Psychology M.A. Vs. PhD

Mar 27, 2019

M.A. and PhD programs in psychology are usually research-based programs that prepare students for a range of careers within the field. Find out more about the differences between these programs, such as program length and admission requirements.

Students interested in studying the broad field of psychology may do so at the master's or doctoral levels and can usually focus their studies in a particular area. These programs vary in length, requirements, formats, and more. Compare and contrast the 2 degrees to find out which one may be right for you.

M.A. vs. PhD in Psychology

Master of Arts in Psychology

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Psychology degree programs are typically available on-campus, but some programs may be available online. These programs may take 1 to 2 years to complete, are usually full-time programs, and may range from about 30 to 39 credits to complete. Some of these programs may allow students to further specialize in a particular area of psychology, such as gender diversity, developmental, industrial/organizational, or military and trauma. Students in these programs may need to complete a final research project with a faculty member or capstone project and are likely to take courses that discuss topics in statistics, ethics, research methods, and psychology. Many graduates of these programs go on to pursue study at the doctoral level, but graduates are also qualified to work as researchers, administrators, managers, or mental health workers in various settings.

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology programs are typically full-time, on-campus programs that allow students to even further specialize in an area within psychology. Students may choose from concentrations or tracks in areas such as clinical, health, learning and behavior, social, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology. These programs may take 5 to 7 years to complete, may allow students to earn their MA in Psychology along the way, and usually require comprehensive exams, a dissertation, and/or teaching responsibilities. Coursework for these degree programs are highly individualized according to a student's interests and concentration area, but in general, students in these programs may expect to take courses in topics like statistics, cognition, neuroscience, social psychology, developmental psychology, and research methods. Graduates of these degree programs may pursue post-graduate training and careers in clinical positions, teaching, research, and more.

Common Entrance Requirements

Applicants to master's or doctoral programs in psychology typically need to hold at least a bachelor's degree and may need to meet a minimum GPA requirement. Some programs may prefer if the bachelor's degree is in psychology and/or require students to have prior coursework in subjects including psychology, research methods, statistics, or human development. Some of these programs may require the GRE, while others do not, and some may also recommend that students take the GRE Subject Test in psychology. It is fairly common for these degree programs at either level to require students to submit their transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement with their application. A few programs may also request a current resume or CV.

M.A. in Psychology programs normally take 1 to 2 years to complete, may be available online, and usually allow students to choose from different specialization options. Doctoral programs also allow students to further specialize, but they may take 5 years or more to complete and typically have additional requirements, such as a dissertation and/or teaching responsibilities.


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