Some entry-level positions in the field of psychology only require a bachelor's degree; however, a master's degree can prepare you for career advancement and increased earning potential. Additionally, earning a master's in psychology online allows students to pursue coursework in a specific area of psychology, aligning their education with their personal interests and career goals.

Related Online Master’s Degrees

Clinical Psychology Forensic Psychology Counseling Social Work

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

While an online master's degree in psychology prepares graduates for a variety of careers in the field, programs vary by school. Prospective learners should look into differences in curriculum, delivery format, program length, number of credits, cost, and whether there is an internship or thesis component. Understanding each program's offerings and benefits helps you find a program that aligns with your career goals.

Sample Courses for an Online Master's in Psychology

The curriculum of an online master's in psychology program depends on a department's area of expertise, although many of the best programs feature similar core classes. Coursework usually builds on introductory knowledge and covers a variety of topics relating to psychology and human development, including ethics, counseling skills and techniques, human development, social psychology, and research methods. Some programs may also offer concentrations to allow students to specialize their degree.

A master's degree develops advanced knowledge of current theories and techniques. It also develops one's clinical skills through a capstone or research project. Additionally, some programs may require an internship or thesis.

Ethics in Clinical Counseling

This course examines current professional standards, ethical guidelines, and legal aspects of practicing in psychology. Coursework looks at ethical issues through the perspectives of internal values; the Judeo-Christian influence; and professional input, including current research and theories. Coursework trains students to identify potential ethical issues in practice and develop strategies to avoid/mitigate them.

Counseling Skills and Techniques

Coursework teaches the basic methods, skills, and techniques of counseling. Students learn the importance of listening, paraphrasing, and summarizing to establish an effective helping relationship with patients. Coursework may include role playing exercises or supervised counseling sessions to give students an opportunity to apply course concepts to real situations.

Human Development

This course provides a comprehensive overview of human development. Coursework examines how physical, cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual, and personality components impact development across all life stages, from birth to death. Students may also explore current theories and research in human development and learning.

Social Psychology

Coursework teaches current theories, issues, and research methodologies in the field of social psychology. Students explore how a person's social perception, prejudice, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by their need for social conformity. Coursework covers key factors affecting human behavior, such as self-perception, decision-making, social influence, love, aggression, deception, nonverbal communication, and attitude change.

Research Methods in Psychology

This class provides a comprehensive overview of current research methods in the field of psychology, including the basic principles of single subject experiments, group experiments, and non-experimental research models. Coursework emphasizes testing research results for validity and accuracy.

Online Master's in Psychology Completion Time

While the credit requirements for an online master's in psychology vary by school, the average program requires around 40 credits and takes two years to complete. However, several factors can impact the time it takes students to finish their degrees, including internship requirements and whether learners take classes on a full-time or part-time basis.

While the credit requirements for an online master's in psychology vary by school, the average program requires around 40 credits and takes two years to complete.

Another factor affecting program length is the delivery format. In self-paced programs, students work individually and asynchronously, which allows them to complete coursework according to their own schedule. This format accommodates individuals with professional or personal commitments and can allow learners to graduate sooner. Alternatively, cohort learning emphasizes group work. This model encourages students to collaborate with their peers, either virtually or in person. A cohort-based program typically adheres to a quarter or semester schedule, and students are not allowed to work ahead.

The length of a program is important to consider because it can impact your overall tuition costs and influence how long it will take to enter the workforce.

Skills Gained in an Online Master's in Psychology Program

A master's degree in psychology trains students to ethically practice in a variety of settings, including private practices, medical centers, and educational settings. Not all master's programs lead to certification or licensure, however, so students should research their intended careers to determine what it is required of them. Individuals can expect most master's programs to develop skills in counseling, research and analytics, and patience. Coursework also explores current theories, methodologies, and industry standards.

  • Counseling Skills

    Foundational courses provide an overview of current theories and best practices in the field. Courses may present clinical scenarios where students apply course concepts to address patient issues. Some programs also require an internship where students develop skills in a clinical practice.

  • Research and Analytical Skills

    Most programs provide an overview of current research theories and methodologies. Professionals face a variety of situations and patient issues in the field, and possessing solid research and analytical skills is crucial to successfully examine patients and develop treatment plans.

  • Patience and Integrity

    Individuals in the field of psychology often work with patients dealing with sensitive and difficult situations. Developing methods to remain calm and ethical are crucial to maintaining a safe clinical practice. Core curricula provide an overview of professional standards, as well as tools for handling dangerous or crisis situations.

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

Online learners usually have access to the same professors and curricula as their on-campus peers. One of the greatest benefits of online programs is the convenience of completing coursework from any location and on your own schedule. This makes online learning suitable for busy professionals seeking to further their education and advance their careers.

Many master's programs also require students to complete an internship; online students can typically select an approved clinic in their local area. Students work with a program advisor to plan their course of study, and some schools offer resources and assistance to help learners secure an internship.

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

An online master's in psychology prepares you for a variety of careers, including substance abuse counselor, industrial-organizational psychologist, marriage and family counselor, and clinical social worker. Professionals in this field often work in a medical clinic or private practice setting, and primary tasks may include assessing patient behavior, creating treatment plans, and assisting patients through the treatment process.

Successful professionals possess strong analytical, communication, interpersonal, listening, and problem-solving skills. They must also be compassionate and patient. Learn Psychology offers more details on careers and educational opportunities in psychology.

School and Career Counselor

These professionals evaluate students by using tests and interviews to identify learning and behavioral issues. Other tasks may include evaluating school performance and providing information on topics such as bullying, drug use, and college and career planning. They work with all age groups, from elementary-aged learners through college students. A master's degree and state-issued certification are typically required to hold this position.

Median Annual Salary: $56,310

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors evaluate patient behavior, addiction, and readiness for treatment. Primary tasks include diagnosis and creating treatment plans to help patients correct negative behavior. A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement to work as a substance abuse counselor. However, a master's degree can lead to career advancement opportunities and higher earning potential.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Professionals in this field use psychological principles to address organizational issues across an organization. Primary tasks include policy planning and implementation, employee training and development, and recruitment. These workers may also analyze an organization's processes to ensure they run efficiently. A master's degree is usually required to work in this field.

Median Annual Salary: $72,000

Marriage and Family Counselor

These counselors help couples and families process their emotions and deal with relationship issues. Tasks include maintaining patient records, moderating discussions among clients, and helping individuals develop strategies to communicate and find healthy coping strategies to deal with tough situations. A master's degree and license to practice are required.

Median Annual Salary: $50,090

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and behavioral issues. Other duties may include providing group or individual therapy and helping patients develop strategies to cope with difficult situations. Working in this field often requires a master's degree and two years of post-master's work experience.

Median Annual Salary: $49,470

Education and Training Beyond a Master's in Psychology

Some positions in the field of psychology do not require additional certification or licensure -- a master's degree may be enough to start your career. However, jobs that involve counseling or clinical practice often require certification. Each state's requirements vary, so it is important to determine the specific requirements to practice in your state. Additionally, not all online psychology master's programs lead to certification or licensure; be sure to focus on programs that lead to these post-degree qualifications if your intended career requires them.

Continuing education is also essential to maintain certifications, which must be renewed periodically.

Theories and methodologies in psychology evolve over time, making it necessary for professionals in the field to stay on top of the latest information, research, and best practices. Although online publications and resources make it easy to gain access to industry information, many jobs require individuals to receive formal continuing education each year. Continuing education is also essential to maintain certifications, which must be renewed periodically.

Pursuing a doctorate is another way to further hone professional skills and advance your knowledge. A doctorate allows you to pursue higher level positions in research and education or open your own private practice. Learn Psychology offers more details about doctoral programming.