The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for mental health, behavioral disorder, and substance abuse counselors to grow by 23% from 2016 to 2026. With work experience, online psychology degree-holders are well positioned to take on leadership roles in social services and, with a graduate degree, they can enter clinical practice as a licensed counselor or psychologist. Use this guide to find out how an online bachelor's degree in psychology can prepare you for a rewarding career.

What to Expect in an Online Bachelor's in Psychology Program

Psychology programs offer students an introduction to general psychology and psychological research methods. They also provide opportunities to learn more about areas of particular interest, such as abnormal psychology, child and adolescent development, or sports psychology. The specific courses offered vary by school and program. See below for sample courses.

Sample Courses for an Online Bachelor's in Psychology

Courses within the psychology major introduce students to the general psychology field and its subdisciplines, including educational, social, cognitive, and abnormal psychology. Psychology courses remain popular with college students, perhaps because they help people understand themselves and others, along with current social and ethical issues such as racism, gender identity, and mental illness.

Psychology courses also hone students' critical thinking and communication skills through research and experimentation, required readings, discussions, and field experiences. In addition to courses like those described below, psychology programs may offer students opportunities to advance their skills through undergraduate research, fieldwork, or an honors thesis.

Introduction to Psychology

This course introduces students to general psychology and its major subfields. Topics include the historical roots of the discipline, research methods, general theories, practical applications, and current issues and controversies. Students explore how psychologists study human behavior, emotions, learning, development, and mental processes.

Experimental Psychology and Research Methods

Students gain a foundational understanding of psychological research methods, experimentation, and statistics. The course introduces psychological research design, commonly used quantitative methods, and the use of American Psychological Association (APA) style. Topics may include ethical considerations for human and animal research.

Cognitive Psychology

This course explores psychological theory and research regarding how people learn, think, process information, and remember. Topics include attention, memory, and perception. Students learn how cognitive psychologists conduct experiments and how educators and others can apply research findings to improve learning and memory.

Developmental Psychology

This course introduces students to the psychological and cognitive changes that occur over the lifespan and the ways families, societies, and cultures influence human growth and development. Students learn about the methods psychologists use to assess developmental differences and help maximize healthy psychological, social, and cognitive development.

Social Psychology

In this course, students gain familiarity with social psychology theory, research, and practice. Topics include aggression, conformity, group dynamics, and prejudice. Students learn ways society, social groups, or social phenomena can influence individuals.

Online Bachelor's in Psychology Completion Time

Online bachelor's degrees in psychology typically require 120 credits and take four years to complete full time. The amount of time it takes to finish your degree depends on how many credits you transfer in when you start and the number of courses you take each term. Many online psychology degrees are self-paced and enable you to pursue an accelerated path or take courses part time. Programs may expect you to follow a four-year degree path of coursework or progress through courses as part of a cohort of students.

Both self-paced and cohort programs offer advantages. Self-paced programs can provide flexibility and allow you to balance school with other responsibilities. Cohort programs also offer a community of fellow learners and a predictable timeline to follow. You should be sure to select a program that meets your specific needs.

Skills Gained in an Online Bachelor's in Psychology Program

A degree in psychology provides students with many skills valued in almost any workplace, including communication and people skills; reading, writing, and numeracy skills; and research and problem-solving skills. Through lectures, class discussions, readings, research papers, lab experiments, case studies, and field experiences, psychology courses deliver a foundational understanding of human behavior, mental processes, and social interactions essential for a career or graduate work in psychology. Additionally, psychology programs teach valuable skills such as those below.

  • Research

    Psychology courses explicitly instruct students in research methods. Students learn experimentation, observation, literature review, statistical analysis, and survey techniques, for example. Graduates use these skills when conducting professional research or developing treatment plans.

  • Interpersonal Awareness

    Psychology majors hone their interpersonal, social, and communications skills through their coursework and internships. Students learn about the sources of interpersonal conflict and ways to resolve conflict. Psychology professionals use this awareness to help people solve interpersonal problems.

  • Problem-Solving

    Through laboratory classes, research, case studies, and field experiences, psychology students learn to solve problems. Careers in psychology require the ability to solve problems by articulating step-by-step solutions.

Online vs. On-Campus Programs: What's the Difference?

Online programs typically require the same (or similar) courses, internships, and capstone projects as their on-campus counterparts. For example, schools may offer the same courses in both online and traditional on-campus formats. Programs that require field experiences allow online students to complete their required hours at an approved site near them.

Online courses offer students flexibility in when and where they complete their coursework and can save them money on travel and living costs. They demand that students possess the self-motivation to log in and complete assignments on-time and the ability to communicate with instructors and peers in a virtual environment.

Education and Training Beyond a Bachelor's in Psychology

Because they require advanced clinical or research skills, many positions in psychology necessitate that students possess a graduate degree. All states require social workers, marriage and family therapists, and other mental health professionals engaged in unsupervised clinical practice to hold at least a master's degree and state licensure. Some positions in school psychology, forensic/criminal psychology, and industrial/organizational psychology may only require a master's degree in psychology or a related field. To become a psychologist, however, you typically must earn a doctorate in psychology. This requirement holds true for clinical and counseling psychologists along with educational psychologists, research psychologists, and psychology professors.

Clinical psychologists must attain licensure to practice, which typically requires 1,500-1,750 supervised, post-doctoral clinical hours, although these requirements vary by state.

A master's degree in psychology typically requires about two years of full-time study and includes coursework and other requirements such as fieldwork, comprehensive exams, a thesis, or capstone projects. Most doctoral programs in psychology take four to seven years to complete, depending on if you already possess a master's degree, which is typically not a requirement. Your area of specialty and how long it takes to complete your dissertation or clinical hours may also affect your program length.

Doctoral candidates in psychology pursue either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. The Ph.D. includes advanced training in research, requires completion and defense of a dissertation, and prepares graduates to conduct psychological research or teach at the college level. The Psy.D. emphasizes and prepares graduates for clinical practice through internships and exams. Clinical psychologists must attain licensure to practice, which typically requires 1,500-1,750 supervised, post-doctoral clinical hours, although these requirements vary by state.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Bachelor's in Psychology Graduates

Online psychology degree-holders can qualify for a variety of rewarding positions working as counselors or other mental health professionals, or through social service programs. Psychology majors typically work for social service and government agencies, nonprofits and charitable organizations, for-profit companies, and healthcare providers. For those with compassion, patience, and people skills, a degree in psychology can open the door to a fulfilling career such as those described below.

Case Manager

Case managers work for nonprofits, government agencies, and healthcare providers to help people access the mental health, educational, social, or healthcare services they need. They create treatment plans and communicate with providers on behalf of their clients. While it remains possible to work as a case manager without a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer college graduates.

Median Annual Salary: $39,391

Social and Community Service Manager

These managers work for government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations that provide social services. They oversee social service programs that meet the needs of people in their communities, such as hunger, mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. This position typically requires a bachelor's degree and relevant experience.

Median Annual Salary: $65,320

Rehabilitation Specialist

These care providers help clients with mental illnesses or disabilities adapt to daily living. They may work with people in a medical office or provide direct home care. They create treatment plans and find available resources for their clients. This position typically requires a bachelor's degree in a field such as psychology, although some employers may prefer a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $37,952

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

These counselors assess client needs, develop treatment plans, recommend additional resources, and help people modify their behavior. Most counselor positions require at least a bachelor's degree, although all states require a master's degree and licensure to provide direct, unsupervised clinical care.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

Probation or Parole Officer

These officers work one-on-one with adults or juveniles sentenced to parole or on probation. They help probationers and parolees rehabilitate or reintegrate into society by following treatment plans that may include substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment, and employment services. This position requires a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $53,020

Related Online Degrees

Child Psychology Clinical Psychology Counseling Forensic Psychology Social Work