Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology
Careers in psychology are designed to have a positive impact on people’s lives, addressing common problems like family issues, behavioral disorders, and substance abuse.
But while we might think about them less frequently, many psychology careers concern problems that arise in the workplace. With the average person spending roughly 90,000 hours at work over the course of their life, addressing these issues directly can be incredibly important. Organizational psychology aims to do just that.
Working within human resource departments, industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologists work to implement policies and procedures that ultimately improve the performance and well-being of both employees and the business. These roles often require earning a master’s degree, which can also be a stepping stone if you wish your doctorate.
If you’re interested in this growing field, read on to learn about the education needed that can set you on the path toward a career.
What Is a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology?
A master’s degree in I/O psych can specifically prepare you to work within a company and directly impact the practices that influence hiring, training, performance, productivity, safety, and health. While all psychology degrees put a focus on human health and behavior, I/O degrees specifically emphasize factors that affect employees and businesses, such as differing work and managerial styles, colleague conflict resolution, and consumer behavior.
What’s the difference between a MA and MS degree?
While both degrees can prepare you with the principles of theory, method, and practice, you’re likely to find differences across I/O programs. A Master of Arts (MA) may put more emphasis on the practical application of your studies, while a Master of Science (MS) might concentrate more heavily on research.
If you’re interested in roles that focus on recruitment, talent development, and company culture, an MA degree might be the one you want to choose. If you’re more interested in working to analyze overall business performance, conduct consumer research, and implement ways to better assess employee productivity, an MS might be the better fit.
Ultimately, the biggest differences in the degrees will come down to the educational institution you choose. Identify your career goals and choose a program that has the curriculum that aligns with your needs.
Who are organizational psychology graduate degrees intended for?
Master’s programs in I/O psych are designed for students who have already earned their bachelor’s in the same or a related field. These degrees are suited for individuals who are:
- Strong leaders
- Good communicators
- Proactive problem solvers
- Active contributors
Terminal vs. non-terminal degree programs
Terminal degree programs in organizational psychology indicate that you won’t be continuing your education, but rather seeking employment immediately after graduation. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t go back to school to further your education at a later date.
A non-terminal master’s degree is designed to carry you on to a doctorate program. Many who study organizational psych continue on to earn their PhD, PsyD, or DBA before seeking high-level employment.
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Master’s in Organizational Psychology
Is there a GPA requirement?
Most master’s programs for industrial-organizational psychology will have a GPA requirement. These vary depending on the school, but in general, you can expect to need at least a 3.0, with many schools requiring higher.
Can you get in if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology?
You can be considered for I/O psychology master’s program even if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology. In fact, many schools boast about their diverse student backgrounds. Since I/O psychologists work with both people and the functions of a business, having a background in areas such as social work, human services, administration, finance, business analytics, or project management could be extremely helpful.
Do you need to take the GRE?
While most programs do require students to have taken and received an acceptable score on the GRE, not all schools do. Some are willing to completely forgo the usual GRE requirements, while others will accept alternative exams, such as the General Management Admission Test (GMAT).
How Long Does It Take?
On average, master’s programs for organizational psych take about 2–3 years to complete.However, if you’re able to commit to a program full time, there are some that can be completed in as little as 18 months.
The Master’s in Organizational Psychology Curriculum
To make an informed decision on the school and program you choose, consider a variety of factors, from the overall cost of the program to the online options they offer. While sifting through the available information, it’s important to also inspect the program’s curriculum, especially if you have a specific career path in mind.
Curriculum can and will change from program to program, but expect to see specific core classes throughout most.
What core classes are involved?
- Understanding Behavioral Research: Addresses alternative research practices and the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches
- Group Dynamics: Dives into the social processes that occur in groups and how these interactions can impact individual behavior
- Research Methodology: Teaches the research methods that you’ll actively use throughout your education and into your career
- Work Motivation and Job Attitude: Instructs on motivation strategies that increase work productivity and methods for positively impacting work attitudes
- Recruitment, Placement and Selection: Discovers techniques and strategies for recruiting viable work candidates, selecting the appropriate candidate for the job, and placing that employee in the position that’s best suited for their skills
- Human Resource Management: Teaches the methods of management used in human resources and how they can impact an organization and the employees
- Managing Conflicts in Organizations: Builds theoretical and practical skills to help you manage disputes within an organization
Number of course credits
The number of course credits you will need to complete will vary based on the program. The minimum number required by some schools is 36, while others require closer to 56.
The number of credits required for graduation can impact the time you spend completing your program, and it can also impact what you pay for tuition. Cost-per-credit is a common way potential students evaluate overall tuition costs, particularly if they’re not planning on attending full time.
Given that I/O psychology is already a specific area of concentration within psychology, there aren’t many additional areas of concentration under the I/O branch. That said, there is an area that tends to need additional study, and that’s mediation or conflict resolution.
Many schools offer a certification in conflict resolution as a way to encourage students to become certified mediators and enhance their chance of employment. Earning this certification typically requires additional coursework in an effort to develop the technical skills necessary for mediation.
Is a Practicum Required?
Whether or not you’ll need to complete a practicum to graduate depends on the program you attend. Many schools do require their students to successfully complete at least 1 field experience in order to graduate, in an effort to provide students with a hands-on application of their skills and the chance to observe how working professionals perform their jobs.
Other schools offer thesis/non-thesis options. The thesis option doesn’t require a practicum, but does require additional credit hours, usually 6. The non-thesis option requires completion of at least 1 practicum.
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Organizational Psychology?
With the growing interest in online master’s degrees, schools are working to create a variety of online learning options, including online I/O psychology master’s programs.
If you’re considering going to school to advance, change, or begin your career, online options can be a great choice. Whether you work a full-time job, have a family to take care of, or live too far away from a campus location, an online industrial-organizational psychology graduate program can provide the flexibility that you need.
Many schools offer 100% online I/O psychology master’s degrees, and provide additional flexibility by allowing you to take classes at your convenience. Other programs may be mostly online but still require you to participate in a practicum or other fieldwork.
The flexibility of online programs doesn’t work for all learning styles. Some students prefer the structured and regimented style of a traditional program. With face-to-face learning and designated class times, classroom learning can provide the campus-oriented experience that motivates many students.
There are often additional fees associated with tuition costs for classroom-focused programs, such as housing, transportation, or textbook fees.
Some organizational psychology master’s degree programs do offer hybrid options that combine online and classroom learning styles. This is a perfect blend for students who prefer face-to-face interaction with professors, but don’t have the availability to go to campus full-time.
While accelerated programs for I/O psychology master programs do exist, they’re fairly uncommon and require more prerequisites than a standard master’s degree program.
Some schools offer a fast-track program that requires students to be currently completing their B.S. in Business Administration or Psychology. Once in their senior year, these students have the option of simultaneously taking advanced-level courses in I/O psychology to lessen the time it takes to earn their master’s.
Can I Apply Credits Toward a Doctorate?
By selecting a non-terminal master’s program and continuing on to earn your doctoral degree, you likely have the opportunity to apply higher-level master’s degree credits toward lower-level doctorate credits.
In order to transfer or apply these credits, you’ll need to make sure that the credits from your master’s degree are obtained from an accredited school.This ensures that your program meets the highest-quality standards set by regional, national, and professional organizations. You can verify accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Master’s/doctorate joint degree programs
For those who have the ultimate goal of earning their doctorate degree, a joint master’s/doctoral degree program could be the most practical option. These dual degree programs typically take 4 or 5 years to complete and save you time and money by combining core credits and allowing you to work on your degrees at the same time.
Careers with a Master’s in Organizational Psychology
HR departments are essential for managing employment practices and encouraging positive company cultures. They plan and coordinate activities, oversee training and development, manage compensation and benefits, and address issues that arise among staff.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an I/O psychologist working in a corporate managerial role can earn a median annual wage of $139,280.
While many organizational psychologists work within a corporation, not all businesses are large enough to provide long-term employment for these positions. That’s where consultants come into play. As an I/O psychologist in a consulting firm, you can work with a variety of corporations and utilize a variety of your skills.
The same BLS data reports I/O consultants in research and development services make a median annual salary of $120,000.
For those with a passion for teaching, you can take your own education in I/O psychology into the world of academia as a professor at a college or university. However, many of these teaching roles will require that you hold a doctoral degree.
According to the BLS, I/O psychologists working within colleges, universities, or professional schools earn a median annual wage of $110,070.
While many psychology careers require additional licensing or certification, the field of I/O is in a grey area. Because these roles don’t work within patients within medical settings, it’s long been perceived that they don’t have the ability to cause psychological damage and so licensing shouldn’t be required.
However, licensure varies from state to state, and some states require certain areas of I/O psychology to be licensed. If you’re considering a career in the field, check with your state’s licensing board for clarification on requirements.
Typical Degree & Career Paths
If you hold a bachelor’s degree and are looking to change from an administrative or managerial role to that of an organizational psychologist, you can apply for a master’s in I/O psychology. Even if your previous degree isn’t in psychology specifically, many programs accept those with business-focused concentrations.
Unlike many other branches of psychology, you don’t need a doctorate to practice I/O psych. Many employers only require applicants to hold a master’s, though a doctoral degree could make you more competitive in the field. If you wish to gain your legal license as a psychologist, however, you must have your doctorate.
Financial Aid for Students
Receiving any sort of free financial aid for the master’s degree level is more challenging to find than at the undergraduate level. Loans are the most common way students pay for their schooling. Your first step is to fill out for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much assistance the government thinks you’re qualified to receive. Private loans can also be found through banks and other institutions.
You may be able to secure a scholarship based on academic merit or other criteria. Some schools also offered reduced pricing for military members or veterans. Fellowships are also a great thing to consider. Given to highly qualified, full-time students, these financial awards can cover some of the cost of tuition and may also come with additional stipends and benefits.
Does Organizational Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
Unfortunately, most psychology-related loan forgiveness programs are geared towards research being conducted in healthcare facilities.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program could provide practitioners who hold an I/O psychology master’s degree with the potential to receive loan forgiveness depending on their employer. If you have direct loans, they may be reduced if you work at a qualifying nonprofit or government agency.
Professional Organizations for I/O Psychologists
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is the leading community for I/O psychologists. SIOP provides practitioners with access to new research, networking opportunities, and current advocacy practices.