Earning a Master’s in Psychology Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Psychology Online?

As the medical field advances treatment for physical ailments, more people are paying attention to their mental health. Demand for psychologists and psychological services continues to grow, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 14% increase in these jobs through 2026. Schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and even corporations are looking to hire more mental health experts to serve their students, patients, and customers.

Earning an online master’s in psychology prepares graduates to help clients in some clinical settings, assist psychologists in delivering treatment, and assume school counseling responsibilities. Online master’s programs in psychology also prepare students for rigorous, research-based, and clinically focused doctorate programs. Students considering a psychology major must have empathy for their clients an ability to approach problems analytically. The coursework introduces students to theories on why people behave in certain ways and how their thought processes work. It also offers instruction in evaluating and assessing patients, identifying mental health or developmental disorders, and developing effective treatment strategies.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Psychology Graduates

Master's in Psychology Salary

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists find work in a variety of fields, such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, and private practices. Most, however, work in elementary and secondary schools, helping students plan for their futures or overcome the challenges of childhood. These mental health professionals command a salary almost twice the average worker's wage, with a national mean salary of $81,330.

Many factors impact how much a psychologist can expect to earn, however, such as years of work experience, the industry you work in, and your state of residence. New Jersey offers the highest mean wage of $97,790 annually. Government jobs also offer increased earning potential, paying a median wage of $94,910 compared to $74,470 for psychologists working in elementary and secondary schools.

Top Paying States for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
New Jersey 3,500 $97,790
Alaska 280 $96,350
Hawaii 470 $95,500
California 18,250 $94,910
Oregon 1,030 $93,070
United States 108,060 $81,330

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pay by Experience Level for Psychologists

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
    $65,000
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
    $80,000
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $89,000
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):
    $98,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in Psychology Careers

Earning an online master's in psychology prepares graduates for a variety of careers either working directly with clients or developing research that informs and improves treatment options. Multiple specialization areas allow individuals to follow their interests, whether they be working with students on career planning or helping addicts rebuild relationships with estranged family and friends. Students should possess empathy for individuals from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, plus a keen eye for detail to make clinical observations. Data analysis and problem-solving skills help these professionals develop appropriate intervention and treatment strategies, as well.

School Psychologist

Annual Median Salary: $75,090
Projected Growth Rate: 14%

School psychologists assist students at all levels to develop their academic ability, determine their career interests, and select appropriate courses. They may also intervene in issues of emotional or behavioral disturbance, conferring with parents and other medical providers on their observations and developing and implementing treatment plans. School psychologists have also been called upon to help address issues related to bullying, and help students overcome social challenges.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Annual Median Salary: $48,790
Projected Growth Rate: 23%

This practice specialty helps clients manage problems in their closest relationships, such as between spouses or parents and children. They encourage discussion of emotions and behaviors to address conflict, and help family members cope with changes, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce. Many family counselors operate private practices, though the rise of collaborative and integrated care has led to more counselors working with other healthcare providers or outpatient facilities.

Social Worker

Annual Median Salary: $47,980
Projected Growth Rate: 16%

Social workers provide group and individual therapy and behavior intervention, and help address clients' practical concerns, like access to safe housing or navigating assistance programs. Socials workers must gain state licensure to diagnose or treat mental health disorders. They often work in social services offices at local and state governments, in hospitals, or with individual family services.

Substance Abuse, Mental Health, or Behavioral Disorder Counselor

Annual Median Salary: $43,300
Projected Growth Rate: 23%

Counselors in this specialty area work with clients overcoming substance abuse, developing goals and implementing various forms of treatment. They may work with clients one-on-one, or in group sessions. They address underlying issues that may have led to addiction, such as undiagnosed mental health disorders, trauma, or stress, and provide support as clients rebuild personal and professional relationships.

Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $73,770
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

An online master's in psychology prepares graduates to take on postsecondary teaching positions at community colleges or four-year universities. Often, individuals with their master's degrees teach survey and foundational courses to prepare students for further advanced study. Many institutions require teachers to earn a doctorate before advancing to full professorships and tenure-track positions.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Psychology Program?

You can expect to spend 2-3 years completing your master's in psychology online, depending on credit requirements and whether you study full-time. Curricula may vary depending on your practice area. Individuals interested in clinical practice must complete intensive internships and practicums in addition to core curriculum courses, such as those listed below. Most schools also require students to complete an independent research project and thesis.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Psychology

  1. Culture and Psychology: This interdisciplinary course blends elements of anthropology and sociology with psychology. Students evaluate how social and cultural norms impact behavior, relationships, self-identity, and individual wellbeing. The course encourages students to reflect on their own cultural influences. Readings assess cultural identity and the impact of globalization, along with possible challenges resulting from cultural conflicts.
  2. Cognitive and Affective Behavior: Cognitive psychology studies the mental processes used in recognizing and remembering new knowledge, and how individuals comprehend and understand that information. Affective psychology examines the role emotions play in choices and behaviors. Students evaluate both classical theories of cognition and recent scholarly work in areas of reasoning, decision-making, memory, and problem-solving.
  3. Applied Psychology Research Methods: Scientific research guides psychological counseling. In this course, students review qualitative and quantitative research methods and statistical analysis. Upon completion, students know how to design effective scholarly research projects and evaluate and critique peer research. This course often includes how to model a research proposal, and may serve as the basis for a future thesis project.
  4. Evaluation and Assessment: Psychologists must use a combination of interview skills and detailed observations to diagnose patients and develop appropriate therapy or interventions. Students discuss their ethical and legal responsibilities to their patients and clients.
  5. Human Growth and Development: Individuals may develop at different paces, but psychologists identify significant milestones and stages of development. In this course, students review common theories of human intellectual development; evaluate longitudinal, cross-sectional, and sequential research; and debate the merits of nature versus nurture controversies.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Psychology Prepares For

  • Mental Health Counselor: State regulations vary, but most states require a master's in counseling, which may include an online master's in psychology. Online master's programs often comprise 60 credits in assessment and evaluation, human growth and development, professional orientation and ethics, psychopathology, and clinical instruction. Applicants must pass licensing exams, and complete at least one year of clinical practice under the supervision of a licensed counselor.
  • School Counselor: Individuals with valid teaching licenses and their online master's in psychology may gain state certification to become school counselors. Requirements may vary from state to state, but applicants should complete courses in human growth and development, methods of learning, and personality theory, plus a supervised internship or practicum in group and individual counseling, ideally in a school setting.