Social Psychology Degree and Career Guide

    Though not included in the recognized specialty or proficiency lists by the American Psychological Association (APA), social psychology is important as a career and as a degree in the broader field of psychology. Social psychologists (sometimes called personality psychologists) specialize in the study of how individuals interact with and are affected by each other and their environments. The terminal degree for social psychologists is a doctoral degree (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)) with coursework focused on social psychology. However, some aspiring social psychologists pursue stand-alone master’s degrees in the field, with which they can work in social psychology support roles or later apply to doctoral programs.

    Quick Facts

    • There are 37 colleges and universities with social psychology programs.1
    • 2 schools offer a certificate in social psychology.1
    • 1 school offers an associate’s degree in social psychology.1
    • 15 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in social psychology.1
    • 21 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in social psychology.1

    For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

    Table of Contents
    Social Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
    Top-Ranked Social Psychology Degree Programs
    Best Value Schools with On-Campus Social Psychology Programs
    Select Social Psychology Degree Programs
    Social Psychologist Career Information
    Becoming a Social Psychologist
    Job Description
    Salary and Job Outlook
    Additional Resources
    Frequently Asked Questions

    Degree Requirements and Coursework

    An advanced degree program in social psychology focuses on areas such as close relationships; intergroup relations; social justice and perception; social influence; attitude and attitude change; motivation; emotion; personality; and social cognition. Since social psychology is already a specialization (also called concentration, specialty, or emphasis) within psychology, there are typically no further levels of specialization offered, but this may vary by school. Requirements for admission typically include a bachelor’s degree, preferably in psychology, sociology, or a related field, with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Other common admission requirements include minimum GRE scores as well as letters of recommendation and a strong application. Master’s degrees in social psychology typically take around one to two years to complete full time and doctoral degrees take between four and seven years of full-time study, frequently awarding a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) as part of the degree. Doctoral programs that do not include a master’s degree may take less time to complete. Sample coursework that students of social psychology may take include:

    • Conflict and Psychological Control
    • Developmental Social Cognition
    • Interpersonal Influence and Social Power
    • Political Psychology
    • Psychology of Justice
    • Research Methods in Social Psychology
    • Self-Regulation
    • Social Judgment and Decision Making
    • Social Stigma
    • Stereotyping and Prejudice

    Top-Ranked Social Psychology Degree Programs

    US News & World Report’s Best Social Psychology Doctorate Programs 2017

    • Stanford University (#1)
    • University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (#2)
    • Ohio State University (#3)
    • University of California–Los Angeles (#4 tie)
    • Yale University (#4 tie)
    • Harvard University (#6 tie)
    • New York University (#6 tie)
    • Princeton University (#8)2

    Best Value Schools with On-Campus Social Psychology Programs

    The table below represents the not-for-profit colleges and universities with the best value graduate-level social psychology programs based on our research. Of all schools offering on-campus programs in social psychology, the only schools to make our list have undergraduate graduation rates of 70% or above (higher graduation rates are widely regarded as an indicator of success) and net prices of less than $20,000 per year. In addition to these factors, we have included US News & World Report national rankings, the percentage of faculty with tenure, and related graduate degrees offered.

    SchoolGraduate Degree(s)US News Social Psych Rank2US News National Rank3Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty4Net Price1
    University of California-IrvinePhD Social & Personality PsychologyNR#33 tie85%57%$13,944
    Stony Brook UniversityPhD Social & Health PsychologyNR#80 tie72%32%$14,330
    University at BuffaloAdv. Certificate: Data Analysis for the Social Sciences;
    MA General Psychology: Social-Personality;
    PhD Social-Personality Psychology
    NR#89 tie75%35%$16,120
    Harvard UniversityPhD Social Psychology#6 tie#296%45%$17,030
    University of ConnecticutPhD Social PsychologyNR#63 tie83%39%$18,699

    Select Social Psychology Degree Programs

    Traditional Master’s Programs

    University at Buffalo

    The University at Buffalo’s Department of Psychology offers a Master of Arts (MA) degree in General Psychology with optional concentrations in Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, and Social-Personality Psychology. Graduates of the MA in Psychology program will be prepared to enter the workforce in positions in research, mental health, management, and administration, or pursue doctoral study. The learning environment for MA students is equipped to give real-world research experience through lab work. A total of 30 credit hours are required for the degree, including a course in graduate statistics, a distribution course from each of the four concentration areas (Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical, Cognitive, and Social), and 15 credits in electives. All students will work closely with a mentor on a “mentored MA project,” which is a scholarly paper documented with research to answer a clearly identified question.

    Loyola University Chicago

    Loyola University offers a terminal master’s program as well as a combined Master of Arts (MA) and a PhD in Applied Social Psychology. Of over 70 applicants per year, only 20% are accepted, and of those, about one-third enroll in Loyola’s program. The terminal MA in Applied Social Psychology primarily prepares graduates for research specialist roles, working under the supervision of a PhD supervisor in settings including market research firms, research centers, and government agencies. The master’s program at Loyola comprises 30 credit hours and requires students to complete a master’s thesis to graduate. The program aims to train professionals who are prepared to design and implement changes that address significant issues related to the welfare of individuals, groups, organizations, and society. Students will study theory and principles of social psychology while simultaneously pursuing their specialized interests. The program trains graduates to be effective communicators, sharing through presentations, the written word, and teaching. Eight faculty members instruct the approximately 40 students in the master’s and doctoral programs. Loyola also offers a five-year degree program for a Bachelor of Science (BS)/Master of Arts (MA) in Applied Social Psychology. In this track, students will complete 120 credit hours by the end of their fourth year and may finish their master’s degree in a fifth year.

    Traditional Doctoral Programs

    Ohio State University

    Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio, offers one of the top social psychology programs in the nation as ranked by US News & World Report in theirBest Graduate Schools in Social Psychology ranking. The program focuses on theoretical foundational coursework to develop students’ skills in conceptual analysis of social behavior and social problems. Before entering the doctoral portion of the program, all students are involved in a research project in collaboration with a social psychology faculty member. Students are expected to complete coursework in two minor areas, such as cognitive or quantitative psychology or a subject outside the psychology department (such as political science). In the third year of study, students are formally admitted into the PhD program and spend the remainder of the year targeting independent objectives with an additional one to two years spent completing a PhD dissertation.

    University of Michigan

    The University of Michigan’s (Michigan)’s Department of Psychology offers a PhD program in Social Psychology that has been recognized in US News & World Report’s Best Graduate Schools in Social Psychology. Michigan’s program has 18 core faculty and 10 affiliated faculty to instruct the average of 30 graduate students enrolled at one time. Michigan offers several interdisciplinary training programs for social psychology students, including Culture & Cognition (Department of Anthropology); Decision (multiple departments); Evolution and Human Adaptation; Organization Studies; Social Work and Psychology; and Women’s Studies and Psychology. The social psychology program is research-heavy; students have opportunities to work with researchers at Michigan’s top facilities. Past graduates of this program have been offered faculty and research positions at some of the nation’s leading colleges and universities. While the entire program can take as little as four years to complete, most candidates complete the coursework in five years.

    Harvard University

    Students in the PhD program at Harvard University are taught to understand the human experience and social behaviors. Study focuses on neural and physiological aspects (in group and individual behavior) and social and cultural contexts (how people think, feel, and act). Harvard’s program encourages students to meet at “intersections,” interacting with other areas of psychology (such as cognitive neuroscience), with other departments (such as Economics and Sociology), and with Harvard professional schools (the Law School, Business School, and the Medical School). A total of 65 graduate students are enrolled at any given time among all five of the psychology research programs. The research-oriented program prepares graduates to become research psychologists, typically in academia. Other graduates may work in government, consulting firms, or social service agencies. While some students can complete the program in four years, most take five to six years. Harvard considers its program “quite selective,” requiring excellent grades, high GRE scores, and persuasive recommendations. It also emphasizes candidates’ statements of purpose in order to ensure that the students have interests that are compatible with the department.

    Online and Hybrid Programs

    Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on social psychology and a master’s in psychology, both of which can be completed entirely online. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Social Psychology program examines social psychology from a broad lens, including how one looks at oneself, understands oneself and others, and interacts with society. SNHU’s program prepares graduates to work in businesses, community relations, marketing, and sales careers. Social Psychology courses include Cross-Cultural Psychology, Social Cognition and Perception, and Social Psychology. Students can access any class 24/7. While the Master of Science (MS) in Psychology degree does not offer a social psychology emphasis, it does include coursework that examines the area of social psychology among other areas such as personality, cognitive psychology, and personality.

    Social Psychologist Career Information

    How to Become a Social Psychologist

    All 50 states require a doctoral degree to become a licensed psychologist. To become a social psychologist, you will need either a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD. You will also be required to complete your state’s mandated number of supervised experience hours as well as pass a national exam, the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). In order to become a social psychologist, you will likely:

    1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology, sociology, or a related field.
    2. Earn an accredited doctoral degree in psychology with a focus in social psychology.
    3. Complete the supervised clinical experience hours required by your state.
    4. Pass your state’s required exams, including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
    5. Apply for and receive a clinical psychology license from your state board.
    6. Begin practicing as a licensed social psychologist in your state.
    7. Complete any required continuing education each year in order to maintain your license.

    Job Description

    Social psychologists study how social interactions and environments play a part in shaping individuals’ mindsets and behaviors. They are interested in both individual and group interactions and attempt to find ways to improve negative interactions. Social psychologists study how group dynamics can influence our choices and sometimes cause issues such as prejudices, bullying, criminal activity, and substance abuse. Many social psychologists teach and conduct research in an academic setting. Others are employed as consultants, marketing directors, managers, or technology designers, usually in a business setting, or in the government or non-profit sectors.

    What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

    With a social psychology degree, you can pursue a job with titles such as:

    • Consultant
    • Manager
    • Marketing director
    • Personality psychologist*
    • Political strategist
    • Professor*
    • Researcher
    • Social psychologist*
    • Technology designer

    *A doctoral degree is usually required for this job title.

    Salary and Job Outlook

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median salary of $80,370 for psychologists in 2019.5 Those classified as “other psychologists” earned a median salary of $101,790 in the same year.5 Psychologists working in government earned the highest median pay (averaging $96,870 per year) followed by those working in hospitals ($88,480 per year), ambulatory healthcare services ($82,250 per year), and in school settings ($76,960 per year).5 The job outlook for psychologists is positive as well, with 14% job growth expected through 2028 overall, and 12% growth expected during the same timeframe for “other psychologists.”5 This growth expectation is much higher than the projected national average for all occupations (5%) over the same time period.5

    Additional Resources

    • Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP): The SPSP is the APA’s division of personality and social psychology (Division 8), which seeks to advance the field and promote scientific research exploring how people think, feel, and interact as a result of their environments.
    • World Association for Personality Psychology (WAPP): The WAPP is an organization whose mission is to advance theoretical personality psychology worldwide, organizing scientific meetings and publishing a journal dedicated to the subject.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How long does it take to get a degree in social psychology?

    The length of time it will take you to get a social psychology degree largely depends on the type of degree you are seeking. With full-time study, a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years, a master’s degree typically takes one to two years, and a doctoral degree typically takes four to seven years (typically with a master’s degree included).

    What kind of degree do I need to practice social psychology?

    Most people in the field of social psychology pursue a PhD in social psychology, as this is considered the terminal degree for the field. A doctoral degree is usually required to teach or conduct research at the university level, though some businesses may only require a master’s degree for those seeking to work in a marketing or strategic role. All 50 states require a doctoral degree for licensure as a clinical psychologist, so prospective clinicians who wish to provide psychological services to clients will need to pursue doctoral study.

    Can I get a master’s degree in social psychology?

    While some schools offer master’s programs in social psychology, most offer PhD programs. Most people who are interested in social psychology will pursue a doctoral degree in the subject, and not only will many jobs in the field will require it, but it is required for prospective licensed clinical psychologists. A master’s degree will prepare graduates for research assistant positions and other supportive roles in the field and may also be a good first step for those who are not sure whether or not they want to commit to a doctoral program.

    What kind of jobs can you get with a social psychology degree?

    Graduates of master’s in social psychology degree programs may be able to find jobs as consultants, marketing managers, postsecondary teachers, or research specialists. Social psychology doctoral degree holders can add clinical psychologist and full-time professor to their list of job possibilities.

    1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
    2. US News & World Report Best Social Psychology Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/social-psychology-psychology-rankings
    3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
    4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
    5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5