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Psychology Degree Programs

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The field of psychology draws from multiple disciplines, from sociology to neuroscience, anthropology to biology. Each discipline studies various social, environmental and cultural factors that impact the relationship between the human mind and human behavior. It's a broad field of study, one that includes both research and professional practice. Within both of those opportunities exists a broad selection of specializations, which allow prospective students to tailor an academic program to meet their future professional goals.

"Psychology is an exciting field that has many possible career paths," says Dr. Thomson Ling, Chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Caldwell University. "A degree in psychology provides the skills that allow for career flexibility," he continues.

About the Expert

Dr. Thomson Ling is Chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Caldwell University.

As a varied academic and professional discipline, psychology can be divided into several different disciplines. According to the American Psychology association, there are 14 psychology specializations, which include the following:

Specialization Specialization
Clinical Neuropsychology Industrial-Organizational Psychology
Clinical Health Psychology Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology
Psychoanalysis in Psychology Forensic Psychology
School Psychology Family Psychology
Clinical Psychology Professional Geropsychology
Clinical Child Psychology Police & Public Safety Psychology
Counseling Psychology Sleep Psychology

It is important for prospective students to understand that some concentrations are only available at the doctoral level, such as clinical neuropsychology and psychoanalysis in psychology.

Degrees in Psychology

Unlike many other academic programs, psychology professions are inherently tied to education -- both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Because it is a specialized field of practice, most practicing psychologists require an advanced degree, either a master's or doctorate. In the 2012-2013 school year, more than 155,000 psychology degrees were awarded at both the undergraduate and graduate level, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

  • Bachelor's degrees: 120,819
  • Master's degrees: 28,090
  • Doctoral degrees: 6,323

A growing number of universities are beginning to offer online options that complement their campus-based programs. The latest count of available programs from the National Center for Education Statistics is as follows:

  • Bachelor's: 170
  • Master's: 107
  • Doctoral: 24

Bachelor's degrees: The study of psychology at the undergraduate level provides students with an introduction to the field, offering them an opportunity to learn about the foundational concepts and theories of psychology. Although curriculum varies by program, students study psychological principles, develop critical thinking skills, and gain an understanding of research methods and applications for that research.

"Students graduating with a bachelor's degree in psychology pursue a wide variety of post-graduate paths," notes Dr. Karen Bartsch, Department Chair and Professor of Psychology at the University of Wyoming. "Some continue their education with graduate work, while many others go straight into areas such as banking, civil service or personnel management."

Potential Career Path: Employment Counselor

Master's degrees: A master's degree is considered the minimum educational requirement for a range of psychology professions. According to the American Psychology Association, the top terminal master's degrees are Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and Clinical Psychology. Curriculum in master's degree programs is directly aligned to the specialization (e.g. clinical psychology; counseling psychology; educational psychology). Students take advanced classes in their respective fields and may be required to complete an on-site practicum as part of their degree requirements.

Potential Career Path: School Psychologist

Doctoral degrees: At the doctoral level, students conduct original research and the sequence of curriculum depends on the area of study. Typically, these programs take between five to seven years to complete and individuals desiring to practice professionally must complete a one year internship as part of their studies. Doctoral programs culminate with a dissertation and comprehensive examinations.

Potential Career Path: Clinical Psychologist

About the Expert

Dr. Karen Bartsch is Department Chair and Professor of Psychology at the University of Wyoming.

Q&A: Online psychology programs

In order to provide clarity around online psychology degrees, Dr. Thomson Ling and Dr. Karen Bartsch shared their thoughts about the differences between online and on-campus programs and their respective benefits.

What are the benefits of online degrees in psychology? Are there any major drawbacks?

Thompson: Our online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology uses state-of-the-art technology to deliver an equivalent learning experience to an on-campus class. As a result, students receive a high level of faculty and peer interaction. Online classes offer the opportunity for synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Bartsch: Most of the undergraduate curriculum is arguably more flexible, so that distance education is at least a possibility for many required undergraduate psychology courses. One drawback, however, concerns the lack of opportunity to get involved in a research laboratory and gain research experience. This is an option for our on-campus students that we are not able to replicate for our distance education students.

Can students earn a psychology degree entirely online or are there other learning formats available?

Thompson: Students have the option of completing their entire degree online but students are also eligible to take on-campus classes. Students may also take a combination of both online and on-campus classes. Some of our on-campus classes have a hybrid component with some learning occurring online and some learning occurring on-campus.

Bartsch: At the University of Wyoming, undergraduates majoring in Psychology can complete their degree entirely on campus, of course, or they can complete an associate degree (Wyoming has seven community colleges) and then the last two years of the psychology major all online.

How can psychology students determine if an online program is right for them?

Thompson: Hectic schedules, family obligations, and travel can make it difficult for many students to attend traditional classes on campus. For those students, an online program is an ideal way to pursue a career in psychology. Some of the factors that would go into deciding on an online, on-campus, or combination program include time of classes (scheduled vs. flexible), geography (whether commuting to an on-campus class is possible), learning style, and comfort with technology.

Bartsch: My opinion is that a prospective student should consider how satisfied he or she will be with interactions online (as opposed to in person) and how capable he or she is of pursuing a course of studies with relatively little in-person peer and teacher support. It takes considerable initiative, determination, and persistence to complete an online degree.

Career Outlook for Psychology

Psychology is a growing career field, projected to see employment gains of 12 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The table below outlines the employment figures, 2014 average salaries, and 2012-2022 job projections for the major occupational groups from the BLS.

Occupation Total Employed Average Salary Job Growth
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists 1,110 $90,070 53%
Psychologists 117,820 $75,790 12%
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists 104,730 $74,030 11%
Psychologists, All Other 11,980 $89,810 11%

Choosing an Accredited Program

"A student pursuing a career in psychology," notes Dr. Bartsch, "should be aware that is a popular field and it will require dedication to turn an undergraduate psychology degree into a meaningful career." That means students should have an understanding of their future career goals and whether they may need to attend graduate school. Because of this potential investment, students should ensure the program they attend is accredited.

Licensing and membership in the American Psychology Association typically requires students graduate from an accredited program of study. Accreditation is a process of review that a program adheres to industry objectives and is checked regularly for educational quality. Two major accrediting bodies of psychology programs include the Council for Accreditation for Counseling for Related Programs (CACREP) and the APA Commission on Accreditation.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes
  • American Psychology Association, Specializations, http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/recognized.aspx
  • American Psychology Association, Careers in Psychology, http://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx
  • National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter
  • Interview with Dr. Karen Bartsch, 6/26/15
  • Interview with Dr. Thomson Ling, 6/26/15

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