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Requirements for a Master's in Psychology

by Gale Thompson

A master's degree program in psychology assists students in developing their research and clinical skills for either a career in the mental health field or in preparation for doctoral study. The degree involves two or three years of postgraduate study. Requirements for admission and completion of the program vary among schools and specialization. A master's degree comes in the form of either a Master of Arts or Science in psychology or a Master of Arts in clinical psychology, and requires rigorous coursework, as well as the completion of a research-based master's thesis.

Admission

Applicants to master's programs in psychology may have a bachelor's degree in any field, although certain courses are highly recommended. Courses such as introduction to psychology, research methods and statistics are fundamental for graduate work. The University of California, Berkeley, psychology admissions Web page states that relevant advanced coursework plays a larger role in admission than the sheer number of courses. A personal statement of around two pages will give the admissions boards additional information about the student's background and research interests. Letters of recommendation, a college transcript and Graduate Record Examination scores are also required for admission.

Coursework

Most master's degree programs require from 30 to 60 credits and offer an array of coursework to prepare students for a career after graduation. Although the curriculum varies by school, many of these programs include advanced courses in research methods and statistics, history of psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience, abnormal behavior, developmental psychopathology and child development. Many master's programs give students a choice of courses to allow specialization in particular areas depending on future plans. For example, the graduate program in psychology at George Mason University offers a school psychology concentration for those who wish to practice psychology in settings that deal with children, such as schools or clinics.

Directed Study or Internship

Not all programs require an internship, but hands-on research or occupational work is a common requirement of a master's program in psychology. Depending on the student's needs, some internships may be clinical, and others may involve more research. For example, the Web page of the psychology department at New York University offers a field work course for students to have direct experience in a clinic, agency or other department more suited to the applicable to the student's area of interest. Boston University requires directed study, in which students work under a faculty supervisor on an independent research project.

Thesis

Most master's students end their programs with a thesis or other research-based formal paper or project. Students usually begin their programs with a faculty research mentor or adviser who will become their thesis sponsor. Based on independent research done in the program, students will develop and propose a research question or thesis project to a committee, which will then evaluate and approve the idea. After the student completes the thesis, she may undergo a comprehensive examination along with the thesis defense which will evaluate the student's knowledge of her thesis topic and whether she is prepared to graduate with a master's degree. Once the thesis and defense are completed, the student is awarded a degree.

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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