Social Psychology Degree Guide

Though not a recognized specialty or proficiency 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 and are affected by each other and their environments. The terminal degree is a doctoral (PhD or PsyD) degree in social psychology, though some aspiring social psychologists focus on obtaining a master’s degree (MA or MS) in the field.

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. Requirements for admission include a bachelor’s degree, preferably a Bachelor of Science in psychology, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and minimum GRE scores, as well as letters of recommendation and a strong application. Master’s degrees in social psychology typically take around two years to complete and doctoral degrees take around four or five years, including an MA or MS. Sample coursework that students of social psychology may encounter 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

Profiles of Social Psychology Programs

While some schools offer master’s programs in social psychology, most offer PhD programs. Most who are interested in social psychology will pursue a doctoral degree in the subject, as that is considered the terminal degree, and many jobs in the field will require it.

Master’s Programs

Loyola University Chicago: Loyola University offers a Master of Art 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, so the enrollment is kept low. The program at Loyola 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. It trains graduates to be effective communicators, sharing through presentations, written word, and teaching. Eight faculty members instruct the 40 total students in the master’s and doctoral programs. All students are encouraged to conduct a research project under the guidance of a faculty member, and to collaborate with students and faculty from other departments as well as the psychology department. Loyola also offers a five-year degree program for a BS/MA in applied social psychology. In this track, students will complete 128 credit hours by the end of their fourth year, and may finish their master’s degree in a fifth year.

Doctoral Programs

Ohio State University: OSU in Columbus, Ohio, offers one of the top social psychology programs in the nation as it was ranked in third place by US News and World Report in 2017 for the “Best Grad Schools in Social Psychology.”1 The program focuses on theoretical foundational coursework and develops students’ skills in conceptual analysis of social behavior and social problems. All master’s 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 (i.e., political science). In the third year of study, students can be admitted into the PhD program, and spend the remainder of the year targeting independent objectives, and an additional one to two years completing a PhD dissertation.

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor: UM-Ann Arbor’s PhD program in social psychology tied for first place in the US News and World Report’s “Best Grad Schools in Social Psychology” ranking in 2013.1 UM offers 18 core faculty and 10 additional affiliated faculty to instruct the average of 30 graduate students enrolled in the program. UM offers several interdisciplinary training programs for social psychology students, including a Culture & Cognition Program; a Decision Program; an Evolution and Human Adaptation Program; an Organizational Studies Program; a Social Work and Psychology Program; and a Women’s Studies and Psychology Program. The social psychology program is research-heavy, and students will have the opportunity to work with researchers at Michigan’s top facilities. Most 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: Tied for sixth place, US News and World Report named Harvard’s social psychology doctoral program one of the “Best Grad Schools in Social Psychology” in its 2017 listing.1 Students in the PhD program at Harvard 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 (cognitive neuroscience), with other departments (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 most of its graduates to be 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 years and some even six. Harvard calls its program “quite selective,” and requires excellent grades, GRE scores, and recommendations. It also puts a good amount of emphasis on candidates’ Statements of Purpose, in order to ensure students have interests that are compatible with the department.

Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University: Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc., (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), 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 BA social psychology program examines social psychology from a broad lens, including how you look at yourself, understand yourself and others, and interact with society. SNHU’s BA in social psychology program will prepare graduates to work in businesses, community relations, marketing, and sales careers. Courses include Research: Statistics for Psychology, Psychology of Gender, Social Influence, and Sociology of the Family. Students can access any class 24/7.

Social Psychology 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, interactions, 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, and still others work in government or non-profit sectors.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

With a social psychology degree, you can get a job with one of the following titles:

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

*Requires a doctoral degree.

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. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years, a master’s degree typically takes two to three years, and a doctoral degree typically takes four or five years (usually 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 doctoral degree, 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.

Social Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

According to the American Psychological Association, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a salary of $85,830 for social psychologists in May 2011.2 General psychologists reported a median salary of $69,280 in May 2012, while those classified as “other psychologists” earned a median salary of $90,020 in the same year.3

The job outlook for general psychologists is positive as well, with a 12% growth expected through 2022, or a 10% growth expected for “other psychologists.”3,4 This growth expectation is on par with occupational growth as a whole over the same time period (projected at 11%).3

Additional Resources

  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology – 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 – The WAPP is an organization trying to advance theoretical personality psychology worldwide, organizing scientific meetings and publishing a journal dedicated to the subject.

1. US News and World Reports, Best Graduate Schools in SocialPsychology: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/social-psychology-psychology-rankings
2. American Psychological Association, Pursuing a Career in Social Psychology: https://www.apa.org/action/science/social/education-training.aspx
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5
4. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm