Organizational Psychology Degrees: What You'll Study

Here are some examples of the coursework you'll study when you decide to pursue an organizational psychology degree.

What degree levels are available?

women studying industrial-organizational psychology

First, you'll pursue a four-year bachelor's degree in psychology or another field. Most students who want to work in the I-O psychology field earn their bachelors in general psychology and then a master's (the basic degree needed to enter the field) or doctorate. Some students enter a joint bachelors/master's degree program or find courses in the business school that relate to industrial and organizational, and human resources specialties.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Undergraduate preparation for an industrial-organizational psychology graduate program can take one of two forms. Ideally, you'll want to look for a program that offers focused BA or BS degrees in Industrial Organizational Psychology, but such programs are few and far between. More often, you'll find psychology programs that offer an emphasis or concentration in industrial psychology or organizational management.

To showcase typical courses you’ll take to earn a bachelor's degree, below is a partial outline of courses in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Online Degree Program at Southern New Hampshire University. The program is a specialization within SNHU's Bachelor of Business Studies.

Examples of Major Courses

  •  Introduction to Psychology: This course is an introduction to various areas of psychology, including scientific investigation, motivation, personality, intelligence, behavioral deviation, perception, learning and human development.
  • Research Methods: Students in this course will develop an understanding a variety of research methods, including experimental, survey, co-relational and case-history techniques
  • Social Psychology: Social psychology is an interesting, dynamic study of how people's thoughts, feelings and actions are affected by others. Issues discussed include prejudice, conformity, interpersonal attraction and violence. The scientific methods of studying such phenomena are emphasized.
  • Industrial Organizational Psychology: Introduction to Industrial-Organizational Psychology, an applied field in psychology focused to improve the effectiveness of the workplace through research, assessment and interventions allowing for enhancement of the office climate, improvement of group and individual performance and overall organizational goals.
  • Cognitive Psychology: Applied topics will include learning skills to help improve memory, accommodating memory/language disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and dyslexia, and understanding how brain scanning techniques can be used to understand memory.
  • Assessment and Testing: Students in this course will become aware of the use and abuse of psychometric techniques. Specific techniques that currently are used will be introduced and understood.

Master's Degree Programs

The next step for most psychology students interested in an I-O career is an industrial-organizational psychology graduate program. Master's degrees in industrial-organizational psychology have become increasingly common over the past twenty-five years.

A Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in I-O psychology is a necessary first step to pursuing a doctorate in the field; however, a master's degree may also be an end in itself. Career opportunities for master's degree holders are often available in the business world rather than in academia, which usually demands a doctoral degree.

During your pursuit of a master's in industrial-organizational psychology, you can expect to study the following subjects:

  • Research methods and data analysis
  • Employee selection and placement
  • Performance evaluation and feedback
  • Theory and design of training programs
  • Work motivation and attitudes
  • Small group theory
  • Organizational theory and development
  • Human factors
  • Engineering psychology
  • Consumer psychology
  • Career development/personnel psychology
  • Labor relations
  • Compensation and benefits

In an industrial-organizational psychology master's program, you can expect to pursue most of your study through formal coursework in a classroom environment, unless you are enrolled in a distance learning program. Online programs require quite a lot of independent reading and study, demanding a high degree of self-discipline. Both in-person and online degrees may include supervised experience or training such as an internship or practicum; and most master's programs require a written thesis as well.

Doctoral Programs

Becoming an industrial-organizational psychologist can also be achieved through a PhD program, which generally takes four to five years to complete. Psychologists who earn a PhD will find that they command a higher income and have superior employment opportunities in this competitive field. In particular, doctoral degrees are handy if you plan to work in the academic world.

Doctoral degrees in industrial-organizational psychology delve into quite a bit more depth than master's degrees, but the exact requirements may vary depending on what type of degree you choose to pursue. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program generally places more emphasis on research and completion of a dissertation, while a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program is a professional degree that focuses more on applied clinical practice.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology PhD

For aspiring I-O psychologists with an interest in teaching at a college or university, or who plan to work in health or medical settings such as hospitals or medical schools, a doctoral degree can grant you a wider range of job opportunities. A Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, is the most common doctoral degree in psychology, comprising 75 percent of doctorates awarded. Considered a "research degree," a PhD will allow you to explore I-O psychology in more depth than a master's degree, and usually requires a final dissertation based on original research.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology PsyD

More and more industrial-organizational psychology graduate programs are awarding Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD, degrees. These are professional psychology degrees that prepare graduates for work in a more applied or focused setting, such as government or private industry. Like a PhD, a PsyD usually takes about 5 years of full-time study. However, instead of a dissertation, a PsyD may require practical work experience and examinations, emphasizing applied training over research. Like PhD programs, some PsyD programs also require supervised experience or internships.

What certification will I need to practice organizational psychology?

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Certification

Although certification is not required upon completion of an industrial-organizational psychology graduate program, some I-O psychologists seek out voluntary certification from the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP) in order to demonstrate competence in the field. Many I-O psychologists also choose to join the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology—membership in professional organizations can help show your commitment to career excellence.

Becoming a Licensed Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

The purpose of licensing in industrial-organizational psychology is to create standards for the professional in the field. Licensing requirements for I-O psychologists vary by state however. According to SIOP's policy on licensure, it is recognized that some states require that certain areas of I-O practice be licensed, however it is still under consideration as to whether I-O practitioners are also psychologists, which would require licensure in the state in which they practice.

If you are unsure whether you need to become licensed in your state, you should contact your state regulatory board or state psychology association.

What will I learn from my courses?

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) recommends the following standards for cultural competence in I-O psychology practice:

  • Ethics and values
  • Promote ethical organizations
  • Cognition and motivation
  • Decision making
  • Guiding one’s own professional behavior
  • Develop and implement organizational policies
  • Applying methods of psychology to business
  • Talent management
  • Assessment selection
  • Work-life balance
  • Leadership

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, an I-O psychology major can take the following time to complete:

  • The bachelor's program is a 4-year general psychology degree
  • Master's degree programs generally require two years
  • Doctorate programs generally take between four and five years
  • Internships are available and a typical term is six to nine months

Are online programs available?

Yes! Online programs for industrial-organizational psychologists are available for certain types of coursework and degrees, and are usually for master's-level programs. These courses are non-clinical and generally designed to prepare you to advance into human resources management and organizational leadership roles in the field.

Often, programs are interdisciplinary and combine psychology, behavioral sciences and business. Online degree programs should be accredited, and in the case of industrial-organizational psychology, accreditation will come from one of the regional accrediting agencies in the U.S.

How much will my education cost?

A master's is the required degree-level needed to practice I-O psychology. As one example, Capella University's Master of Science in Psychology, Industrial/Organizational specialization program consists of 55 quarter credits costing $443 per credit. This amounts to $24,365 for the program.

Of course, this is just one school. In your research, you'll find some schools will offer a master's degree for less (or more). The same rule applies to undergraduate degrees. To get a rough idea of what you can expect, College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2013-2014 shows the average annual cost* for a four-year, public institution amounts to $8,893 for in-state tuition and $22,203 for out-of-state-tuition.

Earning a bachelor's degree at a private school can cost significantly more. 

A master's degree program tuition totals $7,750 per year for an in-state student at a public school.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees, books, room and board.

Are there prerequisites?

Undergraduate: A strong college preparatory high school education is a good start for your industrial-organizational psychology degree program. Courses in sociology, statistics, political science, science, math, research methods, business and psychology are important for prospective I-O psychologists.

Graduate: A completed, four-year bachelor's degree in psychology, education or another field will prepare you for graduate school. Any electives you've taken in psychology and/or education will be valuable in your graduate work.

GRE: Check with the institution and program you plan to apply to, to find out whether the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not required for admission. If it’s not, but you've taken the test and have good scores, you may submit them for review with your admission materials.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation shows that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency, and that it is committed not only to meet those standards but to continuously seek ways in which to improve the quality of education and training provided.

Since accreditation is primarily an issue for health care practitioners, the American Psychological Association (APA) does not accredit graduate programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology as they do not consider the client of an I-O psychologist a person, but an organization.

However, institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western). You will want to be certain your school is accredited by one of these regional associations.

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program.

<Back to Organizational Psychology Salary   Next: Common Questions>