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Master's Degree in Psychology

FAQ About Master's Degrees in Psychology

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Master's Degree in Psychology

Master's Degree in Psychology

Photo by Mary Gober

Are you thinking about earning a master's degree in psychology? A master's degree can open up a whole new world of career opportunities, but you should start by exploring some frequently asked questions about the degree in order to determine if it is the right educational choice for you. Learn more about earning a master's degree in psychology, including how long it will take, your career options after graduation and possible alternative degrees that you might want to consider.

What Is a Master's Degree in Psychology?

A master's degree in psychology is a graduate level-degree that generally involves two to three years of study beyond the undergraduate degree. The two most common types of psychology master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and the Master of Science (M.S.). An M.A. degree may indicate a stronger liberal arts focus, while an M.S. may indicate a stronger concentration on research and the sciences. The type of degree offered depends upon the school and program, however, since the academic requirements are often very similar.

Some master's programs in psychology offer what is known as a terminal degree. This type of degree is designed to prepare graduates for professional practice in their specialty area. In other cases, a master's degree may serve as preparation for further study at the doctoral-level.

Specific course requirements can vary considerably, so take a careful look at the course outline of any program you are considering. You may also have to choose between a thesis and non-thesis option. Completing a thesis is a good choice if you are interested in further graduate study, while the non-thesis alternative might be ideal if you are more interested entering the workforce immediately after graduation.

What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Psychology?

While having a master's degree means you'll find more job opportunities than you will at the bachelor's level, job options are still limited if you are interested in entering the field of professional psychology. A terminal master's program, however, does open the door to entry level jobs in fields such as mental health, industrial-organizational psychology and forensic psychology. Other sectors of employment include colleges, universities, private business and government. Learn more about some of the job options with a master's degree in psychology.

How Do You Earn a Master's Degree in Psychology?

If you are interested in pursuing a master's degree in psychology, it pays to start planning early. Take a look at the requirements of a few programs you are considering, and then be sure to schedule all of the pre-requisite courses during your years of undergraduate study. Statistics, experimental methods and developmental psychology are just a few of the common courses required by psychology graduate programs.

Before you apply to a master's program, you may also be required to take the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. In addition to taking the main test, you might also need to take the GRE Psychology Subject Test.

Once you've been admitted to a master's program, make a course schedule that outlines all of the courses you plan to take. Take note of the required courses, and check out your school's class offering schedule. Some classes are only offered every other semester or every other year, so plan carefully to ensure that you are able to take all the classes you need.

Should You Earn a Master's Degree Before Earning a Doctorate?

One of the biggest questions facing students interested in earning a graduate degree in psychology is whether or not they should earn a master's degree before applying to a doctorate program. Many Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs do not require a master's degree, and students are able to begin these doctoral programs immediately after completing their bachelor's degrees.

If you are unsure if doctoral study is right for you, a master's degree can be a good option. Spend some time talking to your college advisor and faculty members to determine which option is the best choice based on your educational interests and career goals.

What Type of Master's Degree Should You Earn?

While there are generalist programs available, many students elect to focus on a particular specialty area. Some of the different types of master's programs available include:

  • M.A. or M.S. in Experimental Psychology
  • M.A. or M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology
  • M.A. or M.S. in Forensic Psychology
  • M.A. or M.S. in Clinical Psychology
  • M.A. or M.S. in Social Psychology
  • M.A. or M.S. in Child Development

In addition to traditional master's programs, there are a variety of online master's degree in psychology available. Students should carefully consider all of their options before determining which option is best suited to their needs.

What Are Some Alternatives to a Master's Degree in Psychology?

If you determine that a master's degree in psychology is not the best choice to help you fulfill your academic and career goals, there are a number of related alternative programs to choose from. If you know that you want to work in the field of mental health, there are still plenty of other areas to consider. Counseling, social work, school psychology, education and health sciences are other academic options that might also appeal to you.

Some possible alternative degrees include:

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