Different Types of Psychology Degree Programs

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Are you considering majoring in psychology? Getting a degree in psychology is a rewarding choice for many students around the world. Not only are psychology majors granted the unique opportunity to improve the lives of those around them, they can also select from a range of careers across widespread fields like business and forensics.

Depending on the level of education you receive in psychology, you can qualify for a number of especially high-paying jobs in your specialty area. A general psychologist, for instance, can demand a median salary of $72,580, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field of psychology is steadily growing, with an expected 19% growth rate over the next decade. Are you still confused about where you fit into the wonderful world of psychology? Keep reading to learn more about the different types of degrees offered in psychology in addition to the various specialty areas you can major in. 

Associate Degree in Psychology

In general, an associate degree in psychology is used as a stepping stone for completing a bachelor-level degree in psychology. The coursework for an associates program will consist of introductory classes that cover foundational topics in the field. Prerequisites for such a program are limited to having either a high school diploma or a GED. An associates program usually takes about 2 years.

Job prospects with an associate degree are limited because most entry-level positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Still, career options may be available for training in social welfare agencies, early childhood education, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation counseling. Overall, enrolling in an associates program in psychology can be a terrific way to gain fundamental knowledge of the field and prepare for higher-level study.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

A bachelor’s degree in psychology opens the door for vast career opportunities. This undergraduate degree takes approximately 4 years to complete. Today, bachelor’s programs in psychology can be completed face-to-face in a college or university, in a hybrid format with some courses online and some in-person, and 100% online.

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Education at the bachelor’s level revolves around broad application of principles and theories in the field of psychology, providing you with a solid basis for jumpstarting a career or pursuing a graduate degree. Job prospects are much more plentiful at this level. Most baccalaureate psychology graduates gain employment in social services or public affairs, administrative support, education, business, sales, service personnel, and health professions.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

If you are considering earning your master’s degree in psychology, your training will transition from a broader perspective to a more narrow specialization. This graduate-level degree is a great choice for students hoping to advance their knowledge and training in the field of psychology without enrolling in a doctorate program. Master’s programs may also be completed through traditional or online formats. The program typically requires approximately 2 years for completion. Depending on the type of master’s program you enroll in (and the specialization you choose), you may be expected to conduct psychological research and/or complete a master’s thesis.

Careers options for a master’s degree in psychology may include any of the following: education, private research laboratories, outpatient clinics, prisons, federal and state government agencies, human resources, law enforcement, career centers, and the corporate sector.

Doctorate Degree in Psychology

As with any discipline, a doctorate degree is the highest level of classical training you can receive in psychology. Your ultimate career goals will help you determine if this degree type is the right choice for you. Unlike some fields, a doctorate in psychology is not limited to a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. Students who study psychology may choose to enroll in PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology programs, too. Another, more recent, degree path for potential psychology graduates is the ED, or Doctor of Education, which is an education degree that is sometimes relevant to psych majors.

The key difference between the PhD and the PsyD is the focus of the degree program. To put it simply, PhD programs are research-oriented while PsyD programs are generally practice-oriented, meaning they are mainly focused on acquiring the skills necessary to practice as a psychologist (although these programs do conduct research as well). Both types of programs have rigorous training that culminates in the completion of a research dissertation or the equivalent. Degree completion may take anywhere from 4 to 8 years.

Considering that a doctorate represents the highest level of training, the sky is the limit when it comes to careers. Doctoral level professionals are oftentimes licensed in their state and use the term “psychologist.” The given specialization determines what this type of professional does and also where he or she works. These professionals may work for themselves in private practice or in a group practice, in inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, prisons, police stations, federal government, state agencies, colleges and universities, research laboratories, and the corporate sector.

Now that you have a better understanding of the different degrees in psychology, how long they take, and possible career options for each, you can gain more insight into some of the most popular specialties in psychology.

Child Psychology

If you enjoy working with children, a degree in child psychology can offer you a promising career doing what you love. This specialty area involves the study of children’s behavior and how that behavior develops into and differs from adult behavior. Sometimes, child psychology is combined with the study of development and aging across the lifespan in a comprehensive field called developmental psychology. Child psychologists may find employment in pediatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, educational settings, or even in private practice.

To learn more about the exciting field of child psychology, visit this page.

Clinical Psychology

Programs in which students earn a degree in clinical psychology typically cover various aspects of the theoretical orientations in psychology, such as the psychodynamic or behavioral approaches. Clinical psychology is concerned with the treatment and assessment of mental illness, psychiatric problems and abnormal behavior. It integrates treating complex human problems with the science behind psychology, making it particularly interesting for individuals who enjoy challenging and rewarding work. Clinical psychologists frequently work within private practices, medical settings or within academic positions at colleges and universities.

Interested in clinical psychology? Check out this page for more info.

Counseling Psychology

A degree in counseling psychology gives students the opportunity to apply foundational knowledge in psychological theory and research through therapeutic and behavioral modification interventions. Such programs prepare students to facilitate a positive behavioral change process in individuals, groups, and families. Typically, successful completion of the program qualifies students for professional licensure or certification examination. Counseling psychologists work in private practice, community and school settings, as well as in hospitals or government agencies.

Receive expert information to help you decide if counseling psychology is right for you by clicking here.

Engineering Psychology

The way humans and machines interact is a thriving area of interest in the age of technology. Earning a degree in engineering psychology can allow you the chance to use psychology for the benefit of technological design. In this type of degree program, students learn about the abilities and restrictions of human beings in terms of cognition, movement control and perception. Engineering psychologists take the information they learn and integrate it into new systems that align with how human beings use technology. These professionals usually work in the private sector.

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Find out more about the growing field of engineering psychology here.

Experimental Psychology

Degree programs in experimental psychology are designed to train students to conduct empirical research, design studies and fully understand the ethical dilemmas that arise when studying living beings. Experimental psychologists explore a range of topics within psychology, observing both animal and human behavior. They use the scientific method to research and collect data on various studies, helping others learn more about psychological phenomena – from cognitive processes to the way individuals learn. Experimental psychologists work in government centers, research facilities, and in universities where they conduct research and may teach experimental methods to students.

Get more information about salaries, work settings, and trends for experimental psychologists here.

Forensic Psychology

Getting a degree in forensic psychology equips students with the professional skills required for research and practice within the field of forensics. This degree focuses on topics such as research and design, legal and contextual issues, and general forensic skills. Many professionals within the forensic psychology field regard it as a career opportunity that varies widely, including both clinical and occupational elements. Forensic psychologists working in government and health service settings may serve as consultants or managers and typically work with victims, offenders, and other professionals within the criminal justice system.

Find out more about the forensic psychology specialty area here.

General Psychology

Gaining entrance into a general psychology program opens students up to a wide range of future career opportunities. Coursework is based on providing foundational knowledge in psychological theory, research, and practice. Many such programs offer students the option of choosing a specialty track to supplement a general degree. Graduates may gain employment in federal and local agencies, hospitals, business, and educational settings.

Decide if a degree in general psychology is right for you by visiting this page.

Health Psychology

Health psychologists use psychological theory and research to assist individuals, groups, and communities with developing better strategies to lead healthier lives. A degree in health psychology imparts students with knowledge about the human body and mind, health and wellness, stress, and nutrition in addition to teaching interventions that help clients generate positive change. Health psychologists work in university and private research centers, corporations, government agencies, hospitals, and community health clinics.

Learn more about pursuing a degree in health psychology here.

Industrial Organizational Psychology

Most degree programs in industrial organizational psychology focus on using psychology to construct effective solutions that benefit employers and their employees. Those that graduate from these programs are required to apply the latest research and innovative methods to improve the way companies work. Industrial-organizational psychologists are immensely effective because they factor human behavior into the equation for a successful business, helping to motivate productivity, support diverse cultures, build leadership and manage organizational change. Because of this, it is generally regarded as a diverse field with various opportunities. Most industrial-organizational psychologists work within the business sector, but some of these professionals work in academic or consulting positions.

Learn more about the thriving field of industrial organizational psychology here.

Media Psychology

If you want to be a pioneer in a specialty area of psychology, a degree in media psychology may be the path for you. This degree is fairly new in comparison to many of the others and it constantly changes with each new social media platform release or technological development. Therefore, graduates have the opportunity to lay a foundation and direct the growth of this discipline for future generations. Media psychology is basically where human behavior and media overlap. These professionals study how people consume, generate, and spread information across media technologies. Media psychologists work in university, laboratory, and private settings conducting research and assessments.

 Visit this page to get more information about the emerging specialty of media psychology.

Military Psychology

A degree in military psychology allows one to use psychological principles and theory to study the unique cultural, environmental, and political considerations of the armed forces. Military psychologists may be active duty themselves or civilians working on a military base or in corporate or university settings. These professionals work with active-duty officers, veterans, and their families to provide services regarding issues such as transitioning back to civilian life, substance abuse, suicide, or post-traumatic stress.

Gain a better understanding about military psychology by checking out this page.

School Psychology

A school psychology degree prepares students to work in school and educational settings. School psychologists assist students with psychiatric, behavioral, and academic issues by offering support and intervention. Students in this specialty area understand multicultural and ethical concerns regarding education and are trained to work alongside teachers, school administrators and parents to provide services and improve the educational experience for children and youth.

 Get detailed information about school psychology here.

Social Psychology

Students pursuing a degree in social psychology examine a range of social issues through the lens of psychological theories in order to develop theories, ideas, and a better understanding of human behavior overall. This specialty area considers how we, as individuals, think, feel, and relate with other people. Most programs will deal with theories of influence, how groups and individuals maintain identities, and how people react when presented with power.

Gain a better understanding of this field by checking out our social psychology career page.

Sport Psychology

Do you enjoy helping others pursue physical fitness and endurance? A degree in sport psychology delivers challenging academic coursework while providing students with hands-on experience relevant to the practice of sport psychology. Students learn counseling intervention, sport science, and performance enhancement dedicated towards helping them advance into careers assisting professional or college teams or athletes or community organizations.

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See if sport psychology is a good choice for you by visiting this specialty page.

As you can see, degrees in psychology can come in many different forms. To make sure you select the educational level and specialty area that matches your interests and goals, early planning is essential. Look into various degree programs that are being offered in your local area, and discover which one appeals most to you.

About the Author: Veranda Hillard Charleston

Veranda received her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern State University of Louisiana. She has nearly five years of experience as a trained mental health professional. As a freelance writer, Veranda creates quality content for topics such as mental health, self-help, general health, fitness, and relationships. Off-line, Veranda conducts psychological assessments of children and adults in a private-practice setting.

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