Psychology is a rapidly-growing field, with many job opportunities available. This field is expected to grow by about 3% from 2019 to 2029, according to the BLS — which is right on par with the average growth rate for all fields. The average salary in this field is well above the national average, with a median annual wage for psychologists of $82,180 as of May 2020.
And, not only are there career opportunities abound in this field, but psychology can also be interesting for the right candidate — especially those who enjoy studying human behavior and the mind. That said, most psychology jobs require an advanced degree, so if you want to pursue a career in psychology, you should consider getting a master’s degree in psychology.
If you’re interested in a master’s degree in psychology, the best place to start is by checking into the best master’s in psychology online programs. These types of degree programs allow you to pursue a graduate degree while still having the flexibility to take care of your other responsibilities.
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
The 25 Best Online Master’s Programs in Psychology of 2021
Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools
|Academic Quality||Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates||25%|
|Affordability||Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid||35%|
|Reputation||Admission and enrollment rates||15%|
|Program Offerings||Number of program options||10%|
|Online Enrollment Score||Portion of learners taking at least one online course||15%|
What is psychology?
The field of psychology deals with cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior. Psychologists observe, analyze, diagnose, and treat issues pertaining to psychological disorders
Do I need a bachelor’s in psychology to get a master’s in psychology?
Applicants to master’s programs must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Master’s programs in psychology may accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field as long as they complete certain prerequisites.
How long does it take to earn a master’s in psychology?
Master’s programs in psychology typically require 36-60 credits, which most students complete in 1-2 years.
What is the difference between counseling and psychology?
Counselors guide clients through life’s challenges, while psychologists focus on cognitive and behavioral issues.
To be accepted to a master’s in psychology programs, you must have completed an undergraduate degree, preferably in psychology or another human services field related to psychology. Many schools will also require that you also have some work experience in the field, though these types of requirements will depend on the program. And, most programs will often require a minimum GPA, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement to apply.
Master’s programs in psychology typically require you to complete between 36 to 60 credits and will take between one and two years to complete on average, though some online programs offer accelerated course schedules that allow you to graduate sooner. You must also typically maintain a satisfactory GPA while completing coursework, and most master’s programs will require an internship, capstone project, or thesis as well.
Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy
There are many job opportunities available to someone with a master’s degree in psychology. Popular jobs include:
- Clinical Psychology
- A clinical psychologist works to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and more. They often work one-on-one with patients in a clinic or hospital setting.
- School Psychologist
- School psychologists work in a school setting to ensure the mental health and wellness of students. They work closely with students struggling with mental health disorders and help students succeed mentally, emotionally, socially, and academically.
- Forensic Psychologist
- A forensic psychologist works with law enforcement agencies to study criminal behavior, assess the competency of defendants, determine criminal motives, testify in court, and complete other related legal system tasks.
- Marriage and Family Therapist
- Marriage and family therapists work with both families and individuals on issues that need support from a professional. These types of therapists help treat mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, while also helping families through times of turmoil, and serving as a couples counselor.
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Substance abuse counselors clients through the recovery process. These types of counselors typically work in drug treatment centers or outpatient clinics and focus on clients who are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse and addiction to help create treatment plans and work with.
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
- In this career track, psychologists work with companies and organizations on things like workplace mental health, wellness, and productivity. These professionals could either be an employee within the company or a contractor that the company hires.
Job Outlook & Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median annual salary of $82,180 in 2020. The BLS projects employment in the field to increase 3% from 2019 to 2029, which is about average for all fields.
Individual salary potential will vary, of course, based on your location, education level, and experience. According to data from PayScale, psychologists with 1-4 years of experience earn an average annual salary of $72,000, while psychologists with 10-19 years of experience earn an average salary of $91,000 per year.
Factors such as cost of living can also impact earning potential. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for psychologists include California, Alaska, Illinois, Virginia, and Colorado.
A professional’s position also affects salary potential and career growth. An online master’s degree in psychology can lead to jobs as industrial-organizational psychologists, supervised clinical psychologists, engineering psychologists, forensic psychologists, and school psychologists. Additional education typically increases an individual’s job opportunities and earning potential.
|Bottom 10%||Median Annual Salary||Top 10%|
|Less than $6,270||$82,180||More than $137,590|
Online Psychology Program Accreditation
Accreditation demonstrates that institutions and programs meet set standards of quality. To obtain accreditation, schools undergo regular evaluation by a third-party agency. In the United States, institutions can receive regional or national accreditation.
Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious and requires schools to meet more rigorous standards than national accreditation. Six agencies in the U.S. award regional accreditation to institutions in specific geographic areas. National accreditation typically applies to vocational, technical, or for-profit schools. Regionally accredited institutions rarely accept credits or degrees earned from nationally accredited schools.
Learners can also look for field-specific accreditation, which generally applies to individual programs or departments. Psychology programs can receive accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Association of School Psychologists, and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System.
Additionally, agencies such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission evaluate online programs. Each of these organizations maintains a list of accredited programs and schools, which can help prospective students locate an accredited online master’s in psychology program.
Psychology Certifications and Licensure
Most states require candidates for a psychology license to hold a doctoral degree in psychology, pass a licensing exam, and complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours. However, you should research your state’s specific requirements while researching psychology master’s programs online to ensure that you’re able to meet the parameters for licensing.
For example, candidates in some states must hold a doctoral degree from a program with accreditation from a specific agency, such as the APA.
Candidates for licensure must typically complete supervised practice hours during graduate school, and some states also require postgraduate supervised practice. All states require candidates to pass the examination for professional practice in psychology.
Psychology students or professionals who are considering relocating should become familiar with the licensure requirements in the new state. Licensed psychologists can typically transfer their credentials between states, as long as they have fulfilled the destination state’s requirements.
The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes 13 areas of specialization and provides board certification in these specialties. These include:
The field of clinical neuropsychology studies the relationship between the brain and behavior, particularly as it relates to brain injuries and disorders. Neuropsychologists assess cognitive and behavioral functioning, diagnose brain conditions, and treat symptoms.
This branch of psychology focuses on maladaptive patterns of emotion and behavior. Professionals in this area help patients achieve optimal functioning and healing.
Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology
Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology apply principles of development and an understanding of cognitive processing. These psychologists address problematic behaviors and emotional thinking.
Forensic Psychology apply psychological expertise to work in the judicial and legal systems. Forensic psychologists serve as expert witnesses in court, present diagnoses and profiles to law enforcement professionals, and provide psychological services to individuals in justice-related fields.
Counseling Psychology help patients and clients manage emotional and mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of distress.
Students pursuing an online master’s in psychology can apply for psychology scholarships to defray costs associated with tuition, room and board, textbooks, and travel to conferences. Many scholarships support students from particular backgrounds, learners who are studying specific subfields, or members of a certain organization. Master’s students in the field can also apply for grants and fellowships.
Who Can Apply: Full-time or part-time students who are part of a minority group can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must be enrolled in an approved school psychology program and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Deadline: September 1
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports graduate students in fields that address the needs of children. Candidates must reside in a state with a Junior Auxiliary chapter.
Deadline: February 1
Who Can Apply: These awards support graduate-level psychology students. Master’s students must intend to enroll in a doctoral program.
Deadline: June 30
Who Can Apply: Graduate students and licensed psychologists who are pursuing training in psychopharmacology can apply for these awards.
Deadline: February 1
Who Can Apply:Psychology students who are earning a master’s degree in psychology and seeking to work within the field of marriage and family therapy.
A master’s degree in psychology is an excellent stepping stone for anyone hoping to work as a psychologist. That said, there are also similar degree options that might be a better fit for someone pursuing a related field.
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
- Social work is a field similar to psychology in that both work to promote mental health and wellness. However, social workers specialize in finding solutions to a broader spectrum of problems. They not only help to promote mental health, but also physical, social, and economic well-being.
- Master of Education (M.Ed.)
- If you are interested in working with children and are considering becoming a school psychologist, you might consider earning a master’s degree in education instead. Such a degree qualifies you to teach as well as work in school psychology or special education. M.Ed. degree holders can work directly with students or more broadly on education policy.
- Master’s in Counseling
- A master’s degree in counseling is another path that would allow you to work as licensed counselors with individuals and families or schools. There are a variety of paths you can take, many of which look similar to the paths available as a psychology.
Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.
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