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What is a Masters Degree in Psychology | MA vs MS in Psychology2019-03-06T22:09:28+00:00

What is a Master’s Degree in Psychology?

An online Master of Psychology provides a solid foundation in basic scientific methods and psychological principles. Graduates will possess the knowledge, skills and disposition necessary to affect change in people and organizations. Topics covering lifespan development, behavior management, research and analysis, counseling, intervention and psychopathology prepare students to make a difference in the world—just how big of an impact depends on one’s reason for pursuing a master’s degree and plans after graduation.

MS in Psychology vs MA in Psychology

Graduate-level psychology programs confer two types of degrees: The Master of Science (MS) in Psychology and the Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology. An MS degree may indicate a stronger concentration on research and behavioral sciences, while an MA degree may have a stronger liberal arts focus. However, the academic requirements for MS and MA degrees are often very similar—a more important distinction, then, is between terminal stand-alone and doctoral-preparatory Master of Psychology degrees.

  • Terminal master’s degrees in psychology prepare graduates to enter or advance in a specific subfield, such as industrial/organizational psychology or developmental psychology. Although terminal degree programs do not result in licensure, graduates may work in a variety of applied psychology settings including community mental health centers or treatment facilities.
  • Doctoral preparatory master’s degrees in psychology generally follow the Scientist-Practitioner Model of Clinical Psychology. Research mentorship opportunities in these degree programs develop students’ independent research skills in preparation for a doctoral program. These degree programs may also require the completion of a thesis for graduation.

Master of Psychology Degree Concentrations

When you enroll in an online Master of Psychology degree program, you may be able to choose a specialization that enables you to focus on a particular subfield of psychology practice. The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes 15 specialties of professional psychology. Popular master’s-level psychology concentrations you may be able to select include:

  • Clinical Psychology is a large subfield that encompasses a range of techniques and theoretical approaches that aid in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and learning disabilities.
  • Neuropsychology is the branch of psychology concerned with how a person’s cognition and behaviors are influenced by the brain and central nervous system. This specialty is also concerned with how brain injuries or illnesses affect cognitive functions and development.
  • Industrial-Organizational (IO) Psychology is characterized by the study of human behavior in organizations and places of work. IO psychologists focus on the health and well-being of employees, as well as how to improve performance, motivation and job satisfaction.
  • Forensics Psychology is the application of clinical psychology techniques and methods in the judicial and legal systems. Forensics psychologists may provide law enforcement agencies with criminal profiles or testify in court as an expert witness.

Why an Online Master of Psychology?

Keep up with your peers

The growth of master’s of psychology degrees in the US reflects a growing interest in graduate-level psychology studies. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of master’s degrees awarded in psychology increased from about 18,000 in 2003 to nearly 28,000 in 2013.

Improve your job prospects

A master’s degree in psychology provides the foundation for a number of different careers in the public and private sectors. Although licensed independent practice as a “psychologist” typically requires a doctoral degree and postdoctoral training, there are alsoopportunities for individuals with master’s-level training in psychology.

Of the states that grant licenses to individuals with a master’s degree, some allow for autonomous practice while others require supervision by a doctoral-level licensed psychologist. In either case, a master’s-level license in psychology will open new opportunities to work directly in the field. Some of the licenses that are available with a Master’s of Psychology include:

  • Psychological Associate
  • Psychological Practitioner
  • Psychological Examiner
  • Psychological Technician
  • School Psychologist
  • Licensed Masters-Level Psychologist
  • Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist
  • Licensed Behavioral Practitioner

There are also many jobs in the public and private sectors that fall under the umbrella of psychology or involve some of the principles of psychology but that don’t require licensure. For example, you may be able to work as a survey researcher, market research analyst, human resources manager, behavioral consultant or researcher.

See our careers page to learn more about what you can do with a master’s in psychology.

Receive additional training before doctoral studies

You don’t need a master’s degree to be admitted into a doctoral psychology program, but depending on the point you’re at in your career, you might consider it.

The American Psychological Association (APA) and many state licensing boards state that doctoral education and training is necessary to practice as a psychologist. In other words, a doctorate in psychology is the standard for anyone looking to conduct independent research or practice as a licensed psychologist.

If you’re thinking about this path but aren’t ready to commit to a doctoral program just yet, an online Master’s of Psychology degree program will allow you to get a firsthand taste of what graduate psychology studies are like so you can decide on a doctorate later.

How to Choose an Online Master of Psychology Degree Program

The APA recommends asking the following questions to determine which graduate psychology program is best suited for you:

  1. What are the goals and objectives of the program? Do they match your interests and academic preparation as a prospective graduate student?
  2. What is the program’s success rate in terms of the percentage of admitted students who graduate, and what is the average number of years required to do so?
  3. For programs with an emphasis on academic and research careers, what is the record of graduates’ success in obtaining postdoctoral research fellowships, academic appointments or applied research positions outside a college or university setting?
  4. For programs with an emphasis on professional practice, what is the program’s accreditation status, the record of its graduates’ success in obtaining licensure, its graduates’ selection rates for advanced practice residencies and in getting jobs after they finish training?

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