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What can you do with an online graduate certificate in psychology?

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What is an online graduate certificate?

An online graduate certificate in psychology is a comprehensive, focused, short-term program designed to provide intensive study in a specific area of psychology. You will need to have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field to earn a graduate certificate, which may be able to take the place of a master’s degree.

Some students who are sure they will stay working within the field of psychology may prefer to earn a graduate certificate online as it can help them prepare to practice in a specialty within psychology and has value within the field, while a master’s degree is generally more transferable across other lines of business.

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How do they differ from undergraduate certificate programs?

In many instances, an undergraduate certificate may completely meet the educational requirements needed to practice in a certain field. For example, you can earn a certificate in medical assisting out of high school or as an undergraduate and become a practicing medical assistant. An online graduate certificate must be preceded by earning your bachelor’s degree or in some cases, your master’s. Here are two examples:

Scenario 1: Online graduate certificates

A graduate certificate can help you tailor your psychology education to your area of interest. As an example, if you want to pursue a career as a substance abuse counselor, you might consider an online graduate certificate in addiction counseling from an accredited school.

This would focus your studies on addiction theory and teach you to analyze and assess patients who are struggling with addiction and help you create strategies appropriate to their recovery. Earning a graduate certificate—whether online or in a classroom—may take less time and cost less than a traditional master’s degree program.

Scenario 2: Undergraduate certificates

You’ve completed an associate degree program at your local community college and have taken enough coursework to help you gain an understanding of where your future interests lie.

You’ve decided to enter the healthcare field as a medical biller and coder and start your own practice. Instead of going back to school to complete two more years of college to earn a bachelor’s degree you find an accredited certificate program, which gets you into the field faster—possibly between nine months and one year.

Your certificate program will focus exclusively on medical billing and coding procedures, ICD-11 codes, insurance and billing and business principles, and you’ll be able to complete the education requirements needed to successfully perform the job of medical billing and coding.

Who are psychology certificates best suited for?

An online graduate certificate in psychology is perfect for career advancers who need a specific area-focus program to help them learn particular skills or subjects so they can move up or over in their career. They’re also good for those who don’t necessarily need to earn a master’s or doctorate in order to practice in an area of psychology, such as counseling, human services and in some instances, social work.

Online psychology certificates are always a smart choice for people who need to work while they earn their education, who live in rural areas or are in the military, who need to tend to children or family members, or who have mobility issues and can’t easily navigate a college campus.

Another benefit of earning an online graduate certificate in psychology is it can fulfill the requirements to help you meet your state’s licensing or credentials criteria, which can cut down on the costs of school and time, helping you get into the workforce more expediently, and to get the licensing you’ll need to advance or specialize.

It depends. You’ll need to assess what your long-term goals are and whether earning a postgraduate degree or a graduate certificate will create a better outcome for you. If you plan to go into research or academia, you’ll need to earn a doctorate.

If you want to practice psychiatry, you’ll need to go to medical school. But if you already have a master’s degree and want to focus on a specific area of psychology, a certificate will pinpoint your education and experience to that topic and help you hone your practice.


…a certificate will pinpoint your education and experience to that topic and help you hone your practice.

How to choose your psychology specialty

As you know, psychology is a huge area and there are several reasons why students choose a particular area to focus upon. Besides the obvious—what you’re personally interested in—the most common reasons a person selects a particular area of study are:

Believe it or not, people may select to become an I/O Psychologist because they may earn a healthy salary AND want to help employee relations in the workplace.
Area growth:
How fast is the area you’re interested in growing? Will it become obsolete or are new developments in the field promising a substantial increase in research and clinical work? An example of this would be gerontology, where, according to Census.gov, in 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65 and older Americans will make up 21% of the U.S. population, up from 15% in 2023. By 2060, nearly one in four Americans will be 65 years or older. This will present opportunities in dementia and memory care and elder mental health.
Where do you want to work? Will you start a private practice in your hometown or move to an area that presents specialty employment opportunities in research or clinical practice?
Workplace environment:
Simply, do you like where you work? Does your workplace present the opportunity to continue learning, use your area of specialty and advance in your career? Are you in private practice and you have the chance to grow your client base? Does your area of focus provide challenge and contentment in the work, or do you want to change to something else? If you already have the basics in place, this is where a psychology graduate certificate can help you achieve your ideal scenario faster.

Are online graduate certificates in psychology cheaper than traditional certificate programs?

Distance learning certainly grew during the pandemic, and learning psychology online continues to be a viable way to earn a graduate certificate. As a comparison, Educationdata.org cited the following cost per credit hour for online and traditional public and private school programs:

Online Credit HourClassroom Credit Hour
Public Institution$321$491
Private Institution$505$2,163

Graduate certificate programs typically consist of 12 to 18 credit hours and take approximately one year to complete, though there are graduate certificate programs that may only take six to nine months to complete.

Do students pursuing a graduate certificate online still qualify for financial aid and scholarships?

In many instances, students earning an online graduate certificate can apply for financial aid or scholarships. If your online certificate programs are offered by an accredited institution, the U.S. Department of Education may approve assistance for qualified students.

These may be in the form of Stafford Loans, Direct PLUS Loans for Graduate Students, Perkins Loans or the Federal Work-Study program. If you strike out with one financial assistance path, keep trying.

Just because one online graduate certificate program isn’t approved, you may find a graduate certificate program in the same subject offered by a different school that has been approved for federal aid. Be sure to contact your school’s financial aid office to discuss financial aid options for specific online graduate certificate programs before applying to the program.

Earning your certificate in psychology online

What are the steps to earn an online graduate certificate in psychology?

  1. Earn your bachelor’s and apply to graduate school.
  2. Apply for financial aid if you plan to do so. Because certificate programs are generally affordable, some students choose not to pursue financial assistance, however it is an option if your school program has applied for accredited status.
  3. Research certificate programs for the area of psychology you’re interested in. Coursework may vary among programs though certificate programs tend to take an interdisciplinary approach and investigate the subject area by studying theory, research methods and ethics.

Prerequisites for an online graduate certificate program

You should have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to apply for a graduate certificate program, whether it be online or in a classroom. Though each school may vary as far as prerequisites, you can expect all or some of these conditions may need to be met in order to be accepted:

  • Supply your GRE or GMAT scores
  • Provide any letters of recommendation
  • Have one or more years of professional experience (this is where fieldwork or an internship may be able to fill the gap)
  • Write a personal essay or paper on an assigned topic
  • Have at least a 3.0 GPA

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What can you do with an online graduate certificate in psychology?

What you do with your psychology graduate certificate depends upon your goals, the certificate’s focus and the type of certificate program you choose.

Example of an online graduate certificate program

Suppose you want to focus your psychology career on geriatrics. You’ve graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and have landed a job at a community health center where you’re hoping to gain general experience.

But your area of interest is in aging and gerontology because you want to make a difference by working with elderly populations. Though you have general social work knowledge, you’ll need to gain specific insight into your specialty area. You also need to continue to earn a living while you take classes.

You research online graduate certificates in Aging and Gerontology and discover there are programs you can complete in as little as nine months to a year, with an accelerated program on the shorter side.

What you’ll likely study in your online psychology certificate program

Just as you would in a traditional classroom certificate program, you’ll learn to conduct geriatric assessments and employ necessary interventions while assessing the needs of your elderly patients and their families. You’ll learn how to apply ethical principles to decisions on behalf of older adults with memory or decision-making limitations.

And you’ll finally reach your goal of becoming an advocate for the elderly and gain insight into where the gaps are in current programs and laws. You’ll also participate in fieldwork, where you’ll practice your area of specialty under the helm of psychologists already in the field, which could possibly lead to a networking opportunity or subsequent job.

Possible coursework in an online certificate program in geriatrics may consist of:

  • Physiology of development and aging
  • Counseling older adults
  • Counseling family members
  • Life span development
  • Social policy and aging
  • Aging and society
  • Mind and body through the aging cycle

But this is only one example of a certificate program and its curriculum, and the good news is there are many areas in psychology that you can choose to specialize in and find online graduate certificates to help you meet the criteria to practice.

Some of these certificate programs may also include a practicum, which gives you field, or hands-on, experience immediately in your chosen area and may be able to be applied to on-the-job experience needed for licensing or employment. Other certificate programs may require a Capstone project or other project in the area of study.

Here are just some of the key psychology certificates you can earn online and what you may learn in them:

Addictions & recovery

What you’ll learn: This certificate is focused upon contemporary theories in addiction recovery, and how to analyze each individual’s situation and apply the appropriate strategies that help lead to recovery.

Who it’s for: Counselors, social workers, MFTs and other therapists

I/O psychology:

What you’ll learn: Theories, methods and the practice of I/O psychology in the workplace so that you can apply the appropriate strategies and help improve workplace motivation and employee attitudes, contribute to training practices, leadership skills, organizational behavior and HR management effectiveness.

Who it’s for: Therapists and psychologists who want to work or contract in corporate and organizational environments

Behavioral analysis:

What you’ll learn: An understanding of behavioral psychology methods and how and where they can be used. Graduates work in various settings with a wide range of populations, including children and teachers in school systems, individuals with brain injuries in rehabilitation units, consultants to businesses and organizations and more.

Who it’s for: Those seeking to become board certified by passing the Behavior Analyst Board Certification exam

Child & adolescent psychology:

What you’ll learn: All about the biological, psychological and social factors that impact children and adolescents. You’ll study psychopathology and behavior issues, trauma and crisis intervention so that you can help children, adolescents and their family members resolve conflicts. You’ll approach topics such as peer pressure, self-image, addiction, relationships and family, sexuality and mortality.

Who it’s for: Educators, school psychologists and counselors, psychologists, social workers, MFTs

Psychiatric epidemiology:

What you’ll learn: Coursework to help professionals deal with questions resulting from crisis in communities, how to develop new methods and play a primary role in prevention and treatment policies for the mental health of their neighborhoods and towns.

Who it’s for: Physicians, public health professionals and all mental health professionals

Mental health counseling:

What you’ll learn: You’ll look at the field through different perspectives and build interdisciplinary partnerships around new practices in mental health care by studying topical subjects such as alcohol and drug assessment, gerontology, crisis intervention, stress management, nutrition, human behavior and Autism, among other topics.

Who it’s for: Counselors, community health sciences and social workers, psychologists and therapists, MFTs

Sports psychology:

What you’ll learn: Ethics, mental preparation techniques for athletes, mental readiness in performance, as well as topics such as the role of sports in society, athlete stress and addiction in sports.

Who it’s for: Psychologists, coaches, trainers

Teaching psychology:

What you’ll learn: You’ll study core concepts of psychology, research techniques, educational psychology, developmental psychology and the teaching of psychology.

Who it’s for: Educators, educational counselors, counselors

Going beyond an online graduate certificate

There’s still further to go in your psychology education after you’ve completed an online graduate certificate in psychology. Depending upon what you want to do later (clinical practice? High-level academia? Private practice?) you can pursue a doctoral degree, which can be a first step to research and academia careers and will take four to seven more years of school.

Another solution is to consider a post-master’s certificate in psychology that can help you move into a variety of opportunities in research, administration and education in the public and private sectors, and in jobs in schools, hospitals, clinics and research facilities. Post-master’s certificates require you to have earned a master’s degree from an accredited school and generally consist of 16 to 18 credit hours for completion.

Some areas you can consider earning a post-master’s certificate in psychology in are:

  • General psychology
  • Trauma and disaster
  • Healthcare administration
  • Gerontology
  • I/O psychology
  • Social policy
  • Behavioral health
  • Substance abuse and addiction

Salaries for advanced healthcare and psychology roles

Another reason to consider graduate and post-graduate certificate programs, besides being able to advance in an area in which you’re interested, is the bump in pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that more education equates to higher pay and the field of healthcare and psychology is no different. In fact, the BLS says the difference in weekly median earnings by education attainment is fairly significant as is unemployment rate. As of 2022, weekly earnings compared as such:

Degree heldMedian weekly wageUnemployment percentage
Professional degree$1,9241.8%
Master’s degree$1,5742.6%
Bachelor’s degree$1,3343.5%
Associate degree$9634.6%

Median annual salaries are also commanding. Take a look at salaries for some of the psychology careers we’ve highlighted that require a graduate degree or certificate:

Career Median Annual Salary
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $139,280
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $90,130
Therapists, All Other $60,800
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,830
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $49,710

Ready to get started?

If you’re at the point in your psychology career where you’re looking to focus your skills and interests, or if you’re a teacher, coach, administrator or any professional ready to gain more knowledge in order to do your job better, an online graduate certificate just may be the answer.

With their short duration, cost-effectiveness, credit toward licensing and board certification exams—and the added convenience of learning online—it’s a great way to take that step toward advancing your career and fulfilling your potential. You just need to click Find Schools to begin, and we’ll help you with the rest.

Written and reported by:

All Psychology Schools Staff

Published: April 6, 2023