Psychology Graduate Degrees and Career Options

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If you’re serious about a successful long-term career in psychology, a bachelor’s degree just won’t cut it. There is the option of earning a master’s degree in psychology. Master’s level psychology programs are offered at hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the United States. These programs are designed for psychology students and aspiring professionals who already possess a bachelor’s degree in psychology and are looking to improve their knowledge and understanding of psychology and qualify for additional career advancement opportunities. Many psychology professionals, including industrial-organizational psychologists and school psychologists, can get by with a master’s degree in psychology.

To become a licensed psychologist, you must first obtain a doctorate degree in psychology and then pass a state administered competency exam. A doctorate degree in psychology will almost always provide for much greater career advancement opportunities and earning potential in nearly every field of psychology over a masters degree. While there are two general graduate-level doctorate psychology degrees offered, the PhD. and the PsyD, within each there are several specialty areas where students can focus their studies. Before applying to a graduate psychology program, it’s important that you thoroughly research different career paths and identify the type of graduate education required to prepare you for your future career.

However, before you jump right into a doctorate-level psychology program there are several things you should consider. Are you ready to go school for another six to eight years? Where do you want to work once you’ve completed your graduate degree? Which area of psychology do you want to launch you’re care once you graduate? While doctor-level psychology programs will provide you quite a bit of occupational flexibility and mobility within the profession, some of the most common employment areas for psychologists with a graduate degree include mental health, social services, business, education and government.

Once you’ve determined which general area of psychology you want to work in, you should then try and figure out exactly which career path to pursue. Below you can explore many common career paths for psychologists listed by general employment area.

Mental Health
Mental health is one of the most popular employment areas among licensed psychologists. Mental health psychologists diagnose, evaluate and treat a variety of mental health conditions and disorders. While there are some entry-level jobs within this field for professional’s with a master’s degree, most career opportunities are reserved for psychologists with a Ph.D. or Psy.D.

A few mental health job titles include:

  • Clinical Psychologist

    Did you know that clinical psychologists are among the most popular and highly paid professionals within the field of psychology? This career path also provides extreme flexibility within the profession. Clinical psychologists work in a variety of capacities at private, public, governmental and educational institutions. Within the sphere of mental health, clinical psychologists are employed to diagnose and treat people with mental disorders and illnesses. While some psychologists within this field hold master’s degrees, the large majority hold either a Ph.D. in psychology or Psy.D.

  • Counselor

    Unlike clinical psychology, it is not uncommon to have a successful career as a counselor with nothing more a master’s degree in psychology. Notwithstanding, employment opportunities and pay are greater for those counselors who possess a Ph.D. or Psy.D. Counselors work to help their clients overcome emotional problems relating to divorce, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorders, and variety of other emotional and behavioral concerns. Employment opportunities are usually plentiful for qualified counselors who are outgoing and have well developed interpersonal skills.

Social Services
Most people think that to be involved in social services the best degree you can earn is in social work or a related field. Surprisingly, a large number of social workers and administrators within the industry get their start with an education in psychology. The most popular field within social services, where psychology majors can be found, is social work.

Social service job titles include:

  • Social Workers
    Social workers frequently work in the social welfare departments of state, federal and local government agencies. In addition to their primary role as welfare agents for the state, they also help individuals with mental illness and emotional disorders that are unable to adequately care for themselves, including the disabled, elderly, mentally ill, dysfunctional, and abused children. Entry-level positions in social work can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree in psychology but many social workers will also pursue a master’s degree in social work or psychology. Master’s-level graduates can become nationally licensed to work anywhere in the United States.

Psychologists with either a master’s or doctorate degree frequently work in educational settings. Those with a master’s can be found working at secondary educational institutions including elementary and high schools. Psychologists with a PhD. or PsyD. can work in research and teaching at colleges and universities.

Some of the most popular positions held by psychology graduates within the field of education include:

  • School Psychologist

    School psychologists are trained to diagnose and treat children suffering from emotional, mental and behavioral disorders that negatively affect their social interactions, academic performance and ability to effectively communicate with others. These psychologists recommend treatments, perform therapies and work with parents and teachers to help mentally disadvantaged students achieve positive outcomes.

  • School Counselor

    Like psychologists, some school counselors work with children struggling with emotional and behavioral problems. Others work as career counselors helping high school and college age students apply to college and explore their career options.

  • Educational Psychologist

    Many people confuse educational psychology with school psychology, but they are two different and distance branches of psychology. Educational psychology deals with issues relating directly to education, teaching and academic performance. Educational psychologists work with students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators to help improve educational programs and the overall performance of a student body.

Local, State and Federal Government

A surprisingly large number of psychologists with master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology find their way into career positions with local, state and federal government agencies. Psychologists employed in government work in public hospitals, mental health clinics and institutions, correctional facilities, community and public service positions, and social service departments.

Just a few of the popular job titles in this area include:

  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Social service manager
  • Social worker
  • Probation officer
  • Vocational rehabilitation provider
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Mental health counselor

Careers in Applied Psychology and Business
While psychologists working in areas of applied psychology and business are not required to be licensed in the state(s) where they perform their duties, many still obtain a doctorate degree in psychology. Many psychologists working in fields of applied psychology launch their careers with a master’s degree in psychology, but career opportunities and earning potential are greatest for those who obtain a PhD. or PsyD. in psychology.

A few of the most popular careers in applied psychology include the following:

  • Industrial-organizational Psychologists

    One of the most fascinating applications of psychology in today’s business environments is that of industrial-organizational psychology. Industrial-organizational psychologists, sometimes referred to as I-O psychologists, use their knowledge of human psychology to analyze and mold workplace behavior, management systems, and ergonomics to increase productivity and efficiency. In the early 1990’s very few colleges and universities offered specific programs in industrial-organizational psychology. Twenty years later, due to an increase demand for I-O psychologists world wide, a large number of universities offers graduate level programs that focus specifically on I-O psychology. While many I-O psychologists launch their career with a master’s degree, more and more are obtaining doctorate degrees in psychology. A doctorate degree allows for much greater career advancement opportunity than a master’s degree in this field.

  • Forensic Psychologists

    Like industrial-organizational psychology, forensic psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology. Due to popular TV shows and motion pictures which tend to glamorize this field, forensic psychology has seen tremendous growth over the last decade. Forensic psychologists apply their knowledge of human psychology, mental processes and behavior to the field of law and criminal investigations. These psychologists work in a variety of settings, including courts, law offices, private consultation, correction facilities and other government criminal justice agencies. The minimum requirement for a career in forensic psychology is a master’s degree, but many forensic psychologists hold a doctorate degree in clinical our counseling psychology.

  • Human Factors Psychologists

    Human factors psychology is a broad area of psychology that addresses various topics, including human error, workplace safety, ergonomics, group motivation and behavior, human capability and product design. Human factors psychologists work for private corporations, government agencies, universities and as consultants. Most human factors psychologists hold a doctorate degree in psychology.

Psychology is a diverse and growing career field that offers qualified professionals an ever expanding list of new and exciting job opportunities. While a master’s degree is adequate for entry-level positions in this industry, earning a graduate degree, specifically a PhD. or PsyD., is quickly becoming the industry standard and the degree of choice among employers.

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