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Online Associate Degree Programs in Psychology

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Earning an associate degree in psychology online is the first step to a rewarding career in many fields. You might think that you need an advanced degree for even entry-level positions, but the truth is there are several options available for associate degree holders too.

Some schools offer an Associate of Science (AS) degree in psychology; others, an online Associate of Arts (AA) degree in psychology. What’s the difference? While the core curriculum for both programs is the same, one places greater focus on science while the other emphasizes the humanities. 

In This Article

You can graduate with the foundational skills you need to pursue a career in science or healthcare with an online AS in psychology. With an AA, you’ll be prepared to continue an education in teaching, corrections, or social services. You can also choose to continue your education with a bachelor’s or beyond in psychology easily, no matter which program you decide is right for you. 

Overview of an online associate degree in psychology

Who are they for? 

If you have the desire to help others, earning an associate degree in psychology remotely is a great place to start. This degree focuses on the fundamentals of psychology and, unlike a traditional degree, offers students the flexibility to learn at the time and place that’s most convenient for them.

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social behavior in humans or animals. Their job involves recording, evaluating, and then interpreting how people relate to each other and also to their environments.

An online associate’s in psychology can be the perfect stepping stone for students that plan to continue their education. It also satisfies the general education requirement, perfect for students who believe they’re interested in a psychology program but aren’t 100% positive they want to commit to the major.

Should you consider earning a psychology associate’s online?

It’s true that to be a psychologist in the practical sense that you’ll absolutely need more than an associate degree. But it all starts at the associate level. Here, students satisfy general education requirements with a core curriculum and will also get an introduction to the foundation of psychology.

Earning an associate degree has many advantages. For one, it’s versatile. If your educational goals change over time—let’s say you develop an adjacent interest in forensics or social work—an associate degree in psychology translates perfectly to that degree field. Since most businesses serve people, the study of human thinking and behavior has applications in almost every industry.

If you’re interested in earning your bachelor’s degree in a field other than psychology, such as business or law enforcement, you may be interested in obtaining a supplemental certificate. If your primary interest is not a career in psychology, a certificate is a great option. 

For students interested specifically in psychology, however, an associate degree will offer entry-level opportunities that a certificate can’t. Earning an online AA or AS in psych will help qualify you for entry-level jobs in the field as you work toward a terminal degree (such as a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree).

Are 2-year online psychology programs more affordable? 

Tuition for online students—often called distance learners—is often the same as it is for on-campus students. However, one perk of learning psychology online is that many colleges waive out-of-state tuition fees for distance learners. If you’ve been considering a school outside your home state, an online degree could be an affordable option. 

There are factors outside of tuition to consider, however. For instance, online students save money on campus amenities (gym access, parking fees, etc.) as well as costs associated with attending school (transportation or meals, for example). 

For students who are paying their own way through college, an online psychology associate is an opportunity to pursue educational goals and still continue working.

Are online associate psych degrees respected/credible?

Online courses and degree programs are every bit as credible as their on-campus counterparts, and more students are recognizing this. A recent study published on Inside Higher Ed revealed that 52% of postsecondary students took one or more classes online during the 2019-2020 school year. 

Just like any college program, you should check to be sure that it’s fully accredited. Accreditation information is usually displayed on a program or college’s About page, along the footer of their site, or on each department’s homepage. 

Accreditation ensures that the education you’re receiving meets quality standards that are recognized by educators and employers around the world. In addition, financial aid can only be applied to programs approved by a U.S. Department of Education-approved accrediting body.

Traditional vs. online associate programs in psych

Which format is cheaper?


A recent study sponsored by Education Data Initiative estimates that a four-year degree online is $36,595 cheaper than its on-campus counterparts. While students do save on campus-based amenities, they still have access to text, video, and audio learning resources 24/7 online.


The cost of an in-person degree is steeper than online learning. However, that cost encompasses campus resources, such as physical libraries, sports facilities and gyms, sporting events and so much more. For many students, these perks create a sense of community that’s very valuable to their college experience.

Which format is more difficult?


There are some things that you may find more difficult when earning your psychology associate’s online. For one, since teachers can’t mark a student absent or present, they determine participation using discussion forums that are mandatory to participate. For another, some students struggle with motivating themselves to study or meet deadlines without the structure of classroom learning.


There are elements of in-person learning that can be more inflexible than an online experience. For example, a paper due at 5 PM on Monday in person might be due at 11:59 PM for online students. However, the course materials are the same for either mode of instruction, and the exams will test for the same comprehension. 

Which format is more flexible?


Because online learners aren’t limited by zip codes or state lines, students have the benefit of choosing the best school for their needs (not just the best school that they’re able to get to). Online lectures or lessons are available on demand, which means that students can complete coursework and even exams at their convenience. Students who work full-time are able to attend school full-time as well.


Learning on-campus means that students need to either live on campus or within driving distance. In-person learning often requires schedules to be rearranged. If a student is employed, there is no guarantee that their place of work will be able to accommodate those scheduling conflicts.

Is there a difference in quality?


While online associate coursework is identical to in-person curriculum, the method of delivery is different. Introverted students that are uncomfortable being called on to participate in class may thrive in online courses. The self-paced coursework and freedom to enroll in colleges around the work also mean more flexibility that many students crave.


Some classes cover material that does not translate well to a virtual classroom. Some students also find it easier to engage with the coursework and discuss in a group setting. Additionally, classrooms are an optimal, distraction-free place for students to focus, learn new material, and study.

Earning your associate in psychology remotely

What it takes to complete this degree

💻 Technology

Students will need a computer with an up-to-date operating system, a reliable internet connection, a microphone, and video hardware (for synchronous learning, peer-to-peer discussions, or test-taking)

📓 Number of required credits

Most associate degrees in psychology online require an average of 60 to 65 credit hours to complete. This translates to roughly two years.

How long does it take?

Asynchronous learners may earn credits faster (or slower) than average, leading to faster or slower graduation depending on their unique situation. Some programs adhere to a cohort learning format where students complete coursework in a lock-step format.

Courses taken at a college are typically valid for a certain number of years; check with your college of choice if you’re concerned about a break in your learning longer than a semester.

🧑‍💼 Real-world or virtual internships/practicums

Some colleges require students to complete hands-on training. Every program is unique, and students need to research what their program requires. In general, however, most associate-level graduates won’t be required to complete labs, practicums, or internships.

What you can expect to get from the school as a virtual student

Most online courses are presented using a learning portal such as Blackboard or Canvas. This is how teachers present and organize course material, host discussions between classmates, and administer quizzes and exams. 

Within these learning management systems (often called LMSs for short) distance learners will find built-in access or links to college email, chat software, complete learning modules, discussion boards, and a link to classroom expectations.

At the start of every class, teachers will post the required reading material for the course. Some instructors provide ebooks free of charge to students; others expect students to purchase hard copies of their required reading through the campus bookstore.

Most colleges also offer free tutoring services for each of the major disciplines. Links to schedule a tutoring session via screen share, chat or video will also be listed in the class syllabus.

Topics you’ll likely study

The classes you’ll take in your distance learning psychology associate’s program will vary from school to school. Every program includes a core curriculum that covers English, math, communications or public speaking, and social sciences, just to name a few. 

Others include foundational courses in the field. These classes will introduce psychology students to concepts such as research methods, statistics, terminology, and prevailing practices.

Intro to Psychology

In this class, you’ll become acquainted with basic facts, concepts, and principles of psychology. You’ll learn about states of consciousness, perception, social psychology, and also measurements common to the study of psychology (such as statistical analysis).

Human Growth and Development:

This class explores the developmental process in humans over the course of an entire life cycle. Topics such as the social, emotional, and cognitive development of humans are a primary focus, as well as relationships and how they influence lives, families, and communities.

Experimental Research in Psychology

Experimental studies focus on the qualitative methods of research that psychologists conduct. An example might be studying a patient’s behavior as it relates to their mental health.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse classes focus on topics like the psychology of addiction, substance abuse identification methodologies, substance abuse treatment, substance abuse prevention and treatment resources, psychopharmacology, professional standards, and ethics.

Marriage & Family Dynamics

This course is designed to familiarize students with the opportunities and challenges common in intimate relationships. It can also focus on the lifecycle of a family, from changes in family dynamics that happen over time to dissolution. 

Introduction to Statistics

Statistics students will learn how data is collected and organized, how to interpret data, and how to perform different kinds of statistical tests and analyses.

Online entry-level psychology classes you’ll likely take

Abnormal Psychology

  • Abnormal psychology provides an overview of the classifications and symptoms of common psychological disorders 
  • Discover how to recognize abnormal behavior and which treatments are recommended to curb unwanted symptoms

Behavioral Psychology 

  • The study of and attempt to predict human decisions and reasoning based on the observations about their behavior
  • Learn how to anticipate human behaviors based on observation and use your observations to shape future behaviors and build better habits.

How do online psychology courses differ from campus-based programs?

In terms of course content and expectations, the material you’ll study online is identical to what you would learn in an on-campus program. 

Since educators know that keeping on task is important to retaining material, online classes may assign more short assignments to students than in-person instructors. This is to make sure the reading and assignments are completed on time and answer keys are being reviewed.

If your class requires any kind of lab to be done, teachers often prepare kits that contain the experiment materials. Students are expected to demonstrate experiments on video using only approved materials and a pre-approved, sterile environment in their homes.

Can you challenge examinations?

Some online associate degrees in psychology are hosted at colleges that allow credit by examination. If the school you are interested in offers a test like this, you may be able to complete subject-specific tests that can be parlayed into college credit. 

Who are they for? 

Students interested in an online associate degree in psychology absolutely qualify for financial aid. However, in order to qualify for assistance, students must be accepted at an accredited college. They also must be enrolled in a minimum number of hours and maintain a certain grade point average, just like on-campus students.

What can I do with an online associate in psychology?

While there aren’t any direct counseling roles available to associate degree holders, there are door-opening career options that you’re qualified for.

Teacher’s Assistant

Also called a paraprofessional, a teacher’s aide assists educators. Aides may help develop lesson plans, assist students in class, write up progress reports, and more.


According to the BLS, the median salary for this role is $30,920. This does not include data for post-secondary teaching assistants.

Other requirements

Some job descriptions may call for a year or more of on-the-job experience. 

Source: BLS

Family Advocate

Family advocates, also called social or human services assistants, work with staff, families, and children to help mediate disputes or resolve problems. You may find roles like this at crisis centers, school districts or anywhere else the community meets the families it serves. They also evaluate family dynamics and individual circumstances and make recommendations regarding care and guardianship.


The BLS reports that the median salary for this role is $38,520.

Other requirements

Many programs include fieldwork to give students hands-on experience.

Source: BLS

Research Assistant

You’ll find research assistants in a hospital setting, at universities, or at local government agencies. In this role, you’ll gather data and assist in research. You may be expected to monitor clinical trials and ensure compliance in and outside of the lab. This can be a writing-intensive position, and a research assistant may be expected to prepare reports about their research and present their findings.


According to the BLS, the median salary for research scientists is $50,470.

Other requirements

Some positions may require additional experience; others offer on-the-job training and may even provide financial assistance for students interested in advancing to a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Source: BLS

Police Officer

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes. An understanding of human behavior and psychology can make a positive difference to anyone working with at-risk communities, including criminals and victims of crime.


According to the BLS, the median salary for police officers is $65,790 per year.

Other requirements

In order to become an officer, candidates must pass a civil service exam, health screening, and probationary training period.

Source: BLS

Psychiatric Technician

Psychiatric technicians and aides work in healthcare settings. They partner with members of a medical team such as physicians, social workers, and therapists to care for and counsel patients in recovery. This role involves assisting, escorting, and transporting patients within a hospital or care facility as well as observation of patients to ensure their continued care.


The median salary for psychiatric technicians, according to the BLS is $37,380 per year.

Other requirements

Because there is a deficit of technicians, on-the-job training is often the only additional requirement to work as a psychiatric aide.

Source: BLS

Related associate-level degrees in psychology

An associate degree in psychology shares similarities with other degrees such as social work. However, while the coursework may be similar, adjacent studies such as human services or counseling have their own distinct focus.

It’s important to understand the differences between these degree options. Psychology students can save time and resources and have better career outcomes by choosing an associate-level degree program that caters to their unique personal strengths and interests.

Associate in human services
The focus of an associate in human services programs is on human development and outreach. The human services profession is an important conduit between people in need and the services that will benefit them the most.
Associate in social work
An associate degree in social work focuses on the skills and background it takes to work with individuals, families, and their communities. While a psychologist is focused primarily on mental health, social workers help people find the tools they need to help themselves. A social worker looks at the bigger picture and is qualified to help improve the social, behavioral, economic, or health problems that become a roadblock for the people they serve.
Associate in counseling
An associate degree in counseling may seem similar to a degree in psychology at first, but the two fields are very different. A counseling degree focuses on the study of counseling theories, techniques, and practices. It can lead to careers in counseling, community outreach, and rehabilitation that place an emphasis on treatment. A degree in psychology, on the other hand, is more focused on the evaluation and diagnosis of problems.

Ready to get started?

Psychology is an exciting field that goes far beyond the counseling couch. Understanding human behavior puts you in a unique position to make a difference in lives every single day, and it can lead to a very fulfilling career. An associate degree in psychology online is a great first step to a profession you love. 

Checklist for applying 

Minimum education level:

High school diploma or GED.

Minimum GPA:

Between 2.5 to 3.0.

Writing sample:

Personal statement.


Official high school transcripts.

Standardized tests:

Some schools require SAT/ACT.

Letters of recommendation:

If required, 2 to 5 letters.

Find the right program for you

Interested in seeing which colleges offer the learning options that are right for you? You can use the school finder on this page to research available programs. Take the first step towards a potentially fulfilling and rewarding career in psychology by earning your associate degree.