Master’s Degree in Psychology
According to the American Psychology Association (APA), a master’s degree in psychology provides a broad knowledge base of the science; instills scientific mindfulness; teaches ethical and social responsibility; promotes communication skills; and encourages professional development. A master’s degree in psychology also provides students with more specialized training in psychology subfields. Master’s degrees in psychology are offered as either terminal, stand-alone programs for students planning to work as therapists or in non-academic research settings, or as research-oriented programs for students planning to complete doctoral-level study for clinical practice or research positions.
Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology are prepared for a variety of careers and for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs, which must be completed to obtain clinical psychology licensure. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 761 not-for-profit colleges and universities offer master’s or doctoral degrees in psychology.1
Table of Contents
- Reasons to Pursue a Master’s in Psychology Degree
- Program Options
- Admission Requirements
- Core Concepts
- Select Program Profiles
- Jobs With a Master’s Degree in Psychology
- Frequently Asked Questions
Reasons to Pursue a Master’s in Psychology Degree
There are three main reasons students choose to pursue a master’s in psychology:
1. To get a job. Some students pursue a graduate degree in psychology to begin working in the field. While a doctoral degree is necessary for clinical licensure as a psychologist, there are many jobs available for graduates of master’s degree programs, including school and guidance counselor, behavioral analyst, human resources manager, consultant, and mental health counselor. A master’s degree might also help those who are already in the field get a better job or a higher pay rate.
2. To explore the field of psychology. For students who are interested in further studies but are not ready to commit to a PhD or a PsyD program, a master’s degree in psychology is a good way to explore the field before making the five-to-seven-year commitment required for a doctorate.
3. To prepare for a higher degree in the field. Some doctoral programs accept credits from master’s programs and some prefer a master’s in psychology for admission. For this reason, students may choose to pursue a master’s degree as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree. If this is your intention, however, you should make sure that the doctoral programs you are targeting will accept credits from your master’s program and that they do not award a master’s as part of the path to the doctoral degree, which could make a stand-alone master’s degree redundant.
Master’s in Psychology Program Options
Many of the top psychology graduate schools in the country do not offer stand-alone master’s degrees 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 are either Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) degrees and take one to two years to complete. MA degrees typically focus on psychological theories and applications while MS degrees typically have more quantitative coursework focused on data collection and analysis. Some schools even offer online master’s in psychology degree programs.
Common specializations (also known as concentrations, specialties, or emphases) for stand-alone master’s in psychology programs include:
- Business Psychology
- Child Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Counseling Psychology
- Forensic Psychology
- Human Factors Psychology
- School Psychology
- Sport Psychology
Online Degree Formats
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.
But getting your master’s degree in psychology online is not for everyone. Students 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.
Master’s in psychology degree programs generally require a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite coursework in psychological theory, statistics, and research methods. An undergraduate degree in psychology 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 much higher. Some programs require GRE scores, 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
Select Master’s in Psychology Programs
At Brandeis University, students can earn a general Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology on either a full 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. Students receive hands-on research mentorships exploring topics from clinical to cognitive neuroscience. Graduates must complete an MA thesis and can apply for funds to support thesis research. To further specialize, it is possible to complete a joint master’s degree program with Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. 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 prepares students for doctoral programs in psychology or careers in organizations, government, or the not-for-profit sector.
For applicants interested in a program with specialization options, Cleveland State University’s College of Sciences and Health Professions offers Master of Arts (MA) degrees in several areas of psychology, including Clinical Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Research, and Psychological Science, as well as a combination MA and Psychology Specialist (PsyS) degree in School Psychology. Cleveland State also offers a BA+MA program that allows students to complete undergraduate and graduate psychology degrees at an accelerated pace. With the exception of School Psychology, each specialization takes approximately two years to complete and has different curriculum and research requirements. The Clinical Psychology program has two possible options for completion. The doctoral preparation, or thesis track, requires a thesis and is designed to prepare students for further doctoral study. This program does not meet the requirements for licensure as a clinical psychologist. The second non-thesis practitioner track prepares students to work with or under licensed clinical psychologists as assistant practitioners. Keep in mind that this track will not adequately prepare graduates to pursue a doctoral degree. Cleveland State also offers an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Adult Development and Aging.
DePaul University offers a Master of Science (MS) degree in Research 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 several 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, including Advanced Statistics and Quantitative Research Design, a diversity core course, and a Graduate Capstone–either a master’s thesis or directed research based on their internship experience. A 3.2 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 two years. DePaul also offers two five-year combined degrees, the Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Master of Science (MS) degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and the BA/MS in Community Psychology. It also offers combined Master of Arts (MA)/Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in Clinical Psychology, Community Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, and Psychological Science.
Hybrid and Online Programs
Adler University offers a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Psychology fully online with concentrations in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Crisis Management, Child and Adolescent Development, and Health and Wellness. Classes are offered in eight-week blocks throughout the year and each program concludes with a final Capstone project or Thesis allowing students to apply theories to real-world case studies. The programs take two years to complete with reasonable breaks and comprise 36 credit hours each. Gender and Sexuality studies analyze the intersection of media, law, and policy and their influences on gender and sexuality. Crisis Management examines psychological resiliency and advocacy in vulnerable populations, especially following acute or chronic crises. The Child and Adolescent Development concentration focuses on youth development, particularly in underserved communities. Finally, the Health and Wellness concentration teaches students to use psychological principles to strengthen community and individual well-being.
In 2015, the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Professional Studies began offering a fully-online psychology master’s degree, a Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology with specializations in either Industrial/Organizational Psychology 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 work settings. This program does not qualify graduates for clinical practice. Both concentrations comprise 36 credits including nine credits in Core Courses, six credits in Research Methods, nine credits in the specialization area, six credits of electives, and a six-credit 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.
Jobs With a Master’s in Psychology
A master’s degree in psychology is a versatile asset relevant to many career paths. Depending on your area of specialization and your jurisdiction, 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
- School Counselor
- Social Science Research Assistant
- Victim Advocate
Frequently Asked Questions
Am I eligible for licensure as a clinical psychologist with a master’s degree in psychology?
Master’s level graduates from psychology programs are not usually eligible for licensure in clinical roles, even if the programs had a clinical focus. In all states, a doctoral degree is the minimum educational requirement for licensure as a clinical psychologist. However, many states offer limited licenses to master’s degree holders to work under the supervision of licensed psychologists. If you want to learn more about becoming licensed in psychology, read our How to Become a Psychologist page.
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 an undergraduate major in psychology, but you do need to have some coursework in psychological theory and statistics to meet admission requirements.
What is the average salary for a psychology master’s graduate?
Salaries vary depending on the career path but can range from $57,000 to over $140,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 2-5 For example, psychology master’s degree holders can pursue roles as industrial-organizational psychologists and educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors.
According to BLS, in May 2022, I/O psychologists made an average annual salary of $144,610 and educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors made $64,200.2,3 Psychology master’s degrees can also lead to roles in research, including survey researchers who earned $66,440 annually and social science research assistants who earned $57,760 annually in May 2022.4,5 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 to strengthen your knowledge of a specific type of psychology and improve your research methods skills. Obtaining a master’s degree may also lead to leadership or management positions in applied or laboratory settings outside of academia. In some states, a master’s degree in psychology qualifies graduates for licensure as a limited psychologist, but all states require a doctoral degree for independent clinical practice.
Will earning a master’s degree make me a more competitive applicant for admission into a doctoral program?
It depends on the area of psychology in which you are interested. According to a recent study, 63.7% of faculty members in counseling psychology PhD programs were “somewhat or much more likely” to offer admission to applicants with master’s degrees than those with bachelor’s degrees.6 However, approximately 65% to 70% of faculty in clinical, research, and practice psychology programs said that a master’s degree was not necessary to enter their programs.6
Should I pursue an online master’s in psychology degree?
Online master’s in psychology degree programs are good options 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-directed study, an online master’s in psychology may not be right for you.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022 Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193032.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022 Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022 Survey Researchers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193022.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022 Social Science Research Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194061.htm
6. Littleford, Linh Nguyen, Buxton, Kim, Bucher, Meredith A., Simon-Dack, Stephanie L. , and Yang, Kao Lee (2017). Psychology Doctoral Program Admissions: What Master’s and Undergraduate-Level Students Need to Know. Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 45(1) 75-83. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Meredith-Bucher/publication/321854359_Psychology_Doctoral_Program_Admissions_What_Master%27s_and_Undergraduate-Level_Students_Need_to_Know/links/5cab8fb092851c64bd59d748/Psychology-Doctoral-Program-Admissions-What-Masters-and-Undergraduate-Level-Students-Need-to-Know.pdf