Psychology Degree Information For 2019
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 the field. 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
- What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?
- Job Opportunities for Degree Holders
- Psychology Degree Levels
- Associate’s Degree
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Master’s Degree
- Doctor of Psychology
- Psychology Degrees Conferred by Academic Year
- Psychology Specialties and Proficiencies
- Other Degrees
- Find Schools with Psychology Programs in Your State
- Finding Accredited Programs
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Additional Resources
What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?
There are various degree options for psychology majors at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but only those with a doctoral degree 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.
Job Opportunities for Degree Holders
Different career choices require different degree levels, but regardless of the area of study, practicing licensed psychologists almost always 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 coursework 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, and there are many doctoral programs that include a master’s degree. Continue reading below to find out more about degree levels and the typical requirements for each.
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 typically required to work in the field, 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. For more information on these types of degree programs, take a look at our Associate Degree page. For more career opportunities for psychology associate grads, check out our Careers page.
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 since 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 appeal 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.
116,861 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology during the 2016-2017 school year.1 In that same year, females accounted for 78.2% of bachelor’s degrees conferred.2 However, many graduates do not pursue careers as professional psychologists. A 2017 survey found that of those who were employed and had a bachelor’s degree or higher in psychology, 49.7% reported working in psychology or a closely related field, 25.9% reported working in a somewhat related field, and 24.3% reported working in an unrelated field.3 Of these, 88% were very or somewhat satisfied with their job.3 Of those with an undergraduate degree in psychology who continue on to graduate school in psychology, 60% earn a master’s degree, while 8.9% earn a doctoral degree and 9% earn another professional post-graduate degree.3 Those with a graduate degree earn more, on average, than those with only a bachelor’s degree.3 To find out more about earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, read our bachelor’s degree guide.
As the standard minimum level of education for practicing psychologists, a master’s degree in psychology is typically a two- to three-year graduate degree for full-time students. Offered as a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS), 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 2024.4
Clinical, industrial/organizational or business, and counseling psychology are the three top master’s degree programs for students planning to start their careers immediately after graduation from a master’s program.5
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, commonly working under a doctoral psychologist’s direction.
Not all master’s degree in psychology programs are designed to prepare graduates for the workforce; some are focused on developing students for PsyD or PhD degrees. For more information on master’s degrees, check out our Master’s Degree page.
Doctor of Psychology
A Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD, is a professional doctoral-level degree that prepares students to practice in the field, as clinical, business, forensic, school, and counseling psychologists. The primary focus of this degree is preparing graduates to be equipped to assess and treat clients. Graduates should also be prepared to become licensed in their state to practice psychology.
Doctor of Psychology programs usually take between four and seven years to complete. The career options with the highest pay in psychology are often available to individuals who earn doctorates in psychology.6 According to a 2017 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, the median salary for psychologists with a professional degree (including the PsyD) was $75,000.6 If you would like to learn more about the PsyD, check out our Doctor of Psychology page.
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 focus of these PhD programs is to prepare graduates to practice as psychologists or, for research-oriented programs, to conduct research or teach at the university level. The employment opportunities for PhD in psychology holders are at universities and four-year colleges, hospitals, outpatient clinics, community health centers, primary care offices, and college counseling centers.
The median salary for psychologists with a doctoral degree is $85,000 according to the American Psychological Association.6 However, there can be wide variation in median earnings according to specialty and work setting. For example, psychologists in teaching positions earn a median salary of $62,000, compared to psychologists in management positions, who earn a median of $110,000.6 For more information about the PhD degree, check out our PhD in Psychology page.
Psychology Degrees Conferred by Academic Year
Psychology is a very popular field of study. It ranks fourth out of approximately 30 fields tracked, with only business, health professions, and social sciences conferring more bachelor’s degrees in 2016-2017.7 The table below reflects the rising popularity of psychology degrees over time. The first academic year for which we collected data was 1967-68 and the last academic year reflected is 2016-17, with every decade in between also represented. As you can see, the number of psychology degrees conferred at all levels has steadily increased between 1967 to 2017, with the most rapid increase taking place at the master’s level, followed by the doctorate level, with the bachelor’s degree following close behind. Over time, the compounded annual growth rate for all degree levels is 3.4%.
*CAGR: Compounded Annual Growth Rate, 1968-2017.
**See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.
Psychology 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.8 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.8 Advanced degree paths up to the doctorate level exist in both specialties and proficiencies in professional psychology.
Behavioral and cognitive psychology has been recognized as a specialty by the APA since the year 2000. The APA describes it as “reflec[ting] an experimental-clinical approach distinguished by use of principles of human learning and development and theories of cognitive processing to promote meaningful change in maladaptive human behavior and thinking.” Psychologists practicing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may treat people with anxiety disorders or depression, substance abuse issues, and developmental disorders. They may also help couples and families in addition to individuals. They may incorporate treatments including conditioning, behavioral skills training, behavior modification, and acceptance and commitment therapy, in addition to other methods. People interested in being a cognitive-behavioral psychologist will need to pursue a graduate degree.
Individuals with business 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 workspaces, 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.
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 program 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. These degree holders are specially 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 (recognized by the APA as a specialty in 1997) degree 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, clinical psychology, occupational health, and public health.
Named a specialty in professional psychology in 1996, clinical neuropsychology is the study and assessment of the central nervous system’s function and how it impacts human behavior, and is dedicated to broadening the understanding of the relationship between the brain and human behavior. A doctoral degree is needed to practice this type of psychology, usually accompanied by postdoctoral specialized education and training. Clinical neuropsychologist PhD students study neuroanatomy, brain development, neurodiagnostic techniques, and the effects of neurological disorders. A clinical neuropsychologist may treat conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, learning disabilities, and metabolic disease as part of his or her practice.
Clinical psychology is a broad specialty in the field that was first recognized in 1998. People who study this field learn about psychopathology and how to provide health care that examines patients’ mental and behavioral health, while integrating skills from other disciplines within and outside of the field of psychology. Clinical psychology is not confined to any particular age, culture, or socioeconomic group, and focus areas might be on mental and emotional health, physical health such as chronic illness management, or working with specific groups such as the elderly, children, or students. Practicing clinical psychologists need a doctoral degree along with post-doctoral experience, and may provide clinical or counseling services in sectors such as research, education, training, and health. Clinical psychologists should like working with people and want to learn more about and study human behavior, providing assessment, intervention, and consultation to their patients, as well as research of the field. People with a love of learning, discovery, and strong listening abilities will be the best suited for this type of work.
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 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, 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 respondents believe that counseling psychologists should hold a master’s degree, 25% believe they should hold a doctoral degree, and 40% believe they should attain post-doctoral training.
Made popular by television dramas, and recognized by the APA as a specialty 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 psych programs 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 survey respondents believe that school psychologists should hold a master’s degree, 32% believe they should hold a post-master’s certificate, and 19% believe they need a professional degree.9 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.
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. Others with advanced degrees in sports psychology teach at colleges and universities.
Other Psychology Degrees
The following are well-known degrees in psychology that have not yet been designated as a specialty or 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, these programs focus 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. Criminal psychology programs teach students how to evaluate offenders and develop treatment plans. Additionally, this degree helps graduates be prepared for 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 many career opportunities in forensics, most 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.
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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Finding Accredited Programs
One of the most important considerations when choosing a psychology program 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 (APA) is recognized by the US Department of Education for accrediting doctorate level psychology programs. This includes doctorate programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. The APA does not accredit programs at the associate, bachelor’s or master’s levels. You can learn more about APA accreditation on the American Psychological Association website.
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 and others will offer a BS. According to the APA, even if your school offers both, it really isn’t important which degree title you choose. What is important is that the courses you take as part of your bachelor’s program are ones that will complement and prepare you for the graduate program you may later 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. Before enrolling, be sure to check with the doctoral program(s) you are considering to make sure a stand-alone master’s degree will be applicable to the program.
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. PhDs are more common and are found at private or public research universities. PsyD programs are normally found at professional schools of psychology, which may or may not be at a research or teaching university. Most PsyD programs still include a research component and PhD programs do include clinical practice training, and both require a dissertation or thesis to graduate. You should conduct independent research on both types of programs and ultimately choose the type that more closely matches your career goals, keeping in mind that APA accreditation is important if you are seeking licensure.
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 this degree opportunities to apply their knowledge to many jobs. For more information about the jobs you can get with a psychology degree, see our Psychology Careers page.
Which psychology degree has the best job prospects?
The number of psychologists employed in the United States is expected to increase by 14% through 2026, which is faster than the average occupation. Job prospects are best for graduates who hold a doctoral degree, especially those with a degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology.10 “All other psychologists” are expected to grow by 11%, while industrial-organizational psychologists may see a growth of 8% through 2026.10
- Top Psychology Blogs – A comprehensive list of the best blogs in the field
- Association for Psychological Science – News and information about the advancement of scientific psychology
- Studential Postgraduate Options Guide – Information and resources about evaluating postgraduate degrees, graduate and postgraduate internships, and more
1. National Center for Education Statistics, Table 325.80 – Degrees in Psychology Conferred by Postsecondary Institutions: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_325.80.asp
2. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics,
Table 325.80: Degrees in psychology conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1949-50 through 2016-17: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_325.80.asp
3. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2017 National Survey of College Graduates: https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/sestat/sestat.html
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Psychologists.htm#tab-6
5. American Psychological Association, Careers in Psychology: https://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers
6. American Psychological Association, 2015 Salaries in Psychology: https://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/2015-salaries/index
7. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 322.10: Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2016-17: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_322.10.asp?current=yes
8. American Psychological Association, Specialties and Proficiencies: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/index
9. O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for: 19-3031.01 – School Psychologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3031.01
10. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Psychologists.htm
Table Notes and References:
1. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics,
Table 325.80: Degrees in psychology conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1949-50 through 2016-17: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_325.80.asp
2. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 322.10: Bachelor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2016-17: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_322.10.asp?current=yes