Psychology Degree & Career Guide

What to expect from a Psychology degree program

A psychology degree program offers a multifaceted educational journey, providing students with a  profound understanding of human behavior.

At the associate level, foundational courses prepare students for entry-level roles in social services or support positions. A bachelor’s degree provides opportunities for diverse career paths, including human resources, where salaries often exceed the national median and the potential for upward movement is readily available.

Those who pursue graduate coursework see expanded career opportunities, with master’s programs preparing individuals for specialized roles and licensure in fields like counseling or industrial-organizational psychology. Doctorate degrees are essential for becoming practicing psychologists, offering the potential for six-figure salaries.

From counseling to organizational leadership, psychology offers a range of fulfilling career paths at every degree level, aligning with various professional objectives.

Types of Psychology degrees

Associate degree

For those seeking a fundamental understanding of psychological principles without wanting to commit to a full bachelor’s program, an associate’s degree in psychology may be a good fit. Ideal for students with time or financial constraints, the curriculum introduces primary concepts in psychology, research methods, and human behavior. Coursework is often geared towards practical application, meaning that students can expect to focus on case studies and real-world scenarios.

Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions in human services, social work, or assistant roles in mental health settings. Notably, many students initially seek this degree with intentions to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which offers more career opportunities.

  • Degrees available: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS)
  • Minimum credits: 60
  • Average length of program: 2 years full-time

Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is ideal for students seeking a comprehensive education in human behavior and mental processes. The curriculum includes core subjects like abnormal psychology, social psychology, and research methodologies. Designed to foster critical thinking and analytical skills, coursework often includes practical applications through internships or research projects.

Upon graduation, students are prepared for entry-level positions in social services or Human Resources, and many continue to pursue graduate studies in psychology.

  • Degrees available: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS)
  • Minimum credits: 120
  • Average length of program: 4 years full-time

Master’s degree

Geared toward students holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, a master’s degree in psychology is designed for those seeking further knowledge and specialized skills. Ideal candidates possess a keen interest in research, critical analysis, and the practical application of psychological theories. The curriculum delves into advanced topics, including psychological assessment, intervention strategies, and often a thesis or research component.

At this level, graduates are prepared for clinical or counseling positions, industrial-organized psychology roles, or opportunities in research or academia.

  • Degrees available: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Counseling Psychology (MCP), Master of Clinical Psychology (MClinPsy), Master of Industrial-Organizational Psychology (MIOP), Master of Forensic Psychology (MFP)
  • Minimum credits: 60 
  • Average length of program: 2 years full-time

Doctorate degree

A doctorate in psychology is designed for individuals committed to advancing the field through rigorous research, scholarship, and clinical expertise. The curriculum includes advanced coursework, comprehensive exams, and the completion of an original dissertation.

Graduates emerge as experts capable of contributing significantly to academia, research, or clinical practice. Doctoral degree holders often pursue careers as licensed psychologists in clinical or counseling settings, engage in academic research or teaching, or take on leadership roles in various sectors.

  • Degrees available: Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD), Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD), Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Minimum credits: 90 
  • Average length of program: 4 years full-time

Specialization options

While specializations are more prevalent at the graduate level, particularly during master’s or doctoral degrees, many institutions provide comprehensive coursework at the undergraduate level, allowing students to cultivate their interests early on. Whether you envision a future in clinical practice, organizational dynamics, or forensic analysis, the following specializations guide the wide-ranging scope of psychological studies.

  • Clinical Psychology: Through therapeutic interventions, clinical psychology focuses on assessing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists often work in hospitals, private practices, or mental health clinics.
  • Counseling Psychology: Helping individuals cope with various life challenges and transitions, graduates with this specialization often become counselors. They often work in schools, community centers, and private practices.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology: This specialization applies psychological principles to workplace dynamics, addressing employee satisfaction, leadership, and organizational development. Professionals often work in Human Resources, consulting, or corporate settings.
  • Forensic Psychology: By integrating psychology and law, forensic psychology involves assessing individuals within the legal system. Forensic psychologists may contribute to criminal investigations, court evaluations, or work in correctional facilities.
  • School Psychology: This concentration centers around supporting students’ academic and social success, producing school psychologists well-prepared for collaboration with educators, parents, and students to address learning difficulties, behavioral issues, and mental health concerns.
  • Sports Psychology: Sports psychology examines psychological factors influencing sports performance and the well-being of athletes. Individuals in this field typically work with athletes to enhance focus, motivation, and mental resilience.
  • Developmental Psychology: Focusing on psychological growth and changes across the lifespan, developmental psychology studies cognitive, emotional, and social development, contributing insights to education, parenting, and policy.
  • Health Psychology: Health psychology investigates the psychological factors impacting physical health and well-being. Health psychologists may be involved in promoting health behaviors, managing chronic illnesses, or improving healthcare outcomes.

The Best Psychology Degree Programs

This list features some of the best psychology degree programs in the U.S. The schools on this list are non-profit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with high standards for post-secondary education.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and student resources as well as admission, retention, and graduation rates. We also compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, including U.S. News & World Report. Using this data, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Online Associate Degrees

Online Bachelor’s Degrees

Online Master’s Degrees

Online Doctorate Degrees

What Can I Do With a Degree in Psychology?

Whether at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level, psychology graduates find themselves well-prepared for various professions, each degree level providing another opportunity for deeper understanding, specialization, and significant contributions within the field of psychology.

For example, an associate degree equips graduates for entry-level roles in human services or social work. In contrast, a bachelor’s degree allows students to explore fields like Human Resources, school counseling, or social services. At the graduate level, a master’s degree affords specialization, with opportunities in clinical practice, organizational psychology, and forensics, among others. At the highest level of education, doctoral degrees enable clinical psychology, research, or academic careers and may lead to leadership roles.

Human Resources Specialist

Median annual salary: $64,240
Job outlook: 6% increase through 2032

Human Resources specialists are pivotal in fostering workplace efficiency and employee well-being. While a psychology degree might not seem like the most straightforward approach to obtaining this position, psychology graduates possess a unique understanding of human behavior, communication, and interpersonal skills, which can help them excel in this role.

A bachelor’s degree is often a standard requirement for this profession, as it demonstrates a comprehensive grasp of psychological principles and their practical application in the workplace.

Clinical Psychologist

Median annual salary: $90,130
Job outlook: 6% increase through 2032

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat various emotional and behavioral disorders through therapeutic interventions. These professionals work in multiple settings, including private practice, hospitals, and mental health clinics, offering therapeutic support and contributing to the ongoing development of psychological research and practice.

While it’s possible to specialize in this field at the master’s level, a doctoral degree — typically a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) — is a standard requirement for licensure. This extensive training prepares clinical psychologists with the necessary knowledge, research skills, and supervised clinical experience to provide effective, evidence-based interventions.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Median annual salary: $139,280
Job outlook: 6% increase through 2032

Industrial-organizational psychologists optimize workplace dynamics to enhance organizational effectiveness and employee well-being. While licensure requires a doctoral degree, individuals can tailor their education early on by choosing relevant coursework at the undergraduate level. Bachelor’s degrees in psychology offer foundational knowledge, and specialized master’s programs allow for a focused exploration of industrial-organizational psychology.

Student Resources and Organizations

Pursuing a psychology degree at any level can be rewarding, but conducting thorough research is essential to ensure it’s the right choice for you. The following list offers resources with insights into various psychology degrees and potential academic paths so you can make an informed decision about your educational and career pursuits.

High school students interested in psychology need to consider engaging in pre-professional organizations or clubs to explore their future careers further. Joining psychology clubs, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), or DECA, provides invaluable opportunities for networking, skill development, and exposure to real-world applications of psychology. Active participation in such organizations can lay the groundwork for a successful and fulfilling journey into studying psychology at the collegiate level.

Frequently Asked Questions: Psychology Degrees

Should I get a psychology degree in person or online?

Whether to pursue a psychology degree in person or online will depend on your preferences and circumstances. Many schools offer identical curricula for both formats, ensuring academic quality. In-person programs provide face-to-face interaction, networking opportunities, and a traditional campus experience. On the other hand, online programs offer flexibility, allowing students to balance education with other commitments.

Is a psychology degree worth it?

A psychology degree can be worth it, but this answer ultimately depends on your specific career goals. At the undergraduate level, a psychology degree can open doors to careers in Human Resources, social services, and even specific business sectors, given its versatile skill set. A doctorate is essential for those aiming to become licensed psychologists, but students seeking a master’s still benefit from increased salaries and better job security.

Regardless of your degree level, weighing the return on investment (ROI) before pursuing this path is crucial. It involves taking the total cost of earning your education and comparing your potential salary, depending on tuition expenses and the career you aim to pursue after graduation.

How much does a psychology degree cost?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate tuition at a four-year college averaged $26,903 for the 2021-2022 academic year, while graduate tuition at a two-year institution was $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year. These figures can fluctuate based on degree level, with graduate programs often being more affordable. Additionally, the specific institution plays a crucial role, as private universities typically have higher tuition than public schools.

Interested in a degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.