Industrial organizational (I-O) psychologists apply principles of psychology to various facets of business in attempts to improve productivity and the quality of work life. They often work as human resources (HR) and talent managers, training staff and designing programs that foster employee development and improve morale. As consultants, they may work with companies to facilitate change, develop strategic plans, and build teams that help propel organizations forward.
Unlike other psychologists, these professionals do not need a doctorate to practice in most states. A master's in organizational psychology provides behavioral scientists with the training and skills necessary to secure employment in a lucrative and fast-growing field. In addition to a median annual wage of $87,100, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of I-O psychologists in the U.S. will increase by 8% between 2016 and 2026. The following guide examines the requirements for master's in industrial organizational psychology programs as well as the various careers that graduates of these programs can pursue.
Should I Get a Master's in Organizational Psychology?
Although the field remains fairly small, I-O psychologists can look forward to positive job growth and lucrative paychecks. Individuals interested in pursuing graduate study in this field should consider several factors before picking a program. For example, online organizational psychology master's programs may appeal to working professionals who plan to continue working on a full-time or part-time basis while attending school, while individuals who recently earned a bachelor's degree might prefer an on-campus experience.
Whether they plan to study online or on campus, students in I-O psychology programs acquire a specialized portfolio of skills and competencies. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) -- the leading professional organization for I-O psychologists -- recommends a list of standards that students should master. These competencies include applying psychology in business contexts, developing and implementing organizational policies, learning and embracing good ethics and values, and knowing how to manage talent and motivate staff members to enhance productivity. The BLS notes that I-O students who also take classes in areas such as computer science and quantitative research methods often gain a competitive edge in the job market.
While attending graduate school, learners can network with peers and engage in projects and field experiences. Through their school's career services department, learners can gain access to resume services, job placement, and internships. According to the the BLS, graduates with at least a master's in industrial organizational psychology earn a median annual salary of more than $100,000, with the top 10% earning more than $180,00.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Organizational Psychology?
I-O psychologists can find employment across industries, engaging in performance measurement, employee selection, and training and motivation at many types of organizations. These professional use their knowledge of psychological science to get a feel for the ethos and morale of an organization. They then work with management and staff to implement strategies that address deficiencies and facilitate organizational growth. While many work in organizations as training and development managers, human resources managers, and leadership development specialists, others offer their expertise as paid consultants specializing in those areas and others, such as corporate mergers, human factors, recruitment and talent management, and consumer behavior.
The following list examines five occupations within the field that learners can consider after they earn their master's in industrial organizational psychology.
- Industrial Organizational Psychologist
I-O psychologists apply principles of psychology in a number of fields, including human resources, management, administration, and sales. They work within organizations or as consultants across various industries in the public and private sectors. Their areas of specialization may include employee training, recruitment, organizational development, and artificial intelligence and machine learning. I-O psychologists hold at least a master's degree and may need licensure depending on the state in which they practice.
Median Annual Salary: $87,100
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Training and Development Specialist
Training and development specialists work to improve a staff's knowledge and skills. Advanced practitioners hold master's degrees and earn specific certification from organizations such as the Association for Talent Development or more generalized HR certification from an organization like the Society for Human Resource Management.
Median Annual Salary: $60,360
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Talent Management Manager
Talent managers work to harness human capital by implementing strategies that attract and retain high-performing employees. They develop and implement employee training programs, develop organizational charts, define job responsibilities, design promotion policies, keep track of employee engagement metrics, and conduct skills gap analyses to determine personnel needs. High-level positions at large organizations require a master's degree in areas such as HR or I-O psychology.
Median Annual Salary: $92,432
- Management Consultant
I-O management consultants can specialize in a number of areas, including training and development, talent management, workplace safety, recruitment, and diversity issues. They provide organizations with input in areas like job analysis and validation, performance management, productivity, and organizational development. While some consultants hold a bachelor's degree, many earn a master's or doctorate degree and pursue the certified management consultant credential.
Median Annual Salary: $82,450
Projected Growth Rate: 14%
- Human Resources Manager
HR managers with an I-O specialization use their knowledge of behavioral science to recruit, hire, and train staff. Many HR managers enter the field with a bachelor's degree in HR or business management, although high-level positions at large organizations typically require a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $110,120
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
How to Choose a Master's in Organizational Psychology Program
According to the American Psychological Association, a master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology serves as the minimum requirement for most careers in this field. When deciding between different master's in industrial organizational psychology programs, aspiring students should consider a number of factors, including program time frame and mode of delivery. Those who choose to enroll on a full-time basis typically earn their degree in two years, while part-time students may take three years or longer. Learners should use their personal circumstances to inform their decision about whether to enroll in an online or on-campus program. Working professionals who plan to pursue an advanced degree may appreciate the additional flexibility of online programs, while recent college grads often choose to enroll in an on-campus industrial organizational psychology master's program right after college.
Students typically complete 30-40 credits to earn their industrial and organizational psychology master's, whether they study online or on campus. Programs vary in terms of courses offered, but students can expect to delve into core subjects such as organizational psychology, human behavior, and research and statistical methods in business. Faculty may also require students to complete practicum experiences or internships to develop practical skills. Additionally, students may need to complete a thesis/capstone project or pass a comprehensive examination before graduating. Aspiring graduate students should also consider the overall cost of a degree, which varies depending on multiple factors.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Organizational Psychology Programs
A school that holds accreditation goes through a process to ensure that its academic programs meet high standards established by an accreditation agency. Two main types of accreditation exist at the institutional level: regional and national. Regional accreditation serves as the gold standard in higher education in the U.S., whereas vocational schools and for-profit institutions tend to hold national accreditation. Some programs also hold programmatic accreditation, although no single agency specifically recognizes industrial organizational psychology master's programs.
Employers often require prospective employees to hold degrees from an accredited program, and students seeking to transfer credits from a nonaccredited school may encounter challenges transferring credits to an accredited institution. A college's accreditation status also impacts a student's ability to secure federal financial aid.
Master's in Organizational Psychology Program Admissions
The admissions processes for online and on-campus industrial organizational psychology master's programs do not differ drastically. In both cases, psychology departments expect students to hold a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. Applicants must submit a packet of documents, typically including their test scores, resume, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. Schools may also require that students complete certain prerequisite coursework before gaining admittance. The graduate school application process can take months, and unlike bachelor's programs graduate schools do not accept the Common App. Additionally, application fees can add up and become fairly expensive. Therefore, aspiring graduate students should try and avoid applying to more than 6-8 programs. Individuals should only apply to schools that offer degree tracks that match well with their academic and career goals.
- Bachelor's Degree: Master's-level psychology programs require a bachelor's degree. Many departments accept baccalaureate degrees in a number of majors, while others prefer a psychology or business degree. Students who did not major in psychology may need to take prerequisite courses in psychology and/or statistics and research methods.
- Professional Experience: Most organizational psychology programs do not require students to have professional experience to gain admission; however, such experience may serve to bolster weaker areas in an application, such as a low GPA. Schools that do require professional experience typically ask that students hold at least two years of work experience.
- Minimum GPA: Most organizational psychology programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA, although many schools only look at a student's GPA during their last two years of undergrad. Applicants with a lower GPA who hold exceptional test scores or ample work experience may also gain admittance.
- Application: Applicants should begin the process of applying to graduate organizational psychology programs about a year before they plan to enroll. Some schools only accept applications at specific times, while others use rolling admissions and accept applications throughout the year.
- Transcripts: Graduate schools tend to pay particular attention to a student's coursework and grades over the last two years of their baccalaureate program. To request transcripts, students can contact their registrar's office. They may also need to pay a nominal fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most graduate programs request that applicants submit two to four letters of recommendation. Typical referees include former professors, advisors, and/or employers. Make sure to give letter writers several weeks to complete their recommendations.
- Test Scores: Some programs require GRE general scores and/or GRE psychology subject test scores. The average test scores for admitted students varies depending on the program; most programs list this information online.
- Application Fee: Applicants should budget at least $50 for each application. Individuals who demonstrate financial need may qualify for application fee waivers.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Organizational Psychology Program?
In addition to psychology classes, master's in industrial organizational psychology programs generally incorporate coursework in subjects like organizational behavior, business management, and human resources. Some programs also offer students the opportunity to choose a specialization. The following list describes a few popular concentrations that train students for organizational psychology jobs.
|Talent Management||This concentration teaches students how to effectively manage an organization's human capital. Individuals learn how to optimize human resource approaches in areas such as recruitment, performance development, and business strategy.||HR manager, recruiter, talent development manager, staffing director, placement services director, and corporate trainer|
|Consumer Psychology||This concentration examines how consumers make decisions, what motivates them, and the social persuasions that impact their decision making. I-O professionals help companies develop marketing techniques to reach new customers and maintain their current customer base.||Market researcher, business analyst, marketing manager, advertising director, and consumer insights researcher|
|Human Factors||Learners pursuing this concentration focus on the application of psychological principles to help companies create and improve products, machines, equipment, and work environments to maximize safety and performance.||Human factors engineer, human factors researcher, research psychologist, and scientific and technical advisor|
|Human Resource Management||Students interested in HR management learn to oversee the day-to-day running of an organization's administrative functions in areas such as recruiting, hiring, training, and performance evaluation.||HR manager, HR director, employee relations specialist, recruiter, talent development manager, and staffing director|
|Coaching and Consulting||This concentration teaches learners the skills and tools needed to coach managers and leaders at all levels, collect and analyze organizational data, and help individuals and teams achieve objectives.||Corporate trainer, executive coach, organizational consultant, and training specialist|
Courses in a Master's in Organizational Psychology Program
Although advanced coursework in master's in industrial organizational psychology programs may differ widely between schools, many programs feature similar introductory classes. The following list contains a few courses students pursuing a master's in organizational psychology can expect to take.
- Organizational Theory and Behavior
Students examine classical and contemporary psychology theories about individuals and groups to understand and manage human behavior within organizations. They study how people develop their attitudes; what motivates workers; and the impact of these factors on an organization's structure, processes, and performance. Students learn the skills necessary to work as HR managers, leaders, and trainers.
- Performance Assessment and Program Evaluation
Participants learn the intricacies of how to design and evaluate training and intervention programs. They study how to conduct job analysis, select and place employees, measure workers' performance, and provide constructive feedback. This course covers the skills needed to work as corporate trainers, human resource managers, and talent development managers.
- Organizational Development
This course looks at how I-O professionals design interventions to effect organizational change. Students learn to diagnose problems within organizations, implement changes, and evaluate feedback. Aspiring I-O psychologists, personnel psychologists, executive coaches, and I-O consultants may find this course especially helpful.
- Occupational Health Psychology
Learners evaluate theories related to how work-family balance, occupational stress, burnout, and other issues impact workers' performance on the job. The course prepares future HR managers, trainers, and organizational consultants to promote the mental, physical, and social well-being of employees.
- Research Methodology
Students learn the research methods, techniques, and tools necessary to conduct research and figure out how to optimize an organization's performance. Areas of study include research design and strategy, reliability and validity, and interpretive skills. This course prepares students to pursue work as I-O psychologists, personnel psychologists, operational psychologists, executive coaches, and I-O consultants.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Organizational Psychology?
Students typically complete 30-40 credits to earn their master's degree in industrial organizational psychology. Full-time learners commonly take between 16 months and two years to finish, while part-time students may take up to four years, depending on their course load. Some schools also offer accelerated learning opportunities, allowing participants to earn a degree in just 12-16 months.
Students who do not enroll in an accelerated learning option can try to graduate early by taking heavier course loads or attending summer school (if a program does not require individuals to attend summer classes). If a graduate school offers it, students should also look into earning credits through a prior learning assessment. Some schools award credit based on previous life experiences, such as military or corporate training. These strategies can help cut down on degree completion times and help students save money on the overall cost of their program.
How Much Is a Master's in Organizational Psychology?
The cost of a master's in industrial organizational psychology varies depending on several key factors, including a learner's state of residency. Many programs charge much more for out-of-state tuition compared to in-state rates for residents. However, an increasing number of online programs charge a flat tuition, regardless of a student's residency status. Distance programs can also help students avoid costs related to room and board, transportation, and/or childcare. If students plan to relocate to another state for school, they should also look into cost of living differences and potential quality of life issues, such as safety and access to public transportation.
Individuals should also investigate scholarship opportunities and other forms of federal financial aid, such as loans and grants, to help pay for their degree. Additionally, they should weigh the cost of a degree with the return on their investment. I-O professionals can look forward to high wages, but learners should keep in mind that many areas in this field employ a relatively small number of workers.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Organizational Psychology Prepares For
Some states recognize I-O practitioners as psychologists and require those professionals to hold a license to practice. Students should look into their state's licensure process and consider the associated requirements when looking at master's in organizational psychology programs. Depending on the exact I-O occupation, some states require a doctorate for licensure. The following list includes some certifications and licenses that psychologists with advanced degrees can pursue.
- American Board of Professional Psychology Certification
ABPP offers board certification in various psychology specialities, including industrial and organizational psychology. ABPP's early-entry program allows students and other pre-licensure individuals to begin taking steps toward board certification. Alternatively, the organization's senior program serves specialist applicants with licensure and more than 15 years of experience.
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards Licensure
All states use the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (developed by ASPPB) to license psychologists. This license holds many requirements, including a doctoral degree. Candidates should contact the licensing board in the state where they plan to practice to ascertain specific licensure requirements.
- National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists Certification
NACBT furthers the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy. The organization offers several certifications, including certificates for behavioral group therapists and behavioral group facilitators.
- American Group Psychotherapy Association Certification
AGPA offers a certified group psychotherapist credential to psychologists who specialize in group psychotherapy. Candidates must complete a graduate degree in a mental health discipline, such as psychology, and earn state licensure and/or certification.
Resources for Organizational Psychology Graduate Students
With more than 750,000 members, Psi Chi represents the largest organization for students in psychology. This honor society boasts chapters around the country, sponsors national and regional conferences, publishes the a journal of psychological research, and offers grants and awards.
An open-source website filled with downloadable content, Psychology Tools contains research summaries, books, and worksheets. Students can access some resources for free, while others require a paid subscription.
This repository of resources from more than 2,000 experts and 300 graduate programs provides students with access to professional journals, online studies, teaching resources, blogs, and podcasts.
Developed by the American Psychological Association, PsycINFO contains the world's largest database of peer-reviewed literature related to mental health and behavioral science. The site features almost 4 million bibliographic records and more than 2,500 journals.
I-O students can use information on ATD's website to learn how organizations help employees reach their full potential through the implementation of effective training programs. In particular, this site addresses the needs of HR managers, talent development managers, and corporate trainers.
Professional Organizations in Organizational Psychology
Professional organizations provide industrial and organizational psychologists with information and resources related best practices, research, and continuing education. Through annual conferences and other events, I-O psychologists can network with peers and luminaries in the field. These organizations typically offer career services, such as job boards and job hunting tips, as well as special rates for student members.
SIOP hosts conferences and other networking events, provides information about research in the field, and offers a number of professional development opportunities and employment resources.
SPSP stands as the world's largest organization of psychologists specializing in social and personality psychology. SPSP's 7,500 members can access research journals, educational events, forums (to publish and promote their research), and networking opportunities.
APA represents the entire field of psychology in the U.S. The association provides its more than 115,000 members with access to publications; continuing-education programs; and information about schools, internships, and other tools for student members.
Members of SCP apply psychological principles to foster the success of individuals, groups, and organizations. Members gain access to conferences, on-demand training and webinars, and blogs and publications.
APS works to advance scientific psychology across all disciplines in the field. With more than 30,000 members, APS provides access to cutting-edge research, conventions, and publications.