Students can choose from dozens of online programs when pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in clinical psychology. Some online programs have several different start dates throughout the year, as well. Online learners can typically choose whether to complete their studies part-time or full-time.
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What Are the Goals of a Master’s Program in Psychology
While earning an online master’s degree in psychology, students gain comprehensive knowledge of psychological theories and best practices. Master’s-level psychology students gain research skills and specialized knowledge within the discipline. Earning a master’s degree in psychology prepares students to advance in psychology or counseling-related careers. Master’s degree-holders can also pursue a doctorate and obtain state licensure.
Graduates of online master’s in psychology programs often pursue roles in human service organizations, group homes, healthcare agencies, law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, and government agencies. However, a master’s degree does not qualify psychologists to obtain licensure. Individuals need a doctorate to practice independently or work in clinical settings.
Master’s programs in psychology typically require 36-60 credits and take 1-2 years to complete. Some online programs offer accelerated course schedules that allow students to graduate sooner. Learners must typically maintain a satisfactory GPA while completing coursework. Most master’s programs require an internship, capstone project, or thesis.
|What is psychology?||The field of psychology deals with cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior. Psychologists observe, analyze, diagnose, and treat issues pertaining to psychological disorders.|
|Do I need a bachelor’s in psychology to get a master’s in psychology?||Applicants to master’s programs must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Master’s programs in psychology may accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field as long as they complete certain prerequisites.|
|How long does it take to earn a master’s in psychology?||Master’s programs in psychology typically require 36-60 credits, which most students complete in 1-2 years.|
|What is the difference between counseling and psychology?||Counselors guide clients through life’s challenges, while psychologists focus on cognitive and behavioral issues.|
Top 10 Online Master’s in Psychology Programs for 2020
|1||Arizona State University-Online||Scottsdale, AZ|
|2||University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe, LA|
|3||McNeese State University||Lake Charles, LA|
|4||National Louis University||Chicago, IL|
|5||Harvard University||Cambridge, MA|
|6||Angelo State University||San Antonio, TX|
|7||National University||La Jolla, CA|
|8||University of West Alabama||Livingston, AL|
|9||Ball State University||Muncie, IN|
|10||Mercy College||Dobbs Ferry, NY|
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.VIEW MORE PROGRAMS
Why Study Psychology Online?
Online psychology programs can be ideal for working professionals. Earning a master’s degree online can help individuals transition to a career in psychology or advance their current career in the field. Distance learning can also help students balance academics with family obligations, and online programs are often more flexible and affordable than on-campus options.
- LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Most institutions deliver online psychology programs through a learning management system such as Canvas or Blackboard. Distance learners typically access lectures, assignments, quizzes and tests, and discussion boards online. Students often communicate with classmates and professors through email, chat, and video conferencing.
Online master’s programs in psychology are often more affordable than on-campus programs. Many distance learners save on housing and transportation costs, and some schools charge all online students the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. Additionally, distance learners often work full time while earning their degree.
- ASYNCHRONOOUS COURSES
Many online programs feature asynchronous courses, which allow students to watch lectures and complete assignments at their convenience, as long as they meet deadlines. Many online programs also offer courses in accelerated formats, which may last 6-8 weeks and can help learners graduate sooner. Online students may also save money on course materials, since distance learners often use digital textbooks.
- IN-PERSON REQUIREMENTS
Online psychology programs may include some in-person requirements, such as an internship with a local institution that provides mental health services. Programs may also feature residency requirements. When selecting a program, prospective students should consider their ability to complete in-person components.
Accreditation for Online Psychology Programs
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.VIEW MORE PROGRAMS
Accreditation demonstrates that institutions and programs meet set standards of quality. To obtain accreditation, schools undergo regular evaluation by a third-party agency. In the United States, institutions can receive regional or national accreditation.
Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious and requires schools to meet more rigorous standards than national accreditation. Six agencies in the U.S. award regional accreditation to institutions in specific geographic areas. National accreditation typically applies to vocational, technical, or for-profit schools. Regionally accredited institutions rarely accept credits or degrees earned from nationally accredited schools.
Learners can also look for field-specific accreditation, which generally applies to individual programs or departments. Psychology programs can receive accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Association of School Psychologists, and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System.
Additionally, agencies such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission evaluate online programs. Each of these organizations maintains a list of accredited programs and schools, which can help prospective students locate an accredited online master’s in psychology program.
2020 Online Master’s in Psychology Programs
Institutions throughout the nation offer a variety of online psychology programs. Below are the top 10 online master’s in psychology programs for 2020. This ranking can help students compare schools to identify the program that best suits their academic and career goals.
For this ranking, we looked for public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities that offer psychology master’s programs online. Because the focus of this list is on affordability, we only considered programs with average* tuition rates of $20,000/year or less.
*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.
After compiling a list of all the colleges that offer online psychology graduate programs and meet the above criteria, we then collected data in four categories:
- Program Popularity: Out of all master’s degree students, how many choose to major in psychology? That is, how successful is the psychology program at attracting students to their degree over other options available at the school? To find out, we considered both the number of students who earned their master’s degree in psychology in the most recent school year as well as the percentage of all master’s program graduates that this number represents.
- Overall Program Strength: How many total psychology master’s programs does the college offer (online and on campus)? Having multiple programs in one discipline indicates a school that is seriously dedicated to preparing students for success in that field (in this case, psychology).
- Online Accessibility: Of all the psychology master’s degree programs that the school supports, how many of those are available online?
- Affordability: What is the average annual cost of attendance?
After collecting and sorting all the information, we ranked the candidates according to their performance in each area. Finally, we summed up the results and gave each school a final score using a curve so that the top-scoring program earned an even 100 points.
Read more about the best cheap online master’s degrees in psychology below!COLLAPSE ALL EXPAND ALL
- Arizona State University-OnlineLOCATIONScottsdale, AZTUITION$$$$$
- University of Louisiana at MonroeLOCATIONMonroe, LATUITION$$$$$
- McNeese State UniversityLOCATIONLake Charles, LATUITION$$$$$
- National Louis UniversityLOCATIONChicago, ILTUITION$$$$$
- Harvard UniversityLOCATIONCambridge, MATUITION$$$$$
- Angelo State UniversityLOCATIONSan Antonio, TXTUITION$$$$$
- National UniversityLOCATIONLa Jolla, CATUITION$$$$$
- University of West AlabamaLOCATIONLivingston, ALTUITION$$$$$
- Ball State UniversityLOCATIONMuncie, INTUITION$$$$$
- Mercy CollegeLOCATIONDobbs Ferry, NYTUITION$$$$$
- Saint Leo UniversityLOCATIONSt. Leo, FLTUITION$$$$$
- Medaille CollegeLOCATIONBuffalo, NYTUITION$$$$$
- Regent UniversityLOCATIONVirginia Beach, VATUITION$$$$$
- Touro University WorldwideLOCATIONLos Alamitos, CATUITION$$$$$
- Indiana Institute of TechnologyLOCATIONFort Wayne, INTUITION$$$$$
- Franklin UniversityLOCATIONColumbus, OHTUITION$$$$$
- Austin Peay State UniversityLOCATIONClarksville, TNTUITION$$$$$
- University of IdahoLOCATIONMoscow, IDTUITION$$$$$
- Carlos Albizu University-MiamiLOCATIONMiami, FLTUITION$$$$$
- Eastern Kentucky UniversityLOCATIONRichmond, KYTUITION$$$$$
- University of Southern CaliforniaLOCATIONLos Angeles, CATUITION$$$$$
- Tiffin UniversityLOCATIONTiffin, OHTUITION$$$$$
- Southwestern Assemblies of God UniversityLOCATIONWaxahachie, TXTUITION$$$$$
- Golden Gate University-San FranciscoLOCATIONSan Francisco, CATUITION$$$$$
- University of HartfordLOCATIONWest Hartford, CTTUITION$$$$$
Career and Salary Outlook for Psychology Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects employment in the field to increase 14% from 2018 to 2028, a rate much faster than average.
Individual salary potential varies based on geographic location and personal experience. According to data from PayScale, psychologists with 1-4 years of experience earn an average annual salary of $70,792, while psychologists with 10-19 years of experience earn an average salary of $88,533 per year. Factors such as cost of living can also impact earning potential. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for psychologists include California, Maryland, Alaska, Kansas, and Washington.
A professional’s position also affects salary potential and career growth. An online master’s degree in psychology can lead to jobs as industrial-organizational psychologists, supervised clinical psychologists, engineering psychologists, forensic psychologists, and school psychologists. Additional education typically increases an individual’s job opportunities and earning potential. Master’s-level psychologists are not eligible for state licensure.
|BOTTOM 10%||MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY||TOP 10%|
|Less than $45,380||$80,370||More than $132,070|
Certifications and Licensure for Psychology
Most states require candidates for a psychology license to hold a doctoral degree in psychology, pass a licensing exam, and complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours. However, learners should research their state’s specific requirements. For example, candidates in some states must hold a doctoral degree from a program with accreditation from a specific agency, such as the APA.
Candidates for licensure must typically complete supervised practice hours during graduate school, and some states also require postgraduate supervised practice. All states require candidates to pass the examination for professional practice in psychology. Psychology students or professionals who are considering relocating should become familiar with the licensure requirements in the new state. Licensed psychologists can typically transfer their credentials between states, as long as they have fulfilled the destination state’s requirements.
The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes 13 areas of specialization and provides board certification in these specialties.
- CLINICAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY
The field of clinical neuropsychology studies the relationship between the brain and behavior, particularly as it relates to brain injuries and disorders. Neuropsychologists assess cognitive and behavioral functioning, diagnose brain conditions, and treat symptoms.
This branch of psychology focuses on maladaptive patterns of emotion and behavior. Professionals in this area help patients achieve optimal functioning and healing.
- BEHAVIORAL AND COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
Behavioral and cognitive psychologists apply principles of development and an understanding of cognitive processing. These psychologists address problematic behaviors and emotional thinking.
- FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY
Forensic psychologists apply psychological expertise to work in the judicial and legal systems. Forensic psychologists serve as expert witnesses in court, present diagnoses and profiles to law enforcement professionals, and provide psychological services to individuals in justice-related fields.
- COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY
Counseling psychologists help patients and clients manage emotional and mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of distress.
Specializations in Psychology
Along with formal specialization through board certification, psychology students can pursue a specialization through focused educational training and experience. Undergraduate students develop general knowledge in the field of psychology, and learners typically begin to specialize during graduate studies.
Most master’s programs offer concentrations in a variety of subfields, such as substance abuse and addiction counseling, forensic psychology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and abnormal psychology. Graduate students who choose programs without concentration options can focus their studies through elective courses. Depending on their program’s curriculum requirements, learners may be able to pursue multiple specializations.
Courses in Psychology Programs
Students earning an online master’s degree in psychology learn how to apply theory and techniques to promote wellbeing. Learners prepare to conduct research into mental and behavioral health, and students explore topics related to professional ethics. Master’s-level psychology students typically pursue one or more specializations, and most programs require independent research in the form of a capstone project or thesis. Although available courses vary by school, many online master’s psychology programs feature the classes below.
This course introduces students to the definitions, conceptions, diagnoses, and treatments of mental health disorders and other abnormal cognition and behaviors. Students learn about various types of developmental, anxiety, cognitive, mood, eating, sleeping, substance, psychotic, somatoform, and personality disorders.
- SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
This course examines the relationship between an individual’s cognitive processes and their social environment. Students learn about the impact of development and interpersonal influence on cognition, obedience and conformity, attitude formation, leadership, stereotyping and prejudice, and altruism and aggression. Coursework also explores concepts related to social thinking, social influence, and social behavior.
- MULTICULTURAL COUNSELING
Learners examine how characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, and ableness can affect social dynamics and mental health struggles. Students explore these impacts on individuals, couples, and families. This course prepares learners to address multicultural and societal factors and stressors while counseling patients.
- THEORIES OF COUNSELING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
This course introduces theoretical approaches to counseling and psychotherapy, along with their applications. Students learn about the role of the therapeutic relationship, techniques for helping patients and clients change behaviors and thought patterns, and methods for applying techniques in various cultural contexts.
Scholarships for Psychology Students
Students pursuing an online master’s in psychology can apply for scholarships to defray costs associated with tuition, room and board, textbooks, and travel to conferences. Many scholarships support students from particular backgrounds, learners who are studying specific subfields, or members of a certain organization. Master’s students in the field can also apply for grants and fellowships.
- NASP-ERT MINORITY SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Who Can Apply: Full-time or part-time students who are part of a minority group can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must be enrolled in an approved school psychology program and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JUNIOR AUXILIARIES GRADUATE SCHOLARSHIP
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports graduate students in fields that address the needs of children. Candidates must reside in a state with a Junior Auxiliary chapter.
- AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION GRADUATE STUDENT SCHOLARSHIPS
Who Can Apply: These awards support graduate-level psychology students. Master’s students must intend to enroll in a doctoral program.
- BEST ROM RYMER SCHOLARSHIP
Who Can Apply: Graduate students and licensed psychologists who are pursuing training in psychopharmacology can apply for these awards.
- UNGERLEIDER/ZIMBARDO TRAVEL SCHOLARSHIP
Who Can Apply: Candidates must be enrolled full time in a graduate program in psychology. Applicants must be student affiliates or members of the APA.
Amount: $300 to attend the APA conference
Financial Aid for Psychology Students
Students considering pursuing an online master’s in psychology should research available financial aid. Learners can submit the FAFSA form to determine which federal aid they qualify to receive. Federal aid includes scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Students must complete the FAFSA form before June 30 each year. Some states, colleges, and universities set an internal FAFSA deadline.
Loans comprise most of the federal aid available at the graduate level. Graduate students can qualify for direct unsubsidized loans, which are not based on financial need. While the U.S. Department of Education pays interest on direct subsidized loans during schooling and a period of deferment, unsubsidized loans are only available to undergraduate students. Learners are responsible for paying interest on unsubsidized loans during all periods. Additionally, students often receive direct PLUS loans to cover remaining expenses.
Is an Online Master’s in Psychology Program For You?
Many psychology positions require applicants to possess advanced degrees. Professionals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology may need to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate to progress in their field. Disciplined and self-motivated individuals who want to advance in the field can consider completing a master’s in psychology online.
Learners can explore multiple online master’s programs in psychology, allowing them to choose the option that best reflects their priorities and learning style.
What Should I Expect from an Online Master’s in Psychology Program?
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET A MASTER’S DEGREE IN PSYCHOLOGY?
Most online master’s in psychology programs require 36 credits and take about two years to complete. The more specialized or tailored the program or the more hours for field work or research required, the longer students take to earn their degree. Depending on the program or track, learners earn either a master of arts degree, which employs a liberal arts-focused curriculum, or a master of science degree, which emphasizes STEM-related topics.
MOST ONLINE MASTER’S IN PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAMS REQUIRE 36 CREDITS AND TAKE ABOUT TWO YEARS TO COMPLETE.
Online psychology master’s programs generally offer only full-time options, but some part-time options may exist. Schools that value interpersonal engagement use a cohort model, meaning students move through online courses as a group. Degree-seekers otherwise complete program courses individually and at their own pace.
WHAT CLASSES WILL I TAKE IN AN ONLINE MASTER’S PROGRAM?
Courses vary due to several factors, including whether a program yields a master of arts or a master of science, and whether learners pursue a specialization. Most of these differences stem from schools’ different elective requirements.
Core courses typically teach students theories and principles of human thought and behavior, how those change through different life phases, and how professionals use that information to assess mental competency. See below for descriptions of three common core courses.
Students explore human development through life stages from conception to death. Content covers the normal developmental phases of the physical, mental, emotional, social, and cultural facets of humans, along with topics such as personality development. Learners also assess factors that may impede normal development and their impacts.
Skills Gained: Understanding and assessing developmental milestones from conception to death
Statistics and Research Methodology
Ethics and Diversity
CONCENTRATIONS AVAILABLE FOR AN ONLINE MASTER’S DEGREE IN PSYCHOLOGY?
A desire to better understand how people think and behave in specific situations plays a major role in why many students choose psychology concentrations. Pursuing a specialization allows learners to develop useful expertise. See below for common concentrations in psychology master’s programs online.
Forensic psychology exemplifies the overlap of the study of psychology and the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists examine defendants and witnesses, provide their findings to attorneys and judges, and often testify as experts in courtroom trials.
Degree-seekers who focus on educational psychology examine why students learn, what motivates them to learn, and how to assist them in the learning process. Educational psychologists research and develop instructional curriculum and educational technology for different types of student groups, including gifted learners and students with disabilities.
Sports psychologists work with athletes and coaches to maintain mental health and ensure high-level performance. They explore factors including injuries, self-perception, and motivation to assist athletes in their pursuit of peak mental, emotional, and physical condition.
School psychologists work with parents, students, and teachers to promote an environment conducive to successful learning. Taking a holistic approach, they focus on factors including family relationships, social interactions, and personal perceptions that can directly impact a student’s capacity, desire, and willingness to learn.
Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat clients with mental deficiencies and behavioral disorders, diseases, and addictions. They may specialize in the treatment of children, teens, or adults in settings including mental health facilities, schools, and private practice.
What’s the Difference Between a Traditional and Online Psychology Degree?
Students completing an online master’s degree in psychology qualify for the same employment opportunities as those with a traditional master’s degree. Online and on-campus programs typically include the same curriculum and degree requirements. They differ only in the delivery format and, in some cases, faculty dedicated to online programs. Degree-seekers should choose an online or traditional program based on their preferences and priorities.
Online: Learners who study online can choose the program and delivery format that suits their needs. Online schools offer more flexible program options that allow learners to attend classes while working full time and maintaining personal obligations.
Traditional: Campus programs limit themselves to local and commuter students. Schools establish set schedules, though some institutions offer evening or weekend classes to accommodate working students. Degree-seekers who prefer face-to-face interaction with instructors and peers benefit from the traditional learning environment.
ARE ONLINE PSYCHOLOGY MASTER’S PROGRAMS CHEAPER THAN TRADITIONAL PROGRAMS?
Many factors affect the cost of an online graduate program, often discounted compared to a traditional program. Tuition and textbooks typically cost the same for on-campus and online students, though some schools offer reduced tuition for online learners. Others offer compound savings for in-state students completing their degree online. Auxiliary fees account for the biggest cost difference between online and traditional programs.
On-campus learners sometimes incur room-and-board fees. They may also need to budget for transportation, fees for student activities or campus facilities, technology charges, liability insurance fees, and childcare, if applicable. While online students qualify for exemption from fees for campus-based services, they may incur additional charges in technology fees, academic service fees, and exam-proctoring fees.
HOW ARE ONLINE PSYCHOLOGY COURSES DIFFERENT FROM CAMPUS-BASED PROGRAMS?
Online and traditional classes offer the same course content, but differ in their delivery method.
Online learners must supply their own computer and internet access. Online classes typically last 6-7 weeks, condensing course content and, thus, shortening completion time of the degree. Classes may run asynchronously, which allows students to move at their own pace, or synchronously, which requires learners to meet with instructors and classmates online at set times. Some classes follow a hybrid format, providing both asynchronous and synchronous learning.
Traditional campus-based courses convene in a classroom on pre-scheduled days and times. Mandatory attendance often factors into a student’s overall grade. Classes usually follow a 15-week semester system, with classes meeting 2-3 times a week, or a 10-week quarter system with classes meeting daily. Both allow a longer period than online courses for students to absorb course content and complete assignments. Learners still use technology, but can access it on campus if unavailable at home.
DO ONLINE PSYCHOLOGY MASTER’S PROGRAMS REQUIRE STUDENTS TO BE ON-CAMPUS?
Online master’s in psychology programs rarely require campus visits, if at all. Many programs meet exclusively online, while others require students to visit the campus for 1-2 weeks at a time. In-state students may take course exams on campus while out-of-state students take exams at approved proctoring locations. Some online programs offer on-campus courses, though usually optional for distance learners.
Research-based master’s programs in psychology do not require clinical hours because the degree does not prepare graduates to pursue state licensure. Certain specialties require that students complete a practicum, internship, or 100-600 hours of field work. Students may complete these hours at professional mental health locations pre-approved by the supervising faculty member or program director. Some programs allow learners to substitute field experience for a capstone project, thesis, or comprehensive exam.
DO ONLINE STUDENTS STILL QUALIFY FOR FINANCIAL AID?
Online and traditional students qualify for the same financial aid. The applications and deadlines for FAFSA and student loans apply to all learners. Both types of students also qualify for applicable state scholarships. Some programs offer tuition discounts to in-state students.
Many schools award graduate students additional financial aid in the form of special scholarships or assistantships. Degree-seekers with qualifying undergraduate GPA and GRE scores can apply for a faculty-led research or teaching assistantship. As a university employee, graduate assistants work roughly 20 hours per week, their tuition paid, and they receive a small stipend.
Visit our psychology scholarships page to find out more information.
What License Do I Need to Practice Psychology?
Most online master’s in psychology programs do not prepare students for state licensure because graduates at this level do not require licensure to practice psychology. However, learners who specialize in certain concentrations need a license to practice.
The licensure process by state but usually requires a doctoral degree and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The EPPP measures a student’s knowledge, understanding, and experience in the practice of psychology. Study guides and practice exams, widely available at varying prices, can help candidates prepare. Exam fees differ by state.
SOME STATES LICENSE MASTER’S-LEVEL GRADUATES, BUT ONLY WITH VERIFICATION THAT THE SCHOOL’S CURRICULUM INCLUDED COURSES REQUIRED BY THE STATE.
Each state determines its regulations and requirements for psychology licensees. Some states license master’s-level graduates, but only with verification that the school’s curriculum included courses required by the state. Some states limit licensure to programs accredited by the American Psychological Association. Others require more supervised training and experience beyond what school programs provide.
Students should contact their state’s psychology board for state requirements. For detailed licensure requirements, visit the Association of State and Provincial Boards.
Careers for Graduates of Online Psychology Programs
Earning a psychology master’s degree online can prepare graduates for a variety of specialized career opportunities focusing on different population areas. During their master’s programs, many learners can focus on specialization opportunities to prepare them for their desired career path. Readers can access this page to learn more about psychology career opportunities at the master’s level.
These professionals help individuals dealing with emotional, physical, developmental, or mental disabilities live independently and manage the effects of their disabilities. They work with patients to develop treatment plans and consult with doctors, psychologists, and therapists.
Average Annual Salary: $35,630