Graduate Programs in Psychology with Career Information

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Students enrolled in advanced psychology programs gain an understanding of human behavior and the many mental illnesses and emotional stresses that impair function. Particular emphasis is placed on prevention, treatment and diagnosis of these illnesses. Master's programs last two years, while doctoral programs can take 4-7 years to complete.

The Ph.D. in Psychology is a research-based degree program that generally prepares graduates for careers in teaching and research.

Psy.D. programs in clinical psychology prepare graduates for careers as practicing psychologists. Depending on the program, an internship, clinical component, thesis or dissertation may be necessary. Successful graduates of the following programs might become clinical psychologists or professors of psychology.

A bachelor's degree, GRE scores, a personal statement and letters of recommendation are often required for both degrees. Some specializations of study include marriage and family therapy, school psychology, clinical psychology, sports psychology, behavior and neuroscience, or industrial and organizational psychology.

Master of Arts in Psychology

A university usually requires applicants to master's programs submit undergraduate transcripts, scores for both the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) subject test in psychology and the general GRE, a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Some psychology master's programs offer general courses of study in the field, while others offer concentrations in marriage and family therapy, school psychology, clinical psychology or sports psychology. Depending on the concentration area, a clinical component may also be required. A thesis is typically pursued by the student who plans to continue with graduate studies in a doctoral degree program. Classes for a degree program leading to an depend largely on a student's area of interest; however, some general psychology core courses are completed during the first year of enrollment. Possible classes include the following:

  • Statistics for psychology
  • Research methods
  • Perception and sensation
  • Psychological dysfunction and disorders
  • Biopsychology
  • Relationships

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Many Ph.D. applicants hold master's degrees in psychology, but often the minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree in psychology. Students must submit GRE scores, recommendation letters and statements of purpose. Some psychology departments may also request scores for the GRE subject test in psychology. Depending on the degree program, different areas of concentration may be available for students in a Ph.D. program in Philosophy. Areas of specialization include behavior and neuroscience, industrial and organizational psychology, clinical psychology or school psychology. Students that choose tracks in school psychology, clinical psychology or other areas that requires counseling are expected to complete clinical internships. Internships provide students with training in counseling, and they are typically monitored by select faculty members and clinicians. Candidates who are interested in conducting research in specific psychology specialties must demonstrate proficiency in the use of particular research tools. Regardless of a student's concentration, a comprehensive exam and a dissertation are required to complete the program.

Classes in this psychology graduate program will be largely based on the student's chosen area of concentration. Some courses introduce students to research methodologies. Possible classes include the following:

  • Empirical research methods
  • Emotional development
  • Personality development
  • Neuropsychology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Experimental design

Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology

Some clinical degree programs offer different areas of specialization; depending on the program, a student can major in general practice, child and family psychology, clinical health psychology and sports psychology. A year-long clinical internship and dissertation are required for graduation. The clinical dissertation component involves researching and writing about a clinical psychology specialty, whereas the internship is a hands-on clinical training opportunity in a controlled and supervised setting. The degree can take 4-7 years of full-time study to complete.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree in psychology or a master's in a related field. Prospective students will submit letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose and GRE scores. The GRE subject test in psychology may also be requested.

Coursework includes research methods, developmental psychology, psychotherapy, and human behavior. Classes are determined by both the program's core requirements and the student's area of concentration. Typical courses include the following:

  • Behavior and its biological basis
  • Psychological assessment
  • Human diversity
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Individual differences and personality
  • Systems of psychology

Certification and Licensing

Individuals who intend to practice psychology must first meet state licensing and certification requirements. Currently, national certification is offered through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 13 different specialty areas. The requirements vary according to the specialty area, but general eligibility requires that certification candidates graduate from doctoral programs in psychology and hold state licenses.

Popular Career Options

Students who have completed a master's degree program can apply for jobs with social services organizations. Some possible career options include the following:

  • Clinical psychologist
  • School counselor
  • Social service worker
  • Marriage and family therapist

Some common career outcomes for Ph.D. and Psy.D. graduates include the following:

  • Psychology professor
  • Sports psychologist
  • Marriage and family counselor
  • Private practice psychologist
  • Neuropsychologist

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of clinical, school and counseling psychologists is expected to grow 15% during the 2018-2028 decade ( The median annual salary of these workers was $78,200 in 2019.

Aspiring psychologists can attain graduate degrees at the master's and doctoral levels, with state licensure required before going into practice. The field of psychology is projected to have very healthy growth over the next decade, with students having the option of focusing on various areas of practice.

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