What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Psychology?
Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
If you’re fascinated by the mind and how an individual, a community or an organization thinks, earning a master’s in psychology can lead you toward a career field that is not only engaging but continuing to grow.
"The successful graduate student has shown they have insight and knowledge in a wide variety of topics," said Dr. Thomas MacCarty, an associate dean of social science programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). That includes:
- Behavioral research
- Developmental psychology
- Ethics and legal issues
- Human behavior and what motivates individuals
This wide range of knowledge can make you an asset in environments ranging from nonprofit organizations to corporate settings.
What Careers is a Master’s in Psychology Good For?
After earning a master's degree in psychology, jobs you qualify for can be wide-ranging. "Understanding human behavior and mental processes is fascinating," said Dr. Nickolas Dominello, an SNHU associate dean of social sciences. He noted that subjects taught in this level of education could apply to numerous industries and job roles.
Roles projected to grow or continue to be in demand in the next 10 years include market research analyst, training and development specialist, survey researcher and postsecondary adjunct instructor, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Market Research Analysts
Companies use market research analysts to understand their consumers. Learning what the public wants, how they’re best marketed to and who their target demographics are through market research analysis helps a business succeed.
As a market research analyst, you may craft surveys and questionnaires and then use the information collected to present results. Gathering this information helps analysts project sales trends and judge the effectiveness of marketing strategies.
According to BLS, market research analysts earned a median salary of $63,920 in 2021, and the role is expected to see a 19% increase in jobs through 2031.
Training and Development Specialists
Perhaps you have a bachelor's degree in human resources or have spent some time in the field and want to grow as a professional. Being able to train employees effectively is a necessity for any corporation, and advancing your education with a psychology degree can help you become an essential part of a company's functioning.
Training and development specialists perform duties such as drafting training manuals and course materials, evaluating how effective the training is and assessing the needs of instructors, managers and employees.
BLS said these specialists earned a median salary of $61,570 in 2021, and the role is projected to grow 8% through 2031.
If psychology classes focused on research methods spark your curiosity, you may consider using your degree to become a survey researcher. People in this role help all different types of organizations and agencies design surveys, coordinate their delivery and then analyze and interpret the collected data, according to BLS.
Since survey researchers handle all aspects of the process, from creation to the presentation of results, BLS recommended that job candidates possess skills in analysis, critical thinking and problem-solving. Psychology programs such as SNHU's are designed to develop these skills, along with experience in statistics and methodology.
In 2021, survey researchers made a median annual salary of $59,740, and entry-level positions are often at the master's level, BLS said.
If you want to impart your passion and knowledge of psychology to others, you might consider teaching college students. A majority of postsecondary teachers work in private or state colleges and universities, according to BLS. You can also consider whether you'd like to teach on a college campus or educate non-traditional students in an online environment.
Working as an adjunct instructor is not usually considered a full-time job. That means you could continue to stay relevant in the field at your day job as you teach the next generation of psychology students.
Through 2031, BLS projects the role will grow 10%, adding 4,500 new jobs in the U.S.
It's important to note that many colleges require their faculty to have doctoral degrees, but a relevant master's degree may be sufficient at some. Be sure to carefully review employment requirements as you fill out applications.
Can You Be a Psychologist with a Master's Degree?
It's a valuable step toward becoming a psychologist, but if this career is your goal, don’t stop there. “Master’s degree programs by themselves do not necessarily lead to licensing as a professional therapist or counselor,” MacCarty said.
Many states require you to pursue a terminal degree, such as a PhD or PsyD, in the field. Becoming a licensed psychologist will involve additional requirements such as supervised fieldwork. You can check the American Psychological Association's site for which license requirements are specific to your state.
Understanding brain function and behavior is an essential aspect of being a psychologist. This career field covers multiple specialties, including clinical, developmental, forensic and industrial-organizational psychologists.
Psychologists in different specialties focus on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and behavioral disorders, tracking stages of development in children and adolescents, working within the criminal justice system and improving quality of life at their job site.
There are some psychologist careers where you won't necessarily need a doctoral degree, including industrial-organizational psychology (I-O psychology). A master's degree with I-O psychology built in as a concentration could focus your studies in this direction.
In this role, your psychology background could support various business functions from human resources to marketing, according to O*NET. Studying organizational behavior is a great asset to a company or industry. By collecting information through various means, you could to improve the workplace and/or its performance. In 2022, I-O psychologists earned a median annual salary of $139,280 O*NET reported.
If this role and its earning potential interests you, learn more about what industrial-organizational psychology is.
How Can I Prepare for a Specific Role with a Master's Degree?
Within the field of psychology, there are any number of specializations that become available at the master's level. "A bachelor’s provides required knowledge in the field," said Dominello. "Pursuing an advanced degree allows learners the opportunity to expand on the foundational knowledge and focus on a specialized area within the field.”
You can choose a psychology master's degree concentration based on the field you hope to specialize in. Each concentration opens up a new set of potential roles:
- Master's in child and adolescent development psychology: Learn to help a child reach their full potential as a school counselor or a family therapist, for instance.
- Master's in forensic psychology: Discover how you can help the justice system protect the vulnerable as a forensic psychologist during court proceedings and other settings.
- Master's in industrial-organizational psychology: Study how to build a healthy workplace, troubleshoot organizational challenges, and help employees and managers work together toward company goals.
How Many Years Does It Take to Get a Master's in Psychology, Anyway?
It entirely depends on the program at the institution you choose and your pacing. Whereas most bachelor's in psychology programs are considered "four-year degrees," master's degrees can vary in length. Be sure to see how many classes you'll need to earn your diploma. At SNHU, for example, a master's in psychology is 36 credits — about 12 classes. You could take up to 10 courses each year in the online graduate program, putting you just over one year to complete.
If you have any previously earned credits, transfer-friendly universities may accept them, so you don't have to start your degree again.
You can speak with an admission counselor or advisor if you want to explore your path, based on your situation and goals.
So, is a Master’s in Psychology Worth It?
No matter which type of psychology degree you pursue, you may find you can take your career in a number of directions; however, deciding to earn a graduate degree in the field can be advantageous.
The time and financial investment of a master's degree can be worth it if you're interested in digging deeper into this field of research and human behavior — be it for personal, educational or career gain.
The degree can be beneficial if you want to:
- Advance your career. “Getting a graduate degree in psychology will help in applying for and obtaining higher-paying jobs in the field such as administering social services programs, being an administrator in a nonprofit, conducting research or working toward becoming a licensed professional,” MacCarty said.
- Open doors to a variety of careers. A graduate degree in psychology is versatile within its own field, but also within other industries. "There are many options in the corporate world, like training and development, management, sales and marketing," said Dr. Barbara Lesniak, an executive director of social sciences at SNHU. "Virtually any job in which you deal with people and need to know how to relate to them and what influences their behavior will benefit from a graduate degree in psychology.”
- Build strong relationships. Because psychology is all about understanding people, coursework can also help you foster and maintain interpersonal connections in all kinds of settings, be they clinical, academic, corporate or someplace else, according to Dominello.
Learning and Growing With a Master’s in Psychology
When SNHU alum Weston Corbitt '15G chose to earn his master’s in psychology, he said he’d always enjoyed science and wanted to be a part of a career field where he could help people.
“I decided to earn my master’s in psychology because it was a field I was always interested in,” he said. “I felt like I could reach people and make a big impact.”
At first, a psychology degree wasn’t on Corbitt’s radar, but as he learned more about the subject, he realized he had found the right degree path for him.
In the years after graduating with a master's degree, Corbitt worked as a quality behavioral health professional at a small applied behavioral analysis clinic.
“It’s like being an understudy to a board-certified behavior analyst,” he said. “You have to have a good deal of supervision and additional coursework to qualify, along with a master’s in a social science.”
Corbitt said he helped manage the clinic, provided therapy to patients and helped parents understand and plan to help their children succeed.
"Having a master’s in psychology made that all possible. I would have never made it into this field or have the position I have now without it.”
“My long-term career goals are to open my own clinic one day,” Corbitt said. “I would love for it to have a daycare, outpatient center and an (applied behavior analysis) clinic. I want to be able to provide total care for families in the area, as well as provide the best environment for my employees."
Before the behavioral health position, Corbitt worked for schools and nonprofits, and he learned about what families need and the kind of support that will help people work through setbacks on their path to success.
“My education gave me the tools to help people," Corbitt said, "then the field helped me learn and grow."
Corbitt’s advice for reaching your goals is to start small and continue to learn.
“Your master’s degree is a great tool and gateway to many opportunities. At the same time, it’s invaluable to work and grow with experience and find out what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Corbitt said. The work can be hard at times, but Corbitt said it’s also often rewarding and fun. “Stay strong and focus on what your passions are, and you are going to succeed.”
Discover more about SNHU's master's in psychology: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.
Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. Find her on X, formerly known as Twitter @AshDWallis.
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