Psychologists need an advanced degree, but it’s important to be aware of the potential of earning different types of graduate degrees. While certain types of psychologists need only a master’s degree, others require a doctoral degree. Whether it is worth pursuing a master’s degree in psychology depends on what you intend to do with your degree and what area of psychology interests you.

Master’s Degrees in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Perhaps the most valuable master’s degree you can get in the field of psychology is an industrial-organizational psychology degree. Most specialties of psychology require a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree for workers to be qualified as psychologists, but not industrial-organizational psychology. In fact, 47 percent of industrial-organizational psychologists have a master’s degree as their highest level of education.

Is there value in getting a master's degree in psychology?

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Industrial-organizational psychology is the field of psychology that uses psychological theories and approaches to solve problems in businesses and other workplaces. The curriculum of a master’s degree program in industrial-organizational psychology often includes studies in performance management, work attitudes and employee motivation, personnel selection, group theory and organizational development in organizations, leadership theory and interventions for effective organizations. Some coursework is more general, including studies in psychological research methods and statistical analysis of research findings. Students can also choose a combination of electives that narrows their focus, including coursework in group process, group dynamics, crisis communication, public and organizational relations and behavior modification.

Besides having the lowest educational requirement of all fields of psychology, industrial-organizational psychology is also among the best-paying specialties. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median wage of $97,260 for this specialty.

Master’s Degrees in Educational Psychology

Another field of psychology in which master’s degrees are popular is school psychology. However, aspiring school psychologists need to think carefully about their career preparation plans. Not all master’s degree programs are equally suited for preparing candidates for the occupation. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reported that, for master’s degree programs that require fewer than 60 graduate credits – and those that don’t require an internship – the job opportunities with the degree are limited in all but a couple of states in the U.S.

To qualify as a school psychologist in most states, students must choose a specialist-level graduate degree program that includes at least 60 credits of study and at least 1,200 hours of internship experience, the NASP reported. These programs may still be considered master’s degrees, with some degrees titled Master of Arts or Master of Science, which is what makes the process of choosing a good graduate program in school psychology so challenging.

Master’s degrees are the most popular, with 47 percent of school psychologists holding the degree, but the data doesn’t differentiate based on credits required. Post-master’s certificates account for 32 percent of the field, and professional degrees, 19 percent.

The Pros and Cons of Master’s Degrees in Other Areas of Psychology

In other areas of psychology, like clinical and counseling psychology, you certainly can choose to earn a master’s degree. However, the better question is whether you should choose this path. If you want to be a licensed psychologist in counseling or clinical fields, you will need to earn a doctoral degree, the BLS reported.

Why would you choose to earn a master’s degree if you need a doctoral degree anyway? For one thing, getting a master’s degree first doesn’t necessarily mean your education will take longer. Some programs offer a combination master’s and doctoral degree in psychology, while others will allow you to transfer the graduate credits you earned pursuing your master’s degree and apply them to your doctorate, the American Psychological Association reported. In either case, students were able to complete their doctoral studies in the same timeframe they would have needed had they skipped the master’s degree and gone straight to the doctorate.

A master’s degree program might be particularly valuable if you want to go for your doctorate but are afraid that you don’t have the grades or exam scores needed to get into a selective doctoral program. Master’s degree programs are often easier to get into than Psy.D. or Ph.D. programs, according to Psychology Today. Excelling in a master’s degree program can compensate for less-than-stellar performance as an undergraduate and improve your chances of subsequently getting into the doctoral program of your choice.

If you don’t have your heart set on holding the job title “psychologist,” you might be interested in master’s degree programs in counseling. Counselors also work in the mental health field, but there are differences in perspective, pay rates and training requirements.

Additional Resources

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Psychology Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With a Psychology Degree?