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Cognitive Psychology Degree and Training Program Information

In cognitive psychology, those with bachelor's and master's degrees may work as assistants or in limited capacities, but a doctoral degree usually is required for independent practice as a cognitive psychologist. Doctorate degree programs are set up to prepare students to be licensed psychologists.

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Essential Information

At the bachelor's level, psychology degrees with a specialization or concentration in cognitive psychology are available. This type of program will allow you to learn basic psychology along with cognitive theories. Some programs are coupled with a master's degree program to allow you to finish both degrees in five years.

A master's degree program is usually designed as a preparatory program for a doctorate degree. Master's-level programs focus on advanced subjects within psychology and cognitive psychology. Programs usually require a practicum and thesis.

Doctorate degree programs are designed to prepare you to work as a licensed psychologist. You must have a bachelor's or master's degree to enter a doctorate program. Coursework will cover advanced topics in cognitive psychology. Interdisciplinary coursework may also be available. Much of your doctoral studies will be spent researching and writing a dissertation on a cognitive psychology topic.

Schools admit students with high school diplomas and GEDs. Some programs prefer enrollees who have taken college preparatory courses in math, English, science, social studies, history and a foreign language. For a master's or doctorate level program, candidates usually must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in education, counseling or psychology. Applicants must often participate in admissions interviews. Universities may prefer candidates who have research as well as work experience in applied settings, a minimum graduate grade point average and GRE scores.


Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a Concentration in Cognitive Psychology

At the bachelor's degree level, programs in cognitive psychology are usually offered as concentrations within a general psychology degree program. They cover the bases of psychological science, in addition to neuroscience, language acquisition, human development and other fields particularly relevant to cognition. Programs cover cognitive theories as they apply to developmental psychology, abnormal psychology and social psychology.

Core psychology courses cover research methods, statistics and an overview of significant psychological theories throughout the history of the discipline. General education requirements often include a foreign language, English, arts and humanities, political science, sociology and mathematics. Classes relevant to cognitive psychology might cover:

  • Cognitive development
  • Normal and abnormal psychology
  • Behavioral science
  • Neuroscience and neurophysiology
  • Psychology of learning and of language processing
  • Scientific writing and research methodologies

Master of Science in Cognitive Psychology

Master's degree programs in cognitive psychology emphasize the development of research skills and individual areas of interest. Program requirements usually will include a practicum in an applied setting, as well as a master's thesis based on original research. Master's programs in cognitive psychology are often closely allied with doctoral programs, offering admission only to students who plan to pursue a Ph.D.

Coursework in master's degree programs often incorporates advanced training in research, enabling students to build a strong methodological background and develop sound research practices. Course topics may include:

  • Cognitive development of children
  • Adolescent and developmental psychology
  • Adulthood and aging
  • Psychophysiology and psychopathology
  • Functional neuroanatomy and neuropsychology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques

Doctor of Philosophy in Cognitive Psychology

Programs of this kind cover advanced topics in cognition, learning, personality and developmental psychology. Educational training emphasizes statistics and research. Doctoral candidates must pass qualifying exams that demonstrate their mastery of the discipline and submit a dissertation that constitutes an original contribution to the scholarly field. Interdisciplinary training also may be available in cognitive neuroscience, developmental science, aging and cognition or child language acquisition. Courses specific to cognitive psychology are:

  • Psychology and linguistic behavior
  • Cognitive psychology assessments
  • Theories and mechanisms of memory
  • Reasoning and conceptual thinking
  • Applied language training
  • Artificial intelligence

Popular Career Options

Graduates work in sectors that include education, public affairs, administrative support, healthcare, biological sciences and computer programming. Master's program graduates may work under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist in counseling, school or clinical settings. Many handle testing, measurement, data collection and analysis. Common jobs titles related to cognitive psychology include:

  • Probation officer
  • Employment counselor
  • Community health coordinator
  • Organizational psychologist
  • Survey researcher or Data analyst
  • Personnel administrator

Continuing Education

Undergraduates may join the American Psychological Association as APA student affiliates. Membership opens doors to professional education opportunities that include book-based programs, courses, DVD studies and web-based independent studies. Those who wish to pursue cognitive psychology as a career must generally pursue a doctorate.

State licensure is required for all psychologists in hospitals, mental health clinics, government agencies, independent practices or other settings. Specific guidelines vary by state, but a doctoral degree is generally required, along with some relevant work experience. Many governing boards use the standard Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), developed by The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, to test candidates' academic knowledge. The exam covers basic content areas including behavior, cognitive development, and neurology and is offered in a single standard form to all candidates for licensure, irrespective of their area of specialization.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

There is a growing need for clinical and counseling psychologists to help people deal with mental disorders, marriage and family problems, job stress, addiction and other lifestyle choices, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reports that the growing number of elderly people will increase demand for cognitive psychologists who can help with the mental and physical changes that occur as individuals grow older.

The BLS reported that employment for psychologists will increase by 14% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also reported that the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $76,990 per year in May 2018.

Students who want to earn a cognitive psychology degree can do so at the undergraduate and master's levels, but to work as a psychologist a doctorate is typically required. States require psychologists to be licensed in order to practice.

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