Best Online Master’s Degrees in Psychology: Guide to Online Programs for 2021

Best Online Master’s Degrees in Psychology: Guide to Online Programs for 2021
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Psychology is a rewarding field that allows you to help others overcome obstacles and reach their goals. Plus, professionals in the industry have a high earning potential, which can amount to an average of $82,000 per year. While the projected growth is similar to other jobs at 3%, professionals in the industry enjoy far more options when it comes to career development. However, psychology is a competitive industry, so a bachelor’s degree in psychology is just the beginning. Fortunately, many graduates begin their professional careers right away. But, earning an advanced degree is necessary for better opportunities. For many working professionals, the flexibility of an online master’s degree in psychology is the right option.

After earning your master’s degree in psychology, you have the chance to apply for a license, specialize, and even hold managerial positions. Additionally, it provides the academic and professional training for you to hold clinical roles.

This article will guide you on how to start your career growth as well as help you determine if online degree programs in psychology are right for you.

Online Master’s Degree in Psychology Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Psychology
  5. How much does an online Master’s Degree in Psychology cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online Master’s Degree in Psychology?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Psychology
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Psychology

Can you get a degree completely online?

It is completely possible to get an online master’s degree in psychology in many higher education institutions (HEIs). The number of institutions offering online degrees, from community colleges to large public universities, has been increasing in the past decade. The demand for more accessible education, especially from professionals who are looking into earning advanced degrees, has motivated HEIs to offer remote learning options.

Additionally, the pandemic underscored the need for online degree programs and courses. With limited face-to-face interactions, many, if not all, educational institutions were forced to move their operations online. According to “Lessons learned while creating an effective emergency remote learning environment for students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” colleges and universities had little to no time transitioning to a complete remote delivery method (Vollbrecht et al., 2020).

“One of the largest changes to the course was the shift from live, synchronous events to asynchronous events (75% synchronous before COVID-19 down to 36% synchronous during COVID-19),” the researchers highlighted in the study published in Advances in Physiology Education. While this is an anecdotal experience, many students are in similar circumstances during the pandemic.

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Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Colleges and institutions typically do not indicate whether a degree was earned online or traditionally in your diploma or transcript. As such, employers are not aware if you attended online courses in psychology unless you disclose them. With the increasing popularity of remote learning, employers slowly recognize that the stigma of online degrees is not true at all. In fact, many employees looking to further their academic training are choosing online options as this allows them to attend classes without affecting their professional lives.

Between Spring 2020 and 2021, more students have graduated from predominantly online HEIs. There has been an increase of 6.9% among graduate degree enrollees since the past year and even greater compared to the increase before the pandemic. And experts are expecting the number to steadily rise as the world adjusts to the COVID virus.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2021

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

The accessibility of remote learning means students from anywhere have the opportunity to study in their desired college or university. While many are still limiting their online degree offerings to specific geographic locations, an increasing number of institutions have opened their online degree programs in psychology to foreign students, especially in masters and doctoral degrees.

Even with the pandemic, studying abroad is still a popular option among students all over the world. However, they have now shifted their priorities to get their degrees online, with 45.2% intending to attend online degree programs (Svanholm, 2020). Even with existing foreign students studying abroad, there is very little cancellation in light of the pandemic.

Online degrees, especially if granted by a reputable institution, are valid in most parts of the world and are recognized by virtually any employer. However, you should still conduct thorough research, especially regarding your local education regulations. Regulated professions may require additional documentation when you apply for licensure after you graduate from your online degree.

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Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Psychology

Psychology promotes knowledge and treatment of a wide range of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders that influence individuals and their relationships. A master’s degree in this diverse field can help you advance your career in both the public and private sectors. An online master’s degree in psychology allows graduates to use psychological ideas successfully in healthcare, criminal justice, human services, and education.

Many professions in psychology necessitate the attainment of postgraduate degrees. To advance in their industry, professionals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology may need to obtain a master’s degree or a Ph.D. Advanced programs also allow professionals to take up specializations and gain academic and professional experience.

Aside from the physical effects of the pandemic, people will be dealing with the mental effects of the pandemic for years to come. Psychologists with extensive experience and expertise will be needed for both individual treatments and macro-level programs.

Fortunately, professionals in the industry are already beginning significant research on the effects of the pandemic on people at varying levels. For example, in “The psychology of the COVID-19 pandemic: A group-level perspective” published in the Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, the researchers explored how group-level processes help people cope with the effects of isolation, disruption of their normal lives, and anxiety caused the coronavirus (Marmarosh et al., 2020).

The study concluded that “group treatment options developed by group psychotherapists are effective at reducing depression, anxiety, complicated grief, and stress.”

“By examining the growing impact of online groups and the many ways that these groups help people improve their psychological well-being during the COVID-19 crisis,” the researchers added.

Flexibility of the Courses

Students who study online can select the curriculum and delivery model that best meet their needs. Online colleges provide more flexible program alternatives, allowing students to take classes while working full-time and fulfilling other personal responsibilities.

Campus programs are only available to local and commuting students. Schools have established timetables, although some schools provide evening or weekend sessions to suit working students. Traditional learning environments help degree seekers who enjoy face-to-face engagement with professors and classmates.

Access to Online Degree Programs

Students can use learning platforms such as Blackboard, Moodle, or Edmodo to access course content and learning tools as well as connect with instructors. For distant learners, most libraries include a virtual database system. Some online courses need a brief on-campus residence or in-person component.

On-campus students, like online students, utilize the same virtual technologies to access coursework and resources and connect with professors, although not as extensively. While students can contact professors and utilize facilities in person, their work schedules and availability may conflict with regular office and operation hours.

Qualities Needed to Succeed in Online Degree Courses in Psychology

Self-motivation and discipline are required for online learning. While studying online, students should make use of the numerous tools available to them. Degree candidates who work full-time and have a family must prioritize their activities to satisfy personal and academic commitments.

Some students find it simpler to practice good time management when they do coursework according to a predetermined timetable. Students who lack self-motivation may benefit from face-to-face interactions with classmates and teachers. In-person interaction may also assist certain learners in gaining a deeper comprehension of the material.

Coursework Delivery

Online students must have their own computer and internet connectivity. Online classes generally span six to seven weeks, compressing course content, and, as a result, shortening the degree completion time. Classes can be delivered asynchronously, allowing students to progress at their own speed, or synchronously, requiring students to meet with instructors and peers online at predetermined times. Meanwhile, there are also classes that use a hybrid format, which utilizes both asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Traditional on-campus courses meet in a classroom on predetermined days and hours. Attendance is frequently included in a student’s total grade. Classes are typically held during a 15-week semester, with classes meeting two to three times a week, or a ten-week quarter, with classes meeting daily. Both allow students to absorb course information and finish tasks for a longer period of time than online courses. Learners continue to utilize technology, but they can access it at school if it is inaccessible from home.

Length of an Online Master’s Degree in Psychology

Most postgraduate online degree programs in psychology involve 36 credits and are completed in roughly two years. The more specialized or personalized the curriculum, or the more hours necessary for fieldwork or study, the longer it takes students to get their degree. Depending on the program or track, students can receive a master of arts degree, which focuses on liberal arts, or a master of science degree, which focuses on STEM-related areas.

Programs typically only provide full-time options. However, part-time options may be available depending on the institution. A cohort approach is used by schools that prioritize interpersonal involvement, which means that students progress through online courses as a group. Otherwise, degree candidates take program courses independently and at their own pace.

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Is an online degree cheaper?

Many factors influence the cost of an online graduate program, which is frequently less expensive than a regular program. Tuition and textbooks are generally the same for on-campus and online students. However, some colleges provide discounted tuition to online students. Others provide cumulative savings to in-state students who finish their degrees online. The most significant cost difference between online and traditional programs is due to auxiliary fees.

Room and board fees are frequently charged to on-campus students. They may also need to pay for transportation, fees for student activities or campus amenities, technology costs, liability insurance expenses, and if needed, childcare. While online students are exempt from campus-based service costs, they may be charged for technology fees, academic service fees, and exam-proctoring expenses.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Depending on future professional objectives, taking advanced online degree courses in psychology can help graduates earn better incomes, take on leadership responsibilities, and qualify for advanced roles. A Ph.D. is required if you want to be a psychologist.

In many ways, online programs are much more popular among practicing professionals. Many desire to continue working while advancing their academic training. As such, most online degree programs in psychology involve the same curriculum and rigor. While the delivery methods are different from traditional programs, students are still held to the same standards.

How much does an online Master’s Degree in Psychology cost?

Numerous considerations determine the cost of an online master’s degree in psychology. Location is a major consideration when applying for an online master’s degree in psychology. Out-of-state students often pay more in tuition compared to their in-state counterparts. However, some online education institutions have fixed per credit fees regardless of the students’ location. Another important consideration is technology costs, which frequently apply to online students but not to their on-campus counterparts.

An online master’s degree in psychology generally costs between $400 and $945 per credit. Students should budget between $18,000 and $45,000 for the entire program.

Is an online Psychology degree worth it?

Most people believe that pursuing a profession in psychology entails working as a clinical psychologist, clinical therapist, mental health consultant, or psychoanalyst. However, there are alternative job options in psychology. For instance, you can work as a school psychologist, forensic psychologist, industrial and organizational psychologist, or clinical social worker. All of the aforementioned psychology jobs require either a master’s degree in psychology or a doctorate degree such as a Ph.D. or PsyD.

Established professionals from other fields consider online degree programs in psychology to further their careers as well. Those looking to be promoted into managerial or higher positions can benefit from psychology, especially in managing people and understanding their behavior.

Others take online degree courses in psychology to further improve their overall skills. For instance, marketers with training and experience in psychology better understand their customers and target audience.

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What are the requirements of an online Master’s Degree in Psychology?

Getting into graduate school might appear to be a never-ending process. After completing their undergraduate studies, students must now traverse a labyrinth of paperwork, examinations, and graduate-school applications. A competitive applicant must do research, which is a skill that all persons wishing to attend graduate programs in psychology must possess.

Try to learn about the colleges and professors who specialize in the area of psychology you want to study. Make a list of 10 or 12 colleges you will apply to based on program options, accessibility, and tuition pricing. Once you have determined your goals, you may concentrate on the application process itself.

While each institution has its specific requirements, most online degree programs in psychology require the following:

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree – A bachelor’s degree in psychology makes it easier to enter a graduate program in psychology. Students with a bachelor’s degree in psychology are given preference by graduate schools. Non-psychology students can take prerequisite psychology courses that familiarize them with foundational theories, statistics, and research methods in psychology. Some undergraduate degrees make it easier to transition to a graduate program in psychology than others; for example, a student with a bachelor’s degree in sociology will fare better than those with a degree in physics.
  • Professional experience – Most students attend advanced online degree programs in psychology after working in the field for at least a year. The department and teachers determine the degree of experience necessary. Some graduate students will be able to work as research assistants, although professors will want them to have at least some experience. Others, due to the nature of the curriculum, will not require job experience.
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) results – The GRE is the standardized test required for entrance to graduate schools of psychology. It includes sections on verbal reasoning, mathematical reasoning, and analytical composition. These parts assess students’ readiness to succeed in today’s graduate programs. The GRE topic examinations assess knowledge and abilities in six different disciplines, including psychology. The specific GRE psychology test necessitates that the test taker has a prior understanding of the topic through undergraduate courses or other experience.
  • Transcripts – As you start applying to graduate schools, keep in mind that colleges consider the complete person in their decision-making process. This process begins with an evaluation of an applicant’s academic achievement based on school transcripts. Colleges will examine your college transcripts to determine the courses you completed, the grades you earned, and your general pattern of performance. They are especially interested in the final 60 credits of your undergraduate degree. These include your junior and senior years when you take upper-level psychology or other major courses. In general, graduate schools in psychology like to see a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0. While many graduate schools in psychology would not consider a student with a GPA of less than 3.0, competitive GRE scores will take precedence over a lower GPA.
  • Resume – A good resume compensates for weak academic performance or GRE test results. Depending on the demands of the professors and department, certain programs require specialized experience. Emphasize your most current and relevant professional experience in psychology. If you lack experience or have a gap in work, keep in mind that abilities from other professions can transfer over. For example, a professor looking for a research assistant will value your research and data analytics abilities, even if it is not in psychology.
  • Personal statements – A statement of purpose responds to specific questions about why you selected psychology, your interest in the specific program, your planned course of study, and your short- and long-term professional objectives.
  • Letters of recommendation – Former advisors, professors, research mentors, or employers are asked to provide two to four letters of recommendation for students. Begin this procedure as soon as possible so that the individuals you have contacted for recommendations have enough time to compose a letter on your behalf. Schools want to hear from someone who has worked closely with you, so ask someone who can speak properly on your behalf.
   

General Requirements

Aside from academic and professional experience, you will need specific qualities to be successful in your online degree courses in psychology. Here are some of them:

  • Problem-solving – Matters in psychology, like everything else, do not always go as planned. There will be problems, and they must be resolved. Alternative techniques must be available to good psychologists, and they must be able to execute them effectively. Well-written research plans take into account typical difficulties that may impede progress. Unexpected events occur, and you must intervene and make a modification to save your work. To ensure that your job progresses forward, you must have a library of methods available.
  • Patience – Whether in pure research or when dealing directly with patients, results in psychology can frequently take years to observe. But, to make genuine development, patience is required. You must be able to stay motivated even when results are not immediately visible.
  • Ethics – Psychologists, like any other profession that cares for people, bear great duty. They have the power to influence people’s lives and are regularly in contact with the most vulnerable people. It is critical to have a solid ethical code in place to protect the safety and well-being of your patients. And, as a researcher, it is important to base investigations on a firm ethical foundation to obtain unbiased, valuable data while causing no harm to anyone.
  • Research – No matter what capacity you serve in psychology, research is essential. Whether you are doing your own studies and want to check if they have been done previously, or you are attempting to assist a patient by looking at what other psychologists have encountered, understanding how and where to obtain the information you want is essential. There are dozens of scientific publications available; each containing information gleaned from decades of research. It is critical to be able to locate and analyze relevant information.
  • Numerical aptitude – Although it may appear counterintuitive, psychologists must be skilled in mathematics. Researchers, particularly those working with quantitative data, are confronted with massive volumes of data that must be evaluated. A skilled psychologist understands how to utilize statistical tests and equations to synthesize such information. Without these abilities, researchers would be unable to comprehend what they see and if it is relevant to the larger human population, and clinical psychologists would be unable to comprehend the data and apply it to their practice.
  • Communication skills – Communication is obviously essential in any job, but it is extremely crucial when researching human behavior. Clinical psychologists must be able to interact with their clients to help them, whereas research psychologists must be able to properly describe observations and present their results.

What are the Technological Requirements of Students for Online Learning?

Remote learning means you will have to supply your own hardware and software to facilitate studies. Once accepted into a program, your program advisor will provide you with any specific technological requirements. In most cases, you will need the following.

Hardware:

  • A desktop or laptop computer capable of running several applications for learning.
  • A webcam for consultations, group work, or synchronous learning.
  • A headset for communication with professors and peers.
  • A printer if you prefer reading offline.

Software

  • Modern browsers capable of running web apps such as learning management systems, digital libraries, etc.
  • Communication apps such as Slack, Skype, or Microsoft Teams.
  • Word processor
  • Presentation software
  • Spreadsheet application

Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Psychology

An online master’s degree in psychology provides advanced academic and professional training and opens opportunities to specialize in different types of concentrations. According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is such a diverse field with 54 recognized divisions, each with its own specializations (American Psychological Association, 2020). In most programs, you have the option to concentrate on:

  • Clinical psychology – Often viewed as a generalist choice for future clinicians, clinical psychology concentrations educate students on the biological, behavioral, and emotional elements of people, with an emphasis on how race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographic location impact each of these characteristics.
  • Organizational Psychology – Organizational psychology, sometimes referred to as occupational psychology, measures and enhances performance in professional contexts. Organizational psychologists conduct interviews, monitor operations, and identify opportunities to improve effectiveness and efficiency without jeopardizing job satisfaction.
  • Forensic Psychology – Forensic psychology occupies a unique position at the intersection of criminal justice and law. Pursuing this specialty equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend the psychological variables that influence both offender’s and victims’ conduct. Numerous graduates work as expert witnesses and researchers in court proceedings.
  • Educational Psychology – Specializations in educational psychology concentrate on how students absorb information in a learning environment. The courses cover topics such as information processing and retention, memory, and general human development.
  • School Psychology – School psychology concentrates on establishing secure, encouraging environments conducive to optimal learning for all learners. Degree seekers investigate the academic, behavioral, emotional, and social elements of growth to contribute to creating successful school policies following graduation.
  • Behavioral Psychology – Behavioral psychology specialties are concerned with identifying and treating behavioral problems using psychological concepts. Learners examine many sorts of behavioral disorders, how individuals respond to them, and how to give successful counseling services.
  • Counseling Psychology – This specialty is intended for learners who envision themselves working in individual and group counseling settings. Students may work with specialized groups, such as individuals needing therapy for marriage, family, or bereavement.

Sources: American Psychological Association

Online degree courses in psychology include advanced topics that equip students for clinical and administrative jobs. While courses may differ depending on your specialization and the institution, most cover the following:

  • History and Concepts of Psychology – This foundational course examines the history of psychology and its key schools of thought, including psychoanalysis, physiological psychology, cognitive psychology, and behaviorism. Students learn about seminal research that shaped the development of psychological theory and practice. This course serves as a foundation for more specialized courses by offering an overview and introduction to the field.
  • Social Psychology – Enrollees get an understanding of the social dynamics and influences on an individual, group, and culture psychology. Social psychology courses examine the psychological mechanisms at work in culture, interpersonal interactions, group, and intergroup dynamics. This course explores a variety of issues, including power, aggressiveness, stereotyping, and conformity. Additionally, enrollees investigate interpersonal behaviors such as empathy, collaboration, and compassion.
  • Lifespan Development – This fundamental course covers how humans age, alter, adapt, grow, and decline. Students explore the behavioral, cognitive, physical, and socioemotional changes that occur during critical developmental phases and their impact on our lives. Students who complete this course should be able to recognize the psychological alterations that occur during each of the eight stages of development and explain how culture and society influence development.
  • Personality – This course teaches students how personalities develop, evolve, and mature throughout people’s lives. Learners examine numerous frameworks and techniques for personality development and complete projects that prepare them to apply these ideas more effectively in research and practice. Additionally, they explore how characteristics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and age might impact how personalities differ and how this information can help them practice more effectively.
  • Cognitive-Affective Bases of Behavior – This course examines cognitive ideas and how people absorb new information, organize their thoughts, and store their emotions. Students gain an understanding of how brain processes such as memory, language usage, reasoning, and categorization occur and how external influences affect them. Additionally, the coursework examines how stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma influence cognition.
  • Statistical Methods in Research – Almost all master’s programs in psychology need one or more courses in research techniques. Numerous programs need a prerequisite course in research methodologies and a capstone research course. These courses include statistical concepts and methodologies relevant to social research, statistical reasoning and inference techniques, and study design methods and instruments. Descriptive statistics, regression, correlation, and significance testing are some of the subjects covered. Additionally, enrollees may gain knowledge of covariance and multivariate analysis, multiple regression, two-sample comparisons, and techniques for nominal and ordinal data.
  • Capstone Project – The majority of master’s programs in psychology involve a capstone thesis, project, or assessment. Capstone projects enable students to use and demonstrate their master’s-level psychological skills and knowledge. Often divided into two parts, the capstone may begin with the creation of project proposals. Certain capstone projects have an internship or field research component. Additionally, the master’s thesis may need on-site research. The capstone courses that accompany them assist students in designing their research, conducting their analyses, and writing their theses.

Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Psychology

Attending an online master’s degree in psychology is a massive academic, professional, and personal endeavor. As such, you need to conduct thorough research before you embark on your academic journey. You need to consider the following factors:

  • Tuition fee and other costs – While online degree programs in psychology cost less than traditional programs, they are still significant financial commitments. Look into the program’s per credit rate, fixed-rate, or reduced rate for distance learners.
  • Program length – While an online master’s degree in psychology usually takes two to three years when taken full-time, you may not have the capacity to accommodate an entire semester’s load of coursework. Or, you may want to take in more classes if your schedule allows. Consider programs with part-time or accelerated options.
  • Transfer policies – Despite your best efforts, your first school may not be the greatest fit for you. Seek out a school with accommodating transfer procedures so that you are not required to retake several subjects if you need to change schools.
  • Graduation requirements – Consider programs that align with your academic and professional goals. Various programs require a thesis, research, internships, fellowships, and other requirements, so ensure that you are familiar with the program’s graduation requirements.
  • Accreditation – When looking for online programs, you must consider institutions with proper accreditations. Employers are primarily concerned about the reputation of your school. Additionally, attending a non-accredited program may cause problems related to applying for licensure, transferring credits, and even applying for a job. In psychology, there are two significant accreditation bodies:
    • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs – CACREP is considered the main accrediting body in psychology. It accredits master’s degree and doctorate programs in counseling and its specialties provided by colleges and universities throughout the United States and the world.
    • American Psychological Association – APA mainly accredits doctoral programs, which may not be relevant to you yet. However, it also provides accreditation to internship programs in health service psychology, school psychology, and counseling psychology.

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Limitless Possibility With Psychology

Psychology majors are not the only ones with a future in the field. In fact, many psychology professionals have backgrounds in sociology, philosophy, and anthropology. Having such a diverse background is often an advantage, especially when you are ready to take your career to the next level. Similarly, taking online degree courses in psychology often opens opportunities in other fields such as law, business, and social work.

As you further your academic training, you also have the chance to focus on specialization, take on specific clients, and even contribute to existing and new research in the field. Psychologists are found in hospitals, private organizations, schools, public institutions, and social service centers. And, as you earn your online master’s degree in psychology and move on to studying for your doctorate, you will open more opportunities not only in the industry but in other fields as well.

 

References:

  1. American Psychological Association. (2020, December). APA divisions. https://www.apa.org/about/division/
  2. Marmarosh, C. L., Forsyth, D. R., Strauss, B., & Burlingame, G. M. (2020). The psychology of the COVID-19 pandemic: A group-level perspective. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 24(3), 122–138. https://doi.org/10.1037/gdn0000142
  3. Svanholm, A. G. (2020, April 24). The impact of COVID-19 on study abroad: April 2020 survey results. Educations.Com. https://institutions.educations.com/insights/student-survey-covid-19-and-study-abroad
  4. Vollbrecht, P. J., Porter-Stransky, K. A., & Lackey-Cornelison, W. L. (2020). Lessons learned while creating an effective emergency remote learning environment for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Advances in Physiology Education, 44(4), 722–725. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00140.2020

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