It takes a lot longer than two years to become a licensed psychologist. However, a two-year associate’s degree from a community college can provide value, providing that students have realistic expectations about what the degree will do for them. An associate’s degree in psychology is worth getting if you use it as the first step toward a career in psychology or for an entry-level aide, assistant or support role.
The Curriculum of a Two-Year Psychology Program
An associate’s degree program usually requires around 60 college credits. Often, two-thirds (or more) of the curriculum is devoted to general education coursework rather than core coursework for your major. The extent of your studies in psychology during an associate’s degree program is limited. Most programs include an introductory course in general psychology principles. Beyond the introductory class, students might take foundational coursework in developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, the psychology of personality, human sexuality, counseling psychology, social psychology or any number of other approaches and subject areas in the field.
Associate’s degree programs aren’t eligible for accreditation from the American Psychological Association – and neither are bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The APA accredits only doctoral degrees, doctoral internships and postdoctoral programs.
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What to Expect With an Associate’s Degree in Psychology
If you want to be a psychologist, you should plan on going to graduate school. Most psychologist roles require a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree, although certain specialties, like industrial-organizational psychologist, accept a master’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
If you can’t be a psychologist with just an associate’s degree, what does this two-year degree qualify you to do? For students who want to work in the social science of psychology or the field of mental health, a two-year degree can help you gain access to entry-level roles in these fields. You might be an aide or assistant to counselors and psychologists. With this level of education, you might qualify for a role as a mental health case worker, coordinating the services provided by psychologists, clinical social workers, therapists and other mental health practitioners. You can make a difference in these roles, but in an administrative capacity rather than through providing mental health services yourself. Many of these roles fit into the category of human and social service assistants, for which the BLS reported a median wage of just $33,750.
Not every student with an associate’s degree – or for that matter, a bachelor’s degree – in psychology ends up working in that field. Psychology degrees are excellent preparation for jobs in sales, marketing, business and any other career field that requires you to understand why people think, feel, act and make purchasing decisions the way they do. It’s possible to leverage an associate’s degree in psychology to attain a position in any of these fields that you could acquire with an associate’s degree in a different subject. Complementing your more coursework with a business course or two, extracurricular activities, internship experience and other work experience in related fields can help strengthen your job outlook.
Other job titles you might hold with an associate’s degree in psychology include entry-level behavioral health worker, therapeutic support staff member and clinical research assistant.
Beyond the Associate’s Degree
To really reap the benefits of a college education, the chances are good that you will need more than a two-year degree. Inside the field of psychology, your career options without at least a master’s degree are severely limited. In fields like business, marketing and education, you will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to move up in most fields.
The time and money you spend on earning your associate’s degree is certainly not a waste. Earning your associate’s degree puts you closer to completing your bachelor’s degree. By completing your first two years of school at a junior college rather than a four-year college, you can save tens of thousands of dollars. The average tuition cost of community college is about a third of that of public universities and a tenth of the tuition rate at private schools. If you do plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you should be proactive about finding out the transfer policies at your intended four-year college. Degree completion programs intended for students with significant prior learning experience are a great alternative because they tend to have some of the most lenient transfer policies.
What’s next in your college studies? Depending on what you want to do, you might choose a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or business. Master’s degrees allow you to work in industrial-organizational psychology, counseling and clinical social work.