Earning Your Psychology Degree Online
The study of psychology has an enduring reputation as one of the most popular majors among college students in the U.S., perhaps made even more popular by the advent of the convenient online psychology degree. Some experts attribute the popularity of the study of psychology to an interest in gaining a broad array of effective job skills and the prospect of a wider scope of career possibilities, in addition to simply indulging our most basic need for a greater understanding of human behavior and relationships. Today, psychologists are in high demand, especially to serve the aging population of baby boomers in the U.S., as well as in schools and in a social services capacity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% increase in jobs for psychologists by the year 2024, growing at a rate much faster than the average of all other occupations.
Earning a psychology degree online can help to ease some of the limitations of a traditional program, allowing more students with an interest in psychology to pursue it professionally, regardless of their location or work obligations. While all psychologists are required to have an advanced degree with clinical experience, and be licensed to practice in their state, online psychology programs offer flexible online coursework in combination with an internship, practicum, or other clinical experience that can be completed near the student’s residence. Many online schools also offer accelerated learning options and lower tuition costs, allowing students to complete their degree and enter the workforce in less time than through a traditional brick-and-mortar program.
Job Outlook for Psychology Graduates
Like many jobs in clinical practice, or the practice of providing direct patient care, clinical, counseling, and research psychologists are typically required to have a doctoral degree and a license in order to treat patients under state law. Other areas of psychology, including industrial-organizational psychologists, require at least a master’s degree and relevant experience. Students with a master’s degree in psychology may also become psychological assistants to a supervising doctoral psychologist. School psychologists often pursue a unique advanced degree designed specifically for this type of practice; the education specialist degree (Ed.S.) comprises graduate-level study in both education and psychology, as well as numerous supervised internship hours. School psychologists must also be licensed or certified to practice in their state.
While the majority of psychology jobs require an advanced degree, undergraduate students who are studying psychology may find that they can apply their skills in other areas. For example, a bachelor’s degree in psychology can lead to jobs in business administration, sales, or education, among many options. Alternately, students with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who go on to pursue an advanced degree should research their options carefully; some PhD programs including those at University of Texas, American International College, and William James College, do not require a master’s degree and will accept bachelor’s degree holders in this major.
Psychology Careers and Salaries
The field of psychology boasts a broad range of unique specializations and diverse areas of expertise. From children to adults to the elderly, each demographic requires a special set of therapeutic services that only the right type of qualified psychology professional can provide. Some professionals may choose to serve the legal and criminal justice system as a forensic psychologist, or help to improve workforce conditions as a psychologist specializing in industrial-organizational behaviors and operations. Though minimum education, experience, and licensing requirements vary slightly with each occupation, generally, the more advanced a candidate’s qualifications in their area of expertise, the more diverse their career opportunities.
Common Psychology Careers
- Counseling Psychologist
Counseling psychologists use “talk therapy” to help patients work through problems regarding home, community, and work-related issues. They may specifically focus on marriage/family therapy or substance abuse and behavioral disorders, among other targeted patient demographics and concerns. Most counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree, as well as a license if they are an independent practitioner. They earn an average annual salary of $73,270.
- Developmental Psychologist
Developmental psychologists focus on the progress and development of a patient’s psychological health throughout the course of their life. While many developmental psychologists specialize in treating children and adolescents, some also study issues specific to elderly adults. Most developmental psychologists need a doctoral degree, as well as a license if they are in private practice. They earn an average annual salary of $95,710.
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists assist criminal justice and legal professionals in studying the psychological aspects of a particular crime or case. They may act as an expert witness for court cases or in other legal environments. Many specialize in civil, family, or criminal case work. Most forensic psychology jobs require a doctoral degree, as well as a license for private practitioners. They earn an average annual salary of $95,710.
- Industrial-organizational Psychologist
These professionals specialize in helping to improve work environments by employing special psychological evaluation methods and problem-solving techniques. Industrial-organizational psychologists can help to resolve issues affecting morale, productivity, and ineffective management practices in the workplace. Most industrial-organizational psychologists are required to have at least a master’s degree, and while licensure requirements vary from state to state, I/O psychologists are not always required to have a license to practice. They earn an average annual salary of $82,760.
- School Psychologist
School psychologists address education and developmental disorders with psychological principles and treatment techniques. They may provide both counsel to students and their families as well as consult with fellow administrative professionals to improve teaching and learning methods, from a psychological standpoint. Most school psychologists are required to have an advanced degree in the field, which may include a master’s degree, education specialist degree (Ed.S.), or a doctorate. A valid license is also required to practice in this specialty. They earn an average annual salary of $73,270.
- Social Psychologist
Social psychologists examine how social interaction affects a person’s behavior and frame of mind. They often research ways of improving social interaction by observing individual and group dynamics and examining social cues. Most social psychologists need at least a master’s degree, though some employers may prefer a PhD. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. They earn an average annual salary of $95,710.
Types of Psychology Degrees
Earning an online psychology degree can help students narrow their interests and find the right combination of education and experience needed to pursue a career in their specialty of choice. While many psychology online degrees focus on graduate-level education, there are a variety of concentrations and subsequent job options available to students at every stage of their academic career. The table below lists some of the most common types of psychology degrees:
|Degree Level||Definition||Possible Concentrations||Median Annual Salary|
|Associate||Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) in Psychology||General Psychology||$43,836|
|Bachelor’s||Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology||Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Educational Psychology, Clinical Psychology||$45,500-$132,500|
|Master’s||Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology||Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience||$31,000-$103,850|
|Specialist||Education Specialist (EdS) or Psychology Specialist (PsyS)||School Psychology||N/A|
|Doctoral||Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)||Students may lead a seminar, complete an independent research project, or lead a research team||$125,000|
Psychology Certifications and Licensing
In a field that offers so many specialties and concentrations, it is crucial for psychologists to know and understand their own licensure requirements. Though exact requirements vary from state to state, the American Psychological Association (APA) explains, simply, “to practice psychology, you need to become licensed through your state’s licensing board”. As a condition of earning licensure, clinical psychologists must have a minimum of a doctoral degree, preferably from an APA-accredited or ASPPB- or National Register-designated doctoral program in psychology. While this rule generally applies to all clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in active practice, some related occupations in psychology do not require licensure. Non-licensure jobs might include teaching positions at colleges and universities, non-counseling positions within government agencies, advocate services at non-profit organizations, and other corporate or research opportunities at private institutions, though one should always be aware of specific licensure requirements in their state.
With a long history as one of the most popular majors in higher education, there is no shortage of financial aid specifically geared toward psychology students. The majority are committed to pursuing a terminal degree in the field, striving for the most lucrative and diverse job opportunities, which means there is no shortage of prospective employers, professional organizations, and community organizations willing to lend financial support to a graduate education in this discipline. Though many scholarships offered to psychology students are aimed at helping them earn a master’s degree or PhD, some focus instead on broad, introductory undergraduate study. Others specify an acute area of expertise. Below are just some of the scholarships available to students pursuing a traditional or online psychology degree:
- Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship
This scholarship sponsored by the American Psychological Foundation (APF) supports qualified graduate students who are studying child psychology, preferably doctoral students of child-clinical, educational, developmental, pediatric and school psychopathology; Applicants are required to submit a detailed research or project proposal to be considered for the award.
- Amount: $25,000
- Deadline: November 15, 2017
- APA Student Travel Award
This award provides financial funding in the form of travel expenses for qualifying graduate students in psychology to travel to the annual APA convention to present their research in the field.
- Amount: $300
- Deadline: April 7, 2018
- Roy Scrivner Research Grant
The American Psychological Foundation (APF) offers this award to a graduate student or recently licensed early-career psychologist specializing in lesbian, gay, and bisexual family psychology and therapy or demonstrating a dedicated interest and commitment to LGBT family issues in their dissertation.
- Amount: $15,000
- Deadline: November 1, 2017
- National Register Credentialing Scholarships
Biannually, the National Register of Health Services Psychologists offers to cover the costs of the credentialing review process for numerous students who are seeking specific licensure in this area; candidates must have initial psychology license, be currently enrolled in an internship or doctoral program, or be completing a supervised postdoc experience to qualify.
- Amount: Varies
- Deadline: Varies
- Division 53 Student Achievement Award
This award sponsored by the APA is offered each year to one undergraduate student, one early-stage grad student, and two later-stage grad students studying clinical child and adolescent psychology; membership of the applicant in Division 53 (designating the clinical child and adolescent psychology specialization) of the APA is prefered, though not required.
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: May 30, 2017
For the many specializations and unique areas of expertise that exist in the field of psychology, there is corresponding professional organization, offering a wealth of resources including networking, education, and job opportunities to its members. The most visible, nationally recognized professional organization for psychologists, the APA, even offers dedicated branches and divisions exclusively for members belonging to a particular discipline of the practice. As a profession that requires licensure through one of its prominent credentialing agencies, these agencies not only keep members up to date on continuing education requirements but also provide numerous other perks, straight from the “source”. Below are some of the most notable professional organizations for early-career psychologists:
- American Psychological Association: With more than 115,000 members and 54 separate divisions representing subdisciplines of psychology as well as special interest groups organized by members, the APA is the largest and most comprehensive psychology organization in the U.S. The membership boasts a diverse combination of researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students, and offers its own online help center, a job board, and advocacy information, among numerous other resources for psychology professionals throughout all stages of their career.
- Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology: As its name suggests, SIOP is dedicated to providing resources specific to those practicing within this unique specialty of psychology. The organization prominently features tools designated for each member-group on its website, including professionals, students, educators, and the media, and utilizes social media to build their following across the country. Highlights include ongoing community efforts to improve I/O psychology through the ProSocial volunteer program, the Veteran Transition Project, and a partnership with United Nations.
- American Board of Professional Psychology: As a provider of board-certification in one of 15 approved specialty areas of psychology, ABPP promotes growth among its members as its primary concern. Psychologists who earn certification through ABPP can access the organization’s wealth of resources, focused on increasing the “employability, mobility, and financial compensation” of each and every valued member of the prestigious ABPP team.
- Association for Psychological Science: The nation’s largest general professional organization for psychologists in research-heavy disciplines, the APS has more than 25,000 members representing the scientific side of psychology as we know it today. The organization manages a number of resources aimed at bringing its members the best of both worlds, so to speak, when it comes to old vs. new methods of sharing ideas, offering an annual convention and traditional circular publication alongside an Internet video series and online meet-and-greets with the APS’ most prominent members and governors.
While open courseware can be helpful to any college student, it may be especially beneficial to a psychology major who is facing years of rigorous study en route to earning a psychology degree online. Open courseware can open up a world of possibilities to students at all stages of education, from prerequisite courses for high school seniors to specialty courses for graduate students.This online, flexible coursework can offer in-depth study in a particular concentration of psychology at no additional cost. Students enrolled in a formal I/O psychology or school psychology program can take supplemental education courses, for example, while others might indulge their interest in an entirely different specialty, just for fun. Below are just some of the most prominent open courseware sources available to psychology students:
- OEDb.org Psychology Courses
- OpenCulture.com Psychology and Neuroscience Courses
- Coursera.org Psychology Courses
- OENConsortium.org Psychology Courses
- TUDelft Open Courseware in Psychology
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