Business Psychology Degree Guide

Business psychology, more commonly called industrial and organizational (I/O or I-O) psychology, is known as one of the top-paying psychology fields.1 Currently recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a specialty in professional psychology, the field is quickly growing and becoming more mainstream.2,3 In fact, the occupation of industrial-organizational psychologists is ranked number one on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Fastest Growing Occupations list, with a 53% growth rate expected between 2012 and 2022.4 A Wall Street Journal article also called out the field in a recent article about the hottest jobs in 2018.5 The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) considers it a specialty called Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, which includes I/O psychology.6

While some business and I/O psychologists are able to find entry-level positions with master’s degrees, most business psychologists go on to get a doctoral degree in the field and become certified in their state. There are a handful of bachelor’s programs offering an I/O psychology degree, but many more programs that award an MA, MS, PhD, or EdD in the field. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is preferred for entrance into one of these advanced degree programs.

Degree Requirements and Coursework

In an advanced degree program for business psychology or I/O psychology, students will learn about the dynamics of the workplace, human resources management, employee training and development, performance appraisal and how to motivate employees, and how to effect developmental change.

Advanced degree program requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree with minimum GPA of at least 3.0 and minimum GRE scores. Some prefer an undergraduate degree in psychology or business. Many programs are small and extremely selective. Terminal master’s programs in I/O psychology or business psychology typically take around two years to complete, and terminal doctoral degrees in the field usually take around three to five years to complete and include a master’s degree. Check with the school to see whether the master’s degree can be stand-alone or whether it is only granted as part of the doctoral program. Sample coursework for students of business psychology degree programs may include:

Core psychology courses:

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Human Development
  • Personality Theories
  • Social Psychology

I/O and business psychology-specific courses:

  • Advanced Industrial Psychology
  • Advanced Personnel Psychology
  • Collective Bargaining and Arbitration
  • Employee Selection
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Motivation and Job Attitudes
  • Training and Development

Profiles of Business Psychology Programs

There are very few undergraduate programs in business psychology, but master’s degrees and doctoral degrees are common. You should select a type of program based on the job or jobs you are targeting, to ensure that your terminal degree is appropriate for that job.

Master’s Programs

Minnesota State University: Minnesota State University (MSU) was ranked number one in the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP) Top 20 Programs by Student Ratings, which is based on metrics such as faculty support, quality of instruction, cost, and resources. MSU offers a Master of Arts degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology.7 Their program emphasizes both research and consulting and prepares graduates for careers in consulting, human resources, and market research. Students complete 44 credits to receive their MA, including a three-month internship and a thesis, and they participate in real-world projects that prepare them to enter the workforce. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is preferred, but prospective students who have a bachelor’s degree in another subject must have completed a minimum of 15 credits in psychology, including Introduction to Psychology, Statistics, Research Methods, Social Psychology, and Personality or Cognitive Psychology. A minimum GPA of 3.0, as well as GRE scores, is required, for entry.

University of Tulsa: The University of Tulsa’s Kendall College of Arts and Sciences offers three graduate programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology: a Master of Arts (MA), a Juris Doctor and Master of Arts combination degree (JD/MA) and a PhD. The MA in I/O Psychology is ranked number two in the SIOP’s Top 20 Programs by Student Ratings.7 The MA program is 37 credit hours, including 16 hours of I-O core courses, six hours of general psychology courses, nine hours of research methodology courses, and six hours of electives, with a thesis option available but not required. In addition, students must complete an internship of 200 hours and pass a comprehensive I-O psychology exam before obtaining their degree. The JD/MA joint-degree program offers a way for students to complete two degree programs at once, saving them 19 credits hours. There are two curriculum options for the JD/MA: one consists of 31 hours of psychology and 81 hours of law, and the other consists of 34 credit hours of psychology and 78 hours of law.

Touro College: Touro College is home to a master’s program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology that equips students with the tools and knowledge needed to increase organizational effectiveness and develop and implement sound business strategies. A required internship included in the curriculum helps students translate academic learning to real-world practice. The program requires 36 credit hours and can typically be completed in four to six semesters. Courses take place on the school’s Manhattan campus during weekday evenings as well as via live online webinars, though all course finals must be taken on campus. Touro College offers competitive tuition rates as well as financial aid opportunities, including work-study positions for qualified students.

The I/O Psychology program at Touro College is fairly new for this school. However, this department is growing very quickly. This is happening as a result of hard work and dedication of all department members of this program. My experience with Touro College has been a journey. This is because during my first year I knew very little about this program. Then with the help of professors and well structured courses I was able to find my passion about organization development and HR practices. Now, I have been working for almost one year for an organization and with the help of Touro also promoted to an HR Generalist role. Overall Touro College has been a very positive experience for me.” – Student at Touro College

Doctoral Programs

George Washington University: GWU’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences offers a doctoral program in Industrial/Organizational Psychology that was ranked number one in the SIOP’s Top 20 Programs by Student Ratings.7 The doctoral program culminates in a PhD for successful candidates and covers areas such as personnel selection, training and development, motivation at work, teams, and organizational development. The entire program consists of 72 credit hours, 15 in methods/statistics, 21 in I/O core, six in psychology breadth, 15 in electives, and 15 of a dissertation. Admission is highly competitive; in fall 2015, three applicants of 90 were accepted into the program. Prospective students with an undergraduate degree in psychology, or at least with significant coursework in the field, are the most common. The average undergraduate GPA for those enrolled in the doctoral program was 3.7. In addition to transcripts, applications will include three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a statement of purpose essay. It typically takes students five years to complete the doctoral program, and they are expected to be full-time students, regularly on campus.

University of Guelph: The University of Guelph offers an MA and a PhD program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. While admission to the programs is separate, the programs are considered an integrated whole by the school. The master’s program takes two years and the doctoral program takes three years to complete, so prospective PhD students should expect to spend five years in the entire program from start to finish. The PhD program was ranked number two in the SIOP’s Top 20 Programs by Student Ratings.7 Prerequisites include an honors psychology degree and high GRE scores–both in the general exam and the psychology exam. They look for students with a high GPA, especially high scores in methods and statistics, and who submit strong letters of reference with their applications. Courses include Employee Performance, Social Practices in the Workplace, Consulting in I-O Psychology, Employee Development, and Workplace Motivation and Leadership.

Michigan State University: Michigan State University’s Department of Psychology offers a PhD in Organizational Psychology, which focuses on quantitative methods and I/O psychology. It is focused on research, targeted at students who intend to become faculty at universities or to conduct research in major corporations, government or other organizations. MSU’s PhD program tied for number one in US News and World Report’s 2013 list of “Best Grad Schools in Industrial and Organizational Psychology,” and has consistently ranked in the number one position for the past 13 years.7 The program maintains a student population of around 15-20 full-time students and currently staffs eight primary faculty to instruct them. The entire PhD program takes an average of five years to complete, with the master’s program taking two years, comprehensive exams during the third year, and the fourth and fifth years being devoted to an internship and dissertation work. While some students complete the program in four years, most students choose to complete it in five years, so that they can be more involved in their research and applied projects. As the program is heavily research-focused, students should expect to be involved in research at all times during their five years at the university, but the program also boasts flexibility, allowing its students to shape their study to more closely match their interests. Admission into the program is competitive, with incoming classes being as low as two to three students and as many as seven students.

Online Programs

Colorado State University: CSU offers an online Master of Applied Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (MAIOP). The degree is practitioner-oriented, providing practical knowledge and skills focused on research and consulting. Students can be admitted into the program without admittance into CSU if they have earned one of the industrial/organizational psychology certificates of completion. The three courses required for each of these certificates are considered core courses of this degree and will be counted toward the degree if accepted. The MAIOP program consists of a total of 38 graduate hours and can be completed in six semesters by taking two courses each semester. No thesis is required. Coursework is focused on quantitative research methods, and includes courses such as Applied Measurement Theory, Applied Organizational Development, Competency Modeling and Criterion Development, and Succession Planning and Leadership Development. Students will be grouped into virtual consulting teams who complete a series of projects together. The program is self-paced, allowing students to work while obtaining their degree. The GRE is required for admission, as well as a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework and a grade of B or higher for statistics courses.

Southern New Hampshire State University: SNHSU offers an online Master of Science degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Southern New Hampshire State University’s MS program offers its students a foundation of psychology research methods that they can learn to apply in real-world organizational contexts. Coursework includes Measurement and Assessment, Motivation in the Workplace, Psychology of Leadership, and Organizational Consulting. The 36-credit online degree program adequately prepares students to apply psychology principles in organizations or to pursue a doctoral degree in the field. A BS or a BA in psychology is required, or a bachelor’s degree in another field is accepted as long as the applicant completed social science statistics and social science research methods. GRE scores are not required for entry. A capstone and seminar course ends the program, in which students execute a faculty- and peer-reviewed project focusing on a contemporary issue in the field.

Business Psychology Job Description

Business psychologists study human individual, group and organizational behavior within organizations, specifically the workplace, and attempt to apply their knowledge to solve work-related problems. They seek to improve employee performance and motivation and help business leaders evaluate and develop their employees and effectively plan for succession. I/O psychologists may work in any organization or workplace setting, such as manufacturing, commercial enterprises, labor unions, or healthcare facilities. On a day-to-day basis, they may research methods of employee assessment, leadership development, workplace safety, work-life balance, and diversity. Those business psychologists with a PhD may hold academic positions at colleges or universities. Others may work in human resources departments or work as independent consultants.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

I/O psychologists can work in a variety of different job settings, depending on their preference. Those with master’s degrees in the field will be eligible for more entry-level positions, while those with a doctoral degree should have greater opportunities. Specific job titles may include:

  • Business psychologist
  • Coach
  • Consultant
  • Facilitator
  • Human resources coordinator
  • I/O psychologist
  • Organizational development consultant
  • Organizational effectiveness consultant
  • Organizational psychologist
  • Personnel psychologist
  • Professor
  • Trainer

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of degree do I need to become a business psychologist?

While it is possible to practice I/O psychology with just a bachelor’s degree, it is not common. Most I/O psychologists have an advanced degree. A master’s degree will open up many entry-level positions, but a doctoral degree will afford aspiring business psychologists more opportunities.

How long will it take me to get an I/O degree?

The length of time it will take you to get a business psychology degree depends on the program, but most master’s programs take an average of two years and doctoral programs take an average of three years, so within five years it is possible to complete a terminal degree in the field.

Business Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

I/O psychologists are well-paid, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting the 2014 average salary at $90,070.9 In fact, industrial-organizational psychologists are among the highest-paid in the entire field of psychology, according to the BLS.10 Most business psychologists are employed in the industry of management, scientific, and technical consulting services, but the highest paid I/O psychologists work in the industry of scientific research and development services (averaging $110,550 per year).9 The states of Massachusetts and New York employed the most I/O psychologists, and those in California and Minnesota were the highest paid in 2014.9

The outlook for I/O psychologists is positive, with Projections Central predicting a growth of 53.4% between 2012 and 2022.11 This growth translates to roughly 130 annual job openings.11 Compared to the 11% growth projected for the field of psychology as a whole, it is evident that industrial-organizational psychology is poised for major growth.

Additional Resources

1. Business Insider, “The 5 Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get With A Psychology Degree:” https://www.businessinsider.com/the-5-highest-paying-jobs-you-can-get-with-a-psychology-degree-2011-9
2. American Psychological Association, Specialities and Proficiencies, Industrial and Organizational Psychology: http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial.aspx
3. American Psychological Association, “A Business Psychologist:” http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2014/11/business-psychologist.aspx
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fastest Growing Occupations: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm
5. The Wall Street Journal, “What Will Be the Hot Jobs of 2018?”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704026204575266342935418962
6. American Board of Professional Psychology, Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, Specialty Definition: http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial.aspx
7. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Rankings of Graduate Programs in I-O Psychology Based on Student Ratings of Quality, Top 20 MA/MS Programs by Overall Weighted Index of Student Ratings: http://www.siop.org/tip/backissues/July04/06kraiger.aspx
8. US News and World Reports, Best Graduate Schools in Industrial and Organizational Psychology: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/industrial-organizational-psychology-rankings
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193032.htm
10. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5
11. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm