A master’s degree in psychology offers the chance both to further develop a broad base in the subject area and to gain in-depth knowledge of a particular area of psychology. Master’s degrees in psychology are offered as either terminal, stand-alone programs for students who plan to work in organizations or research settings outside of academia or as research-oriented programs for students who plan to continue with doctoral-level studies and practice clinically.
Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology are well-prepared for a variety of careers or further study at the doctoral level with a PhD in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), but keep in mind that a master’s degree does not meet the requirements for clinical psychology licensure. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 744 non-profit colleges and universities offer graduate or advanced degrees in psychology.1
Table of Contents
- Reasons to Pursue a Master’s in Psychology Degree
- Program Options
- Admission Requirements
- Core Concepts
- Select Program Profiles
- Jobs with a Master’s Degree in Psychology
- Frequently Asked Questions
Reasons to Pursue a Master’s in Psychology Degree
There are three main reasons students choose to pursue a master’s in psychology:
1. To get a job. Some students pursue a graduate degree in psychology in order to begin working in the field. As mentioned previously, a doctoral degree is necessary for clinical licensure as a psychologist, but there are also many jobs available for graduates of master’s degree programs, including school and guidance counselor; industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologist; and research assistant. A master’s degree might also help those who are already in the field get a better job or a higher pay rate.
2. To explore the field of psychology. For students who are interested in clinical psychology but are not yet ready to commit to a PhD or a PsyD, a master’s degree in psychology is a good way to find out more about the field before making the five-to-seven-year commitment required for a doctorate. According to the American Psychology Association (APA), a master’s degree in psychology provides a broad knowledge base of the science; instills scientific mindfulness; teaches ethical and social responsibility; promotes communication skills; and encourages professional development.
3. To prepare for a higher degree in the field. Some doctoral programs accept credits from master’s programs and some may even prefer a master’s in psychology for admission. For this reason, students may choose to pursue a master’s degree as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree. If this is your intention, however, you should make sure that the doctoral programs you are targeting will accept credits from your master’s program and that they do not award a master’s as part of the path to the doctoral degree, which could make a stand-alone master’s degree redundant.
Master’s in Psychology Program Options
Many of the top psychology graduate schools in the country do not offer stand-alone master’s degrees to applicants who do not plan to continue with doctoral studies; therefore, it is important to choose the right school based on your career plans. Master’s in psychology programs have either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS) designation, and stand-alone programs take around one to two years to complete. MA degrees typically focus on psychological theories and applications while MS degrees typically have a greater focus on quantitative coursework focused on data collection and analysis. Some schools even offer online master’s in psychology degrees.
Common specializations (also known as concentrations, specialties, or emphases) for stand-alone master’s in psychology programs include:
- Business Psychology
- Child Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Counseling Psychology
- Forensic Psychology
- Human Factors Psychology
- School Psychology
- Sport Psychology
Online Degree Formats
Completing a master’s in psychology online offers greater flexibility without sacrificing quality or specialization options. Online master’s in psychology programs are often more affordable than traditional programs since students theoretically pay only for the course delivery, not for room/board, parking, and other on-campus expenses. While getting your master’s degree in psychology online may be attractive, it’s not for everyone. People who choose an online psychology master’s program should be self-disciplined and able to set and meet deadlines for coursework. To read more about online psychology degrees, check out our Guide to Earning an Online Psychology Degree. While the page focuses primarily on online degrees at the baccalaureate level, you can still find some helpful tips for earning your master’s psychology degree online. The following programs are well-known or popular and offer a range of options for students considering an online learning experience.
Master’s in psychology degree programs generally require a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite coursework in psychological theory, statistics, and research methods. A psychology major is not required, but some programs may have minimum grade requirements or a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) requirement for entry. The minimum GPA required is typically 3.0, but a competitive GPA is typically much higher. Scores from the GRE are also usually required, along with a personal statement, letters of reference, and a resume outlining relevant academic and research experience. Applicants may also be asked to describe how the degree will help them achieve their career goals upon graduation.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Courses offered in a master’s degree in psychology program vary depending on whether the curriculum is general or specialized. General programs offer a cross-section of topics in psychology while specialized programs require many courses in one particular area. Some examples of master’s level courses in psychology include:
- Learning and Cognition
- Memory and the Brain
- Organizational Behavior
- Bias, Ethics, and Reasoning
- Group Dynamics
- Clinical Psychopharmacology
- Multicultural Psychology and Diversity
- Principles of Neuroscience
- Psychological Statistics
- Graduate Research Methods in Psychology
Select Master’s in Psychology Programs
At Brandeis University, students can earn a general Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology on either a full or part-time basis. The full-time degree takes a minimum of nine months to complete, although most students spend 12 months completing all course requirements. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for a fall start date. The curriculum includes courses on social, cognitive, and developmental psychology as well as statistics and research methods to provide breadth to the experience. To further specialize, it is possible to complete a joint master’s degree program with Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies as well. As Brandeis University is part of the Boston Area Graduate Consortium, students can also take up to one course per term at Boston College, Boston University, or Tufts University. The program can prepare students for doctoral programs in psychology or careers in organizations, government, or the nonprofit sector.
For applicants interested in a program with specialization options, Cleveland State University’s College of Sciences and Health Professions offers Master of Arts (MA) degrees in several areas of psychology, including Clinical Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Research, and Psychological Science, as well as a combination MA and Psychology Specialist (PsyS) degree in School Psychology. With the exception of School Psychology, each specialization takes approximately two years to complete and has a different curriculum and research requirements. The Clinical Psychology program has two possible options for completion. The doctoral preparation or thesis track requires a thesis and is designed to prepare students for further doctoral study. (Note that it does not meet the requirements for licensure as a clinical psychologist.) The second option is the practitioner track, which prepares students to work with or under licensed clinical psychologists as assistant practitioners. Cleveland State also offers an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Adult Development and Aging.
DePaul University offers a Master of Science (MS) degree in General Psychology with a general curriculum. The program admits only five to six new students each year and suggests a minimum 3.5 GPA to apply. The program prepares students for further doctoral study by including courses in all major areas of psychology as well as statistics and research methods. As a science degree, this master’s program approaches psychology from a scientific perspective and focuses on how psychological theories can be tested using data. All students must complete the required core courses, such as advanced statistics and quantitative research design, a diversity elective, and either a master’s thesis or directed research project. A 3.2 cumulative GPA must be maintained throughout the program and the requirements must be completed within five years, although full-time students can finish the program in as little as two years. DePaul also offers two five-year combined degrees, the Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Master of Science (MS) degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology the BA/MS in Community Psychology. It also offers combined Master of Arts (MA)/Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in Clinical Psychology, Community Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, and Psychological Science.
Hybrid and Online Programs
Adler University offers a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Psychology fully online with optional specializations in either Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology or Military Psychology. Classes are offered in eight-week blocks throughout the year and each program concludes with a final capstone project or action plan allowing students to apply theories to real-world case studies. The programs take two years to complete with reasonable breaks and comprise 37 credit hours each. The Industrial and Organizational program prepares students to apply psychology theories in business and organizations to better manage change, diversity, and behavior. This program may benefit individuals who are already working in an organization or those looking to begin careers in this area. The Military Psychology program is designed for individuals who work or plan to work with military veterans and their families to address mental health needs. This program may benefit a wide variety of professionals who work with these populations and desire a greater knowledge of issues that affect them, such as trauma, grief, and psychological resilience.
In 2015, the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Professional Studies began offering a fully-online psychology master’s degree, a Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology with specializations in either Industrial/Organizational Psychology or Developmental Psychology. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree with prerequisite courses in Introductory Psychology, Statistics, and Research Methods with at least a “B” grade. The program is designed to prepare students for further doctoral-level study or provide in-depth knowledge about psychology in a variety of other work settings. Both concentrations comprise 36 credits including nine credits in Core Courses, six credits in Research Methods, nine credits in the specialization area, six credits of electives, and six credits of a capstone project. Some examples of elective courses include Cognitive Development, Atypical Development, and Group Dynamics. The capstone project involves collecting and analyzing data and preparing a written report in collaboration with a faculty supervisor. Students must successfully defend the capstone to a faculty committee.
Jobs with a Master’s in Psychology
A master’s degree in psychology can be a versatile asset relevant to many different career paths. Depending on the area of specialization, you may find career options in a variety of areas, such as:
- Developmental Services Worker
- Family Services Worker
- Educational Consultant
- Guidance Counselor
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
- Laboratory Manager
- Mental Health Care Coordinator
- Police Chief
- Product Designer
- Rehabilitation Officer
- Research Coordinator
- School Counselor
- Social Science Research Assistant
- Victim Advocate
Frequently Asked Questions
Am I eligible for licensure as a clinical psychologist with a master’s degree in psychology?
Master’s level graduates from psychology programs are not generally eligible for licensure in the clinical or school psychology professions, even if they have a clinical focus. As many individuals with this degree pursue applied or non-academic research careers, licensure is not required. If you plan to pursue a doctoral degree, your master’s degree may be accepted as transfer credit by some universities. Be sure to check whether your preferred master’s degree in psychology program meets these requirements to avoid duplicate coursework in clinical or school psychology doctoral degree programs. If you want to learn more about becoming licensed in psychology, read our How to Become a Psychologist page.
Do I need to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology to apply for a master’s in psychology?
No. Most schools do not require a major in psychology, but you do need to have some coursework in psychological theory and statistics no matter what major you completed.
What is the average salary for a psychology master’s graduate?
Salaries vary depending on the career path. For example, according to O*NET OnLine, the median salaries for two psychology-related careers, industrial-organizational psychologists and educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors, were $92,880 and $57,040 respectively in 2019.2,3 In the research field, survey researchers earned $59,170 and social science research assistants earned $47,510.4,5 Read more about master’s in psychology jobs and their salaries on our careers page.
Is it worth getting a master’s degree in psychology?
Choosing a stand-alone master’s degree in psychology may be a good choice if you want or need to strengthen your knowledge of a particular type of psychology or your research methods skills but do not want to commit to a doctoral program. Obtaining a master’s degree may also be beneficial when applying for leadership or management positions in applied or laboratory settings outside of academia.
Should I pursue an online master’s in psychology degree?
Whether you pursue a degree in a traditional format or an online format is entirely up to you. Many schools do offer online psychology master’s programs, and these can be a good fit for working or busy students. If you decide to get your master’s in psychology online, choose a program that is fully accredited and that offers the same classes and services to online students as it does to on-campus students. If you prefer a more traditional classroom setting and do not enjoy self-study, an online master’s in psychology may not be for you.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. O*NET OnLine, Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3032.00
3. O*NET OnLine, Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1012.00
4. O*NET OnLine, Survey Researchers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3022.00
5. O*NET OnLine, Social Science Research Assistants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-4061.00