How to Get a Masters in Psychology

Do you want to get your master’s degree in psychology? Earning this graduate degree can open many doors to exciting career opportunities in psychology and related fields. Start your educational journey by learning what this degree is, how long it takes, career options, and more.

The master’s degree in psychology takes two or three years of study, with the most common types being the Master of Arts and Master of Science in Psychology. The MA often indicates a more liberal arts concentration, while research and science is the focus of the MS.

If you are interested in private psychology practice, the master’s degree is your first step towards that goal. Most counseling and clinical psychologists eventually earn their doctoral degrees in psychology to practice independently. But not every specialty absolutely requires a doctoral degree. You can learn more about those options below.

What To Look for In a Master’s In Psychology Program

As you are looking at master’s programs, consider these four factors that can influence your choice:

1. Goals

Before you start handing in applications, think about what you want to do with your master’s degree. This matters because it affects which college you choose. If you want to be an academic and do psychology research, you will want to look for a program that also has a doctoral program in your desired area, such as clinical psychology.

If you are more interested in clinical practice, you will want to choose a master’s program focused on practice in your specialty. You also may want to consider a program that has a PsyD degree available too; many clinicians eventually earn their Psy.D. to practice independently. If you do not have a doctoral degree, you will need to work under the supervision of a psychologist with a Ph.D.

2. Expertise

Today, you can earn a master’s in psychology in many specialties. It is critical to know before you start your program what your desired specialty is. Some specialties, such as industrial-organizational and school psychology, you can often practice with only a master’s degree. Others generally require a doctoral degree to have the most job opportunities. The most common psychology specialties are:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Industrial-Organizational psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Sports psychology
  • School psychology

3. Program Emphasis

There are two major career types that characterize the psychology field and the degrees offered:

  • Research: The program’s focus is on academics, theory, research, and exploration of knowledge. These programs are more suited for a student who wants an academic or research career in psychology.
  • Practice: The program’s focus is on the implementation and execution of knowledge. Best for the student who wants to work as a clinician in one of the above specialties.

4. Online or On-Campus

One of the most exciting developments in psychology is the ability to earn your master’s degree online. If you are a working professional with a family, having the ability to earn your degree without leaving your home for most of the program has obvious advantages.

SEE ALSO: 8 Best Online Masters in Clinical Psychology and Counseling

You can complete most of your course requirements without visiting the campus. Of course, most programs have a clinical component. So, you will eventually need to complete an internship or practicum of at least a few hundred hours to earn your degree. But you can often do this in your own community.

Choosing an online master’s in psychology program also means you can attend a school far away from your home, giving you more options.

Academic Requirements

Next, consider the academic requirements of the program you want to enter:

  • GPA: Most master’s in psychology programs want applicants to have a 3.0 GPA. Some may prefer a 3.3 or higher.
  • Bachelors: Some programs may allow you to get a master’s without a bachelor’s in psychology, but you may need to fulfill prerequisites in psychology before you are fully admitted.
  • GRE: Some programs require GRE scores while others do not. Waivers might be available if you have a high bachelor’s GPA or significant work experience.

Terminal or Non-Terminal Degree Program

Determine if the master’s program is a terminal program with the final result a master’s in psychology. Or, is it a program whose terminal degree is a Ph.D. or PsyD?

You may be satisfied with a terminal master’s program if you are confident you are entering a psychology field where only a master’s degree is needed. Many industrial-organizational psychologists, for example, have a master’s degree. Also, you can practice as a psychologist in some states with a master’s only under the supervision of a Ph.D. in psychology holder.

If you think you may want to earn your doctoral degree eventually, consider a program that offers a Ph.D. or PsyD in addition to a master’s. Some of these programs may even skip the master’s program or incorporate it into the doctoral program.

A doctorate in psychology degree is often needed in clinical and counseling psychology. Post-graduate degrees also are often mandatory if you want to be a professor.

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The curriculum of a master’s in psychology program depends mostly on the specialty you choose. Below are some curriculum examples.

Walden University – Master’s in General Psychology

  • Themes and Theories of Psychology
  • Culture and Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology of Personality
  • Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
  • Research Theory, Design, and Methods
  • Lifespan Development

The University of Kansas – Master’s in Counseling Psychology

  • Educational Measurement
  • Counseling and Interviewing Skills
  • Counseling Theory and Techniques
  • Group Theory and Process
  • Career Development
  • Diagnosis and Psychopathology
  • Advanced Counseling Skills

St. Mary’s University – Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

  • Methods in Industrial Psychology: Survey Development
  • Job Analysis
  • Experimental Psychology and Research Design
  • Practicum in Quantitative Methods in Psychology
  • Personnel Psychology
  • Human Performance Assessment and Measurement
  • Advanced Tests and Measurements

Capella University – Master’s in Clinical Psychology

  • Psychopathology
  • Tests and Measurements
  • Survey of Research Methods
  • Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy
  • Group Counseling
  • Clinical Interventions
  • Lifespan Development


Most master’s in psychology programs require the student to complete residencies and fieldwork of up to 600 hours. Some programs may require two residencies. If you are taking an online program, you may be able to complete your clinical hours in your local community.


All psychologists must have at least a master’s degree and a license in the state they wish to practice. One or two years of supervised clinical experience is required for most psychology specialties. You also must pass the EPPP national examination to earn your license.

Job Demand and Salary

The demand for psychologists is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs in the field will rise by 14% by 2028, which is much faster than average. More demand for psychological services in hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies will increase the need for various types of psychologists.

Psychologists also earn a good salary. BLS reports the median salary for all psychologists is $80,300, with the top 10% earning $132,000.

What The Other Experts Say

What you can do with a master’s in psychology?

A master’s degree in psychology could lead to licensure and certification in counseling, marriage and family counseling and others. But a master’s degree in a clinical setting is a second class certification route for a psychologist, except in school psychology. It means you need to work in an exempt agency, such as a school or government office, or work under the supervision of a Ph.D. psychologist. In industrial-organizational psychology, a master’s works perfectly as a terminal degree – Steve HardestyBusiness Psychologist at Xefatura Consulting.

How hard is it to get a masters in psychology and why?

It depends on what school you are trying to get admitted to for a master’s degree. Most top-notch psychology departments no longer accept students into a master’s program per se; instead, they only accept students who want to get a PhD, and then either allow the student to pick up a masters degree on their way to a PhD, or they “award” a master’s degree to students who drop out out (or are forced out) of a PhD program after having accumulated enough credits for the master’s degree. For those programs that do accept students for a “terminal master’s degree,” it might depend on what area the student wants to specialize in. More students apply to the psychology areas of counseling or clinical psychology, than to other specializations, such as social, developmental, or educational psychology. The more you want to do clinical work after you graduate, the harder it is to get into any graduate program in psychology. – Ken Wallston, Staff Scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (2018-present)

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Getting your master’s in psychology is a wise career move because of the growing demand for psychologists, the high salary, and the many specialties available. There also are many good online master’s programs from which to choose, so getting your degree has never been easier.