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Earning your master’s degree in psychology online: Complete guide

woman studies online for masters degree

An online master’s in psychology can help to prepare you for many different careers, including working as a school counselor. This degree program is also ideal if you plan on pursuing your doctorate in psychology to become a licensed psychologist. Providing an education that explores psychology principles and practices in depth, an online master’s in psychology is an excellent option for a variety of career paths.

In This Article

Online psychology master’s degree overview

At a glance

Degree Type:

Master of Arts or Master of Science

Location:

Online and hybrid

Duration:

Typically 2 years

Total Credits:

Between 36 and 54

Pre-requisite:

Bachelor’s degree

Aid Eligible:

Yes, for accredited programs

An online master’s in psychology provides a detailed, in-depth education on psychology principles. Offering the flexibility that working professionals need, an online master’s program emphasizes research methods, scientific methods, and specialty areas, like career counseling or forensic psychology. This degree builds on the foundations of a traditional or online bachelor’s degree in psychology, giving students more opportunities to explore niche areas and specializations.

You may choose to pursue a Master of Arts in Psychology (MA) or a Master of Science in Psychology (MS). A remote MA program often has a stronger focus on the liberal arts, while a remote MS program typically focuses more on research and science. Both degrees can prepare you for a career in psychology.

Who is an online psychology master’s degree suited for?

According to the U.S. News & World Report, many careers in psychology require candidates to have at least a master’s degree in the field. Most clinical, counseling and research psychologist roles require candidates to have a doctoral degree.

Earning an online master’s in psychology may be right for you if you want to qualify for a position that requires a master’s, like a school psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist. Alternatively, if you plan on pursuing your doctorate in psychology, earning your master’s is an essential step and will help to prepare you for your doctoral studies.

Is an online master’s in psych worth it?

Depending on your career goals, an online master’s in psychology can be an excellent investment. With a master’s degree, you could potentially work as a school psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, school psychologists earn a mean annual wage of $81,500, while industrial-organizational psychologists earn a mean annual wage of $139,280.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities for psychologists should grow by 6.1% through 2032, which is as fast as average job growth.

Are online master’s degrees respected/credible?

When you earn a diploma from an online degree program, you will receive the same type of diploma that a student earns after completing an on-campus degree program. There won’t be any identification on the diploma that you completed an online program, and your employer may never know that you completed your degree online. Keep in mind that online master’s degree programs offer the flexibility that working professionals need to balance their careers with their education, so it’s increasingly common for professionals to complete their master’s degrees online.

Even if your employer should learn that you attended an online program, the U.S. News & World Report notes that employers are becoming increasingly accepting of online degree programs. Your employer might confirm that you’ve earned a degree from an accredited school, which can help to verify that you received a quality education. However, it’s relatively unlikely that your employer would discriminate against you for earning a master’s online.


Traditional vs. online master’s programs in psych

When deciding if a traditional or online master’s program in psychology is right for you, it’s important to understand the key differences between the programs.

Completion time

Traditional: When you attend a traditional master’s degree program, you need to follow the pacing of the courses. Most traditional master’s degrees take about two years to complete.

Online: Online master’s degrees give you more flexibility in terms of how long you take to complete the program. Many programs are self-paced, so you can take longer than the traditional two-years that is typical of in-person programs. Some schools require you to complete an online master’s degree in five years or less. 

Practicum and internship hours

Traditional: In addition to coursework, traditional master’s programs often require students to complete internships or psychology practicums. Students may be required to complete a certain number of supervised hours, but a program often has existing relationships with professionals in the community to assist students in finding internships.

Online: Online students may also be required to complete an internship or practicum hours, but they may need to take a more active role in identifying a professional in their community willing to supervise them.

Instructors

Traditional: The instructors of traditional master’s degree programs and online programs may vary. At the master’s level, instructors may become mentors who support you throughout your career, so it’s important to choose a program with instructors who are reputable and whose teaching style is a good fit for you.

Online: Before choosing an online program, verify who the instructors are. Online programs may feature instructors who are not physically present at the school. This program design can give you access to instructors you might not otherwise be able to learn from.

Learning psychology remotely

It’s important to be aware of the requirements that you will need to meet to virtually complete your degree.

Minimum prior education required:
To enroll in a master’s in psychology, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree program. That program doesn’t have to be in psychology, and it’s common for students with an education in a related field to choose a different focus for their master’s program. Many schools will accept a bachelor’s degree from an international college, but you should contact the school with the specifics of your program to confirm.
Technology required:
While specific requirements vary by program, most distance learning programs will require you to have a computer or tablet that is less than five years old. You will likely need a webcam, software like Microsoft Office, and a reliable, high-speed internet connection.
Number of required credits to complete:
According to the U.S. News & World Report, master’s degree programs in psychology typically range from 30 to 50 credits. If you choose a dual bachelors and master’s degree program, the credit requirement for your master’s degree program may be reduced.
How long does it take:
Online master’s degree programs offer plenty of flexibility when it comes to their pacing and completion time. An accelerated program can be completed in as little as a year. Many programs allow you to take up to five years to complete the degree, meaning you could potentially pause and then resume your studies depending on your schedule.
Real-world or virtual internships / practicums / volunteering:
Master’s programs in psychology may require real-world internships, multiple residencies and potentially even a capstone project. Some of these requirements may be completed remotely, but it’s important to confirm whether you will need to be on-campus for any of these requirements, or to present your capstone.

What you can expect from the school as a virtual student

As a virtual student, you will have access to many resources to help you during your education. You will access your classes through a student web portal, many of which give you 24-hour access to study at times that work for your schedule. Your school will provide you with a student dashboard, email and ebooks for your classes. You may also receive discounted or free digital access to publications.

During your online degree program, you’ll receive various forms of support. You will have access to an online resource center, as well as to the school’s IT department for help with any technical issues. Many schools give online students access to their student career center resources, and you’ll be connected to an active online community of staff, students and alumni. 


What you’ll study in an online graduate psych program

Your program will cover core topics like psychology ethics, human development and research methods. You will also be able to choose more specialized electives that focus on topics like forensic psychology, consumer psychology and child psychology. Your program may conclude with a capstone project, such as a research project and presentation.

Master-level psychology courses can readily be adapted for online learning. The online courses may involve fewer group discussions than in-person courses, but many lecture and video-based courses are ideal for online learning.

Online psychology classes you’ll likely take

Research Methods in Psychology

Learn about common psychological research methods, including how to gather and analyze data.

Cognitive Processes

Explore cognitive psychology topics including memory, attention, learning, language, decision-making, and more. Learn how to evaluate cognitive processes in light of real world problems.

Social Psychology

Learn about how people interact with the environment, technology, and society. Explore classic sociology studies and theories, and learn how to evaluate social psychology perspectives and relevancy in real world scenarios.

Ethical Practice in Psychology

Explore ethical psychology practices and themes, like respect, experimentation, confidentiality, and professional standards of conduct.


How to choose an online master’s program that’s right for you

When choosing an online master’s program in psychology, start by considering your career goals and what you want to get out of a program. You might look for a program that offers a certain specialization, or that lets you complete the work completely remotely without ever having to travel to campus.

When choosing an online master’s program in psychology, start by considering your career goals and what you want to get out of a program.

Look for a school that is accredited, which helps to confirm that you will receive a quality education. Keep in mind that a doctoral program will require you to have a master’s degree from an accredited school.

Note: Choosing an accredited graduate school ensures that your program meets quality standards and can properly prepare you to enter the workforce or pursue a doctoral degree. You can check accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education database.

It’s also important to consider the program’s graduation and retention rates. Low rates might signal potential issues with a program. If rates are high, chances are you’re looking at a quality program that offers students support and resources, and that invests in students’ success.

Paying for an online master’s in psych

U.S. News & World Report estimates the total tuition cost of an online master’s in psychology to range from $18,000 to $45,000. You don’t have to cover those costs out of pocket, and financial aid such as federal student aid, loans, and grants can help you to pay for your education.

Consider these options:

  • FAFSA: Before you start exploring alternative ways to pay for your education, take the time to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA evaluates your financial need for aid, and will identify whether you are eligible for any federal grants or loans.
  • Loans: If you are eligible for federal loans, which have lower interest rates than private loans, those loans may cover most or all of your education costs. In addition to federal loans, you can also explore private loans to help cover the remaining balance of your master’s degree.
  • Grants: Since grants don’t need to be repaid, they can be an excellent way to reduce your education costs without increasing the loan payments that you will be responsible for after graduating. Your school may offer grants, including merit- and need-based grants.
  • Scholarships: You may also find scholarship opportunities specifically for master’s students. Some schools offer scholarships for distance learning students, and you might find additional scholarships from community organizations and foundations. 
  • Employer assistance: If earning your master’s degree would make you a more valuable employee to your employer, your employer may offer tuition assistance to help you afford graduate school. These offers vary depending on your employer and your job position, and you may be required to work for your employer for a certain amount of time after graduating.

What can you do with an online master’s in psych?

An online master’s in psychology can prepare you to pursue your doctoral studies in the field before becoming a licensed psychologist. The skills and knowledge that you will gain through a master’s program are helpful in other careers, too, including in marketing, human resources, and public relations.

Popular concentrations you can choose from

Child psychology

Child psychology focuses on how to work with children of various ages. You will learn about the key child developmental stages and will develop the skills you need to work with children in multiple stages.

Clinical psychology

A clinical psychology concentration helps to prepare you to work with patients. You will learn about mental conditions, treatment methods, the use of medications and more.

Counseling psychology

The counseling psychology concentration helps to prepare you to support the various concerns that people may have, including their concerns about social, work, school, family and organizational relationships. You may study topics including counseling theory and practice, career development, counseling children in crisis and more.

Forensic psychology

Studying forensic psychology will prepare you to share your expertise within the judicial and legal systems. You will learn about how psychological and legal issues intersect, how to maintain psychological ethical standards and more.

Industrial/organizational psychology

Industrial and organizational psychology concentrates on the study of human behavior within the workplace. You will study topics like career development, organizational development, consumer behavior and human performance, and you will learn how to use psychology to address problems like training and development, recruitment and work/life quality.

Sports psychology

Sports psychology uses psychological skills to enhance athlete well-being and performance. You will study counseling issues with athletes, social issues related to sports participation, issues specific to training and performance enhancement and more.

Example job titles you may be qualified for

With your master’s degree, you may be able to work as a school psychologist. School psychologists work with students, teachers, parents and other educators to promote student wellness. 

Alternatively, you may find employment as an addiction counselor. These counselors may work in mental health centers and community health centers, where they counsel people on issues relating to alcoholism and addiction.

Your master’s degree in psychology can also be helpful if you choose to work as a human resources specialist. Human resources specialists work to recruit, screen and place job candidates.  

Keep in mind that the skills you have developed while earning your master’s degree can be applied to many other careers, too. They may be ideal for a career in business leadership, marketing, public relations, career advising and more.

Employment settings this career may take you

Since the skills you develop during your master’s degree can be applied to many potential careers, you might work in various employment settings:

  • Business and corporate offices
  • Hospitals
  • Government settings
  • Mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • Outpatient mental health centers
  • Schools

Meeting state requirements

To practice psychology, you will need to be licensed by your state. According to the American Psychological Association, state licensing requirements vary, but most require you to have a doctoral degree in psychology. Other common requirements include at least 2,000 internship hours and 2,000 postdoctoral supervised hours. If you plan to become licensed, keep these requirements in mind when choosing a master’s degree program, and look for a program designed to help prepare you for your state’s licensing requirements.


Going beyond the masters-level in psychology

The master’s in psychology is not a terminal degree, meaning if you choose, you can continue on to earn your doctoral degree in psychology or pursue graduate certificates. There are many educational psychology resources and programs that can help you to achieve your career goals, whether you decide to earn your master’s degree or continue on with additional education.

Online Graduate Certificates

By pursuing an online graduate certificate, you can gain additional training and education within a certain psychological field, like substance abuse counseling or child psychology. This certificate allows you to learn more about a field that interests you, so you can develop additional specialized skills. Graduate certificates take about one year to complete.

Online Doctorate

While a master’s degree helps to qualify you for certain careers, if you want to work as a licensed psychologist, you will need to earn your doctoral degree. You can complete most online doctorate programs in four to six years, but you can complete an accelerated program in about three years.

Related masters-level degrees in psych:


Ready to get started?

If you’re ready to start your master’s degree in psychology, then it’s important to find a program that’s a good fit for your career goals. We have a collection of sponsored schools that offer online degrees to help you get started. You can filter your search results to show online master’s degrees in psychology. Start searching for your online master’s program today.

Checklist: Things you’ll need when applying

When you’ve found the programs that you’re interested in, it’s time to review the application requirements. Those requirements can vary depending on the school, but most schools require:

  • An application essay and fee
  • Official transcripts from any secondary schools that you’ve attended
  • Some schools require letters of recommendation
  • Test scores like GRE scores, though some schools don’t require any standardized test results

Published: May 25, 2023

paige cerulli

Written and reported by:

Paige Cerulli

Contributing Writer