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Considering a career in psychology? This guide to psychology schooling explains different types of degrees and what you can do with a degree in psychology.
Best Online Psychology Degrees
To become a psychologist, therapist, or counselor, you must earn a clinical degree in psychology — one that prepares you to practice. There are many different disciplines in psychology. Associate and bachelor's psychology degrees explore a wider variety of topics. Graduate degrees in psychology become more focused on specific disciplines.
Select one of the following areas of psychology that most interests you.
Addictions and Recovery Psychology
Addictions and recovery psychology focuses on substance abuse, chemical dependency, and other addictions. Substance use and addiction counselors help individuals recover from dependency with psychotherapy and behavioral counseling. Practitioners in this area earn a master's degree in counseling and may become certified alcohol and drug counselors (CADC). Some states only require an associate or bachelor's degree for lower-tier CADC credentials.
Substance abuse counselor schools typically integrate counseling, psychology, and social work. Students participate in clinical experiences. Coursework covers clinical assessment, diagnostic processes, and group facilitation.
Behavioral psychology employs psychotherapy to help patients overcome phobias and compulsions, as well as conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. The most common technique utilized by behavioral psychologists is cognitive behavioral therapy.
Practitioners in this specialty hold licenses as psychologists or professional counselors and earn master's or doctoral degrees, depending on state requirements. Degree programs offer courses in assessment and diagnosis, intervention and prevention, psychological ideologies, and research design. The curriculum also includes clinical rotations.
Child and Adolescent Psychology
The field of child psychology studies the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral factors affecting children from infancy through adolescence.
Child psychologists find employment as counselors, therapists, advisors, and researchers. While most positions require at least a master's degree, these specialists must hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree to obtain state licensure and practice in a clinical setting.
The largest area of specialization for psychologists, clinical psychology covers all aspects of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. Licensed clinical psychologists who hold a doctoral degree will likely find the best career opportunities, entering well-paying positions in healthcare or mental health organizations, schools, government and nonprofit agencies, or private practice.
Developmental psychology offers insights for understanding the changes and challenges experienced across the lifespan. Specialists in this field treat developmental disorders related to specific stages of life, from childhood to old age.
Although developmental psychologists often need a Ph.D. and state licensure to provide patient services, bachelor's or master's degree-holders may find employment in social work and counseling fields.
Licensed educational psychologists apply their training to improve learning outcomes for diverse groups. These professionals often work with children or adults with autism, ADHD, or dyslexia.
Employers prefer that candidates hold a doctorate in this field, especially for careers as professors and researchers. However, depending on licensing requirements, graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree may work as behavioral analysts, guidance counselors, or special education assistants.
Family counseling focuses on family members with communication issues and conflicts. Practitioners use psychotherapy to help parents, guardians, children, spouses, and partners build stronger connections, manage stress, and cope with grief, mental illness, and addiction.
Family counselors hold licenses as psychologists or therapists, which require a master's or doctoral degree, depending on the state. These professionals can pursue certification from organizations, such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Graduate family counseling programs emphasize assessment and case management; counseling techniques and interventions; history and development of marriage, couple, and family counseling; and theories and models of family systems and dynamics. Clinical components give students opportunities to apply classroom learning.
The criminal justice and legal systems increasingly rely on applications from the field of forensic psychology. Psychologists trained in forensics may provide mental health assessments in trials, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities, offer expert testimony in civil and criminal cases, and assist in criminal investigations.
Most forensic psychology positions require at least a master's degree, in addition to state licensure and professional certifications.
General Counseling Psychology
Counseling psychology provides applications that help people, families, and groups deal with personal issues, emotional and behavioral challenges, and mental conditions.
The minimum qualifications for employment in the field include a master's degree and completing supervised clinical practice hours. While some counselors may operate their own private practice, most find positions at healthcare and mental health organizations, schools, government agencies, and businesses.
General psychology refers to bachelor's-level study of psychology. A bachelor's degree in psychology can lead to non-clinical counseling or social services careers. Degree-holders can also pursue graduate study to become licensed in counseling, social work, or psychology.
Undergraduate psychology majors learn counseling strategies, analysis of individuals, research skills, and human behavior and development. The curriculum also includes general education courses in sciences, math, and humanities. Psychology bachelor's programs may feature practicums or internships.
Graduates pursue positions as addiction counselors, employment counselors, human resource specialists, and social and community services managers.
This field explores the psychological, social, and biological factors that impact mental and physical health. Graduates enter fields as varied as pain management, behavior assessment, and community and public health.
Health psychologists should hold at least a doctorate and a state-issued clinical license. An undergraduate degree, while offering fewer career options, may lead to employment as a mental health counselor or rehabilitation specialist.
One of the fastest growing fields in the discipline, industrial/organizational psychology applies psychological theories and techniques in work environments to improve employee performance, satisfaction, and safety.
Although some bachelor's degree-holders may enter the field in training and facilitating positions, most industrial psychologists have earned an advanced degree, equipping them to conduct research, testing, and assessments.
Industrial organizational psychologists often serve in consulting roles addressing issues like leadership development, team-building, and workplace diversity.
This branch of psychology examines how human thoughts, beliefs, and behavior shape and are shaped by applied or imagined interactions with others. Social psychologists explore topics, such as prejudice and implicit bias, interpersonal conflict, bullying, and group dynamics, and apply their knowledge in industry, government, social services, and educational settings. Most careers in social psychology require a doctorate, with an emphasis on research and assessment.
Sports psychology develops applications that help athletes overcome mental challenges in order to achieve their full potential. Sports psychologists administer skills assessment and counseling to their clients or conduct research on the psychological factors that affect performance.
While most clinical and counseling positions require a doctorate, graduates with bachelor's or master's degrees may pursue careers as recreational therapists, athletic trainers, and motivational consultants.
Different Types of Psychology Degrees
With a Ph.D. in psychology, you can become a psychologist, but there are other options.
A master's in psychology can prepare you for a career as a therapist or counselor, depending on the state. Each state has different licensing requirements.
You can also use psychology schooling in other careers, such as management, marketing, education, or law, or as an assistant to a psychologist. These careers do not often require a master's in psychology. Some may not require a bachelor's degree.
Associate Degree in Psychology
With an associate degree in psychology, you have a variety of career options. You can work in social and government services, sales and marketing, corporations or nonprofits, or administration in a psychology department or psychologist's office.
This is the fastest degree in psychology. Most programs take just two years. This also makes it the most affordable psychology degree. You need a high school or GED diploma to apply. Most community colleges that offer an associate degree are open admission but may recommend a specific GPA.
Bachelor's Degree in Psychology
A bachelor's degree can start you on the path to eventually earning a Ph.D. in psychology. Common careers for someone with a bachelor's degree in psychology include government, management, sales, human resources, and human services. You can earn your degree on campus, in a hybrid program, or online.
You can earn either a bachelor of science (BS) or a bachelor of arts (BA) in psychology. A BA is often based in the liberal arts and offers a broader area of focus. A BS focuses on research and theory.
Most master's in psychology programs and employers accept either degree. Earning a bachelor's degree takes around four years. You must have a high school diploma or GED certificate to apply.
The recommended GPA depends on the school and its admission requirements.
Master's Degree in Psychology
Depending on the state, you can become a counselor or therapist with a master's in psychology. With this degree, you can also work in human services, as a consultant, or in administration or government.
Many master's students plan to continue their graduate studies with a doctoral degree in psychology, with the goal of becoming a psychologist.
Like a bachelor's degree in psychology, you can earn either a master of science (MS) or a master of arts (MA). The MS focuses more on research and theory, and is therefore good preparation for an academic career. A master's in psychology takes 2-3 years to complete. Most schools require at least a 3.0 GPA for admission.
Ph.D. Degree in Psychology
After you earn your master's degree, you have two choices for a psychology doctorate: a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. In general, students who plan to become practicing counseling or clinical psychologists earn either degree. A Ph.D. often makes students more eligible for careers in teaching and research.
A doctoral degree in psychology takes 4-7 years to complete. Most programs require at least a 3.0 GPA. Many accept applicants with a master's degree in a field related to psychology, as well. However, you must be able to show that your master's degree in another field prepared you as well as a master's in psychology would.
Once you earn your Ph.D. in psychology, many states also require a post-doctoral training year where you practice under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before applying for your own license. Specific requirements vary according to the state.
Psy.D. Degree in Psychology
Both a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in psychology prepare you to work as a licensed psychologist. All states require a doctorate for this license.
Clinical psychology programs focus on diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. Counseling psychology programs emphasize ways for psychologists to help patients address mental health issues within the context of their environments as well as social justice advocacy. .
Psy.D. graduates are more likely to work in clinics with patients than in academia or research.Both degrees include methodology and research courses. However, the Psy.D. focuses less on these and more on day-to-day practice. You can earn a psychologist license with either degree.
Like a Ph.D., a Psy.D. takes 4-7 years to complete. Most applicants have at least a 3.0 GPA. You must be skilled in both qualitative and quantitative research and very comfortable with statistics.
Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology Degrees
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Accreditation ensures that schools and programs meet established standards of quality developed by independent accreditation organizations. The American Psychological Association (APA) is the primary accrediting body for doctoral programs. While it does not accredit undergraduate or online programs, the APA has developed curriculum guidelines for postsecondary degrees.
Is psychology a good major?
Psychology ranks among the most popular degrees behind business, healthcare professions, other social sciences, and history. Psychology majors can expect a favorable job outlook as new career prospects expand in healthcare, industry, education, social services, and criminal justice and legal systems. The relevance of psychology to everyday life contributes to its wide acceptance.
What is it like to get a degree in psychology online?
A growing number of schools offer bachelor's, master's, and even doctorates through distance learning platforms. Students may take courses in convenient asynchronous formats that provide open access to class materials, synchronously delivered coursework scheduled at specific times, or hybrid programs that require some on-campus meetings. Most graduate programs require on-site clinical experiences but may offer students the possibility to complete these placements near their homes.
What's the difference between a psychologist and a counselor?
Only those with a doctorate, Ph.D. or Psy.D., and a license to practice may use the title of psychologist. Psychologists apply their training in testing, assessment, and psychotherapy to treat serious mental conditions, such as bipolar and dissociative disorders.
Counselors, on the other hand, may enter the field with a master's degree, offering therapy to clients dealing with emotional and behavioral issues, such as anxiety, anger management, and addictions. Most states limit the types of psychological tests that counselors may administer.
How can I pay for my psychology degree?
The cost of undergraduate and graduate degrees may be offset by financial aid in the form of loans, grants, or scholarships. As a first step, prospective psychology students should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for government loans and other forms of assistance. Many schools and foundations offer both need-based and merit-based awards, often intended for certain demographic groups or for students interested in specific areas of practice, such as forensic or clinical psychology.
Page Last Reviewed June 8, 2023
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