Are you thinking about earning a psychology degree? There are several different degree options to choose from at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Before you determine which type of degree to earn, it's important to understand what level of education you will need in order to enter your chosen career path. For some professions, a bachelor's degree might be sufficient. Other career paths might require some type of graduate degree.
Here are the different types of psychology degrees, how long each one takes to earn, and the career options available at each degree level.
1 Associate Degree in Psychology
An associate degree in psychology is an undergraduate-level degree that usually takes two years to complete. The associate degree option is often offered at community colleges and many students then transfer to a state university to complete a bachelor's degree.
To be blunt, there aren't many jobs available at the associate level. Most entry-level psychology professions require a bachelor's degree at the very minimum. An associate degree is commonly used as a stepping stone toward earning a bachelor's and is a great way to gain a solid background in psychology before moving on to more advanced studies.
One possible job option with an associate degree in psychology is to work as a psychiatric technician1 in a state mental hospital. In some states, you may also qualify for certain rehabilitation worker jobs as long as you have at least 32 credit hours in the social sciences.
2 Bachelor's Degree in Psychology
A bachelor's degree in psychology is an undergraduate-level degree that typically takes four years to complete. At many universities, students can choose between a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. Generally speaking, B.A. degrees tend to require more liberal arts general education courses, while B.S. degrees require more science general education courses.
In most cases, there is a much wider range of job opportunities in psychology for those with a graduate degree. However, a bachelor's degree serves as a solid basis for further graduate study in psychology and does offer a limited selection of entry-level career options.
According to one survey2, only about 27 percent of people with a bachelor's in psychology end up working in a field closely related to their degree. A few common job titles for people with this type of degree include case managers, psychiatric technicians, career counselors, and rehabilitation specialists. Bachelor's degree holders often find work in other areas including advertising, sales, marketing, teaching, and childcare.
3 Master's Degree in Psychology
A master's degree in psychology is a graduate-level degree that usually takes between two and three years beyond the bachelor's degree to complete. Like the bachelor's degree, students can usually choose between a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in psychology.
Jobs at the master's level are far more plentiful than those at the bachelor's level, which is why this is one of the most popular degree options. While some master's programs offer what is known as a terminal degree, or an end-level degree designed to prepare students for the workforce, other master's programs focus on preparing students for doctoral-level study.
Graduates with a master's degree can find jobs in a variety of areas including mental health services, government agencies, and business fields. While there are some opportunities for teaching at colleges and universities, these positions tend to be limited and highly competitive. A few job titles that a master's degree holder might find include social services manager, drug and alcohol specialist, behavioral counselor, child protection worker, and human resources manager.
4 Ph.D. in Psychology
A Ph.D. in psychology, or doctor of philosophy in psychology, is a doctoral-level degree that can take four to six years of graduate study to complete. The Ph.D. degree tends to take a more research-oriented approach but does include both theoretical and applied training.
There are also a wide variety of specialty areas to choose from. Your choice will largely depend on what you choose to do after you graduate. If you're interested in working in psychotherapy or possibly opening your own private practice, you might want to earn a Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology.
If you're interested in working in teaching, research, or an applied area, you might choose to earn a Ph.D. in a specialty like social, developmental, industrial-organizational, or experimental psychology.
5 Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
The Psy.D., or doctor of psychology, was created as an alternative to the traditional Ph.D. Psy.D. programs tend to be more focused on the professional practice of psychology. Those who earn a Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology and pass the required licensing exams are qualified to diagnose and treat mental disorders, conduct psychological tests, and provide psychotherapy.
In most cases, the Psy.D. degree takes approximately four to seven years to complete. During this time, students receive extensive training in topics such as diagnosing mental illness, performing psychological assessments. and conducting clinical interventions.
Just as with the Ph.D. degree, Psy.D. students are required to complete a supervised practicum and internship in a clinical setting. The practicum usually involves working part-time under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, while the internship is a full-time position that lasts at least one year.
Once students have completed their required coursework, practicum and internship, they can take the state and national licensing exams.
A Word From Verywell
You have many options for which educational path to take in psychology, and it's wise to explore what careers each degree can open to you. Invest your education dollars wisely to meet your goals.