
The leading employment opportunities for PhD in psychology holders are at universities and four-year colleges, but some are employed by hospitals, outpatient clinics, community health centers, primary care offices, and college counseling centers.
Finding Accredited Psychology Programs
One of the most important considerations when choosing a psychology is whether the school is accredited by a regional or national accreditation body. The US Department of Education recognizes a handful of accreditation bodies who are trusted to determine whether a school provides an acceptable level of quality. Accreditation is important for students for several reasons. A school must be accredited for students to receive federal student aid, and credits from an unaccredited college or university may not be accepted by other schools when transferring or applying to graduate school. Additionally, employers may not recognize your psychology degree if it is from an unaccredited school. Both online and on-campus schools are accredited by the same accreditation bodies. To find whether a school is accredited, you can look it up in the US Department of Education’s searchable database.
In addition to school accreditation, the American Psychological Association is recognized by the US Department of Education for accrediting doctorate level psychology programs. This includes doctorate programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology. The APA does not accredit psychology programs at the bachelor’s or master’s levels. You can learn more about APA accreditation on the American Psychological Association website.
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Psychology Degree Specialties and Proficiencies
The APA recognizes certain specialties and proficiencies in the field of professional psychology. The Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPPP) was formed in 1995 to review, define, and designate specialties and proficiencies in the field, which had previously been done on an informal, de facto basis. A specialty is “a defined area of psychological practice which requires advanced knowledge and skills acquired through an organized sequence of education and training,” and examples include clinical psychology, family psychology, clinical neuropsychology.6 A proficiency is “defined by a core of psychological knowledge and skills, and includes specific methods for how psychologists typically acquire its knowledge and skills,” and examples include psychopharmacology, treatment of alcohol and other psychoactive substance use disorders, and personality assessment.6 Advanced degree paths, up to the doctorate level, exist in both specialties and proficiencies in professional psychology.
Individuals with business psychology degrees, or industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology degrees, are trained in the science of labor and study employees in any environment to maximize profitability and effectiveness. By conducting research and implementing new procedures to improve work spaces, work conditions, recruitment, training, and operations, business psychologists play a critical role in the total well-being of an organization’s human resources. A degree in business psychology prepares students to use the proper scientific research modalities and methodologies necessary to track, monitor, and analyze people, procedures, and profits. Read more about industrial-organizational psychologists and what they do on our Careers page.
Made a popular psychology degree by television dramas, and recognized by the APA as a specialty in psychology in 2001, a forensic psychology degree is an ideal area of specialization for students interested in law enforcement and legal settings. Forensic psychologists work with criminal offenders and victims to determine which individuals are credible witnesses, guilty or innocent. In contrast with criminal psychology, forensic psychology focuses on the mentality of the suspect, as well as the emotional well-being of the victims. By earning a degree in forensic psychology, students will learn to determine whether a defendant is mentally insane, mentally handicapped, and identify various personality disorders and sociopathic behavior. Forensic psychology degrees also teach body language and handwriting analysis, as well as criminal profiling.
Earning a school psychology degree prepares graduates for a career helping students who are experiencing challenges at school or at home. School psychologists play an important role with children and adolescents who are struggling in school. A degree in school psychology, first recognized as a specialty by the APA in 1998, creates educational leaders who are committed to improving their students’ lives in a caring and constructive environment through teaching study skills, accountability, and time management, while working to resolve behavioral and emotional problems.
Either a master’s degree in psychology, a doctoral degree in school psychology, or an EdS degree is necessary for those students planning to become school psychologists. According to O*Net Online data, 47% of school psychologists hold a master’s degree and 32% hold a post-master’s certificate. Sixty graduate semester hours are required in order to earn an EdS, which is a specialty degree that prepares graduate students for a career in education and mental health. You can find out more about school psychologists and their job responsibilities here.
After earning a degree in child psychology (first recognized by the APA as a specialty in 1998), graduates typically go on to become school psychologists with the proper degree level and licensing, as well as counselors or educators. Child psychology degree coursework focuses on language, learning, cognition, and other areas of child development. Individuals majoring in child psychology will learn to identify and address potential behavioral or emotional problems, cultural insensitivity, bullying, and developmental disabilities. Child psychology degree holders are especially qualified to become authors, especially of children’s books.
A clinical degree is a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), which is earned as a result of practical work, while a PhD in psychology is the culmination of an original research dissertation and an extensive examination. As part of a doctoral program, students specializing in counseling, health services, school psychology, or clinical psychology will typically fulfill a one-year internship. Psychology PhD programs often feature courses in research design, statistics, and industrial organization. Find out more about clinical psychologists and what they do on our Careers page.
The primary focus of a health psychology degree (recognized by the APA as a specialty in professional psychology in 1997) is on the assessment of the various biological, social, and psychological factors contributing to, or impacting, human health. Therefore, a health psychologist considers a wide range of issues or processes that might be adversely affecting or improving health. Such processes might include viruses, physical abnormalities, stress, emotions, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, culture, and more. Students earning a health psychology degree learn to identify and cure illness and disease, and also understand how to provide better safety and overall health for their patients. Students may choose to specialize in one of the four subfields within health psychology, which include community health psychology, clinical psychology, occupational health psychology, and public health psychology.
Counseling psychology degree programs blend psychology and counseling studies, while teaching effective intervention skills for clients across diverse cultural and demographic backgrounds. Undergraduate students interested in becoming a psychologist, professional counselor, social worker, or psychotherapist must first obtain the proper licensure after obtaining a graduate degree in counseling psychology. Counseling psychology was first recognized by the APA as a specialty in professional psychology in 1998, and the degree provides a foundation for understanding and developing strategies for how social, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs are impacted by each individual’s personal experience. As researchers and practitioners of counseling psychology, graduates should have a strong practical and theoretical understanding of counseling theory, group and individual counseling, child and adolescent psychology, human development, couples therapy, and intervention strategies. According to O*Net Online data, 27% of counseling psychologists hold a master’s degree, 25% hold a doctoral degree, and 40% attain post-doctoral training.
Sport psychology degrees prepare students for careers helping athletes and/or teams through mental strength and well-being. The field of sport psychology was first recognized by the APA as a proficiency in 2003. Licensed graduates are prepared to work as sports psychologists in athletic consulting, research, and patient counseling in professional, amateur, and youth athletics. Many people with advanced sports psychology degrees teach at colleges and universities.
Other Psychology Degrees
The following are well-known psychology degrees that have not yet been designated either a specialty or a proficiency by the APA.
Students pursuing social psychology degrees learn a basic and applied understanding of research methodologies, advanced statistics, as well as theoretical and practical social psychology research techniques. Primarily interested in better understanding the impact a person’s environment has on their behaviors, a social psychology degree focuses heavily on people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Graduates who decide not to pursue an advanced degree often work in advertising, marketing, education, health care, or criminal justice.
Students who are in a criminal psychology degree program learn about the role psychology plays in the legal system, preparing them for clinical and forensic responsibilities, including therapy and counseling. A criminal psychology degree teaches students how to evaluate offenders and develop treatment plans. Additionally, earning a degree in criminal psychology addresses crisis intervention, psychopathology, victimology, and personality assessment. Understanding the theoretical and practical applications of various research methodologies are important parts of a criminal psychology degree program, as well as the process of jury selection and the nuances of a rehabilitation program. While there are an abundance of career opportunities in forensics, most criminal psychology graduates work in social service, mental health, government, or criminal justice.
Human factors psychology (also known as human factors & engineering psychology or ergonomics) degree programs teach students about how humans and machines coexist, examining how humans interact with machines and how to improve systems and products so that the human interaction experience is a better one. Subjects common to a human factors degree include engineering, motor learning, design, and statistics. Most ergonomics majors have an undergraduate background in psychology, industrial engineering, occupational therapy, or industrial design.
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Find Schools with Psychology Programs in Your State
If you would like to explore schools with psychology programs in a specific state, click on any state below. There, you will find information about featured undergraduate programs and graduate programs specializing in psychology in your state, as well as a comprehensive directory of psychology degree programs near you.
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- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
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- Rhode Island
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- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a BA in psychology and a BS in psychology?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the difference between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in psychology and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in psychology is negligible. Some schools will offer a BA in psychology and others will offer a BS in psychology. According to the APA, even if your school offers both, it really isn’t important which degree path you choose. What is important is that the courses you take as part of your bachelor’s in psychology program are ones that will complement and prepare you for the graduate program you choose.
Do I need a master’s degree in psychology before getting a doctorate degree?
Most PsyD and PhD programs do not require a master’s degree, so you can begin your doctoral degree program immediately following your bachelor’s degree. A master’s in psychology, however, can be a good way to explore the field further before committing to a doctoral degree. You also should be able to count some of your master’s coursework toward your PhD or PsyD should you choose to pursue it later.
What is the difference between a Doctor of Psychology and a PhD in Psychology?
Generally, a Doctor of Psychology, or a PsyD, is more practice-focused, while a PhD in Psychology is more research-focused. PsyD programs will include a research component and PhD programs will include clinical practice information, but you should choose the program that more closely matches your career goals.
What jobs can I get with a psychology degree?
Besides clinical psychology, there are a wide variety of career options for psychology majors, since what they learn is applicable to many different businesses and fields. For example, some careers for psychology majors include market research analyst, sales representative, teacher, or victim advocate. Understanding how the mind works and how people behave and act gives people with a degree in psychology opportunities to apply their knowledge to many jobs. For more information about jobs you can get with a psychology degree, see our Psychology Careers page.
- Top Psychology Blogs: A comprehensive list of the best blogs in the field of psychology currently found on the web.
- Association for Psychological Science: News and information about the advancement of scientific psychology.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Psychologists.htm
2. US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2009 Digest of education statistics (Table 315): http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_315.asp
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Psychologists.htm#tab-6
4. American Psychological Association, Careers in Psychology: http://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx#
5. American Psychological Association, 2009: Doctorate Employment Survey: http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-doc-empl/
6. American Psychological Association, Specialties and Proficiencies: http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/index.aspx