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Start your career in psychology with an associate degree
Earning an associate degree in psychology can be a gateway to beginning your career in the field. While most psychology roles require advanced degrees, there are still entry-level positions that are often open to those who have their associate’s degrees.
For example, this 2-year psychology degree can prepare you for roles such as that of a psychiatric technician, correctional officer, home care aide, and assistant to human services or social workers. What’s more, this degree can be a starting point to further education, ultimately saving you both time and money.
How do you pursue this degree and what can do once you graduate? Use the guide below to learn more about a psychology associate’s and the various career paths it can lead toward.
Overview of an associate’s in psychology
At a glance
Associate of Arts or Associate of Science
Online, classroom, and hybrid
Usually 2 years
Minimum of 60
High School or GED
Yes, for accredited programs
What is an associate degree in psychology?
An associate-level psychology degree is an entry-level program that is typically two years long and prepares students for a variety of careers in the field of psychology. These programs teach students the fundamentals of psychology encompassing topics such as theories on psychological development, social interaction, and the principles of human behavior.
Through an associate degree program, students gain surface-level knowledge on the history of psychological testing and how to evaluate and create treatment plans for those dealing with issues such as family problems, substance abuse, stress, depression, and much more. With the goal of building a solid foundation for higher degrees in psychology, where you’ll also focus on conducting research to advance the understanding of human behavior in the field.
Are AA and AS degrees in psychology different?
In most cases, an AS and AA degree in psychology will have little to no difference between them. Their titles most frequently come down to the division of the school in which the program best fits and the general education classes you’ll take.
At most schools, fields considered to be social science—for example, psychology, sociology, and history—fall under the Associate of Arts (AA) degree and prepare students for positions such as teaching. However, you may also find programs that offer a psychology degree as an Associate of Science (AS), which tend to be more math and science focused to better prepare students for jobs in fields like healthcare and more technical fields.
How much can you make with an associate in psychology?
Earnings vary depending on factors such as the career path you take, the industry you find yourself in, and your geographical location. But most salary reporting outlets list the pay in the $35,000 to $50,000 range, for positions attainable with this degree. Naturally, the pay increases with further education and gained experience in the field.
Who are psychology associate degrees intended for?
By providing a strong education in the fundamentals of psychology, the associate degree is typically best suited for students for those who wish to the work the most entry-level roles in psychology. As well as those who wish to pursue careers in adjacent fields, such as human services or social work, but cannot commit to a four-year degree in psychology for the time being.
Thus they are a great stepping stone for students who plan to eventually transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a higher-level degree, or at least have the option to do so at their convenience. Additionally, a psychology associate’s can also be used by some students as a general education requirement to enter into other healthcare-related fields such as nursing or occupational therapy.
Is an associate degree program in psychology for you?
Those with a desire to help others overcome personal and professional challenges may find themselves drawn to a psychology degree. But you must first evaluate whether this is truly the path for you, what is your end goal, and what you plan to do with this degree. Start by weighing some of the following pros and cons.
Weighing the pros and cons
Provides a strong foundation in psychology
Most associate degree programs in psychology can give students a solid grounding in the field and provide a foundation for further study.
Covering the basics of the field, including fundamental theories and concepts, research methods, and a preliminary introduction to various psychology subfields.
Does not provide students with the same level of depth, specialized knowledge, and training as a bachelor’s or graduate program in the field.
Faster entry into the workforce
With the ability to finish a psychology degree twice as fast as peers who opt for a four-year degree, you’ll be able to start hunting for industry jobs sooner and gain firsthand professional experience.
Provides valuable work experience and may lead to career advancement opportunities.
Entry-level jobs in these fields may not be as high-paying or prestigious as jobs requiring a higher level of education.
Save money on tuition
Completing a two-year associate degree in psychology is significantly less expensive than pursuing a bachelor’s degree level or higher. Plus there is the ability to transfer courses toward a higher degree.
Fewer classes and lower tuition make it more accessible for some students.
The more expensive, higher-level degrees have higher earning potential.
Choosing a degree program that’s right for you
When researching programs, be sure to consider what aspects are the most important to you. These might include cost, admission requirements, curriculum, and flexibility.
Ask yourself questions such as:
It’s also important to remember that the school you choose should be accredited. This makes certain that the program meets quality standards and can properly prepare. You can check accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education database.
Additionally, becoming a member of a professional organization can provide great opportunities to network, gain new education, and learn more about the field. Some prominent groups for those with associate’s degrees include:
Earning your associate degree in psychology
Academic requirements for this degree
Minimum education level:
High school diploma or GED.
Most community colleges don’t require a certain GPA for admission.
Personal statement of intent.
High school transcripts.
Some schools may require SAT/ACT.
Letters of recommendation:
Most programs do not have such a requirement.
Note: Community colleges typically have open enrollment, but some may require a certain score on the SAT or ACT. Even if your college doesn’t, it’s likely that you’ll still need to take a placement test, but if you’ve taken the SAT/ACT those scores may be used instead. Lastly, some schools may ask for immunization records.
What it takes to complete this degree
Number of required credits:
Schools generally require around 60 credits to earn an associate’s degree. Some students, especially those who won’t be attending on a full-time basis, may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis.
Typical length of program:
Psychology associate degrees typically take 2 years to complete. Your availability to take classes and whether you’re enrolled part-time or full-time may impact the length.
Culminating experience project or paper:
Depends on the school and specific program. Some may require this as part of the graduation requirements, while others may not. Check with the school or program directly.
Internships / Practicums:
Internships aren’t required to earn an associate’s degree in psychology, however, they may be beneficial to advancing your career. They could also help you gain entry into a program to earn an advanced degree.
Core concepts you’ll study in AA & AS degrees
The associate’s in psychology curriculum you can expect will vary depending on your program, however, core concepts are outlined in more detail below. Expect to take introductory courses that cover topics such as the ones outlined below. You’ll likely also be required to take additional classes such as English, public speaking, history, philosophy, and math.
✍ Introduction to psychology
Meant to teach you the basic concepts and theories of psychology, including its history, common research methods, the brain and human behavior. As well as expose you to the various subfields in psychology and how they are applied in different settings.
✍ Developmental psychology
Focuses on the psychological development of individuals throughout their lifespan. This includes theories on how nature and nurture impact physical, cognitive, and social development.
✍ Social psychology
This course explores the ways in which individuals interact with each other and how social influences shape behavior and attitudes. You’re meant to learn about the various theories of social psychology and the methods used by the profession to study social behavior.
✍ Abnormal psychology
This course teaches the different types of mental disorders and the ways in which they are studied, diagnosed, and treated.
✍ Psychology of personality
Explores the way in which personality develops, how it’s organized, and the methods used to study personality. Students learn about different theories of personality, including trait, psychoanalytic, and humanistic perspectives.
Can you specialize in an area of interest?
You won’t specialize in a particular concentration with an associate’s degree in psychology. Programs may, however, offer elective courses in areas of interest within psychology, such as child development, forensic psychology, or abnormal psychology.
If you’d like to specialize and advance your career, you can pursue a higher degree, take additional classes, seek certification, or attend seminars dedicated to your chosen topic.
Educational formats available
With most schools, you’ll have the option of attending via the traditional classroom format, where you take all of the classes on campus. This offers a more traditional college experience and many schools offer courses at night and/or on the weekends for added flexibility.
You can also earn your associate’s degree in psychology online, which offers flexibility for students who are working or taking care of their children. The curriculum is usually the same as on-site courses, often self-paced, and typically leads to the same job opportunities upon graduation.
Hybrid programs, which blend a mix of online and on-campus courses, and accelerated programs are also available. Accelerated programs utilize the self-paced aspect to allow ambitious students to earn their associate’s in less time. Many states also have programs that allow high school juniors and seniors to attend community college classes, earn credits, and apply them to their associate’s degrees later.
Meeting state requirements
It’s important to keep in mind that requirements may vary depending on the state you live in and the specific school you are attending. The types of requirements to be on the lookout for are licensure, accreditation, curriculum requirements, and state-specific exams.
Start by reading through our guide to licensing requirements for psychologists, counselors, and social workers, and explore licensure requirements in each state.
What can you do with an associate’s in psychology?
Though psychology career options are somewhat limited with a two-year degree, there are a handful of job opportunities to consider. Some associates in psychology jobs include:
Addiction rehabilitation assistant
These professionals work closely with individuals who are struggling with addiction, with the aim of helping them overcome their vices and reclaim their lives.
According to the BLS the median annual salary for substance abuse counselors, the occupation this profession falls under is $49,710.
Many employers require addiction rehabilitation assistants to hold certification in an area of addiction treatment. Ongoing training is usually a requirement as well.
Correctional officer or bailiff
Correctional officers work directly with prison inmates and have responsibilities that include supervising activities, overseeing rehab efforts, and providing counseling. They might also make recommendations for changes to facilities or activities that may impact the psychological health of the inmates.
Though each state and agency has its own requirements, correctional officers typically attend a training academy and also undergo on-the-job training.
Home care aide
Home health and personal care aides assist clients who have disabilities, chronic illnesses, or mental impairment. In the patient’s own home, they help with daily activities such as eating, getting dressed, taking care of household duties, and delivering medication. Job opportunities for the position are rapidly growing, as the BLS projects an employment increase of 21.7% percent through 2032.
Though the career can be incredibly rewarding, you shouldn’t expect to earn much as a home health aide. The BLS reports a median annual salary of $30,180.
Requirements typically involve some sort of on-the-job training.
Human service or social work assistant
While an associate’s degree doesn’t let you serve on your own as a social or human services worker, it’s possible to find a role as an assistant. In this position, you might help organize cases, coordinate service plans, interview clients, file reports, and help others understand the resources that are available to them.
The BLS reported the median salary for these assistants to be $38,520 per year.
On-the-job training is usually required.
Like home health aides, psychiatric aides help patients with mental or developmental disabilities with their daily duties but do so in a healthcare setting such as a psychiatric hospital or mental health facility.
Expect to undergo short-term on-the-job training.
Psychiatric technicians work in the same settings as psychiatric aides but instead of helping with daily duties, they provide therapeutic treatment and monitor their patients’ conditions.
The BLS lists the median annual salary for a psychiatric technician as $37,380.
While psychiatric technicians will also undergo some sort of on-the-job training, they typically also need to gain certification through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians. There are various certification levels depending on your education.
Going beyond an associate level in psychology
Though you can get your start in the psychology field with an associate’s degree, most professionals eventually pursue advanced education. Higher degrees, particularly doctorates, can prepare you for roles such as clinical, educational, and forensic psychologists. You could also go on to become a psychology professor or researcher.
Related associate-level degrees
Though they may have similarities, an associate’s in psychology is different from degrees in fields such as social work, human services, and other related areas. Each field has its own distinct focus and methodology.
For instance, students in social work will study how to identify the programs and services that individuals need, while a psychology degree teaches you to act as one of those specific services.
🎓 Associate in human services
A human services associate degree focuses on the study of human development, needs and behavior, and the provision of social services. Prepares students for the field of human services and can lead to careers in social work, case management, and community outreach.
🎓 Associate in social work
The associate in social work degree program focuses on the study of social work practices and principles and provides students with the skills and knowledge needed to work with individuals, families, and their communities. It can lead to similar career paths as an associate in human services.
🎓 Associate in counseling
An associate degree in counseling focuses on the study of counseling theories, techniques, and practices. It can lead to careers in counseling, community outreach, and rehabilitation assisting.
Degrees above the associate’s in psychology
This four-year degree is often the first step toward a more in-depth understanding of the field. With a bachelor’s degree, students can acquire a broad base of knowledge in psychology and are able to pursue a wider range of careers. Some popular jobs this degree can lead to include research assistant, case manager, and human resource representative.
Can I apply associate degree credits toward a bachelor’s degree?
Usually, yes. If you hold an associate’s degree in psychology, many programs will allow you to transfer those credits over to earning your bachelor’s. This could mean completing your bachelor’s degree in psychology in as little as 1.5–2 years. However, there may be a time limit on how long you can wait to begin a bachelor’s degree program and still get credit for your associate’s classes.
A master’s in psychology offers the ability to specialize in a specific area of psychology. Students are meant to acquire a more advanced understanding of the field and are able to pursue a more specialized career path, such as a clinical therapist, school counselor, and research analyst.
These are post-bachelors level programs that offer specialized training in a specific area of psychology, such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or neuropsychology. Thus, they are typically shorter in duration and focus on teaching advanced training in a specific area, rather than a broad-based understanding of the field.
The most popular of which are EdS in School Psychology and PsyS in School Psychology degrees. Some schools offer the option to combine such specialist degrees and certifications with a master’s degree.
Doctoral levels such as a PhD in psychology and PsyD in psychology take on average five to seven years to complete. Students who pursue a doctoral degree are looking to attain the most in-depth level of understanding and are able to pursue the most advanced and specialized career opportunities, as well as the highest salaries.
Related: PhD vs. PsyD in Psychology: What’s the Difference?
Ready to get started?
Earning an associate degree in psychology is a great first step in pursuing a career in this exciting field. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to switch or advance your career, you can use our find schools widget to research the programs that are available in your area and choose the one that best fits your needs. Take the first step towards a potentially fulfilling and rewarding career in psychology by earning your associate degree.
Updated on: January 12, 2023