Psychology students learn about human behavior in cognitive, social, emotional and physical contexts. Degree programs exist at each academic level—associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral. Growingly, the number of online degree options continues to increase each year. A degree in psychology prepares students to pursue graduate studies and future licensure as a practicing psychologist. However, they must be committed to the journey. On average, data from the American Psychology Association shows that it takes nearly nine years of study after starting a bachelor’s program to graduate with a doctoral degree in psychology.

In order to practice, psychologists must hold a doctoral degree and a license from the state where they want to work. According to the latest figures from the American Psychology Association, there are approximately 105,000 licensed psychologists in the United States.

Psychology Online Degree Programs & Schools

Because undergraduate education is inherently broad and diverse, universities and psychology departments around the country have realized that psychology is a suitable fit for online education. Because clinical training doesn’t occur until graduate school, students can use an online program to develop a firm understanding of the core principles and theories in the field. Secondly, because the curriculum is diverse and examines human behavior and thinking, counseling theories and communication, graduates can pursue a range of professional career options outside of psychology.

In turn, for those interested in becoming a licensed psychologist, understanding the various area of practice is important. Undergraduate programs typically don’t focus on these specializations, although some departments allow students to add coursework in different concentrations. Overall, the American Psychology Association formally recognizes 15 different specialties in psychology. Because future graduate work and professional practice are directly aligned to those specializations, prospective students should recognize and pursue an area of study that interests them. Below is an example list of six different psychology concentrations:

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology studies human functioning and behavior, investigating methods to assessing and adjusting that behavior. Counseling psychologists used a variety of techniques to help individuals in a variety of ways, such as discovering an underlying cause of anxiety, finding methods to stop smoking, or designing activities to adjust to a new social situation.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology is concerned with the study of human development across the entire lifespan—from birth to death. Developmental psychologists understand age-related changes in human behavior and may work in a variety of arenas, from evaluating early childhood programs to creating age-appropriate activities for aging adults.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists work in both academia and private practice, helping individuals deal with a host of issues, such as depression, anxiety, or stress.

School Psychology

School psychology deals with the science of psychology with children, youth and families and the educational process. School psychologists deal with a range of behavior and learning issues in children, such as interpersonal problems; educational development disorders; mental health problems; and outside forces such as substance abuse or violence.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology is the study of human behavior in relationship to work, including how organizational structure and change impact worker performance or attitudes. Organizational psychologists may identify productivity issues in the workplace, administer counseling services in the workplace, or advice management on professional training needs.

How do Online Psychology Programs Work?

Online programs are designed to match the quality and standards of on-campus programs. Students may select from two types of online delivery formats: entirely online and hybrid. In a fully online program, students may complete their entire program of study without attending a brick-and-mortar campus. Hybrid, also known as blended learning, combines online classes with face-to-face instruction—which could be visiting campus for a residency period or participating in campus-based courses. The delivery format varies by university and department, but is available in two types: asnchronous (self-paced) or sychronous (real-time).

Asynchronous/Synchronous Learning

Both learning formats share similarities, but differ in how students interact with instructors and instrucational materials. In asynchrnous programs, students decide when and where they access their course materials. Synchronous programs require students to attend scheduled, live instructional sessions via web technologies (e.g. streaming video).

Created by Instructors

Each individual course is developed by an instructor, with a class syllabus, weekly sessions, and required readings and assignments.

Online Course Management System (CMS)

Course management systems are the heart of online learning. They are software applications that operate the course, from class materials to discussion boards, syllabi to course announcements. Students use the Course Management System to submit assignments, respond to other students’ work, and communicate with instructors. Example CMS platforms include Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle.

Technical Requirements

Each CMS has its own set of technical requirements for course delivery. Typically, they require an Internet connection and the latest version of a Web browser (e.g. Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome).

Module Delivery

Online programs may diverge from campus programs as they are delivered in modular format—blocks of instructional periods that are shorter than the traditional semester. These blocks may range from four- to eight-week schedules.

Course Materials

Online classes blend traditional learning materials (textbooks) with online materials, such as lectures and assignments. Students access their materials through the Content Management System, which includes items such as downloading readings, watching lectures, finding essay prompts.

Field Experience

Online psychology degree programs usually include an in-person training element, as an internship or field practicum. Students find an approved site in their local area to complete this supervised course requirement.

Choosing an Online Psychology Undergrad Degree: What to Know

For the student ready to take the next step, finding the right program takes time and effort. Major factors to consider include attending a campus- or online-based program, learning style, and comfort level with online learning. Besides the instruction delivery format, students should take the department, faculty and institution into account. Here are five things prospective students should consider when selecting an online psychology degree program.

1. Research

If interested in graduate school, students should investigate the program’s research component. Are online students allowed to complete research-focused classes? Does the program allow students to secure local, lab-based research positions?

2. Curriculum

Students should examine the curriculum’s structure? Does the online coursework provide a comprehensive overview of the various concepts and theories of the field? Do students have the opportunity to take classes in areas of interest (e.g. school psychology or substance abuse)?

3. Student Services

An often overlooked factor for online students is academic, tutoring and counseling support. What type of services does the university and department offer? Can online students access a tutor or academic advisor in the program?

4. Placement Success

What percentage of undergraduate students in the program are successfully admitted to graduate school? What’s the program’s acceptance and graduation rate? Look to the numbers to quantify if the program is producing qualified professionals.

5. Program Fit

Who are the instructors? What are their academic and professional backgrounds? Are they experienced in teaching psychology courses online? What’s the faculty-to-student ratio? Learning more about the faculty-student interaction and goals of the department can help prospective students determine if they are a fit for the program and if the program is a fit for them.

Online Associate Degree in Psychology

Becoming a licensed psychologist requires a doctoral degree, but the associate degree remains a useful degree. It can be the starting point in an educational journey to professional practice or help individuals transition into an array of related career areas. For individuals not interested in becoming a psychologist, career opportunities exist in human services (e.g. mental health case worker), community services (e.g. counselor aide), education (e.g. teacher assistant), and health care (e.g. case manager). The curriculum emphasizes understanding human behavior within a social context, which helps students develop skills that can be applied across a broad range of careers.

Curriculum varies by program, but students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of psychology, including classes similar to below:

Course Course Description
Introduction to Psychology

This course serves as the first introduction to the field of psychology. Topics of study include theories of contemporary psychology; therapy concepts; and human behavior and development.

Developmental Psychology

Students study the principles of human development from birth to death. Topics of study may include cognitive; emotional; and social development.

Personality Theories

This class introduces students to a range of classical and contemporary personality theory. Topics of study include theoretical approaches to psychology; research methods; and personality development.

Counseling Psychology

Students learn about the history of counseling and the skills modern counselors use in professional settings.

Online associate degree programs in psychology are usually offered in a self-paced format that allow students to start their studies at any time. They are available in entirely online formats and some departments may provide non-structure degree formats—which means there are no semesters, terms, or quarters. This allows for greater flexibility in course scheduling and completion and puts the learning process firmly in control of the student.

Programs outcomes vary, but students benefit from an online associate degree by learning the following:

  • Critical thinking, listening, writing and communication skills
  • Understanding of the central theories of counseling, abnormal and developmental psychology
  • Knowledge of contemporary concepts of psychology and counseling
  • Exposure to various elements of human behavior and development
  • Introductory understanding of research, experimentation and statistical analysis

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

The online bachelor’s degree serves as a comprehensive exploration of the scientific study of psychology. As pre-professional programs, they expose students to the fundamental research methodologies used in the field; teach students about psychological techniques; and provide students with an understanding of human development and behavior. This integrated approach to learning serves two purposes: prepares students for graduate coursework in psychology or entry-level positions in related areas such as social work or counseling.

Most online psychology programs are designed to be completed entirely online, but some universities offer augmented degree completion options as well. The program of study typically mirrors the requirements of on-campus programs and includes a series of required psychology courses, laboratory classwork, electives, a capstone class and a field practicum.

Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Core Coursework

Course Course Description
Introduction to Psychology

An introduction to the central concepts of psychology, including the history of the field; human behavior; social behavior; personality and emotion; and the various branches of psychology.

Abnormal Psychology

Covers the study of abnormal behavior, including a review of psychoanalytic theory; disorder prevention; and a review of elements such as anxiety and neurosis.

Research Methods

Provides students with an understanding of theory and research in psychology, concentrating on research methodologies; data collection; experimentation and observation; and statistical analysis.

Social Psychology

Examines the dynamics of social factors on human behavior; including a review of social attitudes, group conflict; and interpersonal relations.

Cognitive Psychology

An introduction to the theories and concepts of cognitive psychology. Topics of study may include memory; verbal learning; information processing; and perception.

Elective Coursework for the Online Bachelor’s in Psychology

Course Course Description
Child Psychology

This class introduces students to the spectrum of human behavior and development from birth to adolescence. Topics studied include the social; cognitive; emotional; physical; and language development of children.

Adult Development

This class studies an array of adult development issues, such as sexuality; death; stress; family dynamics; and work issues.

Organizational Psychology

This class examines human behavior in organizational settings and provides students with an understanding of organizational theory, change and conflict resolution.

Outcomes vary by programs, but—in general—students should accomplish the following:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of psychological theories and concepts
  • Recognize the ethical tenets of the practice of psychology in research and professional settings
  • Develop skills in critical thinking, writing, and research methods (qualitative and quantitative)
  • Build skills to communicate effectively, make decisions, and interact with others in different settings (e.g. individual, group, community, family)