Careers

When people think of psychology the first thing that usually comes to mind is a psychologist. While psychologists are indeed a large part of the field, psychology encompasses much more than that initial image.

Broadly, psychology is the study and understanding of the human mind and behavior. It examines and attempts to explain why people think, act, and behavior they way they do and looks at the internal factors—brain functions, thoughts, emotions—and external factors—social, environment—that motivate individuals and groups. As a result, psychology affects all aspects of human experience, from the functions of an individual’s brain to child development to the actions of entire nations, and can be applied to just about any setting, from the classroom to health care facilities to corporate offices to marketing campaigns.

What’s the Difference?

Many of the “helping professions” within the field of psychology are misused or misunderstood by the general public. For the most part, what differentiates each one is the area of study and level of education that is required. Here’s a quick break down to illustrate the differences:

Therapist or Counselor

These professions require a master’s degree typically in clinical or counseling psychology. Therapists and counselors work directly with clients to help them cope with and eventually work through various relationship, personal, or mental health problems.

Psychologist

Psychologists treat patients with emotional, behavioral and psychological issues. They help people effectively cope with and work through issues such as stress, grief, and mental health problems through a number of psychotherapy (or “talk therapy”) approaches. These issues can be due to a chronic condition or may be short-term situations such as adjusting to a new job. Psychologists can also administer tests and assessments to diagnose cognitive or behavioral problems. These professionals are not medical doctors, but they do hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D.) and have received training that is focused on human behavior.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists diagnose and treat patients with more severe mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They may also treat patients with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Unlike psychologists, however, psychiatrists earn an M.D. or D.O. and, therefore, are medical doctors or physicians. Their training is more focused on the biological aspects of mental illness. As a result of this medical training, psychiatrists can prescribe medications to patients, in addition to offering counseling services.

Social Worker

These professionals earn an MSW (Master of Social Work). Much like psychologists, social workers perform psychotherapy to help people work through difficult and challenging times. Additionally, they provide support and services to ensure the safety of people. Social workers, however, tend to focus primarily on helping integrate people in a community setting.

Psychologist Licensing Requirements and Considerations

One might think earning a graduate or doctoral degree in psychology would be enough to get their foot in the metaphorical career door, especially since these programs often include extensive classroom, research, and clinical components. That’s not the case, however. The last hurdle before practicing is licensure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every state and the District of Columbia require private practice psychologists to be licensed, and almost every state requires the same for any type of professional using the title “psychologist,” regardless of the type of work they do.

Common Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements can vary tremendously from one state to the next, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), they are not always easy to meet. Potential candidates can look to The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board (ASPPB)—the primary licensing board for psychologists in the United States and Canada—to learn more about licensing within specific jurisdictions. There are a few licensing requirements that tend to be more general, however. Here are a few of them:

Education requirements. Most state licensing boards require licensing candidates to hold at least a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally- or government-accredited program. Some states require applicants to attend programs that have also been accredited by the APA or the ASPPB. The APA warns those who have graduated from unaccredited programs to expect additional scrutiny during the licensing process.

Clinical requirements. Most doctoral programs require students to complete at least 2,000 clinical internship hours and another 2,000 post-doctoral (or residency) hours. The APA notes that for most licensure candidates, this is enough—but not always. Michigan, for example, requires applicants to complete at least six thousand supervised clinical hours. California, by contrast, only requires three thousand. Be sure to research your state’s licensing requirements to ensure that you meet all necessary criteria.

Examinations. All states require future psychologists to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, or EPPP, to become licensed to practice. The ASPPB administers the EPPP, which is a 225-question, multiple-choice test covering several core areas of psychology, including assessment and diagnoses, and biological or social behavior. The APA notes that each state sets its own minimum EPPP score for licensure, but most require applicants to earn at least 70 percent. Some states require candidates to pass an additional oral or competency-based exam in areas such as law or ethics.

Licensing Costs

Keep in mind that becoming a licensed psychologist requires both time and money: According to the APA, licensing fees vary, but can exceed $1,000. EPPP study and test prep materials can add up quickly, too.

Licensing for School Psychologists

It bears noting that school psychologists must typically become licensed or certified to work in public schools before they can practice. These credentials are administered by each state’s Department of Education—not its general licensing board. Requirements vary, but according to the Northamerican Association of Masters in Psychology, 25 states will accept a master’s or specialist degree in lieu of a doctoral degree for licensure. School psychologists must also pass a statewide exam and, in some cases, complete an internship.

Types of Psychologists

Career Salary Tool

The salary tool displays average yearly salaries, localized by state or city, for psychology careers ranging from industrial-organizational psychologist to survey researcher to social worker.

  • Psychology Type:
  • Select a state:
  • Select City 1:
  • Select City 2:
Anchorage 2012 MEAN PAY $37,410 per year
Fairbanks 2012 MEAN PAY $49,070 per year

Related CAREER SALARIES

In specializations such as sport, child or forensic psychology, the Related Careers Salary Chart illustrates the range of potential earnings for professional psychologists.

Education

What’s the Difference?

While earning a psychology degree can be personally fulfilling and enriching, a lot of planning is required to turn your degree into a profession. In some cases, different types of psychology degrees (particularly at the graduate degree level) can steer you towards different types of careers post-graduation. Before pursuing an advanced degree in psychology, it is important to have a clear vision of the type of career you want to have after graduation. No one degree is better than the other. Instead, what matters most is your own personal goals. Knowing what your end goal is can help you make the right educational choices throughout your academic career.

At the undergraduate degree level, the biggest difference between an associate or bachelor of arts in psychology and an associate or bachelor of science in psychology is the school or department that offers the program. Colleges usually offer one or the other. For example, a psychology program offered through a college’s school of liberal arts will typically lead to an associate/bachelor of arts degree, whereas a psychology program through a college’s science department will result in an associate/bachelor of science degree. At this level, there may also be some differences in the curriculum. An arts degree tends to take a more liberal arts or interdisciplinary approach. A science degree, on the other hand, will be more research or science-driven. These degrees can prepare you for entry-level jobs as well as provide the foundation for a graduate degree in psychology.

graduate degree level
Master of Art in Psychology (M.A.)

Curriculum in an MA psychology degree program often has a broader or interdisciplinary scope and focuses more on theoretical and applied concepts.

Master of Science in Psychology (M.S.)

This degree is more rooted in empirical research and analysis.

Ed.S. (Education Specialist) in School Psychology

This is a post-master’s terminal degree for those interested in working as a school psychologist. Most Ed.S. program curriculum is designed to prepare students in various aspects of school psychology as well as prepare them for certification.

DOCTORATE degree level
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology

The majority of psychology programs award a doctor of philosophy. A Ph.D. in psychology prepares psychologists to be researchers. Curriculum is more focused on research design and statistics. This type of doctoral degree usually results in careers in academia.

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)

A Psy.D. is only awarded to graduates in the so-called professional areas of clinical and counseling psychology. It is an applied or practical degree, which means it is designed to prepare students for work in a professional practice or clinical setting.

Doctor of Education in Psychology (Ed.D.)

This doctoral degree focuses on skills and theories that can be applied to educational practice and is usually offered through a college’s education department. It is ideal for those interested in working within education in some capacity, for example, as a school psychologist or in a leadership, administrative, or faculty role at a college or university.

School Search Tool

Search A School
State
City
DEGREES OFFERED
TUITION COST
STUDENT POPULATION
City
SCHOOL TYPE
PROGRAM TYPE
Total Results:
SCHOOL NAME CITY, STATE STUDENT POPULATION SCHOOL TYPE TUITION PROGRAM TYPE PROGRAMS
University of Phoenix-Online CampusPhoenix, AZ307,871Private, 4-above$9,216Both
Master’s - ONLINE
  • Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Behavioral Health
  • Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Industrial-Organizational Psychology
Doctorate - ONLINE
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Master’s
  • Psychology - Other
Ashford UniversityClinton, IA74,596Private, 4-year$9,648Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Psychology - General
  • Mental and Social Health Services and Allied Professions - Other
Arizona State UniversityTempe, AZ72,254Public, 4-year$9,208Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Psychology - General
  • Applied Psychology
Master’s
  • Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services
  • Psychology - General
  • Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
Doctorate
  • Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling
  • Educational Psychology
  • Psychology - General
  • Neuroscience
  • Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services
Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA64,096Private, 4-above$18,562Both
Associate - ONLINE
  • Associate of Arts in Psychology - Christian Counseling
Bachelor’s - ONLINE
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Criminal Psychology
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Christian Counseling
Associate
  • Psychology - General
Bachelor’s
  • Psychology - General
Master’s
  • Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services
  • Counseling Psychology
Doctorate
  • Counseling Psychology
Miami Dade CollegeMiami, FL63,736Public, 4-year$2,483Campus
Associate
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Services Technician
Houston Community CollegeHouston, TX63,015Public, 2-year$744Campus
Associate
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health Services Technician
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL58,465Public, 4-year$4,426Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Psychology - General
Master’s
  • Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services
  • Psychology - General
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling
Doctorate
  • Psychology - General
Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH56,867Public, 4-year$9,168Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Psychology - General
Master’s
  • Psychology - General
Doctorate
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychology - General

Misconceptions About the Psychology Major

For many people, their first experience with psychology is through an introductory course as a general education requirement. Many students, and the general public, don’t know much about psychology and, therefore, tend to rely on overheard misconceptions. Below are some of the most common misconceptions about psychology degree programs:

Psychology is an easy major.

Because psychology studies things like human emotion and behavior, it is often categorized as a “soft science”. As a result, many think that psychology is the opposite of so-called hard sciences like organic chemistry and computer science and, therefore, must be easy. Any subject can be challenging, however, and the degree of difficulty is really dependent on the individual student. English, for example, isn’t an easy subject just because you know how to speak English. For some, learning about emotional issues and exploring mental health problems can be scary and difficult. Additionally, psychology students are required to build a solid foundation in math and science since the field requires a lot of research and analysis. Most psychology programs require students to take biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, statistics, and calculus, which are all often categorized as hard sciences.

Psychology is common sense.

Sure, some human behavior is predictable. For instance, some would argue: If a person loses a loved one, he/she will be sad. You don’t need a degree to come to that conclusion.

Psychology goes far beyond the outward projection of feelings, however. It looks at behavior, motivation, and attitudes with respect to a number of combined influential factors, from brain functions to social environments to societal norms.

Additionally, many of the most well-known psychology experiments, such as Stanley Milgram’s controversial obedience to authority experiment, show that some of the most basic human behaviors and attitudes are actually a lot more complex—and unexpected—than we think.

You’ll be able to predict people’s actions and thoughts.

Psychology attempts to answer why people do, think, and act they way they do, but it doesn’t give you psychic powers. Earning a degree in psychology will indeed give you more insight into the human brain and behavior, but you won’t be able to predict other people’s actions and thoughts any more than you were before.

Psychology classes are just about schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

While mood/mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder will be a part of the curriculum in a psychology program, it isn’t the only topic that will be studied. Classes and subjects will vary depending on the school, but in general, as a psychology student you’ll also study a wide range of topics like group dynamics, cultural and social influences, child and human development, scientific research methods, memory, personality development, and perception.

You can only work in health/health-related fields after graduating.

Aside from the assumption that psychology is an easy major, this one is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the field. It is true that most psychology students who pursue a master’s or doctoral degree will end up in a health or health-related profession, but that’s not the only path. Psychology is a broad field, which allows for many different career opportunities post-graduation. In fact, an APA and National Science Foundation survey reported that only about 15 percent of psychology graduates go on to positions in health or health-related fields. Many ended up working in education, business, and administrative roles.

Psychology Programs and Courses Online

Distance learning is increasingly becoming an accessible and convenient way to complete courses or earn a full degree. A growing number of colleges and universities, from for-profit schools to prestigious institutions, are expanding their online education offerings to accommodate busy students who need a little more flexibility or those who simply prefer to learn independently. As a result, psychology courses and degree programs are increasingly available online.

Specific requirements and curriculum vary depending on the school and program, but in general, an online psychology degree program allows students to move through coursework at their own pace. Much like traditional campus-based students, online psychology students are required to complete readings, discussions, assignments, and exams. Students and professors can communicate as often as needed via email, video chat, or discussion boards. Students pursuing doctoral psychology degrees online are typically required to fulfill a residency, internship, or practicum before graduating.

Online Psychology Program Q&A

Q:

What types of psychology credentials can I earn online?

A:

Students can earn a wide breadth of psychology credentials online, including professional certifications, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Programs can and do vary tremendously from one school to the next, however, so it pays to do your research.

Q:

Can I complete all my coursework online?

A:

Many schools offer 100 percent online psychology programs; others require some classroom work. In some cases, students who do not live near a primary campus can complete any clinical or hands-on coursework locally through partnerships with other area schools and teaching hospitals, or through internships with psychology practitioners.

Q:

How long will it take to complete an online course or degree program?

A:

How long it will take you to complete a psychology program depends on a number of factors, like the credential earned or your average course load. In most cases, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in about four years and a master’s degree in two. Doctoral degrees vary, but typically require two to four years of study. Students who are able to take on more courses—a common benefit of online learning—can expedite the process. Some schools also offer accelerated programs, which streamline courses so that students can earn their credentials faster.

Q:

How will I take exams?

A:

Every school has its own test-taking policy for online students. Many schools use keystroke verification software, webcams, and other security measures that allow students to take exams from home. Schools that require proctored exams—supervised exams taken on-site—usually let students take them at the same type of local testing facilities used for other popular standardized tests, like the SAT or GRE.

Q:

Will I get an opportunity to work with patients when enrolled in an online program?

A:

Many online psychology programs give students a chance to accrue clinical hours with patients under the direction of a local practitioner or hospital. Students may also be able to complete internships or externships locally, even on a voluntary basis.

Q:

Are online programs easier than campus-based programs?

A:

Online classes can certainly be more convenient than classroom-based courses, but that does not necessarily make them easier. Many instructors use the same textbooks and assignments for both online and classroom-based students. Also keep in mind that online learning requires a great deal of organization and self-discipline, especially in non-synchronous programs that use downloadable video lectures rather than live feeds.

Q:

Are online degrees as credible as traditional degrees?

A:

The Sloan Consortium reports that more students than ever before are enrolled in online courses—and more schools than ever before offer them. As the prevalence of online learning grows, so does its credibility, especially with respect to accredited programs. These days, many employers do not care how you earned your degree, just that you’ve earned one from an accredited institution.

Resources

GETTING STARTED

Mental Health in College

Whether it's a nose dive in academic performance or a sudden rise in eating disorders, high stress can accompany higher education -- the Guide to College Student Mental Health outlines common psychological and emotional issues, along with warning signs and treatment options.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Psychology students seeking financial support can explore eligibility requirements and award amounts for an array of scholarships and fellowships.

Important Psychology Organizations

American Psychological Association (APA)

The APA is the largest scientific and professional organization for the field of psychology in the U.S. Its mission is to promote and help advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge. You can find tons of valuable information, news articles, publications, and numerous resources on its website.

APA’s Divisions

These interest groups have been organized by APA members and represent the many subdisciplines of psychology such as developmental, school, educational, and social.

Psych Central

First launched in January 1995 and run by mental health professionals, this is the largest and oldest independent mental health social network. The site provides mental health information as well as guides and access to resources on modern mental health, psychology, social work, and psychiatry. It is home to dozens of relevant blogs and online forums.

Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers

APPIC provides information and resources to help doctoral and postdoctoral psychologists find high quality training and internship opportunities.

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

Formed in 1961, the ASPPB is an alliance that is responsible for the licensure and certification of psychologists in the U.S. and Canada. ASPPN created and maintains the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is used by licensing boards to assess and provide licensure and certification to candidates. The site provides in-depth information on training, careers, and licensure for aspiring psychologists.