Best Online Master’s Degrees in Psychology: 2016

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Career & Salary Options with an Advanced Psychology Degree

Psychology is the study of the human mind and human behavior. When beginning study in psychology, students can choose a particular focus: do they want to go into research, or do they want to work directly with clients? Not only does this focus direct the eventual career path, but it also makes the decisions about psychology coursework easier. Students who intend to become researchers can take courses that focus strongly on research and statistics, while those who prefer to work with clients can tailor their educational experience toward the clinical side, with courses that focus on communication and various therapy theories.

An Online Master’s in Psychology Timeline

Getting in: The Application Process

Finding the right school can be a daunting task. Once the list is narrowed down to a few favorites, it’s time to embark on what might be an even more difficult task: the application process.

Students who are pursuing their master’s degree have been through this before — during the application process for their bachelor’s degree. However, some things may look new based on the degree level. The biggest change is the requirements; in order to enter graduate school, some very specific documents are required. Here’s what you will need to get the ball rolling:

  • Transcripts

    To enter an online master’s in psychology program, an applicant must have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. In addition, some programs look for a certain GPA, usually 3.0 or higher, especially for courses in psychology.

  • GRE scores

    The Graduate Record Examination is typically required to enter any master’s program. Applicants to master’s in psychology programs might also benefit from taking the subject test in psychology, which can be an added bonus in a competitive applicant field. The GRE Psychology is an optional, single-subject exam that tests core knowledge from undergraduate psychology studies, covering natural science, social science and general psychology material.

  • Statement of purpose

    Some schools require a statement of purpose or an explanation of why a student wants to pursue a psychology degree and what they intend to do with it upon graduation. For example, applicants may highlight their goals to become psychology professors, licensed psychologists or researchers.

  • Resume

    Work experience can hold a great deal of weight with some schools, so a well-written resume is a nice addition to an admissions packet. The resume should detail all work done that might relate to the psychology field such as volunteering in mental health facilities, clinical research experience or working in a psychology services facility.

  • Letters of recommendation

    Two or three letters from work colleagues, former professors, advisors and the like can help students find that edge needed to enter a competitive program. Be sure to allow the writers plenty of time to complete their letters before the deadline.

  • Writing sample

    Psychology master’s programs want to see a demonstration of excellent writing and communication skills, which is where the writing sample comes in. This sample should be well-edited and demonstrate clear communication skills.

  • Interview

    Some schools want to conduct interviews with applicants as they narrow down the offers of admission. Interviews can be conducted in person or, in the case of those attending an online master’s program, via Skype. Interviewees for master’s in psychology programs should emphasize their passion for the subject and the intended professional and academic career in the field.

  • Miscellaneous items

    Some schools want to see even more, such as a list of extracurricular activities pursued in undergrad, volunteer experiences (especially in a venture related to psychology) and research experiences, such as working as a research assistant during college.

  • Financial aid information

    Getting into the program is one thing; paying for it is another. It often helps to look into financial aid information before applying to schools, so that students are prepared to obtain scholarships, grants and loans to finance the education.

Year 1

The first year of a master’s degree in psychology focuses strongly on core courses, including those in theory, ethics and research design. The idea is that students will gain a strong foundation leading into the second year. These courses will typically total 15 credit hours. Students should be prepared to discuss a thesis idea or plan with their advisor near the end of the first year. Some degree programs require an internship sometime after the first year, so preparing early is a plus.

Year 2

The second year of the master’s degree focuses on the student’s chosen concentration. In addition, many courses are tailored to the thesis work expected of students during the following year. However, those who are in an accelerated program will complete the thesis or capstone project by the end of the second year.

Year 3

Year three is the final year of most online psychology master’s programs. During this year, students complete their thesis or capstone project, finish a practicum if that is what their concentration calls for, and take any courses still outstanding. In addition, students defend their master’s thesis before a committee, complete a series of comprehensive exams, or both.

Testing & Graduation Requirements

Before a student can successfully graduate from a master’s program in psychology, certain requirements must be met. These might include:

  • Meeting with an advisory committee

    This committee will look over the courses taken and the thesis work to date and help students plan out what is needed to move forward with graduation. The committee might also help the student decide whether to pursue a psychology doctorate or move directly into practice.

  • Completing an internship

    An internship in a psychology-related job is usually required. A minimum number of hours must be completed before graduation. Students frequently intern at mental health centers, psychologist’s offices or research facilities.

  • Capstone project

    Some programs offer the option of either a master’s thesis or a capstone project. A capstone in psychology requires students to combine coursework knowledge and practical experience to complete a research project. Students will typically complete a capstone that relates to their chosen concent

  • Completing the master’s thesis

    The thesis should be completed no later than the third year of a master’s in psychology; some complete it during the second year. The thesis involves extensive research in a psychology topic and the written report must be defended before a committee before it is approved.

  • Comprehensive exams

    These examinations test the knowledge gained over the course of the master’s program. They might be required in addition to the capstone project or thesis.

Search Online Master’s Degrees in Psychology

When looking for the right school, it helps to have some criteria by which to narrow down the options. This search tool aims to help aspiring students do just that by offering searches based on school type, population, tuition, degree level and location.

Student Population:
School Type:
see map

Why a Master’s in Psychology Matters: Career & Salary Opportunities

Psychology is a diverse field that lends itself quite well to a wide range of career opportunities. Students can choose to specialize during their time in school. For instance, those who want to work with children and adolescents can focus on developmental psychology, while those who prefer to work with couples might choose courses in counseling. Choosing a concentration in the psychology program can help students prepare for a variety of jobs, as seen in this career map.

Concentrations
Industrial-Organizational Psychology

With a strong focus on the workplace and how people interact within it, this concentration prepares students to work closely with businesses and organizations to promote employee relations and morale.

Career:
Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Works closely with businesses and organizations to ensure their employees are happy, healthy and working well together; much of the focus is on how to make the workplace more welcoming and friendly to employees.

Community Organizer
Community Organizer

Coordinates social service programs that are offered to the public; directs, supervises and leads program staff.

Clinical Psychology

This concentration is suitable for those who intend to work directly with clients, perhaps in a private practice. It is typically a stepping stone to the doctoral degree.

Career:
Psychology Teacher
Psychology Teacher

Works in colleges, universities, private schools, community colleges and online institutions to help students learn more about various aspects of psychology.

Social Worker
Social Worker

Helps a wide variety of people with problems; clinical social workers can diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional issues.

Community Organizer
Community Organizer

Coordinates social service programs that are offered to the public; directs, supervises and leads program staff.

School Psychology

Those who intend to work with students in K-12 or at the college level will benefit from this concentration, which focuses on the unique counseling theories applied to students moving through the educational system.

Career:
School Counselor
School Counselor

Helps students understand their educational options, cope with life in the classroom and outside of it, stand up to bullying, make informed choices on colleges and other life paths, and develop social skills.

Career Counselor
Career Counselor

Helps those who are trying to decide on a career path; this might include someone who has just graduated college and is starting her first job, or the seasoned worker who is changing career paths after many years.

Social Worker
Social Worker

Helps a wide variety of people with problems; clinical social workers can diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional issues.

Applied Developmental Psychology

With a strong focus on child development, this concentration offers insights into the proper development and behavior of children, which can help graduates in jobs that assist young people and their parents.

Career:
School Counselor
School Counselor

Helps students understand their educational options, cope with life in the classroom and outside of it, stand up to bullying, make informed choices on colleges and other life paths, and develop social skills.

Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and Family Therapist

Works with couples to provide counseling that can improve their marriage and relationships; the work might also include the wider family, including children.

Social Worker
Social Worker

Helps a wide variety of people with problems; clinical social workers can diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional issues.

Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology

Also known as neuroscience psychology, this concentration focuses on the biological nature of behavior, such as the brain response to substance abuse or the relation of neural activity to human performance.

Career:
Addictions Counselor
Addictions Counselor

Assists those who are fighting addictions to alcohol or drugs by helping them find treatment, providing counseling, and following up with rehabilitation counselors, parole officers and other officials.

Probation and Parole Officer
Probation and Parole Officer

Works with those who have been incarcerated or are otherwise involved in the corrections system; they monitor offenders to help prevent them from committing further crimes as they integrate back into civilian life.

Researcher
Researcher

Works in laboratories, think tanks and universities on subjects of interest.

Community Organizer
Community Organizer

Coordinates social service programs that are offered to the public; directs, supervises and leads program staff.

Salary Potential with a Master’s Degree

Students who choose to earn a master’s degree in psychology typically do so not only to further their educations and careers, but also to take advantage of potential salary increases. Indeed, those who hold a master’s degree in psychology make between $35,582 and $96,388 per year, according to PayScale.com. That’s more than bachelor’s degree holders, who make between $31,490 and $85,089 per year. Those who choose to go even further and earn their doctorate make between $51,302 and $140,005.

The master’s program concentration matters as well. The average pay for a psychologist is $73,000, but those in neuropsychology, forensic psychology and clinical research saw earnings increase 36 percent, 18 percent and 17 percent respectively.

Growth potential 12%
Salary Potential $68,900

Additional Resources & Links

Prospective students who are looking for even more information on an online master’s in psychology or the psychology profession in general can find resources that are explicitly tailored to the field here:

  • American Academy of Clinical Psychology

    This site focuses on news and publications, continuing education and, most importantly, board certification for clinical psychologists.

  • American Board of Forensic Psychology

    Forensic psychologists can take advantage of board certification through this reputable organization.

  • American Psychological Association

    The APA is the gold standard of associations for psychologists and those in related professions; the site offers publications and databases, news and events, information on education and careers, and numerous member benefits.

  • Association for Psychological Science

    This is a comprehensive site featuring new research, reports, an employment network and a members-only section.

  • Cognitive Neuroscience Society

    Cognitive scientists can take advantage of a news center, annual conference and awards by joining this society.

  • Psychology Today

    Psychologists and those who are simply interested in the way the brain works will find here a wealth of interesting articles, first-person accounts of work in the field, fun tests, and a search engine that connects readers with therapists.

  • Social Psychology Network

    This site maintained by Wesleyan University is home to over 14,000 members from 148 countries. It offers psychology news, professional journals, teaching resources, forums and other information.

  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology

    This society’s website offers four sections — one each for professionals, students, educators and the media. Perks include resources, job boards, publications and advocacy information.

Best Online Master’s in Psychology Degrees

Students who opt for an online psychology master’s degree are making the choice to pursue a strong education with a flexible schedule. This works well for students who have other obligations that must be juggled along with the pursuit of higher education. Colleges and universities across the nation have heard the call for online courses and have responded with full online programs that offer high-quality educations. To choose the best online schools, explore this list of Best Online Master’s in Psychology Degrees for 2015-2016.

Curious about how we chose these particular online colleges? Explore our methodology to find out more.

RANK COLLEGE SCORE TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO COST GRADUATION RATE
1 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Harrisburg 100.00 14:1 67%
2 Temple University 96.75 14:1 69%
3 University of Idaho 95.75 17:1 58%
3 Harvard University 95.75 8:1 98%
3 Ball State University 96.00 15:1 59%
5 University of Utah 95.25 17:1 62%
6 Colorado State University-Fort Collins 94.75 16:1 65%
7 University of Memphis 94.25 14:1 44%
7 Rutgers University-New Brunswick 94.25 16:1 81%
9 Northwestern Oklahoma State University 94.00 14:1 34%
10 University of Wisconsin-Madison 93.75 18:1 84%
10 University of Southern California 93.75 9:1 91%
10 University of Georgia 93.75 18:1 85%
13 University of Northern Colorado 93.00 17:1 46%
13 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale 93.00 12:1 55%
15 Missouri University of Science and Technology 92.50 18:1 63%
16 Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 92.00 17:1 86%
16 Fort Hays State University 92.00 17:1 43%
16 Baptist Bible College & Seminary of Pennsylvania 92.00 9:1 54%
19 Concordia University-Wisconsin 91.00 13:1 61%
20 Northeastern University 90.75 14:1 82%
21 Carlos Albizu University-Miami 90.25 15:1 50%
22 The Sage Colleges 89.75 12:1 59%
23 Texas A & M University-College Station 89.50 20:1 79%
24 Seton Hall University 89.25 14:1 66%
25 University of North Dakota 88.75 19:1 55%
25 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 89.25 18:1 60%
26 Southwestern Oklahoma State University 88.00 18:1 34%
27 University of West Alabama 88.00 15:1 33%
28 Union Institute & University 87.75 8:1 25%
29 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 87.50 19:1 84%
29 The University of Alabama 87.50 21:1 66%
29 Sacred Heart University 87.50 15:1 67%
29 Northern Arizona University 87.50 18:1 52%
29 Corban University 87.50 14:1 56%
30 University of Minnesota-Duluth 87.75 18:1 59%
34 Austin Peay State University 87.25 18:1 37%
35 Marist College 87.00 16:1 78%
36 LeTourneau University 86.50 14:1 51%
37 The University of Texas at Tyler 85.25 21:1 45%
37 Mid-America Christian University 85.25 11:1 31%
37 Franklin University 86.25 11:1 14%
37 Adams State University 86.25 15:1 21%
41 Saint Leo University 84.75 15:1 45%
42 Eastern Washington University 84.50 21:1 46%
43 Saint Cloud State University 84.00 22:1 45%
44 Prescott College 83.75 9:1 35%
44 Colorado Christian University 83.75 14:1 42%