Master's in Psychology Degree Overview

by

Updated October 19, 2022

check mark Reviewed by

Our Integrity Network

Psychology.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for Psychology.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

Master's programs allow students to specialize in areas of psychology that interest them most. Learn about degree requirements and job opportunities for master's grads here.

Psychology.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: SDI Productions | E+| Getty Images

A master's in psychology program gives students specialized knowledge in a particular area of psychology. Graduates can pursue roles as counselors, therapists, and organizational psychologists. But, aspiring clinical psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology.

Consider the factors below when deciding if a master's degree in psychology is right for you.

Pros and Cons of Getting a Master's in Psychology

The Master's Degree in Psychology is More Moderate in Length

For motivated students, a master's in psychology program can take anywhere from two to four years to complete. While this is a more significant time commitment, many master's degree in psychology students are prepared for this after completing their undergraduate.

Pro

Some students are able to earn their BS and master's degree in psychology concurrently; high earnings with less time commitment than Ph.D.

Con

Lower earning power than Ph.D. in psychology graduates; less time to refine expertise in an academic setting


You Can Enter the Workforce with Tangible Skills

Most master's degree in psychology candidates work as assistants, volunteers or interns while in school, all of which give them an opportunity to pay for school. Master's in psychology students are guaranteed to obtain practical experience by working in their field of interest.

Pro

Some nonprofits rely heavily on the support of master's in psychology students, meaning that for qualified applicants there is no shortage of experiential opportunities.

Con

Requires the ability to balance both work and school


It's More Flexible Than a Ph.D.

Master's degree in psychology students may find that their conventional learning experiences become more flexible. Every master's in psychology and doctoral student is required to complete hands-on learning experiences in order to graduate, in addition to cumulative graduation projects. Some colleges understand this can be difficult for working professionals, and may be inclined to offer flexible scheduling.

Pro

Weekend, evening, hybrid and online courses are surfacing more and more commonly in graduate-level psychology curriculums.

Con

Some master's degree in psychology programs have very rigid and clearly defined expectations. Many universities recommend students do not work at all in sustainable, wage-earning employment, saving their time and energy for studies and practicums; while others expect students to make themselves available during full-time, day-schedule courses.


It Makes You More Specialized

Perhaps the most exciting part about pursuing a master's in psychology is the chance to dig into the area of psychology that interests you most. Substance abuse, sports psychology, family/marriage counseling and social work are all fields in which master's in psychology students can choose to major, minor or double major.

Pro

These specialties often come with the opportunity to gain licensures and certifications that will help master's in psychology students further separate themselves from their peers and other up-and-coming professionals. Learning stays fresh and engaging, while at the same time allowing for enough repetition to build confidence and familiarity with concepts.

Con

Earning a master's degree in psychology takes time, patience and practice, and graduate-level students can sometimes be intimidated by the fact almost all of the material they are presented with is brand new and highly in-depth.

Online Psychology Master'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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Psychology Programs

What can you do with a master's degree in psychology?

A master's in psychology prepares students for certain psychology careers, including clinical and school counseling roles in many states. However, graduates also excel in other fields and roles, including human resources, social services, project management, and market research. Graduates often go on to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology.

How long does it take to earn a master's degree in psychology?

The length of a psychology master's program depends on many factors, including program requirements, specialization options, and whether the program requires a thesis. Enrolling part time can also lengthen a program. Some schools offer accelerated or online options that can shorten the overall time to completion.

What are the requirements for a master's degree in psychology?

Requirements vary by program. Many master's programs in psychology require 30-40 credits. Generally, students may select a concentration such as clinical, social, or organizational psychology. Some programs require a formal thesis project, while others culminate in a portfolio or comprehensive exam.

Is a master's in psychology worth it?

Yes. Earning a master’s degree in psychology not only prepares you for more advanced careers in the field, but may also lead to a higher salary. Master's programs in psychology also prepare you for doctoral studies, which can lead to a professional, independent career as a mental health clinician.

What types of master's degrees in psychology are available?

Students should be aware of the differences between a master of science (MS) or a master of arts (MA) in psychology. An MS degree will emphasize the sciences more, with more courses in biology and chemistry, while an MA degree emphasizes the liberal arts. Both degrees adequately prepare students for careers and doctoral studies in psychology.

Concentrations

1. Psychopharmacology

Students interested in clinical psychology may want to consider this field, which is also known as sensation and perceptual psychology.

2. Learning, Cognition, and Child Psychology

Those interested in working with children might wish to explore this topic.

3. Consumer Psychology

Courses focus on the perception, motivation, and market research methodology behind the science of consumer marketing, perfect for industrial/occupational psychology students.

4. Forensic Psychology

This field requires psychologists who know how to assess the motivations, desires, and pathologies of victims and criminals.

5. Military Psychology

Focused on the psychology behind military life, this concentration focuses on stress and anger management techniques, as well as grief and leadership strategies.

6. Social Psychology

This concentration focuses on helping young people realize their goals and develop effective and productive habits and life skills.

7. Engineering Psychologists

Students use their specialized research and analysis skills to explore perception, attentional processes, and motor skills.

What Kinds of Psychology Careers Can I Pursue With a Master's Degree in Psychology?

Upon graduating with a master's in psychology degree, individuals can explore a variety of clinical positions. Some students may go on to teach in community colleges. Others apply to a psychology graduate school, where they gain the skills and experience to practice clinical psychology.

After completing a master's degree in psychology, individuals can work in a variety of roles, including those below. Read on to browse possible job titles and salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Options for Master’s Degree in Psychology Holders

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with various disabilities to maximize their personal and professional lives. Counselors devise strategies to help their clients manage cognitive, mental, physical, emotional, and developmental conditions.

Average Annual Salary: $44,740


School and Career Counselors

Public or private schools employ school counselors. They assist students in dealing with social, behavioral, and academic problems, and can also provide guidance on vocational choices and pursuing higher education.

Career counselors are more likely to work in colleges and universities, in private practice, life coaching, career coaching, and social work. Career counselors can also find employment with corporate recruitment departments and headhunting firms.

Average Annual Salary: $63,090


Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors work with individuals and groups in a variety of settings, including community health centers, mental health clinics, schools, prisons, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, and social service agencies.

These counselors assist clients with the management of mental health disorders, stressful life transitions, grief and loss, and other concerns.

Average Annual Salary: $53,490


Marriage and Family Therapists

These therapists focus on helping families and couples through challenges. They may address marital and sexual issues, child-parent conflicts, and special circumstances related to the raising of children, including adoption, autism, adolescence, developmental delays, or birth defects.

Those caring for aging parents may also benefit from working with a marriage and family therapist. Marriage and family therapists can assist with challenges related to chronic illness and disability, and the resulting financial strain.

Average Annual Salary: $59,660


Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors work with families and individuals seeking information about their genetic makeup. Genetic information can reveal the potential for serious hereditary illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Those learning about their risk need help understanding the consequences of such knowledge.

Couples planning to have children may request genetic testing prior to conception or genetic testing of a child showing signs of a disorder or disease. Genetic counselors may work in hospitals, private practices, laboratories, and university medical centers.

Average Annual Salary: $86,640


What Job Settings Do Master's Degree in Psychology Holders Work In?

If you have a master's degree in psychology, you can find employment in many settings. Additional opportunities include:

Private Practice

Mental health professionals can offer counseling to individuals, couples, families, and groups, depending on licensure and credentialing requirements in their state.

Pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology can increase your earning potential and scope of practice, plus access to positions within certain institutions and facilities that require doctoral degrees.

Community Mental Health Clinics

These clinics serve various clients, including individuals living with chronic mental illness, children, adults, and adolescents. A counselor with a master's degree in psychology in this setting may see many clients, facilitate groups, and provide educational programs in the community.

Corporate Settings

These locations hold great potential for a career in psychology. Human resource departments are an environment where staff members with a background in psychology can be invaluable. Corporations interested in employee wellness may have counselors on staff to combat stress and help employees maintain their mental health.

What Do Higher Education and Career Advancement Opportunities Look Like After a Master's in Psychology?


Other Wages and Careers in Psychology by Degree Level


Sample Careers

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists need a doctorate and a license to practice. They can work with various clients with mental health and behavioral disorders. They also address trauma, depression, anxiety, social problems, and cognitive and neurological conditions. Clinical psychologists may also consult in the corporate and industrial settings.

Counseling Psychologist

A counseling psychologist works with individuals with mental health and behavioral conditions. Like clinical psychologists, they may also consult in corporate and industrial settings.

Research Psychologist

Research psychologists engage in scientific research to further the understanding of how people behave and think. They most often work ub institutions with research facilities, such as academia, or they may engage in corporate consulting.

Learning Disabilities Specialist

Learning disabilities specialists provide support to students with learning disabilities in public and private schools, universities, colleges, and other institutions of learning.

University Clinical Psychologist

A university clinical psychologist works at an academic institution to provide skilled psychological counseling to students, many of whom are under enormous personal, emotional, and psychological stress as they advance in their studies.

School Psychologist

A school psychologist provides skilled psychological counseling to school-age children. Students can be impacted by academic pressure, family issues, learning and physical disabilities, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and mental illness. An empathic school psychologist can help children overcome their problems and experience a successful and happy education.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply psychology tools and research to the legal world. These specialized psychological professionals work with law enforcement, judges, and attorneys in civil and criminal cases. They may also provide expert testimony in the courtroom and conduct research. Forensic psychologists are expected to have a Ph.D. or PsyD.

Human Factors/Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

An industrial-organizational psychologist studies the relationship between human workers and the increasingly technological nature of the 21st-century workplace. They may find jobs in corporate and industrial settings, and in research and academia.

Industrial-organizational psychologists may work alongside the human resources department to help with conflict resolution, labor disputes, recruitment, training, and assessment of employee satisfaction.

Criminal Psychologist

Organizations like the FBI employ criminal psychologists to help investigators understand criminal behavior. Criminal psychologists may also be employed in the courtroom setting, perform psychological assessments of offenders, and collaborate with investigators and other members of law enforcement.

While the work of criminal psychologists may not be quite as exciting or glamorous as popularized on crime-related TV shows, many find this career fascinating and can ultimately contribute to public safety.

Latest Posts

Discover Online Programs by Specialty

Find the psychology program that best fits your career plans and budget.