Master’s in Psychology
A master’s degree in psychology offers the chance to further develop a broad base in the subject area or gain in-depth knowledge of a particular area of psychology. Master’s degrees in psychology are offered as either terminal, stand-alone programs for students who plan to work in organizations or research settings outside of academia or research-oriented programs for students who plan to continue with doctoral-level studies. Stand-alone programs are often in concentrated areas of psychology, such as industrial and organizational (I/O) or business psychology, human factors psychology, sport psychology, forensic psychology, or human factors psychology. Stand-alone degrees take approximately one to two years to complete.
Many of the top psychology graduate schools in the country do not offer a stand-alone master’s degree to applicants who do not plan to continue with doctoral studies; therefore, it is important to choose the right school based on your career plans. Master’s in psychology programs have either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS) designation. Master of Arts degrees typically focus on psychological theories and applications while MS degrees typically have a greater focus on quantitative coursework focused on data collection and analysis. Some schools even offer online master’s in psychology degrees.
Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology are well-prepared for a variety of careers or further study at the doctoral level, but keep in mind this degree does not meet the requirements for clinical psychology licensure. Salaries vary depending on the career path. For example, according to O*NET OnLine, the median salaries for two psychology-related careers, industrial-organizational psychologists and educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors, were $82,760 and $54,560 respectively in 2016.1,2 In the research field, survey researchers earned $54,470 and social science research assistants earned $43,190.3,4
Master’s in psychology degree programs generally require a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite coursework in psychological theory, statistics, and research methods. A psychology major is not required, but some programs may have minimum grade requirements or a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) requirement for entry. The minimum GPA required is typically 3.0, but a competitive GPA is typically much higher. Scores from the GRE are also usually required, along with a personal statement, letters of reference, and a resume outlining relevant academic and research experience. Applicants may also be asked to describe how the degree will help them achieve their career goals upon graduation.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Courses offered in a master’s degree in psychology program vary depending on whether the curriculum is general or specialized. General programs offer a cross-section of topics in psychology while specialized programs require many courses in one particular area. Some examples of master’s level courses in psychology include:
- Learning and Cognition
- Memory and the Brain
- Organizational Behavior
- Bias, Ethics and Reasoning
- Group Dynamics
- Clinical Psychopharmacology
- Multicultural Psychology and Diversity
- Principles of Neuroscience
- Psychological Statistics
- Graduate Research Methods in Psychology
Traditional Master’s in Psychology Programs
There are many master’s degree programs offered across the country with either general curriculums or concentrations. The following profiles showcase schools with well-known programs available as stand-alone master’s in psychology with or without a specialization.
At Brandeis University, students can earn a general MA in psychology on either a full-time or part-time basis. The full-time degree takes a minimum of nine months to complete, although most students spend 12 months completing all course requirements. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for a fall start date. The curriculum includes courses on social, cognitive, and developmental psychology as well as statistics and research methods to provide breadth to the experience. To further specialize, it is possible to complete a joint master’s degree program with women’s, gender, and sexuality studies as well. As Brandeis University is part of the Boston Area Graduate Consortium, students can also take up to one course per term at Boston College, Boston University, or Tufts University. The program can prepare students for doctoral programs in psychology or careers in organizations, government, or the nonprofit sector. Brandeis was ranked in a tie for 34th place among all national universities and the 30th best value school by US News & World Report in 2016.
For applicants interested in a program with specialization options, Cleveland State University’s College of Sciences and Health Professions offers MA degrees in several areas of psychology, including clinical psychology, industrial-organizational research, diversity management, experimental research, and school psychology. Each specialization takes approximately two years to complete and has different curriculum and research requirements. Only students in the experimental research track are required to write a thesis, although students in the industrial-organizational track have the option to do so. The diversity management track is open to working professionals and operates in an executive style by offering classes one weekend per month for 21 months. The clinical psychology program has two possible options for completion. The research track requires a thesis and is designed to prepare students for further doctoral study. Note that it does not meet the requirements for licensure as a clinical psychologist. The second option prepares students to work with or under licensed clinical psychologists as assistant practitioners. Cleveland State also offers an undergraduate degree in psychology and a PhD in psychology in adult development and aging.
DePaul University offers an MS degree in psychology with a general curriculum. The program admits only five to six new students each year and suggests a minimum 3.5 GPA to apply. The program prepares students for further doctoral study by including courses in all major areas of psychology as well as statistics and research methods. As a science degree, this master’s program approaches psychology from a scientific perspective and focuses on how psychological theories can be tested using data. All students must complete the required core courses, such as advanced statistics and quantitative research design, a diversity elective, and either a master’s thesis or directed research project. A 3.20 cumulative GPA must be maintained throughout the program and the requirements must be completed within five years, although full-time students can finish the program in as little as two years. DePaul also offers a combined Bachelor of Arts/Master of Science degree in industrial-organizational psychology and combined Master of Arts/PhD degrees in psychology, including clinical, community, industrial-organizational, and psychological science.
Online Master’s in Psychology Programs
Completing a master’s in psychology online offers greater flexibility without sacrificing quality or specialization options. Online master’s in psychology programs are often more affordable than traditional programs since students theoretically pay only for the course delivery, not for room/board, parking, and other on-campus expenses. While getting your master’s degree in psychology online may be attractive, it’s not for everyone. People who choose an online psychology master’s program should be self-disciplined and able to set and meet deadlines for coursework. To read more about online psychology degrees, check out our Guide to Earning an Online Psychology Degree. While the page focuses primarily on online degrees at the baccalaureate level, you can still find some helpful tips for earning your master’s psychology degree online. The following programs are well-known or popular and offer a range of options for students considering an online learning experience.
Adler University offers two Master of Arts degrees in psychology fully online with specializations in either industrial and organizational psychology or military psychology. Classes are offered in eight-week blocks throughout the year and each program concludes with a final capstone project or action plan allowing the student to apply theories to real-world case studies. The programs take two years to complete with reasonable breaks and comprise 37 credit hours each. The industrial-organizational program prepares students to apply psychology theories in business and organizations to better manage change, diversity, and behavior. This program may benefit individuals who are already working in an organization or individuals looking to specialize in this area. The military psychology program is designed for individuals who work or plan to work with military veterans and their families to address mental health needs. This program may benefit a wide variety of professionals who work with these populations and desire a greater knowledge of issues such as trauma, grief, and psychological resilience.
In 2015, CUNY School of Professional Studies began offering a fully-online psychology master’s degree, a Master of Arts in psychology with specializations in either industrial-organizational or developmental psychology. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree with prerequisite courses in introductory psychology, statistics, and research methods with at least a B grade. The program is designed to prepare students for further doctoral-level study or provide in-depth knowledge about psychology in a variety of other work settings. Both concentrations are comprised of 36 credits including nine credits of core courses, six credits in research methods, nine credits of electives, six credits of electives, and six credits of a capstone project. Some examples of elective courses include Cognitive Development, Atypical Development, and Group Dynamics. The capstone project involves collecting and analyzing data and preparing a written report in collaboration with a faculty supervisor. Students must successfully defend the capstone to a faculty committee. In 2016, CUNY was ranked in a tie for 26th top public schools by US News & World Report.
Master’s level graduates from psychology programs are not generally eligible for licensure in the clinical or school psychology professions. As many individuals with this degree pursue applied or non-academic research careers, licensure is not required. If you plan to pursue a doctoral degree, your master’s degree may be accepted as transfer credit by some universities. Be sure to check whether your preferred master’s degree in psychology program meets these requirements to avoid duplicate coursework in clinical or school psychology doctoral degree programs. If you want to learn more about becoming licensed in psychology, read our How to Become a Psychologist page.
Jobs with a Master’s in Psychology
A master’s degree in psychology can be a versatile asset relevant to many different career paths. Depending on the area of specialization, you may find career options in a variety of areas, such as:
- Developmental Services Worker
- Family Services Worker
- Educational Consultant
- Guidance Counselor
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
- Laboratory Manager
- Mental Health Care Coordinator
- Police Chief
- Product Designer
- Rehabilitation Officer
- Research Coordinator
- Victim Advocate
Frequently Asked Questions
Am I eligible for licensure as a clinical psychology with a master’s degree in psychology?
Normally, no. While the exact requirements for licensure vary from state to state, a doctoral degree in psychology is required to be eligible as a clinical psychologist even if the master’s degree has a clinical focus.
Do I need to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology to apply for a master’s in psychology?
No. Most schools do not require a major in psychology, but you do need to have some coursework in psychological theory and statistics no matter what major you completed.
What is the average salary for a psychology master’s graduate?
The average salary varies depending on the specialization of the degree and the type of career you pursue afterward. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists earned a median salary of $82,760 in 2016, while survey researchers earned $54,470.1,3 Read more about master’s in psychology jobs and their salaries on our Careers page.
Is it worth getting a master’s degree in psychology?
Choosing a stand-alone master’s degree in psychology may be a good choice if you want or need to strengthen your knowledge of a particular type of psychology or your research methods skills but do not want to commit to a doctoral program. Obtaining a master’s degree may also be beneficial when applying for leadership or management positions in applied or laboratory settings outside of academia.
Should I pursue an online master’s in psychology degree?
Whether you pursue a degree in a traditional format or an online format is entirely up to you. Many schools do offer online psychology master’s programs, and these can be a good fit for working or busy students. If you decide to get your master’s in psychology online, choose a program that is fully accredited and that offers the same classes and services to online students as it does to on-campus students. If you prefer a more traditional classroom setting and do not enjoy self-study, an online master’s in psychology may not be for you.
1. O*NET OnLine, Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3032.00
2. O*NET OnLine, Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1012.00
3. O*NET OnLine, Survey Researchers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3022.00
4. O*NET OnLine, Social Science Research Assistants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-4061.00