Psychology Graduate Programs: Master's & PhD

What is a Psychology Graduate Program?

Psychology graduate programs like a Masters in Psychology include coursework, research, and sometimes clinical experience in psychology. They may help students pursue career paths related to the human mind and behavior.

Graduate students study Psychology to gain insight into human challenges. They apply what they’ve learned to new problems and complete projects in an area of interest.

Psychology graduate programs cover the human mind, personality, and behavior. They explore the ways people interact with each other and the world.

One main application for these programs is addressing mental health problems. You may study what abnormal psychology looks like. And, you may learn how to treat patients with conditions like depression or addiction.

graduate psychology programswritten by Shannon Fandler

What Types of Psychology Graduate Programs Are There?

A psychology grad degree program can be earned at the Master’s and doctor degree levels. At the doctoral level, you could choose from two paths. One is a PhD in Psych. The other is a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

You’ll also find different Master’s programs in Psychology . One is the M.S. (Master of Science) and M.A. (Master of Arts) degrees. The M.S. may focus more on scientific research. And the Masters of Arts program may apply psychology theory to real world issues. You can also find many different specializations. From mental health counseling to experimental psychology!

Types of Psychology Majors

  1. Applied Behavior Analysis. Explore ways to create behavioral changes.
  2. Clinical Psychology. Study how to treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
  3. Developmental Psychology. Explore the ways humans learn and change through their lives.
  4. Organizational Psychology. Also called industrial organizational psychology. Learn methods to improve performance in businesses.
  5. Forensic Psychology. Learn how the criminal mind works.
  6. Counseling Psychology. In a counseling program, learn how to assess personal challenges. And, plan a treatment approach.

Psychology degrees are reported by NCES under the category of Psychology. Let’s look at the most recent data (2015/16). 34,177 Psychology degrees were awarded to U.S. graduate students. That is up 4% from 2013/14. Most (81.9%) of these programs were at the Master’s level. So a master’s degree is the most popular grad program in psychology.

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Doctor of Business Administration - Industrial Organizational PsychologyNorthcentral UniversityPhD
MSPY - General PsychologyPurdue University GlobalMS
MS in Forensic Psychology - GeneralWalden UniversityMS
Master of Professional Studies in Psychology of LeadershipPennsylvania State UniversityMS
MA Clinical Mental Health CounselingAntioch UniversityAM
MS Psychology w/conc in Industrial & Organizational PsychologySouthern New Hampshire UniversityMS
Master of Science in PsychologyLynn UniversityMS
Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior AnalysisArcadia UniversityN/A
Master of Science in Criminal Justice: Forensic PsychologyLiberty University OnlineMS
M.S. in Psychology: General PsychologyGrand Canyon UniversityMS
PsyD - Clinical PsychologyCapella UniversityPsyD
Post-Master's Ph.D. Applied Behavior AnalysisThe Chicago School of Professional PsychologyN/A

Do You Need a Graduate Degree in Psychology?

Career paths that need a psych grad degree are growing. For instance, BLS projects a need for Mental Health Counselors. These roles should grow 25% by 2029. The same applies to Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors. New jobs may arise from growing need. Especially among veterans. And people with addictions.

You do need a grad degree in psychology for most career paths in this field. For instance, BLS states that most psychologists need to earn a doctoral degree. This should be in the area of psych you want to practice. Master’s degree programs could be enough to prep you for other career paths. (You can also consider a related field. Like, social work. Clinical social workers may do counseling. Like for addiction.)

The amount of education you’ll need also depends on other factors. Like your state’s licensing laws. For example, Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors. In private practice, these pros need a license. In all states, that means earning a Master’s degree. You’ll also need supervised clinical experience.

What Psychology Jobs Can You Get with a Graduate Degree?

Many career paths that need a psych grad degree involve working with patients. You could treat people for mental illness. Or counsel them to resolve personal challenges. Mental counselors are a good example of this. They address a variety of concerns. Like stress. Or relationship problems. Also, more serious issues. Like depression and suicidal thoughts.

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists have similar goals. But, they may use different techniques. For instance, Clinical Psychologists often give tests. This helps identify problems. They also design programs to help change patients’ behavior.

Other career paths involve research. Or solving problems by applying psych principles. For instance, Organizational Psychologists solve problems at work. They help improve culture and morale in businesses. How? By using their knowledge of human behavior to find out how employees work best.

Annual Mean Wage for Psychology Careers

OccupationAnnual Mean WageEmployment
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists$81,330108,060
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists$102,530920
Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary$85,05037,090
Marriage and Family Therapists$53,86042,880
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$46,560241,930

Top States for Psychology Employment: Psychologists (All Other)

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Psychologists, All Other
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA$119,830190
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$119,740470
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$112,450350
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA$110,910390
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$107,450110

Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you don’t plan to work in health care, consider other industries. For instance, forensic psychologists work in criminal justice. They also apply their knowledge in the courtroom. And school psychologists work in educational settings. They address student behavior and learning challenges.

Masters in Psychology vs PhD in Psychology

A Master’s in Psychology is the minimum education requirement in this field. That’s true for many career paths in Psychology. A Master’s program usually covers an in-depth overview of the field.

But, most psychologists need to earn a PhD or Psy.D. degree. This is key for meeting state license requirements. A PhD program delves deeper into the field. Its features include:

  • A focus on research
  • Courses in statistics and more
  • An exam on all you learned
  • A dissertation

Often, doctoral programs help students prepare for a certain branch of psych. For instance, you could specialize in addictions. Or health psychology.

Pursuing a doctorate could be your next move after earning your Master’s. Either program could be a step toward your career goals. And you could earn both! You could even pursue a dual Master’s / PhD program. In this case, you enter with a Bachelor’s degree. Then you earn your Master’s on the way to your doctorate.

Psychology Graduate Degree Guide

Masters in Psychology

PhD in Psychology

Sponsored Degree Example: MA in PsychologyPhD in Clinical Psychology
Length of Program: 36 credits, 76 weeksLength of Program: 6 years
This program focuses on applying psychology principles to human experience. Students explore theories, research methods, and ethics in the field. Coursework also includes developmental, social, and counseling psychology.This program uses a scientist-practitioner model, with a focus on research and clinical experiences. Choose from concentrations in health psychology, clinical child psychology, and neuropsychology.
  • Personality Theories
  • Psychopathology
  • Learning & Cognition
  • Applied Social Psychology
  • Psychological Testing & Assessment
  • Psychobiological Foundations
  • Research Methods in Psychological Sciences
  • The Nature of Emotion
  • Clinical Supervision and Consultation
No specific program accreditationsAccredited by the American Psychological Association (APA)

What Classes Are Needed for a Psychology Graduate Degree?

Psychology grad programs cover the basic science of psychology. And, they cover how to use that knowledge in practice. You could study developmental psychology. And the biological bases of human behavior. You may also take courses on how to practice psychology. Plus, explore ethics and how to work with patients. And if you pursue a concentration, you’ll take courses in that area.

Courses you could take include:

  • History, Systems & Philosophy of Psychology
  • Psycho pharmacology
  • Cognitive/Intellectual Assessment
  • Drug Addiction
  • Life Span Development
  • Multicultural and Gender Issues
  • Personality Disorders
  • Group Dynamics
  • Statistics

What Courses Will I Take?

You could take core courses in psychology. Plus, electives in areas of interest to you. Common courses include:

  • Psycho pathology. This course explores disorders in psychology. Expect to study the causes of mental illnesses. And how to diagnose them. You could also learn how to treat these disorders.
  • Behavior Analysis. This course covers adaptive behavior. And also when behavior goes wrong. You could explore factors that go into how people act. And, you could study how people learn behaviors.
  • Psycho therapy. This course focuses on how to treat mental illness. You’ll study assessment methods. And intervention strategies. You could also learn how to work with patients.
  • Personality Psychology. Many programs offer a course that explores personality. You could study factors that make up a person’s identity. And how they see themselves. These include gender, culture, and family.
  • Research in Psychology. Research is an important part of graduate school. So, expect to take one or more courses in research methods. Like statistical data analysis. And hypothesis testing.

What Should I Know About Accreditation and Licensure in Psychology?

Earning a grad degree from an accredited program is wise. Especially for certain career goals. For example, you may need to graduate from an APA accredited program to earn licensure in your state.

The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits these grad programs:

  • Doctoral psychology programs. These could be in Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology or School Psychology. Or, combination programs
  • Doctoral internships
  • Postdoctoral residency programs

APA bases accreditation on many factors. Like, the quality of what students learn. The goal is to make sure what is being taught in your program is valid. So the coursework needs to meet current industry standards.

APA only accredits doctoral level programs. But, the MPCAC helps fill the gap. They accredit Master’s programs. Namely those in counseling and psychology.

Are you pursuing a counseling psychology program? CACREP accredits Master’s and doctoral programs in counseling.

How Long is Graduate School for Psychology?

That depends on the grad program. And whether you study part time or full time. Doctorate in psychology programs usually take four to six years. That is, for full-time students. Psychology master’s programs are usually around two years. However, some take as little as one year. Looking for more flexibility? Consider online master of psychology programs. In an online program, you could study the same curriculum as a campus program. And you could still learn from expert faculty members. The difference is that you’ll explore the field of psychology on your schedule.

How Much Does Graduate School Cost for Psychology?

The average cost of a grad degree from a public college is $11,617 per year. This means you will be able to find programs that are more affordable. And of course, more expensive than the average.

This graphic shows grad tuition costs of four schools. They have psychology grad programs as reported by the NCES. We compared those costs to the typically most affordable colleges. And, the most expensive college options. (Also reported by NCES.)

Top 268 Graduate Schools for Psychology :

  • Offering two quality, competency-based online learning formats: FlexPath & GuidedPath
  • Online degrees in business, counseling, education, health administration, human services, information technology, nursing, public health, psychology and social work.
  • 97% of alumni agree FlexPath provided the flexibility they needed to pursue their degree (Alumni Outcomes Survey 2017)
  • Some of the nation’s most affordable tuition rates, from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university
  • Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships
  • Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access
  • Northcentral University

  • Purdue University Global

  • Walden University

  • Pennsylvania State University

  • Antioch University

  • Southern New Hampshire University

  • Lynn University

  • Arcadia University

  • Liberty University Online

  • Grand Canyon University

  • Capella University

  • The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

  • Regent University

  • Saint Leo University

  • Keiser University