An accredited psychology degree is necessary to become a professional psychologist in the U.S. The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in professional psychology (counseling, clinical, and school psychology), requiring licensure for independent practice in the United States and Canada.
Every student aspiring for a psychology career should plan out their career goals and understand the level of psychology program required for the same.
If you wish to become a psychologist, there are several types of psychology degrees to choose from.
Fortunately, psychologists have several professional options today. It’s easy to find a job with a degree in clinical psychology or psychiatry.
The professions of psychologists are as diverse as human behaviors, ranging from school counselors and clinical researchers to criminal profilers and neuropsychologists.
A general psychology course mostly includes behavioral sciences which deal with human actions and behaviors within the field of psychology.
Most professions in psychology require only a graduate degree. Psychologists like psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, Industrial-Organizational psychologists, Psychology Teachers, or Engineering psychologists need Postgraduate or doctoral degrees in psychology for higher-end jobs.
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Let us now look at the common psychology degree levels required for various jobs in psychology.
1. Associate Degree in Psychology
An associate degree in psychology is an introductory, two-year undergraduate-level course. Usually, it is a pre-university-level course available at community colleges.
After completing an associate degree in psychology, students may join a state university to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Typical psychology course syllabus at this level includes:
- Introduction to psychology: concepts and theories
- Research methods
- Developmental psychology: social, emotional, and cognitive psychological developments in humans
- Abnormal psychology: mental disorders
There are few job opportunities for psychologists for holders of associate degrees in psychology. An associate degree may prepare you to work as a psychiatric technician in a hospital, a rehabilitation worker, or an assistant to a psychiatrist.
2. Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
After earning an Associate Degree, a student may pursue a Bachelor’s Degree program, also known as an undergraduate-level degree.
Most universities have designed a bachelor’s degree to be a four-year course. For psychology, students can choose between a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) with psychology majors.
At this level, a typical psychology course syllabus includes the following:
- Statistics: Using statistical reasoning and gaining proficiency in data analysis
- Health psychology
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Cognitive psychology
- Social psychology
- Child psychology
- Sports psychology
- General Psychology
- Organizational psychology
Bachelor’s degree in psychology has very few job opportunities as a psychologist. Most of them are entry-level jobs. A Bachelor’s Degree is a stepping stone to a Master’s Degree or graduation. In most cases, only about one-fourth of the Bachelor’s Degree holders in psychology can get a job in psychology-related domains.
Some of the possible career options for psychology undergraduates are:
- Psychiatric technician
- Career counselor
- Psychiatric clinic manager
- Rehabilitation Specialist
3. Master’s Degree in Psychology
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, a psychology student can take a master’s degree in psychology. It takes 2 or 3 years to complete a master’s degree. Like a bachelor’s degree, a student can choose a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in psychology.
The MS course is typically more about the scientific study of psychology, and often students completing M.S. go on to top Ph.D. programs. The MA in psychology deals with holistic liberal arts as the subject.
A master’s degree student in psychology learns in detail in areas such as:
- Broad-based research and training
- Optional modules; specialization in any specific branch of psychology, like clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, or counseling psychology.
- Graduate research methods and academic writing
For job seekers in psychology, a master’s degree opens up many job opportunities. Some of the best jobs for psychology graduates include:
- Forensic psychologist
- Mental health expert
- Industrial or organizational psychologist
- Private or government agency jobs
4. PhD in Psychology or Doctor Of Psychology
A psychologist’s highest level of qualification is a doctorate in psychology, like a Ph.D. or PsyD. It is more of a research-oriented approach with some theoretical and applied training.
It takes about 4–7 years to complete a doctoral degree in psychology after a master’s degree. The students have to choose any of the specializations in psychology, like clinical, social, or cognitive psychology, for the research. Your choice of specialization should align with your interests and the career path you would like to take.
A student can opt for a Ph.D. in Psychology with specializations like:
- Industrial-organizational psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Sports psychology
- Engineering psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Child development
- Counseling psychology
- Forensic psychology
After attaining a Ph.D. degree, students must qualify for state or national aptitude exams to become licensed psychologists.
A Ph.D. holder gets the best jobs in the psychology field according to their specialization and experience. The best career options include:
- Teaching at a university
- Research scholar
- A private practitioner
- Jobs with government or private agencies
A doctorate in psychology is worthwhile if you want to pursue teaching, research, or an applied area of psychology.
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The Final Thought
If you are passionate about a career in psychology, there are ample numbers of specializations in the field. Make sure to choose the right psychology degree course you are excited about.
Psychology is a good starting point for a science and art career. To your good luck, there is a rising demand for psychology professionals in health education.
Recommended reading list:
- American Psychological Association (APA). By the Numbers: How Do Undergraduate Psychology Majors Fare? Monitor on Psychology. February 2016;47(2):11.
- New Numbers on Undergraduate Psychology Majors Post-College.
- Dana S Dunn Ph.D., New Numbers on Undergraduate Psychology Majors Post-College, Feb 28, 2016, Psychology Today
- How To Become A Psychiatric Technician or Aide.