While you may qualify for some entry-level roles with a bachelor's degree, you must hold a master's degree to become a school or industrial-organizational psychologist or to work in a variety of related counseling fields. Practitioners with a graduate degree in psychology earn roughly $16,000 more per year on average than those with just a bachelor's. In addition, you typically need to hold a master's credential before earning a doctorate, the standard requirement for clinical and research roles in psychology.

Most full-time students earn their master's in psychology in just two years.

Most full-time students earn their master's in psychology in just two years. These graduate programs feature coursework in areas like social psychology, cognitive processes, and theories of personality. You may also be required to complete a period of supervised clinical experience, commonly known as a practicum, or write a research-based thesis.

This page offers an overview of psychology master's programs, including information on admission requirements, coursework and concentrations, scholarships for psychology students, and the career paths you can pursue after graduation.

What Is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes, such as cognition, emotion, intelligence, and personality. Psychology professionals may lead research studies on brain functions, diagnose and treat mental health issues, support students dealing with learning disorders, or use psychological principles to improve workplace efficiency. Individuals with a background in psychology may also work in education, business, healthcare, or law.

With information on admission requirements, curricula, and financial aid opportunities, our ranking of the best master's programs in psychology will help you determine where to earn your degree.

Should I Get a Master's in Psychology?

What Can I Do With a Master's in Psychology?

Certain careers, such as industrial-organizational psychologist or psychology instructor at a high school or a community college, are available to professionals with a master's degree. However, a master's often does not qualify as a terminal degree, with most states requiring a doctorate in psychology before you can apply for licensure.

Common occupations for master's in psychology graduates include:

Psychologist

In general, psychologists study people by observing and analyzing their behaviors and cognitive processes. Clinical psychologists assess their clients' emotional or behavioral challenges and work with them to improve these conditions through cognitive therapy. They may set up an independent practice or work in hospitals or clinics.

Graduate students in psychology can also specialize in areas like developmental psychology or forensic psychology. However, similar to the prerequisites for clinical psychologists, many states require you to earn a doctorate and gain licensure before working in these fields.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 14%

Professor

Professors teach courses at colleges and universities, prepare lesson plans, hold office hours, and grade student work. They also frequently conduct research and publish findings in scholarly publications. Earning a master's in psychology can qualify you to become a professor at a community college.

Median Annual Salary: $78,470

Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists evaluate familial relationships and meet with family members and partners over several sessions. Unlike licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists typically do not need a doctoral degree to find employment.

Median Annual Salary: $50,090

Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 22%

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

These practitioners provide guidance and recovery assistance to people suffering from behavioral disorders, mental health problems, or addictions. Mental health counselors often need a master's degree and internship experience.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 22%

School or Career Counselor

School and career counselors help students confront educational challenges, find career paths, and apply to colleges. They may help identify social and behavioral problems that hinder students' abilities in the classroom. These counselors can work in elementary, middle, or high school settings.

Median Annual Salary: $56,310

Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 8%


Expert Interview

Troy Dvorak

Troy Dvorak

Instructor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College

Troy Dvorak holds a master's in psychology and has been an instructor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College since 2005. Prior to that, he worked as a psychometrist, providing psychological assessment and counseling services to kids, teens, and families for seven years.

Why did you initially decide to pursue psychology?

I was always curious about mental health, or lack thereof, with people around me. In my first year at Lakehead University, I really enjoyed my general psych class and knew that was the direction for me. Once I was a psych major, I knew I made a good decision: Helping others seemed a great way to spend a career. It was not until I was in grad school, however, that I began to really know who I wanted to work with. From undergraduate volunteer experience, I knew I did not want to work in a psychiatric facility (because work with inpatients felt like it was just medical maintenance as opposed to insight and progress). Over time, I chose to work with children, teens, and families. Children and teens are capable of remarkable insight, especially when supported by a loving family that is also willing to make change.

What led you to switch from psychometrics to teaching?

I was born in Minneapolis but moved to Canada when I was six. At the age of 32 -- and because I had family in the Twin Cities -- I decided to leave my job as a psychometrist and return to the Minneapolis area. Becoming a licensed clinician would have taken me about a year and I needed work right away. I was able to get some classes at community colleges and slowly started to build a reputation as a good teacher. Over the years, my adjunct role offered the equivalent of full-time employment so I simply never pursed licensure as a clinician. As of 2017, I became tenured at Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

Having assumed roles in both clinical and academic settings, what do you find most fulfilling about each? Most challenging?

As cliche as it is, a day spent helping others is a day well-spent. Whether as a clinician or teacher, assisting others is very fulfilling. As a clinician, helping people overcome psychological and social difficulties was always gratifying. As a teacher, the thing I enjoy most is the diverse student population I have the privilege to serve. The class discussions and myriad viewpoints make teaching psychology a ton of fun.

The most difficult thing about both clinical work and teaching is seeing someone with amazing potential get sidelined by things beyond their control. A prime example of that is the caustic influence of poverty. However, where there are significant barriers, there is the concomitant potential for exceptional transformation.

What advice would you give to undergrad students who are considering a graduate degree in psychology? Is a master's worth it?

Without question, if you are going into psychology, know you are in it for the long haul. Get a Ph.D. Do not stop at a master's. Even though my degree has served me well, the profession is set up for Ph.D.'s. The other thing I would tell students is that psychology is a fantastic career because there are so many things you can do with your doctorate in psych. There is no shortage of work in our field.

What additional advice would you give to prospective students considering a career in psychology?

Every class matters. All your grades matter. Taking things seriously and devoting time to reading and studying is essential, not optional. Go to office hours and really get to know your professors. Ask questions in class. Engage with others. Keep an open mind -- remember that your perspective is only one of billions.

You do not have to know exactly what field of psychology you're going to pursue when you start college. You will have a couple years to sort that out.

I would encourage all students in psychology to know two things:

1. How to establish and maintain appropriate personal boundaries. If you don't have them, you will burn out.
2. You must engage in self-care. Deal with the thing staring back at you in the mirror before you try to help others.

Meet More of our Experts

After earning a master's degree in psychology, you can work in a wide variety of industries. Our career guide will help you better understand the full scope of your professional opportunities.

Psychology Career Guide

What Can I Expect in a Master's in Psychology Program?

Master's in psychology programs vary greatly due to numerous specializations within the field. The following list describes a few of the concentrations found in different master's programs.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Psychology

Educational Psychology

An educational psychology concentration prepares students to work in school settings with children and adolescents. Coursework focuses on human development throughout early stages of life, as well as the forces that motivate or hinder learning.

Research

Students who select a research concentration take classes and labs on different statistical skills, methodologies, and experimental designs. This concentration is geared to those who wish to earn their Ph.D. and stay in academia, or who want to conduct independent research for companies or governmental agencies.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology students learn how to test, diagnose, and treat patients struggling with psychological conditions. Coursework in this concentration covers areas such as ethical principles, intervention strategies, and social drivers of behavior.

Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience

Here, students learn about the underlying biological processes that affect decision-making, memory, perception, and cognition. The curriculum focuses on brain structure, its neural mechanisms, and the effects of aging.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Companies and organizations may hire psychologists to help them understand the motivations, actions, and behaviors that fuel employee conflicts. An industrial and organizational psychology concentration prepares students to apply their knowledge in the workplace to examine elements like leadership and personnel selection.

Curriculum for a Master's Degree in Social Work

Master's programs in psychology comprise a wide array of courses, depending on the concentrations offered and professors' areas of expertise. Some schools design their programs with a research-based, clinical focus, while others deliver a curriculum grounded in psychological theory. Five commonly offered courses are described below.

Social Psychology

Learners in a social psychology course discover how societal factors affect human thought processes and behaviors. This course covers concepts like interpersonal attraction, altruism, antisocial behavior, social norms, and conformity. Students also learn how social conditions create, reinforce, or challenge stereotyping and prejudice.

Developmental Psychology

In this course, students learn how the human brain, cognitive processes, and behaviors develop throughout childhood and adolescence into late adulthood. Learners may also delve into physical, social, and emotional factors that affect development.

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology examines the processes that have shaped the way humans think and interact with one another. This course reviews how ancestral behaviors have led to practices such as parental nurturance or neglect, sexual jealousy, aggression, and courting and mating strategies.

Research Methods

As with any science, psychology involves experimentation, and most schools require at least one research methods course. Students train in using the scientific method for clinical or market research, exploring experimental and correlational designs and concepts like reliability and validity.

Theories of Personality

This course covers current research and theories concerning personality development. Learners study topic areas such as self-esteem, biological determinants, abnormal development, and anxiety. Students examine these constructs through cognitive, psychoanalytic, and humanistic perspectives.

How to Choose a Master's in Psychology Program

In choosing a master's in psychology program, you should examine multiple factors, including program costs, opportunities to learn and network with other professionals in the field, and accreditation.

The price tag for any psychology master's program includes not only tuition expenses but also textbooks, technology fees, laboratory fees, matriculation fees, and even parking fees if you live off campus. The total can add up to an amount larger than you might expect. Some schools offer scholarships, grants, assistantships, and other financial awards that may help offset the bill.

Other factors that may affect your decision include how quickly you wish to earn your degree, the cost of living in a certain area, and whether a program offers concentrations.

Psychology master's degree programs often require students to conduct original research or offer opportunities to work on faculty projects. Research experience is usually an admission requirement for doctoral programs in psychology.

You should also check each master's in psychology program for accreditation. Since many students who earn master's degrees go on to pursue doctoral degrees, graduating from an accredited program ensures that your degree will be accepted at other schools.

Other factors that may affect your decision include how quickly you wish to earn your degree, the cost of living in a certain area, and whether a program offers concentrations.

Master's in Psychology Admission Requirements

In general, you should apply to schools that offer coursework or a specialization that matches your career goals. Choosing and applying to only one college can be risky -- if you are denied admission, you must start the process over again. At the same time, applying to multiple schools decreases the amount of time you invest in each school's process, and the quality of your applications may suffer. In general, apply to at least two or three schools but no more than seven.

Prerequisites

  • Bachelor's Degree: Schools that offer master's programs in psychology expect you to have a bachelor's degree, with most requiring a bachelor's in psychology.
  • Professional Experience: Master's in psychology programs typically do not require you to have professional experience before you apply; however, spending some time working in the field strengthens your application and resume.
  • Minimum GPA: Most schools require you to have at least a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Some schools may provide exceptions for students with strong GRE scores, a compelling personal statement, or professional experience.

Admission Materials

Application

Schools usually ask you to fill out an online application that includes biographical information, educational history, and work experience.

Transcripts

Graduate schools request transcripts for any prior undergraduate coursework. You can obtain these transcripts from the registrar's office of your undergraduate college for a small fee.

Letters of Recommendation

Master's programs often require two or three letters of recommendation. These letters should come from people of authority who can positively describe your work ethic and suitability for graduate work.

Test Scores

Some master's programs require you to submit GRE scores with your application. If your undergraduate grades are not quite up to par, you may want to submit your GRE scores even if they are not mandatory.

Application Fee

Most schools have an application fee, typically around $50. Sometimes schools waive this requirement if you demonstrate financial need. Call the admissions departments at your potential schools to see if you can bypass the application fee.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Psychology Programs

Since many people who earn master's degrees go on to pursue doctoral degrees, graduating from an accredited program ensures that your degree will help qualify you for admission to other schools.

Accreditation agencies visit schools and evaluate coursework and professors to ensure they meet set standards of quality. If you wish to pursue a Ph.D. and become a clinical psychologist, be aware that many doctoral programs do not recognize degrees from unaccredited schools. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation provide fully online lists of regionally and nationally accredited colleges.

Programmatic accreditation refers to an accrediting body that focuses on one particular area of study and accredits programs only in that academic area. Students should look for psychology programs accredited by the American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation or the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.