Masters-in-PsychologyThe field of psychology offers an interesting study into the way the mind works and how humans interact socially and psychologically with themselves and each other. Through observation, research and therapy, psychologists and counselors work to understand human behavior and the motive behind it. According to the American Psychological Association, “it is general pattern to refer to master’s-level positions as counselors, specialists, clinicians and so forth (rather than as ‘psychologists’).” For the purposes of this article, the term “psychologist” may be understood to mean those with a master’s level degree or higher who actively practice psychology.

What is Psychology?

The APA recognizes 14 specialties or practice areas in the field of psychology. Clinical psychology was the first recognized specialty in 1996, and the two most recent specialties recognized in 2013 are sleep, and police and public safety. School psychologists work to promote a healthy environment for children and adolescents, and they may implement anti-bullying campaigns or help parents communicate more effectively with their children. Industrial-organizational psychologists work to understand the behavior of individuals and groups in the workplace environment, and they may help HR managers conduct interviews or provide guidance when it comes to hiring and restructuring decisions.

In order to be certified to practice a specialty, psychologists need to adhere to the guidelines listed by the APA as well as local and state guidelines specific to their location. Degrees for the field of psychology include bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Those who choose a specialty may earn additional degrees and specializations provided they undertake the right coursework and complete the required qualifications.

While the APA designates psychologists as those who hold a PhD, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics notes that industrial-organizational psychologists can work with a master’s degree. The Bureau does go on to say that most psychologists hold doctoral degrees, and those who don’t typically work alongside those who do as assistants helping with research and limited procedures. Still, you may be able to open your own practice with a master’s degree as a counselor, career adviser, general therapist or other related profession as long as you adhere to association and state guidelines for maintaining your own practice.

If you’re interested in a career as a psychologist, then you probably find the prospect of continued education fascinating rather than challenging. People drawn to psychology usually want to understand the way humans interact and behave, and they show a natural proclivity for research. They may note the way their friends argue and wonder about the root cause of the problem, or they seek to find answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. From administering personality and aptitude tests to conducting lab experiments, those who practice psychology perform a vital function in society.

Aside from their own curiosity and propensity for answering life’s mysteries, psychologists want to help people. Recent economic uncertainty, global politics and the stress of living in a multitasking society have led many individuals to seek solace from professional counselors. Psychologists can turn their love of order and finding answers into helping people cope with mental and emotional problems. They may also enter the teaching field, helping future psychologists achieve success by providing useful instruction and practical guidance.

Graduate students enjoy studying and conducting research because of the specialized nature of their studies, so those who are drawn to both psychology and higher learning will do well in a master’s program that requires intensive study, hands-on practice and a varied course load.

How To Find the Top Master’s in Psychology Degree Programs

Now that you’re interested in obtaining a master’s in psychology, you might wonder how to begin. What schools offer the best programs, and how do you find the right one for you? Like any major career decision, choosing a psychology master’s program depends on several factors, including your own personal preferences and the accreditation of the program you choose. In general, ask yourself and a college adviser the following questions before deciding on a school:

  • How much will the degree cost? Include tuition, books, living expenses, program fees and other expenses that may be unlisted on the school’s website.
  • What undergraduate requirements must I meet, and are there other criteria necessary to enter the program?
  • Is the program online or in person? Can a portion of the degree be completed online or via distance learning?
  • What is the success rate of graduates, and does the school offer career counseling or career placement services upon graduation?

Your state likely has a school that offers a very good graduate program in psychology, but if you’re interested in the best schools in the U.S., then the following schools offer outstanding programs:

  • Argosy University: With 23 locations nationwide as well as online degree programs, Argosy University offers you the option to earn your master’s no matter where you live. The psychology master’s program offered by Argosy features a comprehensive range of options for specialties and focus areas. Its accreditation information is clearly listed on its website and varies by location.
  • The New School: Well-known for its artistic bent, The New School in New York, NY offers an impressive course of study for psychology graduate students. The school provides a general psychology master’s as well as two PhD programs, and the location allows students to study in the heart of the nation’s busiest city.
  • Stanford University: Ranked as the number one school for psychology in the nation by U.S. News, Stanford University in California offers a dual graduate program that takes candidates through a PhD program as well as a master’s program. The school offers five different fields of study for its doctoral students.

Ranking may not matter as much to you, but you should look for a school that’s recognized for its psychology programs. With so many colleges to choose from, a school’s accreditation and high ranking may indicate a better chance for future employment.

Careers and Salaries for Individuals with Master’s in Psychology Degrees

According to a slideshow presentation offered by the American Psychological Association, the median salary for a psychologist holding a master’s degree in 2006 was $40,000. In 2009, the average jumped to nearly $60,000, with applied psychologists earning approximately $80,000 per year. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that the median salary for all psychologists regardless of education in 2010 was $68,640 per year.

The Bureau does not further delineate sub-specialties or education levels when reporting on median salary, but nearly all practicing psychologists hold at least a master’s degree in order to remain competitive and complete continuing education requirements in their states. The Bureau also projects a 22 percent increase in job outlook for psychologists over the next decade, meaning that those who enter the field now can look forward to a promising and reasonably lucrative career.

In terms of specific salary information, there’s no easy formula for determining how much you can earn with a master’s degree in psychology. The salary information website offers a handy chart of typical positions that require a master’s degree in psychology and their average salary. On the low end, office managers with a master’s in psychology earn between $25,342 and $49,585 per year; on the high end, executive directors with the same degree earn between $32,215 and $123,726 per year. Marriage and family therapists, who can practice without a doctoral degree, earn between $36,937 and $96.859 per year.

Location, experience and other factors will affect your specific income. The APA requires licensure to practice certain specialties of psychology, including clinical, which means that you will need to earn a doctorate in order to advance into a higher income bracket. Still, the possibility exists that you could earn a decent annual salary with a master’s degree practicing a field that you enjoy.