Online Master’s in Psychology Analyzing Degree and Career Options

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Psychology exists at the intersection of the relationship between human behavior and mind, and how that relationship is influenced by environmental, social, economic and cultural factors. A broad field of study, psychology draws from a collection of interdisciplinary areas of study, such as sociology, biology, neuroscience, ecology and anthropology.

The field of psychology is split into two professional arenas: research and practice. Psychologists in research-based concentrations concentrate on advancing the academic scholarship in the field and to develop new knowledge to solve problems. On the other hand, practice-based psychology couples science and service, allowing psychologists to apply scientific findings and theory to real-world situations.

Within psychology exist a range of specializations and proficiency areas, from school psychology to clinical psychology. The sheer breadth of sub-disciplines presents prospective graduate students with multiple educational and career paths to consider. Combining specialization with diverse professional tracks – research and practice – allows students the opportunity to select a master’s degree program suited to their future academic and career goals.

Yet, because of the numerous potential areas of study, students should develop an understanding of each program’s strength in their chosen area of focus. Does the potential program match to and serve the student’s graduate education interests, whether it is pursuing a terminal online master’s in psychology or completing a master’s degree for a transition into a doctoral program of study?

The following guide presents an overview of online master’s programs in psychology, providing prospective students with insight into the field, degree, concentrations and careers – data points that can help determine the right course of study.

Top Online Master's in Psychology

Obtaining a master’s degree in psychology can help open doors to a greater number of careers and higher earning potential, but for the working student, it can be a challenge to fit classes and coursework into already packed schedules. Increasingly, colleges have recognized this need, and have begun offering online courses that allow students to pursue higher education, all the while maintaining their busy day-to-day lives. The below school have been shown to go above and beyond when it comes to offering online learning programs, and have been ranked using our criteria to be the best schools at which to obtain your online master’s in psychology degree.

To see how we selected the Top Online Master's in Psychology programs, please visit our methodology page.


The University of North Dakota offers an online Master of Science degree in forensic psychology, which is a relatively new but rapidly growing area of the field. Students learn how to apply psychological theories and competencies as they relate to issues specifically within civil and criminal justice systems.

With the exception of one 2-week capstone course at UND’s Grand Forks campus, all courses and materials are delivered online. Any required fieldwork can be completed within one’s local community, and because lectures are recorded, students can access them when convenient. UND notes that students enrolled the online master’s in forensic psychology program pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency.

  • MA in Counseling (K-12 School)
  • MA in Forensic Psychology
  • MS in Nursing (Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing)

The University of West Alabama’s online master’s degree in experimental psychology is an advanced 36-hour program that combines a series of core courses with electives in areas like social psychology, developmental psychology and personality theory. Students must also complete a capstone thesis.

Courses are delivered online using Blackboard Collaborate, but are synchronous, meaning students attend lectures virtually during set class times. Additional tools like turnitin® and Securexam Remote Proctor® boost convenience while ensuring credibility. UWA notes that students enrolled its online graduate programs may be eligible for scholarships and other financial aid.

  • MED in School Counseling (certification)
  • MED in School Counseling (non-certification)
  • MS in Experimental Psychology

Two very different online psychology-related master’s programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst provide students with the necessary knowledge to work with special populations. Graduates may become professional practitioners in schools, hospitals, agencies, employee assistance programs, clinics and a variety of other service-related organizations.

Depending on the degree, students may have to visit campus for summer on-campus requirements or intern in a clinical or school setting to obtain practicum experience. Students will learn about diverse populations, behavioral intervention, legal and ethical issues, research methods and more.

  • MED in School Counseling
  • MS in Family Therapy
  • MS in Mental Health Counseling

At Lock Haven University, psychology distance learners can choose to pursue the Master of Science: Sport Science program, which offers a concentration in sport administration & sport and exercise psychology. In order to be considered for the program, applicants will need to submit an online application, official undergraduate transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of professional goals. In addition to examining the psychological factors that affect sport performance, physical activity, and overall psychological well-being, students also learn about sport administration, covering topics such as marketing, sales, event planning, and facility management in a range of sport settings.

  • Master of Science in Sport Science (track in Sport and Exercise Psychology)

The Chicago School for Professional Psychology offers 13 online master’s degree programs in the field, including international, forensic and general degrees — all with specific concentrations. The admission requirements are as varied as the degrees available, but generally students must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have some coursework in psychology under their belt.

Some online programs may include a limited “synchronous virtual residency,” which is a short session each term that requires all students to be online simultaneously. Generally, however, coursework is accessed asynchronously, or at the students’ convenience, through Canvas.

  • MA in Behavioral Economics
  • MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • MA in International Psychology (Environmental Advocacy)

Students earning their Master of Science in Applied Psychology from Angelo State University earn 36 credits in basic and applied psychology topics. Required courses include Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, Psychology of Chemical Dependency and Theories of Personality. Every class includes an applied component, such as discussion of practical problems psychologists could address. During the course of the program, students focus on behavior and how psychology can help societal issues such as health, education, decision making and safety.

Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree, but an undergraduate degree in psychology is not required for admission. Academic transcripts, an essay and a minimum 3.0 GPA are required.

  • MS in Applied Psychology

Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Science in Psychology helps current professionals expand their knowledge and expertise to work with children in the field of adolescent development. The 36-hour program features seven core classes in psychology research, measurement and research and five specialty courses focusing on children.

Doctoral experts in psychology developed the online program and all faculty members have extensive professional experience. Students can graduate in as few as 15 months and classes start five times during the calendar year. To be considered for admission, prospective students must hold an undergraduate degree in psychology and have coursework in social science statistics and research methods.

  • MS in Psychology (Child and Adolescent Development)
  • MS in Psychology (Forensic)
  • MS in Psychology (Industrial-Organizational)

University of Alabama’s online Master of Arts in Educational Psychology is a 30-credit program that may act as a transitional program for those looking to pursue a doctorate. While this degree does not lead to teacher certification, already certified teachers will find it builds additional knowledge in regard to developmental processes, theory and research in learning and instructional practices and application of performance assessments.

Online classes in this program include education research, development of self-regulation, life-span development and statistical methods in education. Coursework is delivered asynchronously through video streaming and Bama By Distance’s online course management system.

  • MA in Educational Psychology (Learning and Assessment)
  • MA in Rehabilitation Counseling

The University of North Texas’s online master’s degree in educational psychology is a 36-hour program that can be completed almost completely online. Students learn advanced, specialized training in the field of educational psychology as it applies to gifted students.

Courses cover a diversity of topics, including the psychology of learning and motivation, research and evaluation technique, and human development. This program requires no internship or practicum, but students must complete a capstone thesis or project. Prospective students can contact UNT’s College of Education to learn more about this and other web-based programs.

  • MS in Educational Psychology (Gifted and Talented Students)
  • MS in Rehabilitation Counseling

Aspiring psychologists and counselors can earn one of two related online master’s programs at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Graduates may go on to become school counselors or psychologists, counselors or psychologists within a service agency or clinical practice or go on to seek doctorate degrees in psychology.

Students take courses online in 4-, 8- or 16-week formats, depending on the course. Shorter classes are condensed, allowing students to complete required coursework faster (though still covering the same material). Students may waive some classes through ULM’s Prior Learning Assessment options, enabling them to test out of a course through exams such as the CLEP or DSST.

  • MS in Psychology
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

The University of Georgia’s online learning options include two Master of Education in Educational Psychology degrees. Both programs explore human cognitive, motivational and developmental processes and how to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs.

The programs prepare graduates for careers in teaching or administration of school programs, or allow graduates to go on to a higher degree. Students access online classes through eLearningCommons, UG’s online course management system. While students can take classes online, some classes require online or face-to-face proctoring for exams. Tutoring, library, advising and counseling services are available for all online students.

  • MED in Educational Psychology (Applied Cognition and Development)
  • MED in Educational Psychology (Gifted and Creative Education)

The University of Idaho’s Department of Psychology and Communication Studies offers a unique online master’s degree in human studies. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s in psychology or other field related to human factors, including computer science, design or engineering.

The degree focuses on how humans relate to outside influences and includes classes like Sensation and Perception, Cognitive Psychology, Human-Computer Interaction and Human Factors in Engineering Design. Students should already have mastery of statistics, research methods and psychology, however they may also take courses like these during their master’s program. University of Idaho has partnerships with many large organizations, enabling the school to help graduate students find internships if desired.

  • MS in Experimental Psychology (Human Factors)

Students who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and hold a current, unencumbered state license may apply for the University of Missouri – Kansas City’s online Master of Science in Nursing, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. This 43-hour degree allows the practicing nurse to diagnose, conduct therapy and prescribe medications for patients with mental health disorders.

Classes include physical and health assessment, pathophysiology, health promotion and disease prevention and disease management. Coursework is online; however students must earn 660 hours of clinical training and attend three on-campus residencies. Graduates are eligible to sit for national certification as a PMHNP by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

  • MS in Nursing (Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner)

The Baker College Center for Graduate Studies offers a Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology that can be earned online. Students learn how psychology works in organizations that span public and private sectors, including education and government. Students take 57 credit-hours in courses such as Statistics and Data Analysis, Psychology of Performance and Motivation and Psychology of Cognition and Learning.

Online classes at this college last for six weeks and consist of online discussions with peers and the instructor, homework assignments and readings. At the beginning of each week the instructor sends an introductory email, lecture and assignments.

  • MS in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

The University of Memphis’s online Master of Science in Educational Psychology is designed specifically for those who wish to earn a graduate degree but who are unable to attend traditional on-campus classes. Graduates may be prepared for careers in teaching, school administration, ministry, health professions and social work.

Online students attend an orientation to familiarize themselves with how online learning works as well as the resources available to them. Students access courses through eCourseware, the UofM’s online course management system. Many classes are completely asynchronous, allowing students to view materials at any time of the day or night. Students should read all course materials carefully as a few classes will have synchronous components.

  • MS in Educational Psychology

Students earning a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from California Baptist University can learn the necessary skills to help individuals, couples and families. The curriculum meets the requirements for state licensure in California for marriage and family therapists and licensed professional clinical counselors.

Courses include Human Growth and Development, Advanced Psychopathology and Professional Ethics and Law. Students partake in a practicum during their second year which is completed at an inpatient or outpatient facility. The program is designed to be completed in two years and while no thesis is required, a final, cumulative exam that covers coursework such as ethics and treatment planning is necessary.

  • MS in Counseling Psychology

A different take on the traditional psychology degree, the University of Mississippi offers an online Master of Science in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. This degree allows professionals to offer a full range of services to patients in a variety of settings.

Students learn how to diagnose and treat individuals of all ages and families who live with or have the potential for mental health challenges. While classes are online, the university requires students to meet on campus twice each semester for intensive training. Students may enroll part- or full-time, depending on their personal and professional goals and schedules.

  • MS in Nursing (Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner)

Students in the master’s of applied psychology program can choose from three concentrations: community psychology, industrial-organizational psychology and general applied psychology. The program boasts distinguished faculty, very selective admissions and three options for the capstone project, including a thesis, immersion experience or examination.

This is a research-based program that does not lead to licensure; therefore, students do not have to complete clinical hours. If students take only one class at a time, the program can be completed in two years. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree may apply and an undergraduate degree in psychology is not required. Residents of the state of Maryland cannot currently attend online courses at Sacred Heart University.

  • MS in Applied Psychology

The Master of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology is offered entirely online through the Department of Distance and Continuing Education. Students take courses in the psychology core as well as those in statistics and research methods. Students can choose one of three concentrations: psychometrics, human factors or leadership in technical organizations. They can also choose a thesis track or a non-thesis option.

In order to enter the 36-hour program, students must meet several prerequisites, including previous coursework in general psychology, research methods, statistics, and several courses pertaining to specific points of psychology, such as cognitive, social or abnormal psychology.

  • MS in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Students who wish to prepare for the PhD program can earn their master’s in psychology through online courses at Palo Alto University. This highly-structured program, designed for working professionals, is offered part-time and takes two years to complete.

This program can serve as a terminal degree, or can be a bridge for students who want to enter the PhD program. The program requires 46 quarter-credit hours, some of which can be applied to the PhD program if accepted. Since the program does not contain a clinical component, it does not lead to licensure. The program does require one week of residency during the summer quarter.

  • MS in Psychology
  • MS in Counseling

The Adler School of Professional Psychology offers two online psychology degrees that can be earned in less than 24 months. Before starting online classes, students talk to mentors and receive training. Students also receive help from an academic advisor who acts as the student’s personal coach.

Both the Military Psychology and the Industrial and Organizational Psychology degrees require a bachelor’s degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA before admission, though students with improved grades will also be considered. Applicants for the Military Psychology program will have their volunteer and professional experience evaluated for admissions decisions. The final admissions step for both programs is a faculty interview.

  • MA in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • MA in Psychology (Military Psychology)

Students earning an online master’s degree in psychology from Austin Peay State University focus on industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology. I-O psychology research and methods are studied during the program and students can choose an area of expertise such as training and development, motivation or team performance. Foundation courses include Foundations of Applied Psychology, Applied Measurement in I-O Psychology and Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology.

This program concludes with a comprehensive 90-minute exam. The exam is made up of short essay questions and covers topics for all core courses, the research methods course and statistics. Students unable to go to campus for the exam should identify a suitable proctor for the exam.

  • MA in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Franklin University’s master’s in business psychology degree program focuses on understanding human behavior in relation to business problems. This program can be completed in 14 months. Students will learn how to use psychology in product marketing, to assess job candidates, to approach employees and to determine an organization’s business intelligence. Required classes include Psychology of Marketing, Psychology of Organizational Coaching and Individual and Organizational Intelligence.

Potential Franklin University students can get a feel for online courses by taking an online course demo. Online students have library access, as well as student services like academic advising, technology help, disability services and financial aid resources.

  • MS in Business Psychology

Students attending the Institute for the Psychological Sciences can obtain an online Master of Science degree in Psychology. The curriculum consists of 36 credit-hours that teach modern psychological concepts that are in line with Catholic beliefs and teachings, with an emphasis on understanding the person as a whole.

Students can expect to learn how look at an individual’s behaviors, not only from a biological and emotional perspective, but from a spiritual one as well. The Institute for the Psychological Sciences is a non-therapeutic degree, but may help students accomplish more in their professional psychology related professions.

  • MS in Psychology

Exploring the Online Master’s in Psychology

The role of graduate programs in psychology is to prepare students for continued academic scholarship and training in a doctoral degree program or a move into clinical- or research-based positions in areas such as school psychology or organizational psychology.

Because of the broad scope of the field, psychology is applicable across a spectrum of industries and professional settings, meaning the online master’s degree affords students the opportunity to create and customize a specialized program of study that matches their future educational and career goals. In turn, students should seek out master’s programs that offer a variety of academic and research concentrations.

Designed to match their on-campus counterparts, online master’s degree programs provide a convenient, yet rigorous, educational experience. Depending on the particular degree program and area of concentration, universities may offer either a self-paced (asynchronous) format or more conventional real-time (synchronous) format that requires regularly scheduled participation in online class sessions, chats or video presentations.

Prospective graduate students should make sure they are comfortable with the online delivery of instruction before choosing to move forward. Establishing a level of comfort with online learning is only the first step in identifying and selecting a suitable master’s degree. In addition to course delivery, prospective master’s students should also make sure the university and department offer the right level of educational and technological support and that class scheduling can be balanced with professional or family commitments.

Finally, graduate students should turn their attention to the program’s curriculum, looking for instruction that blends both conceptual and theoretical study with practical, application- and profession-based training

Below is a list of six other factors that should be considered before choosing an online master’s in psychology degree program:

Teaching philosophy

Each graduate department in psychology takes a different approach to teaching the subject and has a curriculum that emphasizes different concentrations or specialties within the practice. For students considering a career in experimental/research psychology, they should learn about the program's focus on theory, methods, and research experience. For students pursuing clinical/applied psychology careers, they should seek out programs that concentrate coursework around clinical topics and that provide practical, application-based instruction.

Student profiles

Although online programs may minimize peer-to-peer interaction, it is still a good step to learn about the profile of other students admitted to the master's degree. Students should ask about their academic backgrounds, average test scores (e.g., GRE), work experience and academic or research concentrations. The prospective student's profile should align with the type of student being admitted to the program as the profile is one indicator of potential acceptance to and academic success within the respective department of psychology.

Program success

Psychology itself is a complex, demanding field of study. Prospective students should get an understanding of the psychology department's yield rate – that is the percentage of students that are admitted and then graduate, as well as the average length of time it takes a student to graduate. Determining the graduation yield and degree completion time can provide a good sense of the program's quality, success and overall commitment to ensuring student's graduate in a timely fashion.

Internship placement and success rates

For clinical programs that require an observation, practicum, or internship, students should review three factors:

  • What is the placement or selection site process?
  • What type of placement assistance offered (if any)?
  • What is the success rate for placement of students in the online degree?

Professional or academic preparation

For the online master's student, it is extremely important to note that not all MA or MS programs meet licensing requirements within their respective states for therapy practice. In turn, students should have an understanding regarding whether the program prepares students for professional practice, or is academic-oriented for future pursuit of applied degrees in psychology.

Licensing preparation

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) manages and serves as the governing organization for state licensing boards of psychology. Currently, 25 states have a form of licensing for master's degree holders to either practice independently or in a supervised capacity. Students should be aware if their program prepares for licensing examinations, is a recognized, approved provider and has an academic track that emphasizes licensing post-graduation.

By no means is this a comprehensive list of items for students to consider. Taking the time to research and assess the curriculum, admissions standards, faculty, learning format, length of the program and academic concentrations should provide students with a complete understanding of not only the master’s program itself, but how the student fits within the culture of both the department and university.

APA-recognized Psychology Specializations

Psychology is one of the most varied academic disciplines today and includes potential career paths both in research and clinical practice. Although psychologists may use a range of labels to describe their field of expertise or study, the American Psychology Association only recognizes 14 specializations. Two fields were added as late as 2013: Sleep Psychology and Police and Public Safety Psychology.

It is important for students to note that some concentrations are doctoral-based**, but should be considered if the goal of completing a master’s is to continue into a PhD program. Below is a list of APA-recognized concentration areas within the profession:

Clinical Neuropsychology**

Clinical Neuropsychology is a specialized area of practice concerned with the science and study of human behavior, specifically brain behavior, development and functioning. Educational preparation for this field begins at the doctoral level with additional training completed in post-doctoral settings.

Clinical Health Psychology

Clinical health psychology has its foundations in the health sciences, dealing with the scientific study of physical and emotional illness. The field applies scientific study to multiple, interrelated subjects, including anatomy, pharmacology, human physiology and more. Specifically, practitioners in this area concentrate specialized knowledge to promote and maintain healthy behaviors, preventative and treatment methods for illness and disability, as well as overall improvement of the health care system.

Psychoanalysis in Psychology**

Psychoanalysis in psychology concerns itself with a specialized approach to therapeutic activity with theories that examine areas such as social behavior or cognitive processes. Training in this area is intensive and can only be completed in a post-doctoral situation – which may take several years to complete. Professionals in psychoanalysis implement both short- and long-term therapeutic activities such as dream interpretation or group therapy.

School Psychology

School psychology is considered by the APA to be a general, service-oriented practice within the field. It deals with the psychology of children, youth, and their families, providing a range of assessment, intervention and evaluation processes within the educational setting. School psychology teaches students about developing effective psychological techniques to promote the development of effective learning environments.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is an application-based psychological specialty built on research, assessment, counseling and consultation and treatment of mental health and behavioral issues in individuals and families alike. The field includes a broad scope of practice, covering all ages, demographics and cultural backgrounds.

Clinical Child Psychology

Clinical child psychology is a professional field of study, where psychologists provide services and care to children, ranging from infants to adolescents. Studies in this area focus on developing a student’s understanding of child psychology, such as cognitive development and deficits, mental disorders, emotional disorders or stress problems.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is another general, service-based practice in psychology. The profession focuses on interpersonal relationships, addressing emotional and social issues, work and school problems and health concerns. Practically, counseling psychologists assist individuals, couples, children and families alike to enhance their well-being, handle personal crises and alleviate points of emotional or behavioral stress (e.g., depression, anxiety).

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

At its core, industrial and organizational psychology is the study of human behavior in the workplace, and applies scientific research to investigate group, individual and organizational behaviors. In this field of practice, psychologists use their knowledge to optimize working performance, assess individual training needs, create training programs and implement organizational assessment platforms.

Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology

A professional area of psychology practice, behavioral and cognitive psychology deals specifically with cognitive processing; at its most basic, the methods of thinking and learning. Combining a clinical and research approach to the practice, psychologists in this area study a range of issues, such as substance abuse, depression, learning disorders, mental health problems and emotional behavior issues.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is positioned as a professional, expert-based area of study and profession, where psychologists apply their experience and expertise to the judicial system. Typically, forensic psychology concentrates study in three areas: clinical (e.g., assessment, diagnosis, treatment); forensics (techniques to apply psychological training to legal questions); and the legal system (understanding of laws and the overall legal system).

Family Psychology

A broad field of psychology, family psychology is another professionally-oriented specialty that concentrates on understanding human behavior's impact in the family dynamic. Larger topics include communication and organizational theory, psychotherapy, personality and human behavior, family assessment, advocacy and training, consultation skills and family and couples therapy.

Professional Geropsychology

A recent addition (approved in 2010), geropsychology endeavors to study the older adult, in particular aging, adult development, mental health in later stages of life and health maintenance. Geropsychology is closely aligned with the social service practice, addressing issues ranging from depression and the grief of loss to family caregiving, end-of-life considerations to dealing with chronic illnesses.

Police & Public Safety Psychology

This branch of psychology combines psychological research and practice within the law enforcement and public safety industries. Experience in this practice is wide ranging, covering everything from understanding crisis intervention to creating criminal profiles, researching hostage negotiation techniques to improving law enforcement training, police and public safety psychologists.

Sleep Psychology

At its core, sleep psychology studies sleep disorders, including underlying psychological, physiological and behavioral issues that may be causing or disrupting normative sleep behaviors. Research focuses in areas such as sleep cycles, sleep regulation, sleep deprivation, insomnia and sleep-related breathing disorders.

Concentrations & Coursework

With an extensive selection of specializations available, prospective online master’s students should pay particular attention to each school’s specific degree concentrations and – importantly – the curriculum of both the program and concentration area. Not all programs are created equal, as some psychology departments may emphasize different learning theories or research principles within an individual speciality area.

Secondly, some departments may offer practicum and non-practicum based degree programs. Master’s degrees requiring a practicum means the student must complete an on-site internship or observation in their area of focus. Non-practicum based programs typically require either a capstone project or a thesis to graduate.

Below is a list of four degree concentrations commonly available through online master’s degree programs, which sheds some insight into how they relate back to the larger APA specialization area.

Clinical Psychology

Degree programs in clinical psychology focus on the study of human experience, teaching students how to become effective communicators and apply their research and knowledge of the field in clinical situations.

  • Clinical Psychologists

    Clinical psychologists assess and treat emotional, mental and behavioral disorders. Some clinical psychologists may specialize in a single treatment area, such as clinical depression, or consult with specific groups, such as families or children

Industrial & Organizational Psychology

The master’s of organizational or industrial psychology studies the behavior of individuals in an organizational or work setting to measure or improve productivity and performance.

  • Industrial/organizational Psychologists

    Applying psychological research and principles to the workplace, industrial and organizational psychologists are concerned with measuring and improving productivity and the work/life balance of employees.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology involves the study of cognitive science, learning and instruction and human development, teaching students about research design, developing statistical methodologies and using psychological principles in an educational setting.

  • School Psychologists

    School psychologists typically work in K-12 educational settings, providing an array of psychological assessment, testing and counseling services to students, parents, families and staff members.

Counseling Psychology

A diverse field of study, counseling psychology provides instruction in both research and clinical practice, covering specialized areas of instruction including professional clinical counseling or marriage and family counseling.

  • Counseling Psychologists

    Counseling Psychologists assist individuals, families, couples and groups to recognize, cope and deal with problems ranging from career issues to depression, academic struggles to problematic family events.

Gaining an understanding of APA specializations and related degree concentration areas can help prospective students align their graduate education goals to a specific career area. The next step in determining the right program fit is to explore the coursework of the master’s – examining what classes are offered, the topics of instruction and whether they offer the type of training a student is seeking.

Below is a list of master’s psychology courses across a variety of disciplines in the field:

Psychology of Health

This course considers the principles behind behavioral analysis in regards to health issues, providing students with practical, application-based instruction for applying those principles to understand and solve health problems, such as smoking, obesity or alcoholism.

Physiological Basis of Behavior

Traditionally offered as a survey course, this class studies how physiological factors (e.g., biology, chemical) relates to the underpinnings of behavior. Students typically learn about major physiological areas, such as the central nervous system.

Theories of Personality

In this course students review current thinking and theories in personality research, covering topics such as social learning, personality development, self-esteem and social inference.

Cognitive Neuroscience

This class is a focused study of the human brain, specifically its cognitive (thinking) functions, ranging from language to imagination, the idea of consciousness to what drives creativity.


Typically delivered as an introductory course to the topic, neuropsychology covers the connection between the brain/mind to human behavior and discusses topics such as perception, developmental disabilities, regulation of behavior and more.

Trauma and Crisis Intervention

Examines the comprehensive impact of trauma on individuals, support networks and communities. Particular consideration is paid to the multiple forms of trauma and crisis commonly presented for the child and adolescent population, and a survey of the most current research, evidence-based practices and national organizations.

Introduction to Addictive Disorders

This class serves as an introductory overview of the field of addictions, including its history, types of addition and current trends in research, assessment and treatment.

Cognitive Processes

This course allows students to investigate and learn about cognitive psychology – the science of thinking and learning – covering topics ranging from memory to language, decision-making to perception.

The Ethics of Psychology

This course offers a dive into the ethical principles of psychology, reviewing specific ethical guidelines concerning confidentiality, assessment, experimentation and professional standards.

The Online Master’s in Psychology Timeline

Degree concentrations and curriculum only tell one part of the story of preparing for graduate school. During their review process, students should also ask a series of questions about the application procedures, the learning format of online programs, the number of credits required to graduate and the length of the program, as well as post-graduation licensing requirements.

It can be helpful to create a degree timeline that covers the steps from application to graduation, as it can set expectations and keep students on track. Depending on the college, degree and concentration, an online psychology master’s degree can be completed between one year and three years of study. The timeline below describes a hypothetical plan for a 60-credit, 36-month program.

Step 1

Program Research

Prospective students should start their program research early, as it can take time to study, take standardized tests and collect the required documents for an application. During the review process, students should develop a target list of online master’s programs, outlining informational data that is common to each program:

  • Degree concentrations available
  • Faculty
  • Cost of the program (e.g. tuition, technology fees, books)
  • Technology requirements for online learning
  • Total credits required to graduate
  • Online learning format (hybrid, synchronous, asynchronous)
  • Residency requirements
  • Deadlines for application submission
  • GPA and GRE test minimums
  • Application fees
Step 2

Preparing the Application

Requirements for admission vary from program to program, so students should review the requirements for each individual program prior to applying. Typically, graduate programs in psychology may look for or require the following items:

  • Undergraduate coursework in psychology (e.g., major or minor)
  • Research experience (e.g., serving as undergraduate research assistant)
  • Work experience
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Transcripts
  • Interview
  • Writing sample or essay
  • Volunteer experience
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
Year 1

Core Coursework

During the first year of study, students complete 15 credits of coursework in core instruction, such as ethics, research design, quantitative research and psychological measure. This initial year is designed to prepare the student for their degree concentration and thesis to be started in year two. Towards the end of the first year, students work with their advisor and/or committee to develop a thesis proposal and discuss internship possibilities (if required in a clinical or terminal degree track).

  • Full course load during the fall, winter and spring semesters
  • Master’s thesis seminar
  • Begin work on master’s thesis proposal
Year 2

Degree Concentration and Thesis

If required, students should be focusing on their thesis or capstone project in year two as well as beginning their program of study in their concentration area and research for their master’s thesis.

  • Full course load during the fall, winter and spring semesters
  • Present and defend master’s thesis proposal
  • Begin work on master’s thesis research during each semester
Year 3

Preparing to Graduate

The third year of study is dedicated to finishing the master’s thesis, preparing for comprehensive examinations, completing a practicum and finishing coursework.

  • Full course load during the fall, winter and spring semesters
  • Complete a practicum or internship
  • Finish degree coursework
  • Take comprehensive examinations
  • Defend master’s thesis

Insider Advice from an Educational Psychology Grad

Dr. Shannon Walker-Michel holds a master's degree, which was earned online, and a doctorate in educational psychology. She is an acting associate dean on the university level, and had previously served as the chair of a graduate psychology program. In addition to legislative consulting, she acts as a reviewer for the American Psychological Association and conducts research projects.

Dr. Walker-Michel offers the following advice for psychology students:

To succeed in any field, students need to be able to write well, think critically and conduct novel research.

Psychology students should become familiar with the field's different subsets and select an area of specialization based on their passion.

Students must acquaint themselves with state requirements for licensure and certification, including the level of education needed in order to work in their field of choice.

Connectivity and experience are essential to future success. Students should not only be aware of experts or agencies in their field, but also connect with them and engage in an internship, practicum or volunteer work prior to graduation. Such relationships and activities can make students more competitive when they enter the job market.

Online Master’s in Psychology Offers Diverse Career Paths

As noted above, psychology is a complex field as it layers in not only several disciplines, but varied professional approaches as well (practice and research). Because of that complexity, prospective students in psychology should have a solid understanding of their future career goals – whether it is to advance into licensed professions or pursue doctoral level training in the field.

Employment Setting Percentage Breakdown
Mental Health Services 24.9%
Business or Government 15%
Higher Education 5.4%
K-12 Settings 19.6%
Postdoctoral or Graduate Training 25.2%

That granular focus on a career is vital because the investment into a master’s education in psychology is significant in both time and financial resources. Unlike many other industries, psychology professions are directly tied to graduate education at the master’s and doctoral levels. This connection means completing a master’s degree is one factor that could influence the potential future career earnings of graduates.

For example, School Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and Industrial-Organizational Counseling are recognized as terminal master’s degree subjects, meaning graduates are prepared for practice after graduating. Although a degree in those areas cannot necessarily guarantee higher wages, it can position the student for positions that have average salaries north of six figures.

Additionally, students can increase their professional marketability and develop important network connections during their graduate studies.

Below is a table of national salaries for psychologists in 2013:

Top 10 % $113,430
Median (50%) $69,500
Bottom 10% $39,260

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups psychology into four major areas: Clinical, Counseling and School Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Psychology (All other fields) and Post-Secondary Psychology Faculty/Teachers.

The table below includes 2013 salary data for each major occupational area and highlights the salary range provided by the BLS (bottom 10 percent of earners to top 10 percent of earners), as well as the average salary for each group.

Psychology Concentration Average Salary Salary Range
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $72,710 $39,020 – $112,380
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $87,960 $49,570 – $140,390
Psychologists, All Other $88,400 $42,550 – $117,090
Psychology Faculty $76,060 $36,410 – $123,620

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Occupational Wage and Employment Estimates, 2013

Industry salary data from the American Psychology Association has not been updated since 2009. However, data from the Economic Research Institute, an organization that provides compensation, benefits and human resources research, revealed the salary range for psychologists is $86,113 to $106,672. Salaries for other specializations in the field included:

  • Experimental psychologist: $120,438 - $149,193
  • Clinical psychologist: $103,575 - $128,303
  • School psychologist: $73,441 - $90,974

Geographically speaking, online master’s degree students may have better earning potential depending on their location. Below is a list of the top paying states in 2013 for research- and academic-based psychology positions, including post-secondary faculty positions for students considering moving from a master’s to a doctoral program of study.

Clinical, counseling and school psychologists
Hawaii: Rhode Island: Alabama:
$102,990 $93,710 $85,800
Industrial and organizational psychologists
Tennessee: Virginia: California:
$125,830 $102,610 $101,770
Psychologists, all other
New Hampshire: Minnesota: Maryland:
$132,590 $123,600 $104,770
Psychology faculty
Massachusetts: Rhode Island: New Hampshire:
$105,420 $93,900 $87,510

According to the most recent APA data, 70% of master’s degree students enter the workforce, while 30% transition to a doctoral program.

Career Projections and Opportunities in Psychology

As an overall occupation, the BLS projects 12 percent employment growth between 2012 and 2022. Although that number may seem low, multiple disciplines in the field (e.g. industrial-organizational) are expected to experience healthy employment increases during that time. Below is a list of employment projections according to BLS occupational groupings:

  • Industrial-organizational psychology: 53%
  • Psychology faculty: 14%
  • Clinical, counseling and school psychology: 11%
  • All other psychology fields: 11%

A closer examination of employment projections reveals the best opportunities for online master’s degree graduates should be in health care, social services and education. Below is a table of some of the fastest growing industry areas by psychology concentration area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Projected Job Growth
Psychologists (General)
Health care
Psychologists (General)
Social assistance
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
Elderly services
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
Home health care
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
Outpatient care centers
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
Private colleges and universities
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
Educational support services
Psychology Faculty
Private junior colleges
Psychology Faculty
Private universities and colleges

In the end, students should be highly selective when it comes to choosing an online master’s degree program. The degree sets the stage for a professional area of expertise, with salary directly tied to education, experience, and location in the field.

Taking an Online Master’s of Psychology in a New Direction

Typically speaking, psychologists have three traditional career avenues: private practice, teaching and research. However, graduates have the opportunity to take an alternative employment route, pursuing career avenues in professions outside of the field itself. Employers desire employees with the skill sets psychologists possess – critical thinking, decision making, an understanding of human behavior, research – which means students with a master’s degree in psychology are in-demand in the workplace.

Below is a list of three possible career options that diverge from teaching, research and private practice that allow psychologists to put their skills to use.

  • Community Relations Officer

    The role of a community relations officer is a natural fit for a graduate of an online master’s degree program in psychology. Community relations officers are responsible for serving as a liaison between an organization and the community at-large. The position requires collaboration skills, an understanding of diversity and strong communication abilities – areas that are all enhanced by a degree in psychology. In their position, community relations officers identify, research, develop and implement projects that promote the well-being of their community.

  • Probation and Parole Officer

    Understanding the behaviors of others and how they think is vital in the position of probation or parole officer. For graduates of graduate programs in psychology, working in corrections offers a chance to sidestep into a role that meshes well with their educational experience. In their positions, probation and parole officers are tasked with a range of responsibilities, including evaluating the best course of rehabilitation for an offender, monitoring and assisting the progress of an offender, providing support and counseling to the family and friends of the offender and providing access to resources (e.g., job training).

  • Career Counselor

    Even if the student’s degree is not in counseling psychology, career counseling could be a solid choice for psychology students. Career counselors consult with a variety of clients, from new college graduates to mid-career changers, guiding them through decision making challenges, helping them develop new job skills, assisting them with conflict resolution in the workplace, as well as conducting assessments to match them to the right career paths.

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