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What are the differences in an Online vs Campus Master’s Degree in Psychology?

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Many brick-and-mortar universities and colleges now offer online degrees from Associate’s to Doctoral. Unless the degree requires practical application, such as medicine, then the area of study you desire can probably be found online. The majority of online schools state that their remote learning portal courses are taught by the same faculty as those on-campus. Students take the same curriculum and must adhere to the same requirements. Plus, you can work and learn at the same time, assuming you have a full or part-time job. Family obligations can be attended to and you avoid the cost of room and board in another city or country. This blend of schooling and work satisfies around 6 million students taking online classes.

If you are considering a Master’s degree online, this may work better with some specialties than others. One example is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology in which there are around 7,000 members of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Whereas there are over 15,000 members of the American Psychological Association. As a result, many schools simply don’t have faculty with expertise in this area, leading many promising graduate students to apply elsewhere. That’s great from the perspective of I/O psychologists – lots of jobs – but not so great for grad-students-to-be or the field as a whole.

The experience of graduate school is certainly going to be different at these two categories of institution.  One of the major benefits from brick-and-mortar graduate school is literally immersing yourself in the academic environment: being a part of a cohort of graduate students with similar experiences that you socialize with, interacting intensively face-to-face with professors about your academic achievement and career goals, gaining networking contacts, and generally learning about the culture of the profession.

Almost every facet of psychology involves the interaction of 2 or more people. The best example is counseling. Whether it’s family, addiction, school, professional, mental health or rehabilitative counseling, the student must learn this skill. On-campus, there is the availability of classmates to role play as you develop your skills as an effective counselor. Fellow students are versed in the course material to provide feedback.  This is not an option online, at least not face-to-face.

The interaction with classmates in an an academic environment is also beneficial developmentally.  Completing a graduate psych program at home, you almost always have time to sit and think about your answers, to carefully consider your responses, and to put a lot of time and effort into producing the best answer possible. Many graduate students find that their first academic conference presentation daunting since they have not had the practice sessions in their coursework.

Those with internship requirements must volunteer at any of various counseling facilities near the college. As a campus student, this is incorporated into the curriculum and time is allowed for this. The online student must juggle work and family obligations to meet this part of the program. More importantly, some schools expect graduate Psychology students to be studying and working on research 40-60 hours per week on top of any teaching responsibilities.

At the Master’s level there are numerous specialties: abnormal, clinical, cognitive, forensic, social, sports, and the list continues. We reiterate that some may be better suited to online study than others. There could be a difference in your marketability depending if your graduate degree was earned online or on-campus. It’s advisable to speak to someone working in the specialty that interests you or speak to one of the psych professors at the nearest college.

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