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A Guide to Earning Your Psychology Degree Online

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The number of online degree programs has been steadily increasing since the inception of the internet, and this has become especially true in the last few years. Online learning has made psychology education more accessible and provides flexibility that appeals to many. 

If you are considering getting a psychology degree, an online program may be your best option. Nowadays you can find an online option in almost any concentration, at every level of education, making a college degree always within reach.

Pursuing a psychology degree online

Psychology is just one of many fields in which you can get an online degree. From clinical psychology to school psychology, there’s a program out there to get you one step closer to your dream job.

Keep in mind that many programs—online or otherwise—may still require that you complete an in-person clinical or practicum experience to graduate. Consult your school’s academic advisers to find out more about their program’s requirements.

Can you get a psychology degree online?

Yes—there are online psychology degrees available at every level of postsecondary education, from associate to doctoral degrees. These can be a great option for students that require more flexibility or who aren’t close in proximity to a school that offers their desired program.

Is earning a degree online suitable for you?

An online degree can be just as reputable as any in-person degree, which means the biggest thing to consider is whether or not you wish to complete your education in an online learning format. Consider your academic learning style to determine if an online degree is suitable for you.

  • Do you prefer to work at your own pace?
  • Are you motivated to complete coursework and tests from the comfort of your home?
  • Are you willing and able to reach out to your professors and student support services if you need assistance?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you may thrive in an online learning format.

Pros and cons of online psychology schooling

Although online schooling does have some unique advantages for students, it also has its downside, too.

Pros

Working from home (or anywhere you get an internet connection) can allow for greater flexibility and make it easier to juggle other commitments when you are able to work at your own pace.

Online psychology programs can also be more cost-effective if you aren’t paying expenses normally associated with in-person schoolings, such as campus housing or commuter costs. They are accessible by their nature and can also be a great option for people who might not live near a college or university that offers the degree program they want.

Drawbacks

If you’re someone that thrives on face-to-face interactions and classroom discourse, then you may not enjoy this format. Even if you’re not bothered by the distant method of learning, you won’t get instant feedback the way you do in a classroom and you’ll have to reach out to your professors on your own.

Since remote learning lacks the structure of an in-person class, you have to be motivated to do the work and budget your time accordingly. If you thrive on structure, an online program might pose some challenges to you. 

Types of online psychology degrees

In addition to a general degree, you can find online options in numerous different psychological and service worker specialties at every level.

Undergraduate level

In only about two years, you can earn an associate degree in psychology which will efficiently prepare you for entry into the workforce and make you qualified for numerous entry-level service worker jobs. An associate degree may also be used to complete any prerequisites for a higher degree.  

Bachelor’s programs in psychology take about four years to complete and can be either a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) degree. These degrees are practically the same but may have some slight curriculum differences. As their names suggest, BA degrees tend to provide a more well-rounded liberal arts education, while BS degrees usually require a few more science courses. 

Graduate level

Most advanced leadership or clinical positions in the field require you to have at least a master’s degree in psychology. Master’s degrees can also be either an MA or MS degree, or even a master’s of education (MEd) which is meant for education professionals. Master’s degrees typically take about two years to complete and will require some sort of practicum or internship to graduate.   

Specialist degrees and graduate certificates are also available and can be a boon to your education. These degrees, such as an Education Specialist (EdS) degree, are typically one level above or in conjunction with a master’s level degree, but not quite as high as a doctorate degree. These can be great for professionals wishing to advance their credentials but perhaps don’t want to invest the time and money into a doctorate degree.

Getting a doctorate in psychology is necessary for people who want to pursue high-level clinical, research, or academic positions. PhDs and their PsyDs counterpart are two types of doctorate psychology degrees. They are practically the same, but they do have slightly different curriculums. PhD programs tend to focus more on research, while PsyD programs focus more on the application of psychological knowledge in real-world settings.

Things to look for in an online program

There are lots of things to consider when choosing the online degree program that’s right for you. If you examine all these factors, you’ll get a good idea of whether a particular program aligns with your desires and goals.

Accreditation

Schools and programs should be accredited to ensure you receive a high-quality education. Accreditation is also important because it can affect your ability to receive financial aid. Doctoral programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), and all other programs should be accredited by an accrediting body approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Tuition (& costs beyond tuition)

Online psychology programs may be more financially feasible compared to in-person programs, in part because you don’t have to spend money on other expenses such as campus housing, commuting to and from school, and more.

Format & timeline

Does this program allow you to work at your own pace or are there online classes you must attend? How long will it take you to complete your degree? You’ll want to decide your preference for these questions when choosing a program.

Hardware/software requirements

Some online programs may have certain requirements for your computer’s hardware or software. Check with your program to determine whether your computer meets these requirements, or if you need to upgrade/downgrade your technology.

Courses & concentrations offered

You will want to find a program whose curriculum matches your interests. Many schools also offer program concentrations—such as a clinical psychology degree with a forensic psych concentration—which could pave the way for a career specialization later on.  

Internships & student support

Many psychology degree programs require some sort of internship, practicum, or capstone project to graduate. Research programs’ curriculum to find out what is required of you. It’s also worthwhile to explore what kind of student support services a school offers so that you can know what help is available to you should you need some academic assistance.

Admission requirements

Admission requirements for online psychology programs vary between schools and the type of degree you are pursuing. Associate and bachelor’s degrees, for example, typically only require that you have a high school diploma or equivalent. Graduate programs usually require an undergraduate degree and successful completion of courses and/or credits in certain subjects to be admitted.

Many graduate programs also require you to submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Almost all academic programs, in-person or online, have prospective students submit some sort of personal essay and letter(s) of recommendation as part of their application.

Making up the difference

If you don’t satisfy the academic admission requirements for a particular program, you may have to take some additional courses elsewhere to complete any credits that are missing from your transcript. Many schools still allow you to apply even if you don’t meet admission requirements, and your application will be reviewed holistically to see if an exception can be made. If you’re unsure, consult your school’s admissions advisers to determine your options if you don’t meet all their requirements.  

Highlighted areas of study

Although you could use a psychology degree to pursue nearly any field of work, these are some of the most common career paths for people who want to apply their education to a psychology-heavy profession.

Social worker

Social workers help people in need live healthy, independent lives. They are often employed by various human service agencies. You can meet the requirements by getting your master’s of social work (MSW) online. The degree is needed for clinical social workers who want to obtain licensure in most states.

Growth: 9% | Median annual salary: $61,190


Counselor

Counselors coach clients on how to manage stress and common mental and behavioral health problems such as addiction. The minimum education requirements for counselors vary by state, but online counseling degree options do exist.

Growth: 22% | Median annual salary: $48,520


Clinical psychologist

Clinical psychologists, though very similar to counselors, tend to work with people with more acute mental health challenges such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. The minimum education requirements for clinical psychologists vary by state, but many require a doctorate degree.

Growth: 6% | Median annual salary: $82,510


Industrial/organizational psychologist

Industrial/organizational psychologists assess companies’ environments and cultures and implement changes to increase employee happiness and productivity. I/O psychologists typically need at least a master’s degree. Online I/O degrees may be a great solution to a busy schedule and long commute times.

Growth: 4% | Median annual salary: $105,310

Which psychology fields can I study online?

🎓 Clinical psychology

Work with patients that have acute mental and behavioral health issues to help them manage their conditions and live an independent life. 

🎓 Counseling psychology

Counsel everyday people with mild to moderate mental health concerns to deal with stressors across their lifespan.

🎓 Forensic psychology

Apply your psychological knowledge to the legal system to assess and/or treat incarcerated individuals, victims, law enforcement personnel, and much more.

🎓 Human services

Discover how you can make an impact in your community by exploring the vast field of human services.

🎓 I/O psychology

Help companies create better work environments and cultures to increase employee happiness and productivity as an industrial/organizational psychologist. 

🎓 Marriage & family therapy

Counsels couples and families to help them nurture healthier relationships and a more harmonious family unit.

🎓 Mental health

Provide support to a wide range of people with a variety of mental health concerns in the field of mental health counseling. 

🎓 School counseling

Work with children and adolescents as a school counselor to foster positive emotional growth and academic success.

🎓 School psychology

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.

🎓 Social work

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.

🎓 Substance abuse

Help people battling with substance abuse and addiction find sobriety, reclaim their lives and achieve their potential.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is getting a psychology degree online hard?

It takes time and hard work to successfully earn any academic degree. Whether or not online psychology school is hard for you depends on multiple factors such as your learning style, passion and commitment, and individual academic strengths. Some people may find online degrees easier because they may allow you to work at your own pace, while others who thrive on structure and face-to-face interactions may struggle with the online learning format.  

Are online psychology degrees respected?

As long as your degree program is appropriately accredited, online degrees are just as respected as any other degree.

Will my diploma say ‘online’?

No, degrees earned online will not say ‘online’ on your diploma. Check with your school if you are unsure about their policies.

What can I do with an online psychology degree?

Psychology can be applied to numerous fields, making it an incredibly versatile degree whether or not it was earned online. Besides becoming a clinical psychologist or social worker, people with psych degrees go on to be successful in many different careers such as business, human resources, marketing and sales, research, teaching, human and social services, healthcare and much, much more. 

What is certification and licensing like for online graduates?

As long as you pass all the required courses and complete any clinical and/or internship hours needed to graduate, you should have no trouble obtaining licensure or certification if your degree was earned online. What’s most important is that you check your state’s certification and licensure requirements for the profession you wish to enter to determine what is needed.  

Are there any APA-accredited online psychology programs?

Yes—check out the APA’s directory of accredited programs to find a program that’s right for you. The APA only accredits doctoral degrees, doctoral internships, and postdoctoral programs.

Can I get a PhD in Psychology online?

It’s possible to earn a PhD or PsyD in psychology online, but keep in mind that APA-approved programs will still require in-person practicums and/or internships.

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