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The Steps to Earn a Master's Degree in Psychology

by Ashley Miller, studioD

For students who love learning about human behavior and interaction, the study of psychology often offers a fascinating and rewarding educational path. Earning a master's degree in psychology won't allow to you call yourself a psychologist -- in most states, you need a doctorate to do so -- but it can be a stepping stone to doctoral study. It can also open the doors to a variety of exciting career opportunities in fields like social services, business, education and counseling.


Most graduate schools don't require applicants to master's degree programs in psychology to have earned bachelor's degrees in psychology. Applicants to master's degree programs often come from a wide range of majors, including liberal arts and sciences. But having a bachelor's degree in psychology can provide you with a solid foundation for advanced study and help you determine whether this is really the path you want to follow. Regardless of your major, many schools require that you have completed introductory psychology coursework during your undergraduate studies. In addition to a bachelor's degree, many graduate schools require applicants to take the GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, and submit a written personal statement.


The length of time it takes to earn a master's degree in psychology varies by school. Generally speaking, most schools require students to complete the degree in one or two years. You'll usually need to complete between 30 and 36 credits of coursework. Core courses generally include general psychology, social, cognitive, developmental, abnormal or experimental psychology, research methods and statistics. You'll also take electives of your choice, which can include courses like psychoanalytic theory, forensic psychology or fieldwork.


Fieldwork, also known as an internship, isn't always required to complete a master's degree in psychology. Some schools offer fieldwork as an elective, in which students voluntarily choose to complete a supervised clinical internship for academic credit. Other schools may have an internship/fieldwork requirement, but the exact number of hours and credits you'll need to complete varies by school. During your internship you'll provide services like assessment or counseling to clients in a clinical setting, such as a mental health clinic or school, under the direct supervision of a qualified psychologist.


Not all schools require master's degree candidates in psychology to complete a formal thesis. Some may require students to complete a supervised research project and submit a written report of their findings. Other schools require students to write a formal thesis. In such cases, students usually select several topics they might like to work on for their master's thesis during the graduate school application process. The thesis must be submitted and approved by faculty review committee before the master's degree can be conferred.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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