Types of Psychology Degrees

Types of Psychology Degrees

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As the scientific study of the human mind and how it shapes behavior, psychology encompasses many areas of inquiry. A psychology degree offers applications for a variety of career paths. Most psychology positions require at least a bachelor's degree, although an associate degree can lead to entry-level roles in psychiatric, social, and human services.

Psychology graduates can expect an overall 14% increase in employment between 2018-2028, with even higher job growth rates for clinical, counseling, school, and industrial-organizational psychologists. This page provides an overview of the types of psychology degrees and the minimum educational levels required for careers in child psychology, clinical psychology, sports psychology, and other in-demand fields.

Psychology Degrees

Long considered one of the most fascinating social sciences, psychology ranks among the nation's top college majors. Students may pursue psychology degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

While each type of degree emphasizes skills that translate into different career paths, employment opportunities in the field vary considerably by specialty and minimum educational qualifications. The highest paying and most specialized positions require clinical and research training, increasing the demand for master's, Ph.D., and Psy.D. degree-holders.

Associate Degree in Psychology

An associate degree in psychology, which generally takes two years of full-time study, offers a quick entry into the workforce compared to other degree paths. Graduates find employment in an array of beginning or supporting roles in the social and human services and mental health fields. For many students, the 60-credit associate degree serves as a stepping stone toward bachelor's and master's degrees, along with more advanced career opportunities. While most associate degrees consist primarily of general education requirements that emphasize verbal and written communication, math, and analytical skills, the psychology offerings introduce students to the discipline, covering the major theories and topics such as cognition, personality, and developmental approaches.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

A bachelor's degree offers the best pathway to a variety of psychology careers. Graduates may take positions in social and community services, human resources, and rehabilitation services or pursue employment in non-psychological fields such as business, criminal justice, and education. A bachelor's also provides the academic foundation for a graduate degree required to enter more advanced positions in the field. Most bachelor's programs consist of 160 credits completed over four years.While courses vary by program, most psychology majors take courses in theory and research methods, addictions, and developmental psychology. Clinical experiences make up an essential part of the psychology curriculum, providing students with practical career-focused training.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

Although a master's degree in psychology generally requires two years of study beyond the bachelor's, the benefits outweigh the time commitment and financial costs. This degree provides the minimal educational qualification for counseling, administrative, and research positions in a variety of settings, including social and community services, education, and mental healthcare. Master degree-holders often continue their studies in doctoral programs usually to prepare for positions as licensed clinical psychologists or researchers. The typical curriculum offers core psychology courses and clinical experiences. Depending on the program, students may choose from several specializations that reflect their personal and professional interests, in areas such as child psychology, forensic psychology, and sport psychology.

Ph.D. Degree in Psychology

All states require professional psychologists to hold a doctoral degree, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. While clinical psychologists who have earned either degree may obtain state licenses to practice, a Ph.D. provides the appropriate kind of training for students interested in teaching at the postsecondary level and conducting scientific research. A Ph.D. program, which can take 5-8 years to finish, places more emphasis on statistics and research methodology than clinical applications. Like the Psy.D. degree, the curriculum typically includes a year-long internship, approved by the American Psychological Association (APA). The dissertation requirement may prolong the length of time needed to complete a Ph.D. degree.

Psy.D. Degree in Psychology

Unlike the research-oriented Ph.D. degree, Psy.D. programs focus on clinical applications, assessment strategies, and intervention techniques with less emphasis on qualitative and quantitative methods. The Psy.D. curriculum usually offers specializations in clinical practice areas such as family and couples therapy, school psychology, counseling, and gerontology, requiring an APA-approved internship relating to the area of practice. Best suited for students seeking to enter clinical practice and administrative roles rather than teaching or research, a Psy.D. provides a more pragmatic approach to psychology. While some programs may require a dissertation or capstone research project, the degree typically takes less time to complete than a Ph.D., with most students finishing all requirements in 4-6 years.

Online Psychology Bachelor's Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?

Child 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 to practice in a clinical setting.

Clinical Psychology

The largest area of specialization for psychologists, clinical psychology covers all aspects of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. Licensed clinical psychologists who generally hold doctoral degrees will find the best career opportunities, entering well-paying positions in healthcare or mental health organizations, schools, government and nonprofit agencies, or private practice.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology provides applications that help individuals, families, and groups deal with personal issues, emotional and behavioral challenges, and mental disorders. The minimum qualifications for employment in the field include a master's degree and completion of 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.

Developmental Psychology

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 typically 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 exceptional children or adults with autism, ADHD, or dyslexia. A doctorate constitutes the preferred educational credential for this field, especially for careers as professors and researchers. However, depending on licensing requirements, graduates with a bachelor's or master's may find employment as behavioral analysts, guidance counselors, or special education assistants.

Forensic Psychology

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.

Health Psychology

This field explores the psychological, social, and biological factors that impact mental and physical health, preparing graduates to enter fields as varied as pain management, behavior assessment, and community and public health. Health psychologists should hold at least a master's degree 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.

Industrial Organizational Psychology

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 degree-holders may enter the field in training and facilitating positions, most industrial psychologists have earned an advanced degree, equipping them with the training they need to conduct research, testing, and assessments. I/O psychologists often serve in consulting roles addressing issues like leadership development, team-building, and workplace diversity.

Social Psychology

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

Sports psychology develops applications that help athletes overcome mental challenges in order to achieve their full potential. Sport 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.

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 APA serves as the primary accreditation body for doctoral programs. While it does not accredit undergraduate programs, the APA has developed curriculum guidelines for postsecondary degrees. In addition to APA programmatic accreditation, students should seek out colleges and universities holding regional accreditation by independent agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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 also 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 Ph.D. or Psy.D. graduates may use the title of psychologist. Psychologists apply their training in testing, assessment, and psychotherapy to treat serious mental illnesses such 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 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.

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