An understanding of human behavior and motivation can be a great asset to nearly any career that deals with people. Even if you're not planning to pursue psychology as a career, a bachelor's degree in the field can give you valuable insights into the way the human mind works.
Enrollment numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics show that students are aware of the potential benefits of psychology degrees. A total of more than 116,861 bachelor's and higher degrees in psychology were awarded in 2016-17 -- good for a top five spot among the most popular degrees in the country.
If you do choose to continue your psychology education and become a scholar or practitioner in the field, it's good to be aware of national policies and initiatives that might be relevant to your career. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) is one such plan, intended to assure that insurance companies offer mental health and substance use disorder benefits at the same level as their medical and surgical benefits.
Psychology graduates in different areas of the country face different sets of challenges and opportunities on the career market, so knowing about the education and employment climate for psychologists in your state can help you make the right decision for your future. In Florida, for example, where several of the top schools in our rankings are located, specialized psychologists earned more per year than in all but six other states.
What's more, online psychology programs can offer busy students an alternative to the traditional weekday school schedule. The U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reports that more than 20 new online psychology programs were created at top U.S. schools between 2012 and 2014, and more options continue to crop up on the college market.
Most professional psychologists need at least a master's degree to begin practicing, but psychology degrees at the associate and bachelor's levels can still help you add value to your skillset and change the trajectory of your career. Read on to get some details on the top campus-based and online psychology programs, learn how psychology certification works and find out about psychology specializations that you can pursue if you continue on to an advanced study plan.
Best Colleges for Psychology Degree Programs 2019-20
We did a quantitative analysis of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on nearly 1,500 institutions that offer psychology degrees, then we ranked their total scores in affordability, flexibility, student success and more to sort the ten best from the rest. Click the button below to read more about our methodology, and check out our profiles of these top psychology schools across the U.S.
The 88 percent graduation rate at the University of Florida is one of the best on our list, and the school's first-year student retention rate of 96 percent ranks among the top 30 psychology schools in the country. Graduates here also report one of the lower average amounts of student debt among schools on our list -- UF graduates left school with just over $16,000 in debt, which is less than half of the 2018 national average.
Psychology programs at UF: Psychology degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at UF, including an online psychology program that leads to a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. Master's degree programs here are non-terminal but can provide advanced education in counseling and clinical psychology.
The NCES reports that James Madison University set aside one of the nation's largest percentages of its annual budget for academic services spending, and that's not the only reason to consider this under-the-radar Virginia school. It also reported that more than 87 percent of graduates paid off their student loan balance within three years after graduation, the highest such percentage of any school on our list.
Psychology programs at JMU: The 120-credit undergraduate major in psychology at JMU is complemented by a wide range of specialized graduate programs for aspiring psychologists. Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees are available in clinical mental health counseling and school psychology, and doctoral students can choose among programs in clinical and school psychology and counseling and supervision.
NCES numbers show that the New Paltz campus of the State University of New York places a high priority on student schedule flexibility. More than 99 percent of the roughly 7,600 students at this Hudson Valley institution attended at least one of their courses in the virtual classroom. Students who like a close-knit learning environment might thrive here, as well; the student-faculty ratio was a comfortable 15:1 in 2018.
Psychology programs at SUNY New Paltz: The undergraduate program in psychology at SUNY New Paltz offers study concentrations in psychobiology and industrial-organizational psychology. Graduate students can choose among Master of Science (M.S.) programs in psychological science, clinical mental health counseling and school counseling as well as advanced certificates in clinical mental health counseling and trauma/disaster mental health.
Founded in 1956, the University of South Florida was the first major metropolitan university in the Sunshine State. USF maintains three campuses total, with satellite locations in St. Petersburg and Sarasota backing up the flagship campus in Tampa. Average in-state tuition at the University of South Florida is also more affordable than most, according to the median 2018 expense of just over $6,400 per student.
Psychology programs at USF: Four Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) concentrations are available for advanced psychology students at USF: clinical psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, school psychology and cognition, neuroscience and social psychology. An educational specialist (Ed.S.) degree in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in school psychology is also available for aspiring school psychologists.
The flagship Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina was founded as the first public university in the U.S. in 1879, making it one of the longest-standing institutions on our list. The graduation rate here is one of the best in the country -- more than 90 percent of students at UNC-Chapel Hill finish their bachelor's degrees in six years or less.
Psychology programs at UNC-Chapel Hill: The department of psychology and neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and a B.A. in psychology for undergraduate students. The psychology Ph.D. program here educates students in a list of six sub-disciplines, including developmental psychology, quantitative psychology, cognitive psychology and behavioral and integrative neuroscience.
Florida International University is one of the largest psychology schools in the country, educating nearly 58,000 students per semester and awarding more than 1,300 psychology degrees in 2018. It also reported that over 60 percent of students take at least some of their classes via distance education, meaning that students in online psychology programs should have plenty of potential study partners.
Psychology programs at FIU: The online B.A. in psychology at FIU features courses in research and statistics and comes with an unexpected perk: online undergraduate students here are paired with a success coach when they begin their program. Graduate programs in the FIU catalog include five Ph.D. concentrations, a graduate certificate in cognitive neuroscience and M.S. degrees in professional counseling psychology and organizational science.
The University of Central Florida school is another high-population institution in the Sunshine State, serving as many as 68,500 students each term and encompassing more than 14,000 acres at its Orlando campus. Psychology is the most popular undergraduate major here, as well, so you'll likely meet plenty of like-minded students as you progress through your degree. On top of that, 44 percent of Fall 2018 graduates left school with no student debt.
Psychology programs at UCF: Doctoral psychology students at UCF can focus their study on clinical psychology, industrial-organizational psychology or human factors and cognitive psychology. The clinical psychology Ph.D. follows the scientist-practitioner model, meaning that graduates should feel equally comfortable in practice and research positions. A B.S. in psychology can be earned entirely online.
The fifth institution from Florida to make our list posted the lowest average in-state tuition rate of any school featured on this page, charging students a median figure of less than $5,700 for the year in 2018. What's more, an initiative called the Academic Common Market offers those affordable in-state tuition rates to students from any of the 15 member states of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).
Psychology programs at FSU: Clinical, cognitive, developmental and social psychology programs are all available to graduate students here, as well as programs in neuroscience and a master's degree in applied behavior analysis hosted by an FSU satellite campus in Panama City. Undergraduate psychology students here have numerous opportunities to work with grad students and faculty on scientific research projects.
The Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota serves as the university's flagship and plays host to more than 31,000 students each term. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities also has one of the highest concentrations of advanced learners of any school on our list, with more than half of the 2018 student body enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program.
Psychology programs at U of M: The undergraduate psychology program at U of M can be earned on either a B.S. or B.A. study track, with the main difference being that B.A. students study a foreign language and B.S. programs contain extra coursework in the hard sciences. The Ph.D. program here offers eight areas of specialization, including cognitive and brain science and biological psychopathology.
The University of Washington spends the largest pure dollar amount per student on academic support expenses like counseling, tutoring and mentorship programs. Perhaps as a result of this dedicated investment in its students, UW posted graduation and retention rates that placed firmly in the top three among our ten best psychology schools.
Psychology programs at UW: This Seattle institution's Ph.D. Program features mentor-based study, which incorporates direct academic guidance from a faculty member whose scholarly interests are similar to your own. Study areas for doctoral students include cognition and perception, animal behavior and social and personality psychology. UW also offers a terminal master's degree in applied child and adolescent psychology for students who want to work with children and teens.
Psychology Degrees and Common Career Paths
There are many levels of psychology degrees, ranging from non-degree undergraduate certificates to highly advanced doctoral degrees for post-graduate professionals. Here's a quick rundown of what you can expect from each degree level:
Numerous psychology specializations are available for graduates who take the right courses during their graduate and post-graduate work. Here's a list of some of the more common specializations available to master's degree and doctoral students:
- Clinical psychology programs focus on clinical ethics, assessment methods and cognitive, biological and social aspects of behavior.
- Developmental psychology students learn the finer points of psychological research, human cognitive development and advanced statistical analysis.
- Forensic psychology, or the application of psychological knowledge to the legal and criminal justice systems, requires students to learn about psychopathology, personality disorders, risk assessment and psychological evaluation techniques.
- Gerontology psychology, or geropsychology, concentrates its attention on the psychological issues facing the elderly. Common subjects in the field include death and dying and the psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of aging.
- Neuropsychology concerns itself with the relationship between human behavior and cognition and the physical nervous system. Students study neuroanatomy, neural development and the relationship of the nervous system to other bodily functions.
- Sports psychology programs balance their courseloads between the principles of psychology and sports and exercise concepts like kinesiology, motor learning and adapted physical activity.
Psychology Program Accreditation
Accreditation is a twofold concept for advanced psychology degrees. Regional accreditation covers the entire institution, and program accreditation focuses on the quality of education provided specifically in psychology programs. Most schools that have earned psychology program accreditation get it from agencies like these:
- The American Psychological Association (APA)
- Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
The APA accredits most psychology programs at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. The MPCAC and NASP focus on programs in counseling psychology and school psychology, respectively, and accredit master's-level programs. Be sure to check if the psychology program you're interested in, at any degree level, is accredited.
Psychology Certification and Licensing
Practicing psychology (or just using the title "psychologist") requires a license in most states, and independently practicing psychologists must be licensed no matter where in the country they hope to work. Licensing laws may vary from one state to another, but the majority of clinical and counseling psychologists must complete a doctorate, an internship and up to two years of supervised professional work before they can qualify for licensure.
Psychology certification, on ther other hand, is not required to legally practice in most cases, but it can serve to demonstrate your expertise in a given specialty area. Certification in more than a dozen specialties is offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Some single-discipline agencies, such as the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology, may also offer psychology certification options.
Check out our pages on the following psychology career specialties to learn more about their individual standards of psychology certification and licensing:
- Sports psychologist
- Clinical psychologist
- Substance abuse counselor
- Marriage and family therapist (MFT)
Psychology Career Outlook
Knowing how the job market is likely to look once you graduate can help you make the right decisions about your education while you're still in school working on your degree program, whether it be doctoral or an online program. Here's a quick rundown of some employment projections for top psychology careers.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$47,920||267,730||22.5%|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$54,150||48,520||22.3%|
|Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists||$85,340||110,490||14.7%|
|Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary||$88,490||37,630||11.7%|
|Psychologists, All Other||$95,610||13,480||11.6%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Psychology Degrees
Numerous grants and scholarships may be available to psychology students who could use some help paying for school, if it be an online program or psychology program on campus. For example, the APA provides institutions with grant funding to help provide summer research experiences to undergraduates. Here are a few other financial aid programs that might apply to your psychology program.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points:
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Median debt of completers, College Scorecard, 2017
- 3-year loan repayment rate, College Scorecard, 2017
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-17 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017