Is an Online Psychology Program for You?
Psychology continues to be among the most popular undergraduate majors, and many students benefit from the flexibility and convenience of an online format. The best candidates for online study are self-motivated students with excellent organizational and time management skills. If you plan to join the workforce immediately after receiving your bachelor’s degree, or plan to continue on into a terminal master’s program, an online bachelor’s degree in psychology may be a good fit for you.
What Should I Expect From an Online Bachelor's Program in Psychology?
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?
Students pursuing a psychology degree online full time can expect to spend about four years completing their bachelor’s degree, and most programs require 120 credits to graduate. Some schools offer accelerated or intensive undergraduate programs, which may shorten the completion time; eligible full-time students may be able to complete the degree in 3.5 years. Dual degree options, such as accelerated master’s programs, allow students to begin their master’s-level coursework while earning a bachelor’s degree and graduate with up to 50% fewer total credits, saving time and money. Eligible transfer students can also benefit by selecting a program with a generous transfer credit policy. Other factors to consider include field learning requirements such as internships, the amount of coursework that may be completed asynchronously, and whether the program is structured as individually paced study or as a cohort. In a cohort, students proceed through the full course of study together, graduating as a group.
What Classes Will I Take in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?
As a multifaceted and far-reaching discipline encompassing many subfields and specialties, psychology offers a broad cross section of subject material at the bachelor’s level. Psychology students study human behavior, development, personality, motivation, cognition, emotion, learning, and perception across the lifespan. While classes and concentrations differ from school to school, every student in an online psychology program must complete a series of foundational courses. Core coursework includes statistics and research methods for behavioral sciences, child and adult development, personality theory, psychological assessment, social psychology, health psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology. A typical bachelor’s curriculum in psychology includes the classes listed below.
This course surveys the biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors involved in psychopathology and behavioral maladjustment. Psychological disorders covered include: anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders, stress, suicide, mood disorders, sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, and psychotic disorders. Other topics include ethical and legal issues, health psychology, research methods, and treatment outcomes.
- Understanding of the prevailing paradigms of psychopathology
- Knowledge of legal issues involved in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders
This course studies human thinking, knowledge acquisition, and information processing. Topics include memory, emotion, sensation, perception, attention, knowledge, reasoning, creativity, decision making, and problem solving. Other subject matter includes language development, social cognition, concept formation, split-brain research, limits of knowledge, and applications in medicine, law, art, education, and sports contexts.
- Understanding of applications of cognitive psychology in professional practice
- Interpretation of research findings in relation to human cognition
This course covers the principles and methods involved in appraising an individual’s personality, cognitive abilities, values, and interests. Subject matter includes test development, selection, validation, reliability, administration, scoring, and interpretation of test results. Other topics include ethics, historical and cultural contexts, and applications in healthcare, workplace, rehabilitation, and clinical contexts.
- Statistical interpretation of assessment results
- Identification and application of ethical testing principles
Concentrations Available for an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
Commonly available psychology concentrations at the bachelor’s level include developmental, social, forensic, health, cognitive, and industrial/organizational psychology. Each specialty typically includes a group of available electives, a related practicum or other field learning opportunity, and a research focus within the selected area. Some concentrations, such as clinical psychology, integrate broad and versatile interdisciplinary material. Others, such as sports psychology, focus on more specific topics. Listed below are five popular concentrations and their attendant subject matter.
- Forensic Psychology
- Forensic psychology exemplifies the overlap of the study of psychology and the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists examine defendants and witnesses, provide their findings to attorneys and judges, and often testify as experts in courtroom trials.
- Educational Psychology
- Educational psychology explores how individuals learn. Topics include design and development of materials and methods used in education, improvements in educational processes, analysis of skill development, and implementation of training programs. Educational psychologists advise organizations and institutions on appropriate teaching methods. Graduates in this concentration often go on to become program development specialists and student testing specialists.
- Sports Psychology
- Blending medicine and psychology, sports psychology takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigating exercise and athletic performance through interactions between physical and psychological processes. Subject matter includes kinesiology, neuroperformance, biomechanics, and rehabilitation after injury, and athletic motivation and peak performance. Common jobs in this specialty include performance enhancement counseling and sports psychology training.
- School Psychology
- School psychology specializes in applications of clinical and educational psychology to schooling processes. With a focus on children and youth, school psychology studies environments that facilitate optimal learning. School psychologists help educators promote social and intellectual development, and help students improve behavioral and academic skills. Graduates in this concentration often pursue careers as special education program analysts and student intervention specialists.
- Clinical Psychology
- Clinical psychology is a broad and comprehensive field involving assessment, diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology and maladjustment across the lifespan. Topics include intervention, promoting well-being, and provision of behavioral and mental healthcare services. Clinicians often work in healthcare and private practice as licensed counseling psychologists and neuropsychologists.
What’s the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Degree?
When exploring options for a psychology degree online, it’s important to consider flexibility, accessibility, and motivation. The flexibility of online programs permits students to continue working while studying. Online platforms provide access to library materials, tutoring, and other student services. Self-motivation is even more important for online students than on-campus students. The right program for you will fit your learning style, living situation, and career goals.
Online: Many students find that online programs provide the level of flexibility they need to be able to continue to work while studying. Online learners also enjoy a wider selection of programs and specialties to choose from, since geography does not restrict school and program choices and relocation is not required.
Traditional: In traditional on-campus programs, students either attend school within a limited radius near their residence, or relocate to attend the school of their choice. Either way, they typically attend full time. Relocation requires uprooting one’s life; attending locally limits the choice of specialties to only schools within a reasonable distance.
Online: Online programs typically provide access to library materials, student services, textbooks, tutoring, career coaching, technical support, and instructor office hours through online portals and email. Often a school’s learning management system integrates these services, making it easy for students to remotely access most of what they need to complete their studies in one convenient place.
Traditional: Students attending traditional programs may participate in on-campus events, attend instructors’ office hours face-to-face, and access library materials, tutoring, tech support, and other student services in person. Collaborative work in on-campus settings permits impromptu study sessions. On-campus students receive direct access to hands-on experience and informal networking opportunities.
Online: Self-motivation is an essential element of successful distance learning. Without the structure of a traditional classroom, students must rely on themselves to learn, keep up the necessary pacing, and stay on schedule. Complementary traits of motivated distance learners include strong determination, organizational skills, discipline, and a proactive approach to problem solving.
Traditional: Traditional on-campus programs provide the structure of in-person attendance and classroom discussions. Some students find this structure and face-to-face contact with fellow students improves their motivation to attend classes, study, and complete assignments on schedule. Active student interest groups and networks may also help boost motivation for some students.
Are Online Psychology Bachelor’s Programs Cheaper Than Traditional Programs?
While tuition rates for online programs are often identical to those for a traditional program, it’s still possible to reap considerable cost savings by choosing an online psychology program. Some schools offer online students in-state tuition rates in online programs regardless of their location. If you can study intensively, you may save by opting for a program offering a flat tuition rate, rather than charging per credit. You may also be able to save in other areas such as childcare, transportation, and room and board. Other factors to consider in cost comparisons include:
- Choosing a state school rather than a private school
- Free or discounted laptops and internet access
- Travel costs for any required internships or field learning
- Exam proctoring fees
- Lab and activity fees
- Resource fees for campus technology use
- Fees for campus amenities such as recreation, athletics, and student organizations
- Fees for student health and legal services
Consider the value of the resources schools offer, and compare them with the costs. In the end, you may decide spending more in some areas is worth the benefit. A budget analysis can help you decide whether distance learning suits your financial situation.
How are Online Psychology Courses Different from Campus-based Programs?
While delivery methods differ for online programs, and students need reliable access to a computer and the internet to complete their studies, the curriculum and subject matter available to distance learners is identical to that of traditional on-campus programs. Online programs are typically delivered through a learning management system (LMS), such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. Students log into the LMS through the school’s portal to access their coursework. Within the LMS, students can check syllabi, receive and turn in assignments, take proctored exams, and track their progress and outcomes. Classes may be synchronous (offered at a specific time) or asynchronous (completed at the student’s convenience). For synchronous classes, students and instructors log on at the same time through a platform like Adobe Connect for interactive lectures, demonstrations, collaborative work, and discussions. These sessions may also be recorded for later viewing, so that students who missed out can catch up, and students who need to review can watch the sessions again to improve their understanding.
Many psychology programs deliver foundational courses such as cognition and perception entirely online, and require students to undertake clinical skills training in person. Individual courses sometimes include blended components that integrate online and in-person requirements.
Do Online Psychology Bachelor’s Programs Require Students to Be On-Campus? Do Any of the Programs Have Labs or Clinical Work?
While some online bachelor’s programs require no campus visits, others maintain a hybrid model including residential requirements. Typically, students seeking a psychology degree online pursue clinical internships at the graduate level, as most undergraduate programs do not require internships. However, students interested in graduate school may find that field learning under direct supervision at the undergraduate level can provide a competitive advantage. Some bachelor’s programs require a three-credit internship or applied practicum of approximately 100 hours. Others include a few courses with on-site service learning or research assistance requirements. Many students opt for summer internships in counseling centers, research labs, and mental health facilities.
Online bachelor’s programs with internship requirements generally encourage distance learners to exercise initiative and find internships independently, which includes seeking out a faculty member who is willing to sponsor an internship at a distance. Resources available to online students include the Handshake and LinkedIn platforms and online career center services.
Do Online Students Still Qualify for Financial Aid?
The vast majority of students seeking an online bachelor’s degree in psychology receive the same access to financial aid as on-campus students. Eligible students can access grants, loans, and scholarship opportunities through an identical application process, and some online programs also offer federal work-study options. Like traditional students, online students fill out a FAFSA and receive updates about financial aid status through a student portal. Distance learners should start the application process early and make sure to verify the accreditation status of schools and programs of interest, since only students attending accredited schools are eligible for federal financial aid.
For more information on psychology scholarships, click here.
What License Do I Need to Practice Psychology?
To pursue licensure as a professional psychologist in the U.S., students must meet rigorous licensing requirements. While state licensing criteria vary, the process is similar. First, learners must familiarize themselves with licensing requirements in states of interest and select a program with an eye toward fulfilling these requirements. Next, they complete undergraduate coursework and other requirements and then complete either a master’s or a doctoral degree and supervised internship. Finally, they must apply for licensure in the state of interest, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
Fees include $600 for the EPPP and $400 for an initial license, plus application fees. Many states maintain helpful fee schedules. Some states require additional state-specific exams; it’s important to check with the licensing agency in the appropriate state. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards maintains a handbook of licensing requirements.
Some states license graduates of master’s programs; most states require 1-2 years of post-master’s supervised clinical work to establish eligibility for licensure. An online bachelor’s degree in psychology is insufficient for licensure as a professional psychologist, but many graduates of bachelor’s programs in psychology find employment in marketing, social services, and career counseling. Graduates of programs with accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA) and completed internships meeting APA standards maximize their opportunities for licensing in other states.
Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs
Psychiatric technicians provide direct therapeutic care for people with mental illness and disabilities. They plan, implement, and monitor treatments and also help with activities of daily life, such as eating and grooming.
Median Salary: $28,670
Career counselors offer advice and counsel to people on choosing or changing careers, setting career goals, and finding employment suitable to their interests, background, skills, personality, and education level.
Median Salary: $54,560
Market researchers collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data to investigate market conditions. They prepare reports, study the needs of clients and competitors, and make recommendations based on their findings.
Median Salary: $62,560
Childcare workers provide direct hands-on care to meet children’s daily needs such as eating, dressing, rest, play, and homework. They organize, observe, and monitor children’s activities and development.
Median Salary: $21,170
Social services representatives provide support for individuals and families in obtaining benefits and community services. They also assist in developing programs for specific needs, such as vocational rehabilitation or substance abuse treatment.
Median Salary: $31,810
Explore Psychology Careers
Choosing an Accredited Online Psychology Program
When choosing a school for your psychology degree online, accredited doctoral programs bearing the APA stamp of approval among the school’s offerings are a good sign. The APA is the authority that establishes professional and scientific standards for psychologists in the U.S. The APA accredits doctoral programs in clinical, school, and counseling psychology, as well as internships and postdoctoral residency programs. It also regulates professional titles, publishes scholarly journals, maintains a style manual providing guidance on proper citation of sources, and promotes psychological research. Note that the APA does not accredit fully online doctoral programs. Partial distance learning is permissible, but substantial face-to-face interaction is required for APA accreditation. While the APA does not accredit schools or programs at the bachelor’s or master’s level, attending a school that offers APA-accredited doctoral programs may still be the best way to maximize your prospects for graduate school, federal financial aid, licensing, and career advancement.