Graduate Programs in Social Psychology & Personality Psychology

Social Psychology Graduate Programs focus on the ways people act, think and feel in social contexts. A specific branch of psychology, social psychology uses scientific methods to discover how emotions, thoughts, beliefs, attributes and attitudes are formed. In turn, how they influence our interactions with others.

written by Rana Waxman

Social Psychology Graduate Programs: Overview

Features of Social Psychology Graduate Programs could include courses in research methods, personality tests and analysis of a wide range of social topics. Students might, for instance, examine group and individual behavior, sexuality, stereotypes, and non-verbal communication.

In addition to personality theory and human development, many social psychology graduate programs touch on practical ways to collect and assess data. Students might have the opportunity, not just to evaluate the latest personality psychology research, but may learn to conduct inquiries of their own.

Personality and Social Psychology Degrees

Social Psychology degrees are available at the Masters and Doctoral levels, as well as certificates. Ultimately, the path chosen may reflect professional goals and personal areas of interest.

What Do Social Psychologists Study?

Social and personality psychologists might explore the dynamics within a person (traits, attitudes, goals) as well as the dynamics of a situation (norms, motives), to unravel the ‘why’ and ‘how’ that underlie many interwoven concepts.

  • Romantic attraction
  • Aggression
  • Conformity
  • Group Behavior
  • Prejudice
  • Altruism

Graduate Programs in Social Psychology might therefore cover a wide array of topics. Although courses often depend on the level and theme of the degree program.i

  • Self-concept
  • Social Pathology
  • Social Ecology
  • Sex Roles
  • Social Cognition

Social Psychology vs Personality Psychology

Social psychology has a lot in common with personality psychology. They both study behavior at the individual and social levels from a scientific perspective. However, they approach their takes opposite (yet oft interwoven) points of view.

What is Social Psychology? Social psychology takes an Inter-personal lens to look at how people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others

Social psych grad students might look into timeless questions such as ‘how does my behavior change around authority figures?’ or ‘why do I act one way when I am alone, and another way when I am with friends?’

Consequently, social psychology looks to determine and measure how people’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions change in the presence of others. Also, the conditions under which certain behaviors, actions, and beliefs occur.

What is Personality Psychology? Personality psychology takes an Intra-personal lens to focus on the evolution of a person’s traits and how these come together and differ, from others

Personality Psychology Graduate Programs may therefore encourage research to discover why people differ from each other in their beliefs and attitudes.

For these inquiries, students might address factors such as gender, culture, and genetics to see how these play a role in personal beliefs and behaviors.

What is Applied Social Psychology? Graduate Programs in Applied Social psychology aim to use social psych theories, principles, research data, and experimental methods to understand social issues. Their goal is to offer real-world solutions for a variety of social problems.

At heart, applied social psych therefore operates on the premise that these dilemmas are caused by human behavior. Applied social psychology programs might therefore cover topics that range from workplace behavior to health promotion or consumer behavior.

Social Psychology Masters Programs

Masters in Social Psychology programs could equip students with academic knowledge as well as practical skills. Some schools might offer joint programs in applied social psychology that roll two degrees into one, such as a BS/MA. These take longer than the average of about 2 years of full-time study for a Masters degree.

Popular Social Psychology Masters Programs


Degree Awarded


Psychology – Gender Diversity Studies



Psychology – Social Psychology



Sex Therapy



Applied Social Psychology


Campus, Online


M.A., Certificate


A BS/MA joint program in applied social psychology could enable students to earn both the BS in Psychology and the MA in Applied Social Psychology degrees within about five years. This has the potential to save students approximately one year of study.

Master of Arts in Applied Social Psychology programs could instruct students in ways to identify key problems, design and implement solutions, and empirically assess the changes. Students might therefore build lab and field research skills, as well as develop an ability to use data to promote human welfare.

Curriculums might stack courses with research designs, evaluation skills, statistical analysis and an internship. Students might study, through their courses, various social issues such as health care, community affairs, education and criminal justice.

Required courses might help students explain how classic and modern social psych theory and research could apply to human behavior in social settings. Students could also learn how to conduct a literature review and write academic research articles.

Sample courses might include some of the examples below.

  • Affect and Condition
  • The Self and Close Relationships
  • Political Psychology
  • Social Judgement and Perception

Students who want to pursue career paths in research might choose a terminal Masters program. Such students might need to complete a Masters thesis and may take extra courses in research methods.

Master of Science in Clinical Psychology – Sex Therapy

A MS in Clinical Psychology with a focus in sex therapy could provide the tools to help individuals overcome basic issues that are presented as sexual difficulties.

Coursework could be rooted in clinical psychology and may build on clinical counseling techniques. Emphasis courses discuss human sexuality, lifespan development and sex therapy. Students might also learn how to conduct psychological tests.

Some programs of this nature might prepare graduates to pursue certification as a Sex Therapist. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) requires a minimum of a Masters degree “in a clinical specialty that includes psychotherapy training”.ii If this is your goal, follow up with an academic advisor.

Master of Arts in Psychology – Gender Diversity

A MA in Psychology – Gender Diversity Studies program may be planned-out to enhance students’ grasp of the biological, cultural, and social functions of gender and sexual orientation.

Students may first be required to complete compulsory foundation courses before they move onto emphasis topics. Core psychology courses might discuss key theories of human growth, professional ethics and research design.

Gender diversity courses might compare and contrast personality theories such as those put forth by cognitive, humanistic, and positive psychology. Students might also take a class in psychology of sex and sexuality to address concepts such as gender roles and identities.

Other topics might discuss the full spectrum of human sexuality and the LGBTQ contexts. Assessment and treatment methods in psychotherapy and counseling may help students build skills to assist gender variant people and families.

Social Psychology PhD Programs

A PhD in Social Psychology is a terminal research degree. Some PhD programs in personality and social psychology require 4-6 years of full-time study.

The main aim of a Social Psychology PhD program is not necessarily to help students provide direct care to individuals. Rather, its primary goal is to prepare students to pursue careers related to applied research.

While each school creates their degree plan, PhD in Social Psychology programs could feature various required elements: core courses, methodology courses, social psychology and applied social psychology topics, and electives.

Core courses often present key social and applied social psych theories. Students may also take a neuropsychology or other experimental topic along with a developmental psych course such as personality or social development.

Other compulsory courses might include a set of social psych research methods and applied statistics courses. These are often given to help students prepare for their final project, or dissertation.

Methodology courses are those that may provide a survey of research methods, modeling and analysis. Along the way, students might hone their written and oral presentation skills, as well as learn to form and test hypothesis.

Basic social psych courses might discuss attitudes, cognitive social, group dynamics and the Self. Applied courses might focus more on issues such as criminal justice, political cognition or consumer psychology. Students might use electives to add depth to studies in any of these areas.

PhD in Human Sexuality

A Human Sexuality PhD program is a terminal research degree in this field of study. Candidates might study to develop holistic sexual literacy and to impact individual and societal change initiatives.

As an interdisciplinary program in critical sexuality studies, it may draw on topics such as queer theory, intersectionality, feminism, history, philosophy, biology, social sciences, and clinical and policy studies.

Some programs may help students prepare for or maintain credentials with AASECT. ii

Graduate Certificates in Social Psychology

A Graduate Certificate in Social Psychology typically tackles a single theme within social and personality psychology. The various certificates may help current professionals refine skills and/or prepare for a next degree.

Certificate in Social and Emotional Development

A Certificate in Social and Emotional Development could target educators who want to help their students problem solve and learn prosocial behaviors.

Students may take a total of 15 credits in which they might study mindfulness, and professional ethics. Other topics could shed light on how to understand and engage in a helpful way to assist others develop healthy self-concepts.

Certificate in Solution Focused Coaching

A Graduate Certificate in Solution Focused Coaching could provide an option to psychotherapy techniques. Personal coaching tends to be brief and goal-oriented.

Coursework could examine both systems and personality theories. Students might also learn about the various classification systems for psychiatric diagnosis. As well, the implications for interactional approaches.

Other courses could discuss human growth and counseling and therapy techniques that may work for each life cycle stage. To round things out, the differences between therapy, education, and coaching may be presented.

Social Psychology Programs: Application Information

Admission to Social Psychology Graduate Programs could differ between schools.

Applicants may need high undergraduate grades and a Bachelors degree from an accredited college or university. Some students may have majored in psychology, though social psychology programs may not require this.

In addition, some social psych programs may ask for scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Most expect students to furnish letters of recommendation. It is also common for applicants to write an essay. This usually describes why one wants to attend the grad school, research interests and the reasons a program could align with the applicant’s interests.

A strong fit between an applicant’s research interests and those of a specific social faculty member may be required, especially for PhD programs. Social psychology research topics could include studies about violence, bystander behavior, leadership and persuasion.

Of course, different programs have their own standards and criteria for admission, and the prospective student should explore those articulated by programs of interest.

Social Psychology Program Formats

Study to earn a Social Psychology degree online. Or, look for Social and Personality Psychology Schools where you could study the traditional way – on campus.

Online Graduate Programs in Social Psychology may enable students to take their courses on a laptop, and could be convenient if there is no grad school nearby.

Campus programs are live and interactive. Students may not get to set their own hours, but may stay motivated through the regular meetings.

What Might I Do with a Social Psychology Degree?

Although some personality and social psychologists go to graduate school to earn a terminal masters degree (MA or MS) others seek a doctoral degree (PhD).

For some careers, a masters degree may be sufficient. For instance, licensed professional counselors and therapists generally need a Masters degree along with state licensure.iiiHowever, a doctorate is usually the degree needed for employment as a professor at a university or college and for psychologists in private practice.iv

Social Psychologist Salary

Social psychologists are not listed separately in terms of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.vThat said, as of May 2016, psychologists earned an average annual salary of $95,710 and were employed in government, hospitals, healthcare services and

How long might it take to become a social psychologist?

In most cases, a masters degree in psychology takes approximately 2 years to complete, and a doctorate takes 4-6 years (or 2-4 years longer than a masters degree).

Choose a Graduate Program in Social Psychology

Easily compare and apply to Personality and Social Psychology Graduate Programs with these 3 steps: (1) Choose your degree level. (2) Select your program format (3) Refine by location. These filters yield social and personality graduate programs from sponsored schools. All you have to do is fill out the on-page form to apply. Take that step now!

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