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Psychology Degree Information For 2024

Psychology Degree 411 is a comprehensive informational resource for prospective students interested in pursuing a degree in psychology, which can lead to a wide range of career paths. Psychology students may pursue a terminal degree to become a psychologist or start careers in any sector of the economy, from business to healthcare to education. In fact, the majority of graduates use their education and analytical skills in careers not directly related to the field. Continue reading to explore popular psychology degree levels, find schools with psychology programs, and learn about some of the top careers in psychology. If you’re interested in earning an online bachelor’s degree in psychology, check out our guide for top online psychology programs.

Table of Contents

What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?

Psychology is a popular undergraduate degree because it produces well-rounded, analytical students who can work in a variety of fields. Many students choose a psychology major because of a desire to improve the world they live in and a curiosity about human behavior and mental health. Graduates of bachelor’s in psychology programs may find jobs in fields that require a comprehensive understanding of human behavior like social services, management, administration, marketing, sales, and social work.

To become a practicing psychologist who works with patients, you will generally need to earn a doctoral degree and obtain a license in your state. However, some states allow individuals with master’s degrees to provide limited psychological services. Doctoral psychology graduates can also work in other positions within the field, such as research or teaching, while some are employed in other sectors where psychological knowledge is applicable.

Job Opportunities for Psychology Graduates

Different career choices require different degree levels. Regardless of the area of study, practicing licensed psychologists (those who conduct therapy and assessment) generally need a doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or school psychology. Psychologists can further specialize in areas such as forensic psychology, health psychology, or neuropsychology. Depending on the state, people who hold a master’s degree in psychology may also be able to provide some limited clinical services.

There are many other job options for psychology degree holders that do not involve working with patients. Individuals with a doctoral degree in any subfield of psychology can work as researchers at universities or academic medical centers. Those with an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree in psychology may find jobs as research assistants, support staff for practicing psychologists, or non-clinical positions in other human services fields.

Psychology Degree Levels

Getting into a psychology program can be competitive, particularly at the graduate level. Holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology is not necessary for entry into most graduate psychology programs, but most programs expect applicants to have taken some previous psychology classes. Programs may also require research experience and/or coursework in statistics and experimental design; some may require GRE scores. Each graduate program has its own requirements, so it’s a good idea to check program websites for more information. Continue reading to find out more about degree levels and the typical requirements for each.

Associate Degree

Most community colleges offer an associate degree in psychology, which takes about two years to complete. After completion, students can transfer to a four-year program to earn a bachelor’s degree. Because a more advanced degree is typically required to work in the field, an associate degree in psychology serves as an educational foundation for further studies.

Students can pair a psychology associate degree with other courses in social or health sciences, business, or education to increase job prospects. Graduates may find rewarding careers working with children, teens, or adults in residential treatment programs, in mental hospitals as psychiatric technicians, or helping people who call crisis hotlines. For more information on available degree programs, review our associate degree page. For more career opportunities for psychology associate grads, visit our careers page.

Bachelor’s Degree

As one of the most popular four-year, undergraduate programs in the nation, most schools offer Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in psychology. A BA degree typically requires more liberal arts and general education classes, while a BS focuses on science- and math-related courses. Students should choose a BA or BS depending on their interests and career aspirations, but they are comparably valuable.

Those who earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology can seek employment in a wide range of industries. Psychology degrees prepare graduates to be versatile, critical thinkers who understand human behavior and succeed in jobs that require strong social and communication skills. Find job openings in your state on our job board. Universities are increasingly offering online bachelor’s degree programs in psychology. Check out our list of top online psychology programs for more.

A bachelor’s in psychology is appealing because it prepares graduates for a wide range of career opportunities. A 2019 survey of college graduates reported that of those employed with a bachelor’s degree or higher in psychology, just 27% worked in psychology or a closely related field, while 35% worked in a field somewhat related to psychology, and 38% worked in an unrelated field.1

Approximately 3.7 million people in the workforce held a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2019.2 For most of them (57%), that was their highest degree.2 Their careers spanned many fields2:

  • Social workers (9%)
  • Management related occupations (8%)
  • Administrative occupations (7%)
  • Service occupations (6%)
  • Counselors (5%)
  • Accountants, auditors, and other financial specialists (4%)
  • Marketing and sales occupations (4%)

About 43% of people with bachelor’s in psychology degrees also had graduate degrees in psychology or related fields including1:

  • Law/prelaw/legal studies (21%)
  • Social work (17%)
  • Medicine (13%)
  • Special education (8%)
  • Elementary teacher education (7%)
  • Counselor education and guidance services (7%)

To find out more about earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, read our bachelor’s degree guide.

Master’s Degree

Full-time students can complete a master’s degree in psychology in one to two years. Students can pursue a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS). There are many different types of master’s degree programs in psychology. Some schools offer generalist programs, which provide an overview of graduate-level topics in psychology, while others offer training in specialized areas. According to the APA, the three most frequently-earned master’s degrees in psychology include2:

Of the half million Americans in the workforce with a master’s degree in psychology as their highest degree, most worked as1:

  • Counselors (28%)
  • Psychologists (13%)
  • Management related occupations (5%)
  • Social workers (5%)

In some states, individuals with a master’s degree in psychology can be licensed to provide limited clinical services under the supervision of a licensed, doctoral-level psychologist. The 2019 NCSES survey found that 71% of master’s in psychology graduates who worked in psychology or a closely related field, compared to 18% who worked in a field “somewhat” related to psychology, and 11% who worked in an unrelated field.2

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, review our master’s degree page.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

A Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD, is a doctoral-level professional degree that prepares students to provide assessment and therapy services to patients and clients. Students can only earn a PsyD in counseling, clinical, or school psychology. These are the three subfields eligible for licensure and clinical practice. Although PsyD programs focus less on research than PhD programs, students are still required to complete thesis and dissertation projects and may become involved in other research opportunities.

Students complete most PsyD degree programs in four to six years. PsyD programs typically have higher acceptance rates and a greater number of graduates each year than their PhD counterparts, suggesting that PsyD programs may be easier to get into.4 However, because PsyD programs are often offered at professional schools of psychology instead of large public and private research universities, students tend to receive less financial assistance and graduate with more debt than those in PhD in Psychology programs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical and counseling psychologists earn an average annual salary of $99,640 as of May 2021.5 The states with the highest average annual salary are New Jersey ($143,150), Delaware ($129,450), and Oregon ($126,230).5 The states with the lowest average annual salary are West Virginia ($63,410), Oklahoma ($66,350), and Missouri ($72,530).5 To learn more about the PsyD, visit our Doctor of Psychology page. Read on to learn about the PhD in Psychology degree and the major differences between the two psychology doctoral degree types.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology

A PhD in psychology typically requires between five and seven years of graduate study. In contrast to PsyD programs, PhD programs train students to perform and lead research projects. PhD degrees in counseling, clinical, and school psychology prepare graduates for careers in clinical practice, research, or teaching. PhD programs in other subfields of psychology (such as cognitive, social, or developmental psychology) do not include clinical training so graduates cannot become licensed to practice; instead, graduates generally work in research-focused positions. PhD in Psychology holders can find jobs with universities and four-year colleges, hospitals, outpatient clinics, community health centers, primary care offices, and college counseling centers.

PhD students tend to receive more funding for their degrees than PsyDs, so they typically graduate with less debt than their PsyD counterparts. However, there can be wide variation in earnings based on specialty and work setting. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists earned an average of $113,320 in 2021, clinical and counseling psychologists earned an average of $99,640, and school psychologists earned $82,770 on average5-8 For more information about this degree, check out our PhD in Psychology page.

Differences Between PsyD and PhD in Psychology Degrees

Since both a PsyD and PhD in Psychology can lead to licensure as a clinical psychologist, it can be confusing to decide which degree is best for your career goals. To help you with this choice, the table below highlights some of the major differences (and similarities) between the two doctoral degrees.

AttributePsyDPhD in Psychology
Type of DegreeDoctor of PsychologyDoctor of Philosophy
Typical Type of School OfferedProfessional Schools of PsychologyPrivate or Public Research Universities
Av. Years to Complete44.986.18
Target CareersClinical PsychologistClinical Psychologist;
College Professor;
Primary Initial Employment Setting4Independent Practice (40.43%)Hospital/Medical Center (56.32%)
Secondary Initial Employment Setting4Hospital/Medical Center (26.77%)Academic Teaching (55.38%)
Thesis or Dissertation Required?YesYes
Primary Focus of DegreeClinicalResearch
Av. % Admission Offers439.22%11.01%
Av. # Graduates per Academic Year4207

Psychology Degrees by Academic Year

Psychology ranks sixth out of approximately 30 fields, with business, biological/medical sciences, engineering, health professions, and social sciences/history conferring more bachelor’s degrees in 2019-20.9 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 2018-19, with every decade in between also represented. The number of psychology degrees conferred at all levels has steadily increased between 1967 to 2020, with the most rapid increase taking place at the master’s level, followed by the doctoral level, with the bachelor’s degree following close behind.9 Over time, the compounded annual growth rate for all degree levels is 2.5%.

Degree Level1970-711980-811990-912000-012010-112019-20CAGR*

*CAGR: compounded annual growth rate, 1968-2020.

Psychology Specialties, Subspecialties, and Proficiencies

The APA recognizes certain specialties and proficiencies in the field of professional psychology. According to their website, a specialty is “a defined area of psychological practice which requires advanced knowledge and skills acquired through an organized sequence of education and training.” As of 2022, the APA recognizes 18 specialties, from neuropsychology and health psychology to more recent additions like group psychology/psychotherapy; serious mental illness psychology; and clinical psychopharmacology.10

In 2022, psychoanalysis was introduced as the APA’s first official subspecialty. A subspecialty is defined as “a concentrated area of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that exists within at least one recognized specialty.” Psychoanalysis is a subspecialty of clinical psychology that helps people find relief from depression and anxiety by focusing on their memories, dreams, fears, and feelings.

Proficiencies are “defined by a core of psychological knowledge and skills, and include specific methods for how psychologists typically acquire its knowledge and skills.” As of 2022, the APA officially recognizes three proficiencies: addiction psychology, sport psychology, and biofeedback and applied psychophysiology.10 Degree holders can gain expertise in these specialties and proficiencies through graduate-level study and professional clinical experience. Psychologists can also pursue certification in many of these areas through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which can increase job opportunities and income potential.


Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology

The APA has recognized behavioral and cognitive psychology as a specialty since 2000. Psychologists practicing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may treat people with anxiety disorders or depression, substance abuse issues, and developmental disorders.

Psychologists practicing CBT may incorporate different treatments including conditioning, behavioral skills training, behavior modification, and acceptance and commitment therapy. People interested in being cognitive-behavioral psychologists will need a doctoral degree. Read more about these degree pathways on our cognitive behavioral psychology degrees page.

Child and Adolescent Psychology

The APA has recognized clinical child psychology as a specialty since 1998. Students in a child psychology degree program receive training in topics such as cognitive and social development, how family and school environments affect well-being, medical and biological factors related to development, and common psychological conditions diagnosed during childhood. Child psychologists then use this knowledge to conduct therapy and evaluations with children ranging from infancy to adolescence as well as their families.

To become a clinical child psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or school psychology, which will provide general clinical training and allow for licensure. Individuals planning to specialize in clinical child psychology will generally tailor this training by completing child-specific coursework, practicum experiences, predoctoral internships, and postdoctoral fellowships. Read more about these degrees on our child psychology degrees page.

Clinical Psychology

The APA first recognized clinical psychology as a broad specialty in the field in 1998. Students in clinical psychology degree programs 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. 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. They may provide clinical or counseling services in sectors such as research, education, training, and health. Find out more about what clinical psychologists do and read more about clinical psychology degrees.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology, also recognized by the APA as a specialty in 1998, involves using effective intervention skills for clients across diverse cultural and demographic backgrounds. Counseling psychology degree programs train students to address a wide range of psychological and emotional concerns. In contrast to clinical psychologists who are trained to diagnose and treat individuals with psychological disorders, counseling psychologists primarily advise individuals who are experiencing subclinical stressors. Graduates may work in most settings where psychological professionals are employed, including private practices, psychological clinics, hospitals, and universities.

In most states, you must earn a doctoral degree in counseling psychology to become licensed to practice as a counseling psychologist, though some states may allow limited practice by master’s-level graduates. Graduates of counseling psychology programs 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. Find out more about this degree on our counseling psychology degrees page.

Forensic Psychology

Recognized by the APA as a specialty in 2001, a degree in forensic psychology offers an ideal area of specialization for students interested in law enforcement and legal settings. Students in forensic psychology programs learn to conduct thorough assessments of individuals involved with the legal system to determine whether psychological disorders or other circumstances may affect ongoing legal proceedings.

Because forensic psychology involves providing clinical services, students must earn a degree that allows for clinical licensure. In most states, clinical licensure requires a doctoral degree in clinical psychology that includes coursework and clinical experience in forensic psychology. In contrast with criminal psychology, forensic psychology focuses on the mentality of the suspect and the emotional well-being of the victims. By earning a degree in forensic psychology, students learn to determine whether a defendant has a psychiatric disability and identify various personality disorders and sociopathic behavior. Read more about forensic psychology degrees.

Health Psychology

The primary focus of a clinical health psychology degree (recognized by the APA as a specialty in 1997) is the intersection of psychological well-being and physical health. These programs prepare students to work with patients who have medical diagnoses to alleviate or prevent mental health symptoms related to these conditions. Students also learn to help patients make behavioral changes that improve their physical health. Graduates will conduct psychological assessments for medical patients, such as pre-transplant evaluations, to determine an individual’s psychological readiness for transplant surgery. A health psychology degree is usually offered as a doctoral program in counseling or clinical psychology that includes specialized training in medical and biological factors affecting psychological wellness. For more about these degrees, check out our health psychology degrees page.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology is a unique APA specialty as it is the only one that does not require licensure in all states. Business or industrial-organizational psychology (I/O psychology) degrees prepare graduates to help businesses and organizations with projects such as increasing employee productivity and satisfaction, improving hiring procedures, and maximizing profitability. Business psychologists play a critical role in the total well-being of an organization’s human resources by conducting research and implementing new procedures to improve workspaces, work conditions, recruitment, training, and operations. Read more about what industrial-organizational psychologists do or continue learning about degree options on our I/O psychology degrees page.


The APA recognized neuropsychology as a specialty in 1996, making it the first named specialty in professional psychology. APA defines it as the study and assessment of the central nervous system’s function and how it impacts human behavior. Neuropsychology is dedicated to broadening the understanding of the relationship between the brain and human behavior. To practice clinical neuropsychology, you need a doctoral degree accompanied by postdoctoral specialized education and training. Clinical neuropsychology 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. Find out more about these degrees on our neuropsychology degrees page.

School Psychology

The APA recognized school psychology as a specialty in 1998. A school psychology degree prepares graduates to apply psychological principles in school settings to improve students’ well-being and academic achievement. School psychology programs train graduates to provide a variety of services. These include conducting psychoeducational assessments to determine required academic accommodations, helping develop interventions to manage a student’s classroom behavior, or providing therapy to students experiencing emotional difficulties. To practice as a school psychologist, you need an EdS, PhD, or PsyD in school psychology. Some schools also offer master’s degrees in school psychology, which allow graduates to perform limited school psychology work in some states. Find out more about school psychologists and their job responsibilities or read more about degree paths on our school psychology degrees page.

Additional APA Specialties


Sport Psychology

Schools offer sports psychology degree programs at the master’s and doctoral levels. Students can also seek sports psychology as a specialization after obtaining a doctoral degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology. A sport psychology degree program trains students in psychological factors that affect athletes, such as motivation, team dynamics, performance strategies, and biobehavioral mechanisms underlying athletic achievement. These programs also prepare students to address psychological concerns that may be present in athletic settings, such as eating disorders, aggression, and burnout. While those with master’s degrees in sport psychology may work in the field, only those with doctoral degrees can become licensed psychologists. Sports psychologists and others working in the field may provide their specialized services to individual athletes or be employed by teams or larger athletic organizations. Continue reading about these degrees on our sport psychology degrees page.

Additional APA Proficiencies

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.

Social Psychology

Broadly, the field of social psychology concerns human interaction. In other words, social psychologists study how individuals’ feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by those around them. Students pursuing social psychology degrees are trained in research methodologies, advanced statistics, and topics such as prejudice, culture, gender, violence and aggression, and social identity. Graduates who decide not to pursue an advanced degree may work in advertising, marketing, education, health care, or criminal justice. Find out more on our social psychology degrees page.

Criminal Psychology

Students in a criminal psychology degree program learn about the role psychology plays in the legal system. This program prepares students 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 prepares graduates for crisis intervention, psychopathology, victimology, and personality assessment. Understanding the theoretical and practical applications of various research methodologies is an important part 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. Learn more about these degrees on our criminal psychology degrees page.

Human Factors Psychology

Human factors psychology (also known as human factors & engineering psychology or ergonomics) looks at how humans and machines coexist, examining how humans interact with machines (human-computer interaction or HCI) and how to improve systems and products to enhance the interaction experience (user experience or UX research). A human factors degree may include courses like engineering, motor learning, design, and statistics. Many people employed in this field have an undergraduate background in psychology, industrial engineering, occupational therapy, or industrial design. To learn more, read our human factors psychology degrees page.

Find Schools with Psychology Programs in Your State

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.

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 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) accredits doctoral-level psychology programs. This includes doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, which are the three types of psychology degrees that allow individuals to become licensed and practice as psychologists. The APA does not accredit programs at the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s levels. You can learn more about APA accreditation on the APA website. To become licensed in most states, you will need to attend an APA-accredited program.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a BA in psychology and a BS in psychology?

Both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in psychology will prepare students for graduate-level psychology degrees. A BA degree requires more liberal arts and general education classes, while a BS has a more science- and math-focused curriculum. It is essential that the courses you take as part of your bachelor’s program complement and prepare you for your graduate program.

Do I need a master’s degree in psychology before getting a doctorate?

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. Some of your master’s coursework may count toward your PhD or PsyD should you choose to pursue it later.

What is the difference between a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology?

In the fields of counseling, clinical, or school psychology, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree is more practice-focused, while a PhD in Psychology is more research-focused. However, students in both programs receive clinical training and conduct research by completing a thesis and dissertation project.

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. Research both types of programs to choose the one that more closely matches your career goals. Keep in mind that APA accreditation is important if you are seeking licensure.

Some schools also offer PhD degrees in other areas of psychology, such as cognitive, developmental, or social psychology. In these programs, students focus entirely on research and do not receive any clinical training.

What jobs can I get with a psychology degree?

Besides providing therapy and conducting assessments, there are a wide variety of career options for psychology majors, since what they learn applies to many different 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 prepares psychology degree holders for many jobs. For more information about the jobs you can get with a psychology degree, visit our Psychology Careers page.

Which psychology degree has the best job prospects?

The number of psychologists employed in the United States (including clinical, counseling, school, industrial-organizational, and “all other”) is expected to increase by 13.5% through 2028, which is faster than the average occupation.11 Job prospects are best for graduates who hold a doctoral degree, especially those with a degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology.

1. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2019 National Survey of College Graduates: https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf22310
2. American Psychological Association, Center for Workforce Studies, Data Tools:: https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/
3. American Psychological Association, Careers in Psychology: https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/careers
4. American Psychological Association, Commission on Accreditation 2020 Annual Report Online, Summary Data: Doctoral Programs: https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/a14f9462/files/uploaded/2020%20Doctoral%20Summary%20Tables%20FINAL.pdf
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, Clinical and Counseling Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193033.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193032.htm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193034.htm
8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wages, Psychologists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm
9. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics List of 2020 Digest Tables: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/2020menu_tables.asp
10. American Psychological Association, Specialties and Proficiencies: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/index
11. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm