Online Associate Degree in Psychology

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October 2, 2019

Students in online psychology associate degree programs follow generalized study paths that deliver a thorough introduction to core disciplinary topics. This knowledge provides a strong foundation for further study at the bachelor's level, where students have the opportunity to focus their learning on specific concentrations. Graduates also enhance their earning potential: according to one 2018 labor market analysis, job seekers with an associate degree earn an average of 15% more than those who hold only a high school diploma.

This page will help you evaluate the many available online associate degrees in psychology and identify study opportunities that align best with your personal objectives.

What Will You Learn in an Online Psychology Associate Degree Program?

While exact study topics vary among programs, most online associate psychology degrees introduce students to human cognition, personality theory, psychological growth and development, psychological disorders (abnormal psychology), and ways social influences affect individual psychology. Students also learn about research methods, experimental practices, and academic writing.

Associate degrees maintain a generalist focus that treat subjects with a survey approach rather than delving into niche areas. Many programs also require students to complete electives in related academic disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, and/or health sciences.

Common Courses

Exact course titles and content may differ, but a majority of the top online associate psychology degrees will cover some variation of these fundamental subjects:

Introduction to Psychology

This course introduces and explores foundational themes in the study of psychology. Typical topics include cognition and intelligence, human psychological development, and applied psychology principles. Students also learn about landmark studies and key figures in the history and development of psychological science.

Psychology Research Methods

Students examine the major research frameworks and methods that underlie scientific inquiry into human psychology. Topics include applied models of the scientific method, qualitative and quantitative research techniques, and academic writing and citation practices. The course provides students with a strong foundation for future academic inquiry.

Introduction to Personality Theory

In this course, students consider influential models of personality theory from historical and contemporary perspectives. Key questions include how nature shapes human personality traits, how social factors influence personality development, and how personality dynamics shape interpersonal interactions.

Introduction to Abnormal Psychology

This course covers mood disorders, psychophysical disorders, cognitive disorders, and disorders related to specific points in the human lifespan. Students also explore basic features of the methods used to diagnose, treat, and manage various disorders.

Developmental Psychology

Students investigate primary theories governing prevailing perspectives on human psychological development at all stages of life. Specific topics may include cognitive development, language acquisition, emotional development, and social influences. Most courses concentrate on current theories, though some also examine historical concepts.

Core Skills

Online associate degrees in psychology lead to three general learning outcomes. First, students acquire a strong understanding of how human psychology works, while developing the ability to apply theoretical models to practical situations. Second, learners acquaint themselves with the essential design principles of research studies and psychological experiments. Third, students sharpen their academic writing and critical thinking skills.

These three outcomes inform professional diagnostic, assessment, and case management competencies, delivering the tools students will draw on in their day-to-day job duties after they graduate. These skills are especially useful for entry-level positions under the tutelage of licensed professionals.

Many students who complete online associate psychology degrees enroll in bachelor's programs. Because the first two years of most four-year psychology degree designs cover foundational material, associate degree holders almost always qualify for advanced standing.

The upper years of a bachelor's program build on the aforementioned learning outcomes in greater detail as students route into concentrations and specializations. The sound fundamentals covered in accredited online associate degrees in psychology provide a strong base for more advanced and focused academic inquiry, supporting higher levels of scholastic success.

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Psychology?

Psychology associate degree holders qualify for entry-level positions in mental health fields. In most cases, these jobs entail assistive, administrative, or case management duties performed under the direct supervision of experienced or licensed professionals with advanced degrees. Other career paths take a stronger focus on advocacy, as an associate degree in psychology offers a valuable academic background for social services and community relations work.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Sectors and industries that provide common sources of employment for associate psychology degree graduates include addiction and substance abuse treatment, social work, home healthcare, crisis intervention, individual and family therapy, and technician positions. Online psychology associate degree programs also transfer well to counseling professions, child protective services, law enforcement, and criminal corrections.

Psychiatric nursing offers another potential career path, though candidates will require additional career training from an accredited nursing school. Alternately, graduates can train to become orderlies in mental health facilities, providing living assistance and security support to patients.

Specific jobs available to psychology associate degree holders include:

Psychiatric Technician

Average Annual Salary: $30,860

Psychiatric technicians work in both clinical and field settings, providing assistance and care to people with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions. They monitor their charges' conditions and report changes to their primary caregivers.


Average Annual Salary: $28,530

Also known as nursing assistants, psychiatric orderlies provide patient transportation and keep treatment facilities clean and properly equipped. They also support security staff by helping maintain safe environments for patients and staff.

Personal Care Aide

Average Annual Salary: $24,060

Personal care aides provide lifestyle assistance to people with cognitive, psychiatric, and developmental conditions. In some cases, they hold authorization to administer medication and perform basic health checks as directed by a supervising doctor or nurse practitioner.

Human Services Assistant

Average Annual Salary: $33,750

Human services assistants interface with clients, directing them to case-specific resources, services, and benefits programs. They typically work for government agencies and nonprofit community groups.

Psychiatric Aide

Average Annual Salary: $31,090

Psychiatric aides perform a wide range of assistive duties. Responsibilities typically include guiding patients in daily activities, bringing them to and from treatment sessions, and restraining volatile patients in crisis situations.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What's Next After an Online Associate Degree in Psychology?

While the best online colleges for associate degrees in psychology help students build practical job-ready skills, they also prepare graduates for further study in four-year programs. This section will acquaint you with bachelor's degree options available to candidates with associate psychology degrees, as well as general considerations for transferring into a four-year program. Associate degree holders qualify for advanced standing in the vast majority of cases, allowing them to bypass the first two years of most directly related four-year degrees.

Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program

In most cases, an associate degree in psychology permits students to bypass the first two years of a corresponding four-year psychology program. However, students considering this path should discuss their plans with academic advisors well in advance. Online students have full access to advising resources, and it is a good idea to form your transfer plan at the outset of your associate studies so you choose the courses and electives that best support your long-term academic goals.

What Degrees Can You Pursue After Earning an Associate in Psychology?

By earning a bachelor's degree, you can boost your salary potential while obtaining knowledge and skills that can lead to an enhanced range of career options. Most graduates interested in continuing their education move into one of these three bachelor's programs after completing an online associate degree in psychology:

Bachelor's in Psychology

This option is a direct continuation of associate psychology studies. A bachelor's in psychology builds on introductory concepts and guides students through more rigorous and detailed explorations of key theories and developmental models.

Bachelor's in Therapy

Similar to bachelor's degrees in counseling, therapy programs prepare learners for licensure as certified therapists. Students can choose from a long list of specializations, including addiction and substance abuse, family therapy, grief counseling, and spiritual guidance.

Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies

Psychology plays a major role in human communication, giving creators the critical insights needed to craft impactful messages. Communications degree holders enjoy employment opportunities in sectors such as news and entertainment media, corporate work, marketing, and advertising.

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