Online Graduate Degrees in Psychology: Program Options

Online graduate degrees in psychology are available as Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs. They are conducted partially online and can lead to careers in clinical, counseling, school or industrial and organizational psychology.

Essential Information

There are several graduate degree program options in psychology at the master's and doctoral degree levels that can be completed partially online. Specialized programs are available online in areas like school psychology and industrial psychology at the master's degree level, and in counseling psychology, health psychology and social psychology at the doctoral degree level.

Practicing psychologists typically need to be licensed, and licensure usually requires a doctoral degree. Some exceptions are the industrial and organizational psychology field, for which a master's degree is acceptable, and the school psychology field, which requires licensure but has a minimal education requirement of a master's degree.

Consequently, nearly all online doctoral psychology degree programs require practical or clinical work, since it's required to qualify for state licensure. An internship may last one year. Prospective online students should inquire about their state's education and experience eligibility requirements for the psychology specialization of their interest.

Online Master's Degrees in Psychology

Graduate-level instruction in psychology begins with a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, both of which are offered entirely online. Several specializations focus the online education on health psychology, industrial or organizational psychology, sport psychology, school psychology or general psychology. Students enrolled in an online psychology master's program learn about the concepts, theories and research in psychology, as well as how to conduct and analyze research.

Program Information and Requirements

A master's degree in psychology takes 36-43 credit hours, which can be completed entirely online, though some schools may offer a blended program including some weekend campus-based classes. The online courses are usually asynchronous, with the lectures and assignments accessible at any time, and students working on their own schedule to meet certain deadlines. Some schools may require a small amount of real-time coursework. Students contact their instructors and colleagues through online message boards, chat rooms and e-mail.

Common Master's-Level Psychology Courses

Approximately two-thirds of a master's degree in psychology program's curriculum is foundation or core courses. The remaining third is specialization classes. The program usually culminates with an integrative project or a capstone course.

Social Psychology Course

Social psychology uses historical and contemporary research and theories to examine others' influence on an individual's behavior, thoughts and perception. This course highlights the association societal systems and networks with emotions, relationships, personality and decision making. Social cognition, attribution and cognition are also studied.

Ethics, Issues and Laws in Psychology Course

Special attention is given to how gender, ethnicity and other cultural factors contribute to the ethical framework of psychology. A client's right to privacy and confidentiality, and when it's acceptable to break those rights, is examined in depth. Students research case studies for perspectives of ethical dilemmas.

Lifespan Psychology Course

Human development from birth to death is the main focus of this course. Theories of the stages of development are studied, as well as the originators and proponents of such theories. Important developmental milestones are defined as they relate to perceptual, interpersonal and cognitive processes. Cultural differences involving personal development are emphasized.

Career Information

Master's degree holders can look for employment in industrial or organizational psychology, which deals with the psychology of the workplace and assessment of the mental stability of new employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, 1,710 industrial-organizational psychologists in May of 2009 with an average yearly salary of $102,570 ( The BLS predicted a 26% increase between the years of 2008-2018, much higher than the average of all jobs, though keen competition is expected.

Online Doctorate Degrees in Psychology

Several online doctorate programs leading to a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology with specializations such as international psychology, applied behavior analysis, counseling psychology and clinical psychology. Generally, a master's degree is required before entrance into the doctorate program, though some programs allow those with only a bachelor's degree to enroll. Students of this program learn to use psychotherapeutic methods and academic research to help people manage their mental state and maintain healthy relationships.

Program Information and Requirements

A Pys.D. or Ph.D. in Psychology program typically consists of 60-106 semester credit hours, with the longer programs building a master's degree into the doctoral program. Most of these programs can be completed entirely online, though some require in-person field experience and a few weekend residencies. The online materials are usually asynchronous, so students can access and work on them whenever is most convenient. Some schools require some synchronous activity. Students interact with instructors and peers using message boards, chat rooms and e-mail.

Common Doctorate-Level Psychology Courses

A doctorate in psychology typically combines core courses and electives. Additional credits come from a final dissertation project and field experience such as a practicum and internship.

Advanced Psychopathology Course

This course focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), including substance abuse, eating disorders and problems with mood, anxiety and personality. These illnesses are examined from psychodynamic, behavioral and biological viewpoints.

Psychopharmacology Course

Students study forms of medication used to treat mental illnesses. The biologic functions of the medications are discussed as well as the side effects that commonly occur with specific drugs. Disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia are viewed in their ability to be treated with medication and psychotherapy.

Cultural Diversity in Psychological Counseling Course

Students apply and alter psychological theories to meet the needs of different cultural groups. Psychological evaluation and therapeutic treatment of people of different races, social classes, sexual orientations and ages are studied in depth, along with creating an effective dialogue with people across multiple cultures.

Career Information

Graduates of a doctorate program in psychology qualify for clinical, counseling or education jobs, or independent practice, though some additional licensing may be required. Most states require that candidates pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and meet other state-specific board requirements.

The BLS reported 98,330 clinical, counseling and school psychologists and 10,260 other psychologists in May of 2009. The clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned an average yearly salary of $72,310, while other psychologists earned an average of $84,220 per year. The BLS also reported that there were 33,450 psychology teachers at the postsecondary level with an average yearly salary of $72,140. The BLS predicts an occupational growth of 11% for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, 14% for other psychologists and 15% for postsecondary teachers between 2008-2018 (

Continuing Education

Many states require continuing education hours every year. Online options for continuing psychology education cover topics such as narcissism and shame, couples counseling and sexual disorders. Engaging in this training can advance one's career or satisfy licensing requirements.

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