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Pursuing a degree in psychology
A deeper understanding of the human mind can be useful to just about any profession, which is just one reason why psychology degrees can be so valuable. A psych degree can open the door to a wide variety of careers in clinical and non-clinical settings, so it’s important to choose one that meets your personal and professional goals. By taking the time to research which program is best for you, you can set yourself up for the greatest chance of success no matter where your education takes you.
Explore the different levels of psychology education and their associated career paths.
Things to look for in a program
Besides finding schools that offer a degree suited to your career goals, there are other factors you will want to consider when choosing a psychology program:
- Accreditation: Is this program or school accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or another national or regional accrediting body?
- Learning format: Do you want to attend school in person, online, or in a hybrid learning format?
- Curriculum and philosophy: Does this program’s curriculum align with your professional interests and personal philosophy?
- Clinical experience: How much clinical or other off-site expertise is required to graduate, and will you be able to complete it?
- Length and cost: How much time and money are you willing to invest in your education?
Each school’s admission requirements are unique and depend greatly on what type of degree you are pursuing. Associate and bachelor’s degrees, for example, typically require you to have a high school diploma or equivalent to be admitted to their schools. Graduate degrees, on the other hand, usually require that you have already completed a postsecondary degree. Nearly all degree programs also require an application, personal statement, or essay and letter(s) of recommendation.
Types of psychology degrees
You can earn a psychology degree at every level of postsecondary schooling, from an associate to a doctoral degree. The degree (or degrees) you need depends on what type of job you eventually want to have. In general, clinical roles where you work directly with patients usually require you to have a master’s or doctoral degree. Non-clinical roles may only require you to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Online psychology degrees
Time to graduation: 2-4 years
Online degrees have become a hugely popular choice for people in recent years because of their ability to offer a level of flexibility that an in-person or hybrid program may not. Online degrees may allow students to work at their own pace and can be easier to juggle with other commitments such as a job or family.
That being said, some online degrees may still require you to complete an in-person practicum or capstone project to graduate. Check out your program’s requirements to find out if there is an in-person element to their online curriculum.
Masters of social work online
Take your career as a social worker to the next level with a master of social work (MSW) online. This degree is ideal for people who want to move up the career ladder or who want to pursue a social worker license in their state.
Online counseling degree
An online counseling degree can give you the foundational knowledge needed to counsel individuals struggling with substance abuse or other mental and behavioral health challenges.
Online degree in clinical psychology
Clinical psychologists work with patients to manage their mental health struggles and improve their well-being. If you eventually want to become a licensed clinical psychologist, you will need a traditional or an online doctoral degree in clinical psychology or a similar area in most states.
Online I/O psychology degrees
Industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists apply psychological methods to the workplace to increase employee happiness and productivity. With an online I/O psych degree in hand, you may be qualified for in-house jobs at corporations or as a consultant.
Associate psychology degrees
Time to graduation: About 2 years
Associate degrees in general psychology and similar subjects can be a cost-effective and efficient way to enter the workforce since they typically only last two years. These degrees are designed to prepare students for entry-level social work positions or to provide an educational foundation that will later be put towards a higher degree. You will need a high school diploma or equivalent to apply to associate degree programs.
Associate in human services
An associate degree in human services can be a great introduction to the field. It differs from a social work degree because human services encompass a greater breadth of resources available to people and communities in need.
Associate in social work
Social work can be considered a branch of human services, even though these two types of degrees have a lot of overlap. An associate degree in social work teaches students foundational knowledge in psychology and case management. You may be qualified for some entry-level social work assistant positions with this degree. If you eventually want to be a full-fledged social worker, you will probably need an advanced degree.
Associate in counseling psychology
If you want to see what counseling is all about but can’t quite commit to a master’s degree, then an associate degree in counseling psychology can be a great place to start. You will need at least a master’s degree later if you intend to eventually become a licensed counselor.
Bachelor’s psychology degrees
Time to graduation: 4 years, typically
Bachelor’s degrees in psychology have the dual advantage of providing you with a solid education that can lead to many jobs on its own or prepare you for graduate school. Although a bachelor’s degree in general psychology is a common option, there are similar degrees worthy of consideration that may be better suited to your particular career goals.
Bachelor’s in human services
A human services bachelor’s degree is comprised of many interconnected subjects like social work, psychology, healthcare, and community and public health. This broad program prepares students for a wide range of entry-level service positions or can be a springboard to graduate school for social work, counseling, and more.
Bachelor of social work (BSW)
A bachelor of social work is great for people who know they want to be a social worker. In fact, a BSW might even allow you to complete your master’s of social work (MSW) faster because of the social work courses and fieldwork you may have already completed in your BSW.
Master’s degree in psychology
Time to graduation: About 2 years
If you want to become a licensed psychologist or social worker, you will need at least a master’s degree in most states. While a bachelor’s degree typically provides students with a more well-rounded education, your master’s degree allows you to really take a deeper look at your psychological area of interest.
With a master’s degree, you may be qualified for more clinical positions working directly with clients. Every master’s degree culminates in some sort of practicum or thesis project, which usually requires working on-site for a certain number of hours with licensed mental health or social work professionals.
Master’s in counseling psychology
If you know you want to help people manage stressors and live their most fulfilling life, then a master’s in counseling psychology may be right for you. Counseling psychology tends to be more holistic than clinical psychology, and the clients you work with are usually more psychologically stable.
Master’s in rehabilitation psychology
Recovering from an injury or managing a disability can be tremendously taxing on one’s mental health—that’s where rehabilitation psychologists come in. Getting your master’s degree in rehabilitation psychology (also referred to as rehabilitation counseling) could be the next step in helping people with disabilities maintain mental wellness.
Master’s in forensic psychology
Forensic psychologists work with the criminal justice system and/or law enforcement to provide psychological consultations in a legal setting. This could mean evaluating defendants to determine whether they are mentally fit to stand trial, counseling inmates, working in child custody cases, and much more. A master’s degree in forensic psychology can prepare you for this exciting, growing branch of psychology.
Master’s in sports psychology
A master’s in sports psychology is a unique degree that teaches students how to counsel athletes and coaches to maintain their mental health and achieve peak physical performance. If you want to help others and are also a sports fan, this could be the perfect job for you.
Master’s in clinical psychology
Clinical psychologists, as opposed to counseling psychologists, typically treat patients with more serious psychological conditions such as major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your master’s degree in clinical psychology could be the first step to a fulfilling career in helping people most in need.
Master’s in human services
A master’s degree in human services may be necessary for advanced leadership roles in the human services industry. This degree prepares students with the knowledge and skills to create meaningful social change in a variety of work settings.
Master’s in I/O psychology
Organizational psychology—or industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology—is utilized to maintain mental wellness in the workplace and increase productivity. With a master’s in organizational psychology, you could be hired by one of the many companies that are looking to organizational psychologists to make their company a better place to work.
Master’s in child psychology
If you’re passionate about working with children, then this degree may be the best fit for you. A master’s degree in child psychology teaches you the unique psychological landscape of children and adolescents, and how to intervene early to prepare children for a happy and healthy adulthood.
Master of social work (MSW)
A master of social work (MSW) is the industry standard in many states to become a licensed social worker. This degree will prepare you to successfully pass state licensing exams, which will then allow you to have a broader scope of practice as a social worker.
Specialist-level psych degrees
Time to graduation: Typically 3 years of graduate-level study, and a 1-year internship
Specialist degrees are specialized graduate-level degrees that fall somewhere between a master’s and a doctorate degree. If you don’t already have a master’s degree, this degree takes about four years to complete. Which includes a mandatory internship aspect.
They’re usually designed for education professionals that wish to advance their knowledge and credentials with an EdS or PsyS credential, but perhaps don’t want to invest the time and money into a doctorate-level program.
EdS in school psychology
An EdS in school psychology is great for prospective school psychologists to advance their knowledge and hone their skills. An EdS degree can be a boost to your credentials and allow you to practice as a school psychologist without having to earn a doctorate degree such as an EdD.
Time to graduation: 4+ years
Most states require you to hold a doctorate degree in order to become a licensed psychologist. With a doctorate degree, you will be qualified for most clinical positions, or you may be more interested in pivoting to a research-focused or academic role. Choosing an ideal doctoral program requires lots of consideration since it can determine the trajectory of your career.
EdD in School Psychology
Some states require school psychologists—not to be confused with school counselors—to have a doctorate degree. An EdD in school psychology will make you highly qualified to work as a school psychologist, supporting students, faculty, and parents alike. An EdD degree has the added focus of applying psychological principles within school systems and could make you qualified for high leadership positions in a school or district.
Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
A PhD in general psychology may provide the most panoramic view of psychology and can be incredibly versatile because of its breadth of focus. As a PhD student, you will focus on researching new psychological methods and concepts.
PhD in Clinical Psychology
Clinical psychologists work with people with acute mental and behavioral challenges. A PhD in clinical psychology allows you to work at top of the field and research new psychological concepts. A clinical psychology degree can be applied to many different psychological specializations.
PhD in Counseling Psychology
Counseling psychologists typically work with people with less severe mental health challenges and instead help others achieve their potential for happiness and mental wellness. In a counseling psychology PhD program, you will focus more on research methods than in a PsyD program.
PhD in Forensic Psychology
A forensic psychologist works as a psychological consultant for the legal system. With a PhD in forensic psychology, you can practice at the top of the field or focus more on research and academia.
PhD in I/O Psychology
A PhD in organizational psychology could qualify you for the most prestigious jobs at companies seeking an organizational psychologist to improve their employees’ well-being. A PhD is also a good option for those who wish to focus their work on research more than application.
PhD in School Psychology
With a PhD in school psychology, you will be qualified to work as a school psychologist just about anywhere. Although similar to an EdD in school psychology, a PhD emphasizes scientific research and/or teaching experience as a way to generate knowledge in the field.
Doctorate in Human Services
A doctorate in human services allows you to hold both leadership and teaching roles in the field. A PhD will give you a deep understanding of human service organizations and their impact.
Doctorate in Social Work (DSW)
Although a master’s in social work is more common, a doctorate in social work can make you a stand-out candidate in a competitive field. You’ll learn advanced social work theories and concepts and may be more qualified to take on leadership positions in the field.
Doctor of Psychology
Like a PhD, a PsyD degree in general psychology can be a very versatile degree. You’ll likely learn more about the application of psychological principles than in a PhD program. This means that a PsyD could be better for someone who is interested in working with clients more than doing research.
PsyD in Clinical Psychology
If you want to work directly with clients struggling with acute mental and behavioral health challenges, a PsyD in clinical psychology may be right for you. A PsyD may prepare you to apply your education to a real practice slightly more than a PhD, which may focus more on research.
PsyD in Counseling Psychology
Although there is a lot of overlap, those with a doctorate degree in counseling psychology tend to work with patients with less severe psychological challenges than clinical psychologists. You get to help clients learn how to manage stressors in their life, increase fulfillment and overcome common struggles that affect many people over their lifetime.
PsyD in Forensic Psychology
Although many forensic psychologists have doctorate degrees in general, clinical, or counseling psychology, a PsyD in forensic psychology may prepare you most for that career path if you know you want to apply your psychological knowledge to the legal system.
PsyD in Organizational Psychology
Organizational psychology PsyD programs are designed to help you assess human behavior in order to help employers recruit and retain qualified workers, boost productivity, and improve the quality of life for their employees. A PsyD allows you to work at the top of your field.
PsyD in School Psychology
A PsyD in school psychology prepares students to be practicing school psychologists. You’ll learn how to help students manage their mental and behavioral health and emotional well-being. As a school psychologist, you’ll also work with faculty and parents to address the issues that affect the quality of education students receive and provide counseling when needed.
Is a degree in psychology right for you?
Any postsecondary degree can be a huge investment of your time and money, so it’s important to know whether it’s right for you. Getting a psychology degree, especially at the associate and baccalaureate level, doesn’t mean you have to be a psychologist—they can be useful for many different types of jobs. However, if you want to work directly with clients and make an impact on people’s lives, you will likely need a graduate-level psychology degree to do so.
Pros and cons of a psych degree
Because of their wide application to numerous professions, psychology degrees can be quite versatile. In addition, it’s an accessible degree because it’s offered at tons of colleges and universities.
Many people are motivated to pursue a psychology degree because you get to learn more about the human mind, and therefore learn more about yourself and others around you.
One of the biggest disadvantages of psychology degrees is that if you want to actually become a licensed psychologist or social worker, you will almost certainly need a master’s or doctoral-level degree, which can take years of additional schooling to complete.
Which type of psychology degree calls to you?
Work with patients that have acute mental and behavioral health issues to help them manage their conditions and live an independent life.
Counsel everyday people with mild to moderate mental health concerns to deal with stressors across their lifespan.
Apply your psychological knowledge to the legal system to assess and/or treat incarcerated individuals, victims, law enforcement personnel, and much more.
Discover how you can make an impact in your community by exploring the vast field of human services.
Help companies create better work environments and cultures to increase employee happiness and productivity as an industrial/organizational psychologist.
Counsels couples and families to help them nurture healthier relationships and a more harmonious family unit.
Provide support to a wide range of people with a variety of mental health concerns in the field of mental health counseling.
As a school psychologist, you’ll work closely with students that need extra mental health assistance as well as provide support to faculty and parents.
Work directly with people that need help getting their life on track, such as the elderly, poor, incarcerated, ill, and those with emotional or mental disorders.
Help people battling with substance abuse and addiction find sobriety, reclaim their lives, and achieve their potential.
Frequently Asked Questions
The degree (or degrees) that is best for you depend on your unique personal and professional goals. It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions to lead you to the right educational programs:
• What population of people do I want to work with?
• Do I want to work directly with clients or focus more on research and administration?
• What level of education do I need?
• If I need a doctorate degree, do I want to focus more on research or application?
Completing any academic degree takes time and commitment. The difficulty to complete a psychology degree depends on many factors such as your passion and commitment, academic strengths, and more. Graduate-level degrees can take years of study and research to finish, and require that you complete many hours of supervised client support to graduate.
Most likely, yes—most schools require students to take some math courses as a prerequisite to the psychology program and/or will have statistics courses as part of their psychology curriculum.
Psychology can be applied to nearly any field, making it an adaptable, multipurpose degree. Psychology majors go on to be successful in many different non-clinical careers, such as business, human resources, marketing and sales, research, teaching, human and social services, healthcare, and much, much more.
Since your degree may lead to numerous types of psychology jobs, it might be more useful to look at which type of psychologist earns the most money rather than the type of degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), industrial-organizational psychologists have the highest median annual wage at $105,310 when compared to clinical and counseling psychologists, school psychologists, and all other psychologists.
Whether a degree is worth it to you depends on how you use it. Since psychology can be applied to so many different professional fields, you can use it in almost any way you want. If you have an idea of how you want to use your psychology education, you should compare the cost of that education (which in some cases may entail multiple degrees) to your earning potential for the career you want.
Browse Psychology Degrees
Ready to find a psychology program? Browse through our repository of schools and request more information from each school directly.