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Online psychology degrees

Psychology is one of the top five most popular fields of study for undergraduate college students, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and it's proven itself over the years to have a surprising amount of versatility on the job market. Especially these days, with employers increasingly warming to the value of "soft skills" learned in liberal arts, humanities and some social science degrees, psychology graduates can have a fairly wide open field of career opportunities to explore after graduation.

Here's a quick table of NCES data on the number of colleges that offer psychology degrees online and on campus in each of eight distinct regions of the country:

Region No. of colleges that offer psychology degrees No. of colleges that offer psychology degrees online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 270 42
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 60 12
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 171 41
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 180 38
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 400 67
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 257 37
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 291 36
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 133 25
Total (all 50 states) 1,762 298

Entry-level psychology degrees

Degrees in psychology at the undergraduate level can give you insight into the workings of the human mind and prepare you with valuable procedural knowledge about research and the scientific method. Here's a little detail of what sort of subject matter you're likely to study on the road to entry-level degrees at campus-based and online psychology schools:

  • Associate degrees - Two-year degrees in psychology serve to introduce some of the core concepts of the discipline and give students the general education background necessary to go deeper into the psychology catalog in a bachelor's program. Courses such as general psychology, human growth and development, abnormal psychology, introduction to counseling, psychology of personality, elementary statistics, human sexuality, experimental methods and more are common elements of an associate degree curriculum, along with courses in science, math, English and the humanities.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Psychological concepts studied in the upper division of bachelor's degree plans tend to challenge students to think more deeply and critically than those covered in introductory courses. Subjects studied in the latter half of your bachelor's degree program may include death and dying, health psychology, advanced social psychology, child psychology, human-computer interaction, cognitive engineering, the brain and behavior, theories of consciousness, research methodology and ethical and professional issues in psychology.
  • Non-degree study - Undergraduate certificates in psychology can be a great option for students who are interested in the field but aren't quite ready to commit to a full degree program. Certificate plans come at a variety of program lengths, from single-semester programs to those that take up to 24 credits to complete, and they typically consist exclusively of psychology courses without any general education credits mixed in.

Earning psychology degrees online is a fairly common practice for students who may not have the time or the money necessary to make a hard commitment to a full-time traditional education. The study of psychology at the undergraduate level often focuses heavily on readings, discussion, theory and case studies — academic areas that tend to translate smoothly to the virtual classroom.

Advanced-degree psychology programs

If your goal in your psychology education is to become a practicing psychologist or conduct independent research that pushes the boundaries of the discipline for future scholars to inhabit, then an advanced degree in psychology is almost certainly in your future. Here's what you can expect to run across when pursuing graduate and post-graduate psychology degrees, online or on campus:

  • Master's degree programs - Degrees in psychology begin to branch into distinct sub-disciplines at the graduate level. Master's degrees in general psychology, clinical psychology, industrial-organizational psychology and more can be found, each with its own related but distinct outgrowth from the subject matter taught in undergraduate programs. Students may also have the option to specialize their degree further with graduate concentrations in such aspects of each sub-discipline as social psychology, clinical neuroscience, drug and alcohol counseling, forensic psychology and more.
  • Doctorate programs - Doctoral programs in psychology continue down the differentiated paths that diverge at the master's level, with an additional distinction available for students who want to focus their efforts toward a deeply practitioner-focused education. Many Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs teach students to be scientists and scholars, although some have a strong practical element. Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degrees are designed for students whose ambitions lie primarily in the application of psychological principles for clinical practice and have less emphasis on research methods and experimentation than typical Ph.D. programs.
  • Graduate certificates - Non-degree graduate work is generally very common in psychology, for both bachelor's degree holders and those who have already been through a master's or doctoral program. Students looking to expand their graduate-level knowledge can choose among certificates in sports psychology, addiction studies, healthcare services, industrial psychology, couples therapy, child and family therapy, positive psychology, applied behavior analysis and more, and post-doctoral professionals can find non-degree programs that certify them in new psychological specialties.

Although colleges that offer psychology degrees online are somewhat less common at the graduate and post-graduate level, there are still numerous institutions where online or hybrid programs can be found. If your personal or professional situation requires a more flexible scheduling regimen, remember to look into the advanced degree options at online psychology schools.

Q&A with experts

Dr. Jeanne M. Slattery, professor of psychology at Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Jeanne M. Slattery, professor of psychology at Clarion University of PennsylvaniaWhy would you encourage someone to consider a psychology degree?

It's a flexible degree that provides the skills (e.g., critical thinking, writing, empathy, information literacy, understanding diversity) leading to success in many jobs and throughout life.

What would have been helpful to know when looking into your own education?

I remember learning psychology's content, but didn't understand the larger skills that one should develop in college and psychology. I missed the big picture and wished my professors had helped me find it.

What are the most common educational paths for students working toward careers in the field of psychology?

Most students head to graduate school in one of the counseling fields, but many students are happy with their work in other areas.

What's some advice you would give to a student who's just starting out on their study of psychology?

Work hard and be passionate about what you do. That passion will lead you to be successful in whatever you do.

Dr. Maria Lapadula, associate professor and behavioral sciences department chair at New York Institute of Technology College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Maria Lapadula, associate professor and behavioral sciences department chair at New York Institute of Technology College of Arts and SciencesWhat are some skills or other professional assets that psychology graduates can highlight in the hiring process after graduation?

Students learn many valuable skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking, public speaking, effective written communication and knowledge of group and organizational behavior, as well as research skills that can help to acquire new knowledge.

What are some occupations in the business world or public sector where the study of psychology can be particularly advantageous?

Market research analyst, management trainees, public relations representative, sales representative, advertising trainee, marketing coordinator, labor-relations positions.

What surprised you most about the professional value of psychology once you got into the working world?

I was surprised at the value of understanding the complexity of human behavior. This can help you in any field that you will work in because it helps you to understand people, the way they think, and why they behave in certain ways. Since most jobs and careers involve working with other people, this is a great asset.

Types of psychology careers

The skills learned in campus-based and online psychology schools can apply to careers in numerous industries, from sports psychology to business and law to public policy and social services. Here's some data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics about salary and job growth expectations for just a few of the careers available to psychology graduates:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
HR specialist $63,710 5 percent 482,000 Bachelor's degree
Training and development specialist $62,460 7 percent 252,600 Bachelor's degree
Sales manager $130,400 5 percent 376,300 Bachelor's degree
Survey researcher $59,340 12 percent 16,700 Master's degree
Psychology teacher, postsecondary $79,370 16 percent 47,300 Master's or doctoral degree
Psychologist $77,950 19 percent 173,900 Doctoral degree

Common misconceptions about psychology degrees

Even though the degrees are popular and the field of psychology is generally well understood in the abstract, there remain some public misconceptions about what goes on in psychology schools online and on campus. Let's set the record straight on a few of those common mistakes:

Misconception: There's no point in studying psychology unless you plan to earn a Ph.D.

  • Fact: It is true that psychology, as with most social science degrees, tends to require a terminal degree of its career scholars, but scholarship and research are far from the only ways to make effective use of your psychology education. The ability to interpret and understand human behaviors and their motivations can come in handy all across the job market, particularly in conjunction with some marketing courses or a business administration degree. Graduates with even just a bachelor's degree in psychology come to the workforce armed with "soft skills" that other programs may not teach.

Misconception: Advanced study of psychology only teaches you how to conduct experiments on people.

  • Fact: Survey research and experimentation are indeed a significant part of psychological scholarship, but there's a lot more than experiment design available to study in graduate and post-grad psychology schools. Online child development degrees, for example, may involve a slight pivot into education but allow you to use your interest and experience in psychology in more vivid settings than a research lab, and industrial-organizational psychology degrees prepare you to focus more on applying psychological principles than on testing and analyzing them.

Misconception: Earning psychology degrees online takes less work than doing it in person.

  • Fact: It's probably safe to assume that this myth will disappear before too long, but for now it's still important to keep in mind. Academic success for students attending psychology schools online tends to require a level of self-discipline that's necessary in few other things, and the time management skills needed to maintain your own schedule for lecture and coursework may not be second nature to everyone. Before jumping into an online degree program, see if your school provides an online education preparedness test that can give you a better idea of what it entails.

How can I enroll in an online psychology degree program?

If you're excited to get started on the road to your psychology degree, the best thing to do is to find out what it takes to be admitted to a program of your choice. Page through our listings below, find a school or two that looks right for you and reach out to a registrar or admissions rep to find out more.

Sources:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics, accessed April 12, 2016: College Navigator, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/; Bachelor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2011-12, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_322.10.asp;
  2. School pages, accessed April 26, 2016: Degree Requirements, Psychology, San Diego City College, http://www.sdcity.edu/AcademicPrograms/ProgramsofInstruction/Psychology/DegreeRequirements; Associate Degree in Psychology, Program Objectives, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/associate-degrees/psychology/curriculum/; Psychology Degrees, Online Degrees and Certificates, Washington State University Global Campus, https://online.wsu.edu/undergrad/psychology.aspx; Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Penn State World Campus, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/psychology-bachelors/overview; Bachelor of Arts in Psychology Courses, California Southern University, http://www.calsouthern.edu/online-psychology-degrees/online-bachelor-degree-psychology/psychology-courses; Curriculum: Psychology (B.A./B.S.) - Online, Oregon State University, http://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/online-degrees/undergraduate/psychology/curriculum.htm; BS in Psychology, Drexel University Online, http://online.drexel.edu/online-degrees/arts-and-science-degrees/bs-psychology/index.aspx#curriculum; Psychology Certificate Program Curriculum, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/undergraduate-certificates/psychology/curriculum/; Certificate in Psychology, Barclay College, http://www.barclaycollege.edu/undergraduate/online/certificate/psychology/; MS in Clinical Psychology, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/masters/ms-in-clinical-psychology; Psychology MA Programs, New York University, http://www.psych.nyu.edu/programs/ma/; Masters in Clinical Counseling with Specialization in Drug and Alcohol Counseling, http://www.iun.edu/psychology/degrees/masters-in-clinical-counseling-with-specialization-in-drug-and-alcohol-counseling-ms.htm; Psy.D. vs. Ph.D., Long Island University, http://liu.edu/CWPost/Academics/Schools/CLAS/Dept/Psychology/PsyD2/PsyD-vs-PhD; Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology Program Online, Capella University, http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/psyd-clinical-psychology/; Psychology, PhD, Keiser University, http://www.keiseruniversity.edu/doctor-of-philosophy-in-psychology/; Counseling Doctoral Degree, University of North Texas, http://psychology.unt.edu/graduate-programs/counseling-psychology/counseling-doctoral-degree; Psy.D. in Counseling Psychology, Carlow University, http://www.carlow.edu/PsyD_Program_Overview.aspx; PhD in Psychology, George Mason University, http://psychology.gmu.edu/programs/la-phd-psyc/application; Graduate Certificates, Educational Psychology, Texas A&M University, http://epsy.tamu.edu/degrees-and-programs/graduate-certificates; Certificate Programs in Psychology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, https://www.uml.edu/Catalog/Graduate/FAHSS/Psychology/Certificate-Program.aspx; Psychology Certificate, Columbia University, http://sps.columbia.edu/certificates/psychology-certificate; Psychology Certificate Programs, California Southern University, http://www.calsouthern.edu/psychology-certificate; Postgraduate and Advanced Certificates, Adelphi University, http://derner.adelphi.edu/psychology/postgraduate/; Positive Psychology, Online Graduate Certificate, http://online.missouri.edu/degreeprograms/ed-positivepsychology/gradcertificate/; Online Certificate Programs, Capella University, http://www.capella.edu/online-certificate-programs/; Post-Doctoral Psychology Respecialization Certificate, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/certificates/psychology-respecialization-post-doctoral; M.A. Child Development Program, California State University San Bernardino, http://psychology.csusb.edu/graduatePrograms/child_development_program.htm;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 18, 2016: Human Resources Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Human-resources-specialists.htm; Training and Development Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/training-and-development-specialists.htm; Sales Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/sales-managers.htm; Survey Researchers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/survey-researchers.htm; Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm;
  4. May 2014 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 18, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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