MS in Psychology Vs MA in Psychology

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A master’s degree in psychology is, in simple terms, a degree of graduate level, which typically includes two to three years of study beyond the completion of an undergraduate degree. The most common types of master’s degrees for psychology students to choose from are the Master of Science (MS) option, and the Master of Arts (MA) option. An MA degree can indicate a stronger focus of study on the liberal arts, whereas an MS degree could indicate a stronger focus on research and the science behind the brain, behavior, and psychological processes. The route of the degree that you will experience will depend on the program that you choose but the academic requirements can be very similar.

The History of Each Field

Within the United States, the first ever Masters level degree was awarded by the University of Michigan in 1850, and they have been growing more popular ever since. In the last twenty five years of the twentieth century, the number of Masters Degrees that have been awarded have almost doubled, and in some fields, they are essential for entry into an advanced profession. Psychology is a field in which a Masters Degree can be particularly useful.

Advanced academic degrees were restricted originally to doctoral degrees such as the PhD, which was intended for individuals interested in increasing the study of knowledge in the field of psychology. However, over time, people began to express a concern about the lack of practical applications for knowledge the PhD had. Resulting from the need for practitioners, the University of Michigan offered the first Master of Arts degree in the US, in 1850.

The Work You Can Do

In some cases, an MS could be a prerequisite for those seeking to enter a PhD program later in their academic career. However, an MS degree in a practitioner field of study could provide some training for entry level careers within mental health and forensic psychology careers. The issue with an MS is that because it is based more on the science of psychology, rather than the practice of it, there are not as many practitioner options available as there may be with an MA degree.

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An MA degree offers training for careers in schools, mental health, and the private industry. The Master of Arts is suitable for individuals who have a strong idea of what they would like to do in their professional career. If you’re interested in mental health, a master of arts in counseling or clinical psychology may be ideal for you.

If you’re not sure whether you’re more interested in the science of psychology or the practical applications, there are some schools which offer general degrees which expose you to both practical and theoretical aspects. Although these general degrees won’t qualify a student for independent practice, they will help to clarify their career options for them, or act as the first step in the path to a doctoral degree.

The Orientations of Theory

A Master of Science in psychology will typically offer fields of study that concentrate largely on more ‘scientific areas’ than Master of Arts programs. Of course, degree requirements and programs of study can differ across various educational institutions, and you may find some overlap between the two. Generally, in an MS program, you may find specialization routes such as developmental, experimental, learning and cognitive psychology, however some schools will provide an MA in developmental psychology instead of an MS.

Typically, an MS route will not stress the practitioner and counseling side of technology, and as such, they are not used regularly as a first step towards licensure, as some MA programs can be. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some institutions offer terminal MS in psychology degrees in courses of study such as school psychology, counseling psychology, industrial psychology, and clinical psychology.

There are some MS programs of psychology that can be completed within a year, but most require a minimum of two to three years of study. The curriculum for an MS study will typically provide a greater emphasis on advanced statistical analysis and research methodology, whereas the curriculum for an MA may focus more heavily on humanitarian study and counseling.

Places of Employment

Typically, an MS degree will offer individuals the opportunity to emerge into careers within professional psychology once they have completed their PhD program. However, a terminal MS degree within a practitioner’s field can provide training for entry into schools, private industries, mental health industries and forensic psychology. An MA degree offers training for careers in schools, mental health industries, and private industry opportunities.

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About the Author: Ann Steele

This website is co-authored by Ann Steele, a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with extensive experience with children and adolescents. Ann Steele attended American School Of Psychology & Argosy University Online. She especially enjoys using music therapy for mental and emotional well-being.

About This Site

We are an open forum for articles, manuscripts, unpublished thesis, and letters as well as a guide for job, career and program advice from like-minded Graduates. We are seeking submissions that will be of interest to the community.