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.
- There are 38 not-for-profit colleges and universities with social psychology programs.1
- 2 schools offer a certificate in social psychology.1
- 2 schools offer an associate 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
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 letters of recommendation and a strong application. GRE scores may be optional.
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 in social psychology programs includes:
- Conflict and Psychological Control
- Developmental Social Cognition
- Interpersonal Influence and Social Power
- Political Psychology
- Psychology of Justice
- Research Methods in Social Psychology
- 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 2022
- University of Califonia-Berkeley (#1 tie)
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#1 tie)
- University of California-Los Angeles (#3)
- Princeton University (#4 tie)
- Stanford University (#4 tie)
- Harvard University (#6)
- Ohio State University (#7)
- Yale 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 (high 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.
|School||Graduate Degree(s)||US News Social Psych Rank2||US News National Rank3||Grad Rate1||% Tenured Faculty4||Net Price1|
|University of California-Irvine||PhD Social & Personality Psychology||NR||#33 tie||85%||57%||$13,944|
|Stony Brook University||PhD Social & Health Psychology||NR||#80 tie||72%||32%||$14,330|
|University at Buffalo||Adv. Certificate: Data Analysis for the Social Sciences;|
MA General Psychology: Social-Personality;
PhD Social-Personality Psychology
|Harvard University||PhD Social Psychology||#6 tie||#2||96%||45%||$17,030|
|University of Connecticut||PhD Social Psychology||NR||#63 tie||83%||39%||$18,699|
Select Social Psychology Degree Programs
Traditional Master’s Programs
The University at Buffalo’s (UB) 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 are prepared for jobs in research, mental health, management, and administration, or to 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 work closely with a mentor to complete a scholarly paper documented with research to answer an identified question. The UB program does not qualify graduates for independent practice.
Loyola University offers a terminal master’s program as well as a combined Master of Arts (MA) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Applied Social Psychology. Of over 70 applicants per year, only 20% are accepted; 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 to design and implement changes related to the welfare of individuals, groups, organizations, and society. Students will study the theory and principles of social psychology while simultaneously pursuing their specialized interests. The program trains graduates to be effective communicators, sharing through presentations, writing, and teaching. Loyola also offers a five-year degree program for a Bachelor of Science (BS)/MA in Applied Social Psychology. In this track, students will complete 120 credit hours by the end of their fourth year and finish their master’s degree in their fifth year. The PhD in Applied Social Psychology also includes the MA degree in its curriculum.
Traditional Doctoral Programs
Ohio State University (OSU) offers one of the top graduate social psychology programs in the nation as ranked by US News & World Report in their Best Graduate Schools in Social Psychology ranking. The doctoral 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 from inside the psychology department, such as cognitive or quantitative psychology, or outside the psychology department, such as political science. In the third year of study, students are formally admitted into the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program and spend the remainder of the year targeting independent objectives, with an additional one to two years spent completing a PhD dissertation. A one-year predoctoral internship may be required.
The University of Michigan’s (Michigan) Department of Psychology offers a Doctor of Philosophy (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 an 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 program graduates 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.
Students in the Doctor of Philosophy (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 (like the Law School, Business School, and the Medical School). A select number of 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 (optional for fall 2023 admission), and persuasive recommendations. It also emphasizes candidates’ statements of purpose in order to ensure the students have interests compatible with the department.
Online and Hybrid Programs
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 views and 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 Psychology of Gender. Students can access any class 24/7. While the Master of Science (MS) in Psychology degree does not offer a social psychology emphasis, it includes coursework that examines the area of social psychology,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 must also complete your state’s mandated number of supervised experience hours and pass a national exam, the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). In order to become a social psychologist, you will likely:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology, sociology, or a related field.
- Earn an accredited doctoral degree in psychology with a focus in social psychology.
- Complete the supervised clinical experience hours required by your state.
- Pass your state’s required exams, including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
- Apply for and receive a clinical psychology license from your state board.
- Begin practicing as a licensed social psychologist in your state.
- Complete your state’s continuing education requirements each year in order to maintain your license.
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 consultants, marketing directors, managers, or technology designers, usually in a business setting, or in the government or non-profit sectors.
With a social psychology degree, you can pursue a job with titles such as:
- Marketing director
- Personality psychologist*
- Political strategist
- 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 an average salary of $99,560 for “all other psychologists,” including social psychologists, in May 2022.5 5 Psychologists working in specialty hospitals earned the highest average pay ($117,940 per year), followed by those working in educational support services ($116,490 per year), scientific research ($115,750 per year), and individual and family services ($107,190 per year).5 The job outlook for psychologists is steady, with 2% job growth expected from 2020 to 2030 overall.6
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP): 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): 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 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 to work in marketing or strategic roles. All 50 states require a doctoral degree for licensure as a clinical psychologist, so prospective clinicians who wish to provide psychological services must 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 as many jobs in the field require it and a doctoral degree 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 Employment and Wages, Psychologists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm