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What Can You Do With a Master's in Psychology?

Are you just starting your journey in psychology or considering further education? In this article, we'll help you understand how a Master's in psychology can benefit you.

Apr 15, 2024
  • Education
What can you do with a Master's in psychology?

Whether you're interested in helping people, understanding behavior, or delving into science and research, a Master's in psychology can open doors to a range of exciting career opportunities.

In this article, we'll explore what this degree entails, how long it takes to complete, the different specializations available, and what you can do with a Master's in psychology.

What is a Master's in Psychology?

A Master's in psychology is a graduate degree students usually pursue for a career in psychology or counseling. The coursework often includes:

  • Social psychology
  • Ethical practice
  • Biological psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Research methods
  • Cognition and perception
  • Psychosomatics and other courses

How long does it take to get a Master's degree in Psychology?

For full-time students, a Master's in psychology program usually takes 2 years. Most programs require 30-40 credits to graduate, however, factors like prerequisite courses or a thesis can extend your studies.

Specializations in Psychology

There are many different specializations you can choose for your Master's program, which will have a major influence on your career direction. The specializations students frequently pick are:

  • Counseling Psychology: A subspecialty within professional psychology that focuses on emotional, vocational, educational, social, developmental, and organizational concerns for people and aims to help them cope. It is the most popular specialization, according to the American Community Survey.
  • Applied Psychology: A field of study that focuses on using psychological theories, techniques, and tools for solving practical problems and improving mental health.
  • Forensic Psychology: Forensic psychologists study the research connected with crime and criminals, and use their knowledge of how the brain works in the field of criminal justice.
  • Educational Psychology: Professionals in educational psychology assess children and use intervention techniques to improve their abilities in an educational setting.
  • Clinical Psychology: A branch of psychology that specializes in assessing and treating mental illnesses, psychiatric problems, and abnormal behavior.

MA vs MS in Psychology

These degrees are quite similar, but the main differences are their curricula and approach to learning:

  • An MA usually focuses on holistic learning and prepares students for future practice in the field
  • An MS is likely to prioritize research, scientific methods, and the science behind psychology

What is an MA in Psychology?

In most cases, Master of Arts in Psychology programs follow a liberal arts curriculum, meaning they place less emphasis on research and more on the application of psychological theories and techniques.

MA programs are usually structured in a way to lead students to licensure as practicing psychologists, therefore, certain psychological specialties tend to have more MA than MS programs, such as clinical psychology and counseling psychology.

What is an MS in Psychology?

An MS in psychology is a Master of Science degree with a focus on science and theory of psychology. The courses can include psychological research methods, statistics, experimental design, and neuroscience.

This degree is perfect for a future career in psychological research, especially in forensic, abnormal, experimental, and cognitive psychology.

Nevertheless, when choosing between an MA and MS, you should pay more attention to the actual program rather than the degree type. Some MA programs can offer you research opportunities that fit your career goals better, and an MS program could include practical application of psychological theories and prepare you for getting a license.

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What can you do with a Master's in Psychology?

Depending on the degree type, the program, and the specialization you choose, the next steps in your career can take on different forms. If your ultimate goal is to be a practicing psychologist, you should seek further education. However, just a Master's offers many opportunities to advance in your professional journey.

Careers in psychology

A Master's in psychology can be a great foundation for future work at schools, governments, healthcare agencies, and even marketing companies. The 3 top-employing professions for people with a degree in psychology are:

  • Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
  • Social workers
  • Human resources specialists

Psychology majors have a wide variety of professions available after graduation. The employment distribution chart from BLS shows that there are 4 major occupational groups:

1. Management

People in management occupations typically oversee operations, plan strategies, lead teams, and make decisions to achieve organizational goals efficiently and effectively. About 18% of jobs in the industry are related to educational services, healthcare, and social assistance.

2. Community and social service

Community and social service workers help people overcome social, emotional, and practical challenges they may face. That means you could be helping families, children in schools, and patients in hospitals and care facilities.

3. Educational instruction and library

As the name suggests, this group includes teachers in kindergartens, schools, and colleges, as well as librarians, TAs, and tutors. Educational instruction could be especially welcoming to those who choose Educational Psychology as their specialization.

4. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

The healthcare industry aims to help people maintain and improve their well-being. A Master's in psychology graduate could become, for example, an occupational therapist and work with those who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities.

Jobs with a Master's in Psychology

Here are a few job positions you can consider after getting your Master's degree:

  • Social worker: Helps diagnose and treat mental illnesses, fights for social justice, and improves lives and communities.
  • School psychologist: Assesses and helps children who are having troubles in school related to their behavior, emotions, or academic performance.
  • Counselor: Identifies problems that cause emotional struggles and shows people how to develop skills to deal with those problems in day-to-day life.
  • Forensic psychologist: Helps understand psychological problems associated with criminal behavior and identify possible suspects, and provides therapy for those who have committed offenses.
  • Industrial organizational psychologist: Works on improving the work environment, including policy planning, employee testing and selection, and organizational development.
  • Occupational psychologist: Assists organizations in enhancing their employees' job satisfaction and performance.
  • Mental health worker: Provides therapy to people with common mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  • Rehabilitation counselor: Provides individual and group counseling and develops a treatment plan to help clients adjust to their disability.
  • Human resources analyst: Collects, organizes, and evaluates HR data to optimize business processes and make informed decisions based on data analysis.
  • Child protection worker: Investigates any allegations of child abuse, neglect, or other circumstances of maltreatment.
  • Public relations representative: Manages public relations for individuals, groups, or organizations to create and uphold a favorable image.

In some states in the US and several countries, a Master's degree is enough to also get a license, so you have to research the specific location you plan to work in.

Further education opportunities

Alternatively, you could continue your education and pursue a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD. It's a good option for those wanting to deepen their knowledge of the field, receive extra training, and conduct further research.

Despite a Master's being the terminal degree for some of the specializations, many professions still require you to complete a Doctorate. For example, you often can't work as a clinical psychologist with just a Master's degree.

Additionally, employers sometimes tend to prioritize PhDs so Master's degree holders can face some challenges in the job-seeking process even if they fit the entry criteria.

Average salary after a Master's in Psychology

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for someone with an MS in psychology is $64,000. A marriage and family therapist earns about $50,000 per year, while a healthcare consultant's average salary is $82,000.

An MA in psychology holder, on the other hand, can expect to earn $69,000 annually. If you choose to become a mental health therapist, your salary may be on the lower end - about $53,000 per year, whereas reaching a CEO position can get you an average annual wage of $129,000.


Spending a few years in school to get your Master's degree in psychology is a crucial step if you want to expand your knowledge and advance in your career, whether it's industry or academia. It also allows you to choose a specialization and focus on one area of interest.

A Master's graduate typically has 2 options: entering the workforce or pursuing further education. To open a private practice as a psychologist you'll need a license and a PhD in most countries. However, a Master's still opens many career paths for you, like helping kids in schools or working in HR.

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