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Psychology Degree Programs – Information and Resources

Overview of the Psychology Field

The American Psychological Association defines psychology as the study of mind and behavior. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expands on that explanation by adding that it is the study of cognitive, social and emotional processes. Put simply, it is the examination of human behavior. How and why people do what they do.

This is one of those career options that open the door for specialization and advancement. For example, the BLS lists industrial-organizational psychologists as the fastest growing occupation in the country over the next decade.

Degree Opportunities in Psychology

The educational strategy for psychologists is multi-dimensional, but, for most, it starts with finding the right four-year program to get a bachelor’s degree. Some schools, especially community colleges, offer an associate’s degree program in this field, as well.

Associate’s Degree

The two-year program provides an introduction to basic psychological principles and ways to manage mental illness. Job opportunities will be limited as most employers will want at least a four-year degree. You might find a career in social work or as a federal employee, however. A two-year program at a community college can allow you to work while you pursue an advanced degree, as well.

There are two types of associate degrees available: Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science. The curriculum will depend on the degree program you choose.

An Associate of Science student should plan to work towards a more advanced degree in the future. The curriculum for this program would include academic basics such as public speaking and English composition. Industry-specific courses for this degree would include:

•Introduction to the Psychology
•Social Psychology
•Human Growth and Development
•Abnormal Psychology

The Applied Science degree teaches an occupational approach for those who wish to enter the workforce right away. Required classes include business courses like:

•Business English
•Human Relations
•Personal Finance

A student in this program would take the basic industry-related courses, as well.

Bachelor’s Degree

A four year program will produce one of two degrees:

•Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) – requires more liberal arts general education courses
•Bachelor of Science (B.S.) – requires more science courses

A four-year degree is a stepping stone to a graduate program, but does offer employment opportunities for those not interested in specialization or continuing their education. Charles Brewer, a psychology professor at Furman University, states in an interview with CNN that it is a mistake to assume you must get a PhD to make a living in this industry.

A bachelor’s degree means flexibility that can take you down many different career paths. Entry level career options for those who complete a four-year program include:

•Case management
•Career counseling
•Psychiatric technician

A bachelor degree can lead to a career in social services, as well.

There are opportunities to consider outside of the industry at this degree level, too.

•Business manager
•Personnel specialist
•Marketing professional

Any career option that benefits from an understanding of human behavior is a good fit for this area of study.
The curriculum for a bachelor’s degree would push beyond the basics. For example:

•Scientific Method
•Human Biology
•Developmental Psychology
•Behavior Sciences
•Experimental Psychology
•Psychology of Learning

Master’s Degree

This graduate level degree takes an additional two to three years to complete after the four-year program. There are two options available:

•Master of Arts (M.A.) – The next level for those with a Bachelor of Arts degree
•Master of Science (M.S.) – The next step if you have a Bachelor of Sciences degree

Students opting for a master’s degree program can break down their study even further.

Master’s in Clinical Psychology – This is a terminal program, meaning there is no need to pursue a doctorate degree, for those looking to work as a psychotherapist or who want to do psychological assessments. Not all states offer this opportunity – those that do will likely require you to work under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist.

Master’s in Experimental Psychology – This program can be either terminal or work as preparation for a higher degree. This is a research-based career path with opportunities in labs and marketing. Some graduates do research on various industry specialties such as cognitive, developmental and social science.

Master’s in Applied Psychology – This degree is the first step in a specialty career. It is usually in preparation for a doctorate program.

Job opportunities for those with a master’s degree include:

•Teaching at the university level
•Government position ranging from parole officer to social service manager
•Healthcare jobs as a counselor or rehabilitation specialist
•Management positions in business industries

Or, students can continue their study and apply for a PhD program.

The program curriculum with depend on the specialty and school. New York University, for example, requires a student working towards a master’s degree in general psychology to take:

•Cognitive Neuroscience
•Theories of Personality
•Foundations of Psychopathology
•Affective Neuroscience
•Psychoanalytic Theory

Students must get at least a B in every course to graduate.


Doctoral-level degrees take approximately four to seven years to complete. Students taking this career path have two options.

Doctor of Psychology or Psy.D is a clinical doctorate program for professionals that wish to practice. Rosemead School of Psychology describes the Psy.D study as a four year residency program for those pursuing a clinical practice, although that may vary from school to school.

Some universities expand their Psy.D offerings to include specialties beyond clinical practice. For example, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology has a Psy.D Business Psychology platform. The California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University has a Psy.D programs in Organization Development.
All Psy.D programs will require the study of scientific methodology and evidence-based treatment. The program includes both classroom training and clinical experience. For a degree, you must accumulate considerable, approximately 1,500 hours, of clinical training. Some states may require more for licensure. In addition, graduate students take courses in:

•Psychological Assessment
•Adult Psychopathology
•Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
•Ethics, Standards and Professional Practice

They also work on multiple doctoral projects.

PhD programs in psychology shift the training more towards research. Students working on a PhD in this field will develop research-based knowledge, as well as practical application skills. An individual with a PhD can work as a clinical practitioner, teacher or strictly do research.

The curriculum for a PhD program will depend on the specialty chosen by the candidate. At Ohio University, PhD students working towards a doctorate in clinical psychology attend classes and seminars in clinical, general and experimental fields, statistics and research design. This is on top of clinical training and doctoral project requirements.

Specialty Studies

This is an industry based on specialties, as well as general practice. Some common specialties in this field include:
Clinical Psychologist – This is what most people think of when you say psychologist. Clinicians diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They may work in a private practice or be part of a health care team in a facility.

Some clinical psychologists have sub-specialties that make them experts in a treatment platform or a type of illness. For example, a psychologist might work in a hospital to counsel people with spinal cord injuries. Some specialize in the treatment of veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome.

Counselors – Although similar to a clinical psychologist, counselors deal less with mental illness and more with behaviors. A counseling psychologist might help couples struggling with their relationship or children dealing with grief.

Forensic Psychologist – Forensic psychologists deal with the legal side of the profession. They work with insurance companies, the court system and lawyers. These professionals help resolve child custody cases and do risk assessments, too.

Human Factors – Human factors is the professional study of the effect of human interaction. Human factor specialists apply the principles of psychology to business, product designs, work environments, safety issues and risk assessment.

Industrial-organizational psychologist – This growing specialty focuses on workplaces and employee management. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology defines it as the scientific study of a workplace. I-O professionals offer solutions for talent management, employee coaching, training and other issues that affect a work environment.

School Psychologist – This specialty provides guidance in an academic arena. They often collaborate with teachers, parents and students to develop an academic path that meets the psychological needs of the child.

Social Psychologist – A study of group behaviors applicable in both social services and business. A social psychologist might work with marketing firms to do product research or in a pubic health system to deal with community and global issues.

Experimental Psychologist – This specialist does strictly research to learn more about human and animal behavior. Employment opportunities for experimental psychologist are usually found at universities or research labs.

What to Look for in an Academic Program?

Most any accredited university offers an acceptable psychology program for undergraduate study. It is the master’s and doctorate programs that offer some challenge. A master’s degree program can be accredited by a regional organization. There are currently six.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
North Central Association Commission on Accreditation
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Southern Association of Schools and Colleges

The American Psychological Association can also accredit a master’s program.

When looking for a platform to get your doctorate, double check their accreditation for the American Psychological Association stamp of approval. The APA offers a list of programs applying for accreditation and those denied it.

Why Choose this Career?

There is clearly a lot of work involved in obtaining a degree at any level in psychology, so why make this your career choice? Psych Central offers some insight on why a career in this versatile field is worth the effort.

•A chance to work with people and help them find solutions to their problems
•Work in a field that shows results for your effort
•Most employment opportunities are in a white-collar, professional settings
•Flexible schedule, usually 9-5
•Plenty of work opportunities – BLS lists the job outlook as growing at a rate of 12 percent, which is as fast as average
•The opportunity to interact with other professionals that have similar interests or as part of a team working towards a common goal
•A diverse field with a variety of specialties and opportunities

This industry is highly competitive, so unless you are looking to go into private practice, it may be difficult to find steady employment at the undergraduate level. Advanced education and specialty training offers the best hope of success in the field of psychology.

Psychology Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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