According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is “the understanding of behavior.” Of course, this concise definition only scratches the surface. The psychology discipline is dedicated to exploration of the human mind and human behavior, in all of its complexity. The goal of this discipline is to achieve a scientifically-driven understanding of the social, biological, cultural, and neurological factors that influence human behavior and interaction.
If you believe you have the intuition, emotional acuity, and compassion to work with individuals suffering from mental disorders, anxiety disorders, familial dysfunction, personal loss, post traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and a host of other personal or shared crises, you should consider pursuing a degree in psychology.
In fact, the study of psychology is incredibly valuable, not just for those who ultimately intend to work in the field, but for those working in an array of professional settings, including business, sales, marketing, human resources, education, city planning, legal practice, and countless other fields. Your refined understanding of human behavior can give you a leg up when it comes to negotiations, presentations, client meetings, disciplinary responsibilities, you name it. Frankly, there are few professions in which better understanding human behavior wouldn’t be considered an advantage.
This is one reason that so many students earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology without ever pursuing a career directly in the field. In fact, according to the US Department of Education, as of 2008, 95% of the nearly one hundred thousand students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology will go on to work in an unrelated field.
On the other hand, if you do plan to practice psychology, you will need to continue your education beyond a bachelor’s degree. To truly advance within the profession, you will need to obtaine advanced degrees at both the master’s and doctoral level. But it’s really up to you how far you want to go with it. There are a lot of ways to apply your psychology studies, both in and out of the field.
We’ll tell you everything you need to get started and everything you need to get to the top of your profession.
If you already know what you want to do, you can check out The 50 Best Online Bachelor's in Psychology Degree Programs here!
If you need a little more information, continue on.
Covered in this article:
- What do I need to know about accreditation?
- What kinds of Psychology Degrees Are There?
- What kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
- What can I do with a Psychology Degree?
- How much can I make with a Psychology Degree?
- What Professional Psychology Associations or Societies should I join?
Let’s start with the one thing you absolutely must be sure of before you proceed: accreditation.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on a degree that won’t be taken seriously by future employers. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you make sure your school has the proper accreditation before you proceed.
As with most other higher education disciplines, accreditation is of critical importance in determining where to obtain a psychology degree. Program accreditation is granted by accrediting agencies that are formally recognized by the Department of Education. Only accredited colleges or universities are eligible for financial aid. Moreover, accreditation typically indicates that an institution is not only maintaining its standards but that it continues to advance and remain current within its field. As you proceed in your search, you’ll find both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. The former refers to schoolwide accreditation and the latter refers to the accreditation conferred upon your specific discipline and degree program.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The institutional accrediting sector is divided into regional and national accrediting agencies. Generally, regional accrediting agencies confer greater credibility and merit. When you’re investigating a college or university, you’ll want to look for the “stamp of approval” from one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
When it comes to national accrediting agencies, reputations may vary. In some cases, program specific accrediting agencies may hold a great deal of importance. Some professions and places of employment will require that your degree has been conferred by a course of study with program specific national accreditation.
There are two major accreditors in the psychology field:
- The American Psychological Association
- The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
These accreditations are reserved only for doctoral programs. If you are advancing into a doctoral program, be sure that it is recognized by at least one of these two Department of Education-approved groups. This is an indication of quality, rigor and continued advancement within the field. Consider either one of these stamps essential if you plan to parlay your studies into practice at the clinical level.
If you are entering into a bachelor’s or master’s program in psychology, you should also find out if your program is compliant with the standards set forth by the APA or ASPPB for eventual advancement into a doctoral program.
There are a host of other psychology accreditation groups that do grant recognition at the non-doctoral level. Though these accreditations are not mandatory, they indicate a certain threshold of instructional and academic quality. Recognized non-doctoral accreditors include:
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE, now merged with CACREP)
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
- Masters in Psychology Accreditation Council (MPAC)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also take a look at the Department of Education’s list of all recognized accreditors within its purview, and its database of all accredited instutitions.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
Now that you get the idea, let’s take a look at some of your degree options.
What Kinds of Psychology Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Psychology
An Associate’s Degree in Psychology is typically a two-year program and is offered by most community and online colleges. In most cases, the associate’s degree will serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is because more education is required to practice in the field. Earning your associate’s degree in psychology can be a great way to save time and money before advancing to the next level. If this is your first and last educational stop on the road to a career, you might consider pairing your psychology studies with courses in counseling, social work, or public health. This should provide you with the grounding to gain entry-level work in a residential treatment program, a local health clinic or a psychiatric health facility.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Addiction Counseling
- Childhood Development
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Family and Group Dynamics
Bachelor of Psychology (BA or BS)
The Bachelor of Psychology is typically a four-year or 120 credit program and is offered by most traditional public, private and online colleges. The bachelor’s degree in psychology is among the most popular college majors, largely because of its versatility. Combining introductory psychology and sociology courses with an array of more in-depth examinations of human behavior, communication, neurology, and socialization, the bachelor’s in psychology can actually prepare you for an extremely wide spectrum of career prospects. While you will need to continue into a master’s program (and eventually a doctoral program) if you intend to practice clinical psychology, your bachelor’s degree could also be a direct pathway into a career in business, education, and an extremely wide spectrum of health and social services.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Developmental Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Sexuality and Human Behavior
- Clinical Psychology
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Abnormal Psychology
- Society, Culture, and Psychology
- Current Issues in the Practice of Psychology
What’s the Difference between a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology?
While both of these degree programs will offer a full spectrum of both introductory and advanced psychology courses, a BA in Psychology will typically pair these courses with an array of liberal arts or general education classes. By contrast, the BS in psychology will place a greater emphasis on science and math coursework.
Now that you know a bit more, check out The 50 Best Online Bachelor's in Psychology Degree Programs here!
If you think you might ultimately want to apply your psychology studies to a degree is social work, you’ll want to check out The 40 Best Bachelor's in Social Work Degree Programs.
Master of Psychology (MS or MA)
A Master of Psychology is an advanced degree. This is the basic educational threshold for practicing non-clinical psychology and is typically a two to three year graduate program. Your master’s program will usually function either as a stand-alone program designed to prepare you for work in an organizational or research setting upon completion, or as a research-orientated program aimed at preparing you for doctoral level studies. If you choose a stand-alone program, you will typically choose a concentration like Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Forensic Psychology, or Clinical Psychology. Here, you will gain a greater depth of knowledge within your selected sub-discipline. It is important to bear in mind here that while your master’s degree will prepare you for a variety of careers, it does not qualify you for clinical psychology licensure. For this, you must complete a doctoral level program. A master’s program will prepare you for this next step.
What Courses Will Will I Take?
- Organizational Behavior
- Principles of Neuroscience
- Group Dynamics
- Diversity, Culture and Psychology
- Clinical Psychopharmacology
- Educational Psychology
- Crisis Management and Response
- Graduate Research Methods in Psychology
What’s the Difference between a Master of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Science in Psychology?
A Master of Arts degree will generally focus on the exploration and application of leading psychology theories whereas a Master of Science will place a greater emphasis on data collection, analysis and other quantitative ways of researching and understanding human behavior.
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
If you plan to ultimately practice clinical psychology, you must earn a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This program can take between four and seven years to complete and is the threshold for becoming a clinical psychologist. The focus of your PsyD program is to prepare you to ultimately treat patients in the context of your professional choosing. Once you have completed this program, you are qualified for licensure and can subsequently practice treatment in a clinical, business, school, or counselor setting.
What Courses Will Will I Take?
- Cognitive/Behavioral Assessment
- Advanced Psychodynamic Theory
- Cognitive Behavioral Family Intervention
- Treatment for At-Risk Adolescents
- Independent Study in Clinical Psychology
- Behavioral Medicine
What’s the Difference between a PsyD and PhD in Psychology?
Whereas a PsyD will prepare you to work directly with patients in an array of treatment settings, a PhD in psychology is largely reserved for those who intend to advance research in a specific subject area or who will ultimately teach at the university level.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
Becoming a board certified psychologist isn’t required to practice your profession in a non-clinical setting, but it can help to bolster your credentials within the context of a particular specialty. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), only about five percent of qualified psychology degree-holders are actually board certified.
With that said, if you plan to practice treatment as a Doctor of Psychology, you must be board certified. Earning a PsyD is the basic threshold for becoming APA-licensed to practice treatment in a clinical setting.
What can I do with a Psychology degree?
Your psychology degree can be the portal to a fairly enormous array of career prospects. Your opportunities, and your eventual salary, will depend very much on the level of your degree attainment. While a bachelor’s or master’s degree may not be enough to practice clinical psychology, either can open the door to a world of opportunities in business, education, organizational leadership, and beyond. Check out these Social Services Careers for a glimpse at your job prospects once you’ve earned a degree in psychology:
When you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Psychology, you’re not just getting started on your path to a possible doctoral degree. This could also be your point of entry into an extremely varied field of professional opportunities.
What kind of salary can I earn with a Psychology degree?
Just as your opportunities are varied, so too are your salary prospects, which depend significantly on your chosen area of concentration and your level of degree attainment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on your salary prospects as they relate to certain psychology professions:
- Psychologist: Median Pay, 2016 — $75,230 per year>
- Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists: Mean Pay, 2016 — $78,690
- Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary: Mean Pay, 2016 — &84,440
- Mental Health/Marriage/Family Counselors: Median Pay, 2016 — $44,170
- Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: Mean Pay, 2016 — $104,570
Are There Professional Psychology Associations or Societies I should join?
Professional Associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for psychology associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
At the most general level, consider membership in these key associations:
American Psychological Association (APA): With more than 134,000 members worldwide, this largest professional association aims to advance the creation, communication, and application of research-based knowledge in psychology. Membership gives you access to journals, books, online databases, and discount registration for the APA’s annual convention.
Association for Psychological Science (APS): A non-profit with more than twenty-five thousand members worldwide, the APS is dedicated to the advancement of scientific psychology studies. This association is only open to those holding a doctoral degree in psychology or another closely related field.
National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP): Dedicated to promoting doctoral level practice to improve healthcare policy, this association offers membership to licensed doctoral psychologists, as well as PhD students and retired psychologists. Membership earns you access to continuing education courses, electronic health records, malpractice insurance, and a subscription to the association’s reputable monthly newsletter.
Now that you know a bit more about how to earn a degree in Psychology, jump to our ranking of The 50 Best Online Bachelor's in Psychology Degree Programs and find the best school school for you!
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