Psychology is the scientific student of human behavior and of the mind. Most jobs in the field require an advanced degree like a master’s or a doctorate. Psychology is a diverse discipline, and there are many different graduate degrees available. Some programs act as preparation for further graduate education leading to a Ph.D. Others are called terminal degrees that allow students to enter the job market after receiving their master’s degree.
Employment prospects for psychologists are growing slowly — the field is expected to grow 3% from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The growth is offset by salaries in the field of psychology, which are well above average, making it an excellent field of study.
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Best Doctoral and Master’s in Psychology Degree Programs in 2021
The Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa offers doctorates in fields such as clinical science, health psychology, and social psychology. The department's student centered approach allows graduate students to design an individualized program around their career goals and research interests. With its focus on mental illness and public health, the clinical science program emphasizes research on mental and physical health, behavioral health problems, and the treatment of psychopathology. The program integrates research and training with dissemination through publishing and teaching, and Ph.D. students earn a master's in psychology as part of their training. In addition to APA accreditation, the University of Iowa's program holds accreditation from the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS).
Psychology doctoral students at the University of Indiana earn degrees in seven areas: clinical science, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, mechanisms of behavior, molecular and systems neuroscience, and social psychology. The research-oriented program emphasizes career preparation for positions such as clinical scientist over practitioner roles, while still providing clinical skills. Doctoral students participate in the department's research efforts, building the skills, scholarly knowledge, and experimentation abilities to understand the brain behavior system. All students admitted to the Ph.D. program benefit from a full funding support guarantee for five years, including a stipend, tuition waiver, and health insurance.
UT Austin admits candidates with a bachelor's degree into its doctoral program in psychology, and most students earn a master's degree while completing their Ph.D. requirements. The 30-credit master's in clinical psychology degree includes required courses in core content areas, a statistics course, and two thesis courses, building to an empirical thesis. Both clinical and non-clinical tracks emphasize physiology and learning; perception, cognition, and cognitive development; and abnormal, social, developmental, and individual differences. Students on the clinical psychology track complete an internship to gain professional experience, with the time to Ph.D. for clinical students averaging six years, or five years for non-clinical students.
The Ph.D. program in psychology at UNC includes six subfields in behavioral and integrative neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, quantitative psychology, and social psychology. The program's training emphasizes the skills required for careers in research, teaching, and clinical practice. Doctoral students earn a master's in psychology as they complete their Ph.D. requirements. Within clinical psychology, graduate students choose to focus on adults or on children and families, learning through clinically-informed research and evidence-based clinical work. The program holds accreditation from the APA and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS).
University of Wisconsin's Department of Psychology is known for providing excellent research and scholarship for over 100 years. Graduate programs in psychology include the PhD in psychology with several specialization options. The department is committed to preparing students for careers in academic training in general psychology and rigorous research within the chosen area of concentration. Consideration for admission is extremely competitive. The program reports an average of 450 applications each year and only admits 25 students. U.S. News and World Report lists University of Wisconsin as having the 9th best psychology graduate school in the country–tied only with MIT and University of Minnesota.
The University of Colorado's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience provides quality research training for its undergraduate and graduate students. The department offers PhD programs in five areas of specialization, including behavioral, psychiatric, and statistical genetics; behavioral neuroscience; clinical psychology; cognitive psychology/cognitive neuroscience; and social psychology. Admission can be selective and highly competitive due to the university's rankings among the top 30 psychology schools in the country. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Colorado as having the 30th best graduate psychology school–tied with Penn State, University of Iowa, and University of Oregon.
Ohio State University's Department of Psychology is recognized for its extended history and contribution to research and teaching in the field of psychology. Over fifty faculty and 150 graduate students explore research offerings at this highly ranked public institution. Seven PhD programs are available in psychology, including behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, intellectual and developmental disabilities, quantitative psychology, and social psychology. Students may complete a master's degree as the doctorate is pursued, but a master's thesis based on empirical research must be completed. Ohio State's psychology graduate school is ranked #21 by U.S. News and World Report.
UCLA's Psychology Department offers one of the most prestigious and top-ranked graduate psychology degree programs in the nation. While there is no separate master's in psychology program, students do earn enough credits to satisfy the requirements of a master's degree. The PhD program offers eight areas of emphasis, including clinical psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, and social psychology. The program offers rigorous scientific training and focuses on research in both academic and applied settings. Admission is highly competitive due to the program's high rankings and reputation. In the most recent edition of Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools, U.S. News and World Report ranks UCLA as having the 2nd best graduate psychology school in the country–tied only with University of California at Berkeley.
University of Washington offers a top-ranked PhD in psychology program that allows students to earn a master's in psychology while pursuing their doctoral degree. The program is mentor-based and designed for students to train under the direction of one or more faculty members whose scholarly interests align with their own. Several sub-disciplines within psychology include behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognition perception, development, and social and personality. There are also two minors, including diversity and quantitative psychology. University of Washington is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as a best national institution. Also, the graduate psychology school ranks #14 in the nation.
Graduate studies in psychology at University of Virginia include PhD programs with seven different areas of specialization. There is no terminal master's degree, but PhD candidates earn enough credits to obtain the master's along the journey toward the PhD. Areas of specialization include clinical, cognitive, community, developmental, neuroscience and behavior, quantitative, and social. Admission to the graduate program includes writing samples, resume, GRE scores in verbal and quantitative, and unofficial transcripts. U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Virginia's graduate psychology school #26 in the nation–tied with Brown University and Indiana University. Also, the institution is nationally ranked and recognized by major publications.
University of Minnesota's graduate psychology school is ranked among the top 10 psychology graduate schools in the country. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #9–tied with University of Wisconsin and MIT. The school offers a PhD training program with eight areas of specialization, including counseling psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and social psychology. Both clinical and counseling psychology programs at University of Minnesota are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Admission is highly competitive since the programs are recognized among the best in the world. General requirements include a bachelor's degree, cumulative GPA above 3.0, 12 semester credits of college-level psychology coursework, and GRE scores.
University of Illinois offers graduate psychology degrees that focus on research and teaching. The master's in psychology (MS) degree is awarded as an intermediate degree to PhD candidates who have successfully completed 32 hours of graduate work, including a thesis. The PhD program offers areas of specialization and requires at least 96 hours of graduate work. Admission is highly competitive and requires GRE scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. University of Illinois is a top-ranked research institution. Also, U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Illinois' graduate psychology school as the 7th best in the nation–tied only with Princeton University.
Pennsylvania State University's Department of Psychology offers several undergraduate and graduate programs, including the master's of professional studies in psychology and leadership and five PhD tracks. There are over 40 faculty committed to providing graduate students with mentorship, supervision, and research direction. Five PhD programs include clinical (adult and child psychology), cognitive, developmental, industrial-organizational, and social psychology. Admission to any of the psychology programs is competitive. Requirements include GRE scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a showcase of research capability that may take the form of papers or theses. Penn State is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as having the 30th best graduate psychology school in the country.
The University of Michigan's psychology department offers a Phd. program with six focus areas: biopsychology, clinical science, cognition and cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, personality and social contexts, and social psychology. Graduate students in clinical science build skills to promote well-being and reduce mental illness. As an applied science, the psychology program emphasizes empirical research, evidence-based clinical practice, teaching, and individual and group distinctiveness. Physiology graduate students investigate the connection between behavior and biology, including brain and behavior relationships and the evolution of behavior. The psychology program also encourages interdisciplinarity between the focus areas and other Michigan departments.
Cornell admits Ph.D. candidates in psychology who work in interdisciplinary fields. The graduate field of psychology includes faculty working in human development, neurobiology and behavior, industrial and labor relations, and nutritional science. Graduate students participate in the department's research initiatives, including work in behavioral and evolutionary neuroscience; perception, cognition, and development; and social and personality. The program does not offer clinical psychology as a field, nor does it admit candidates seeking a terminal master's in psychology. Applicants do not need an undergraduate psychology major to gain admission to the Ph.D. program.
Penn's graduate program in psychology blends research and scholarship, with incoming students spending their first year learning about areas of psychology before choosing a subfield. Penn offers a clinical training program for graduate students interested in research or academic careers in clinical psychology, psychopathology, or personality. The graduate group in psychology offers several Ph.D. options, but does not have a stand along master's in psychology program. However, students who complete the first year program plus eight credits and a master's thesis or research paper can apply for a master's degree. The program's two main focus areas include brain, cognitive, and decision science and clinical, positive, and social psychology.
Yale University's Department of Psychology organizes itself into five programs of study: clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social and personality psychology. The graduate program enrolls approximately 15 new PhD students each year. When applying, students indicate one of the five areas of concentration and, if admitted, are placed into this "home" lab to work with faculty and colleagues. It is possible for students to work with others outside of the "home" lab and participate in more than one concentration. Yale University is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as a best national institution. Also, the graduate psychology schools rank #4 in the country–tied with Harvard and University of Michigan.
New York University's Department of Psychology ranks in the top 30 for best graduate psychology schools by U.S. News and World Report. This ranking reflects the school's reputation for offering quality content and rigorous academic programs. Master's and doctoral programs are available and admission can be competitive. All applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and demonstrate intellectual curiosity, motivation, and the promise of scholarly achievement. Students may earn a master's in general psychology or master's in industrial organizational psychology. Two PhD programs are also available, including cognition and perception and social and personality.
With a 30-year award-winning faculty and national rankings by major publications like U.S. News and World Report, Carnegie Mellon University offers a top-notch psychology graduate program that provides rigorous and research-backed curriculum. Graduate studies include an intense and challenging training program that leads to a Ph.D. degree. Admission to the program is highly competitive. Approximately ten out of 120 applications are admitted each year. GRE scores are required and generally range from 149-170 in quantitative and 158-170 in verbal components. Carnegie Mellon is a nationally ranked institution by major publications like U.S. News. The graduate psychology school ranks #21 in the country–tied with other schools like Duke University and University of Chicago.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University offers a PhD program with two tracks of study. Students may follow one of the study tracks. The common curriculum is the first track, which includes several areas of focus, including behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, perception, and social psychology. The second track is clinical science. While there is no terminal master's in psychology degree, students may earn their master's while pursuing a doctorate. Four areas of specialty are available so that students may tailor their degree for research interests and career goals. Harvard is ranked #4 by U.S. News and World Report as having the best graduate psychology school in the country–tied with University of Michigan and Yale University.
Like many of the top-ranked schools on our list, Columbia University's PhD psychology programs offer master's degrees on the path towards the doctorate. Also, the Teachers Colleges of Columbia offers master's degree programs in school psychology and counseling. Admission is highly selective to all programs. GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and complete application packages are required. Columbia is a highly ranked research institution that is recognized by all major publications like Forbes and U.S. News and World Report. The graduate school of psychology ranks #14 in the nation–tied with other schools like Cornell, Northwestern, UCLA, and Washington University, to name a few.
Princeton offers a Phd. in psychology with specializations in areas such as development psychology, perception and cognition, the psychology of inequality, and social psychology. Graduate students can also pursue an interdisciplinary degree combining psychology with neuroscience or social policy. The program's training includes courses in design and interpretation of social psychological research and research seminars in cognitive psychology, which emphasize research skills and scholarly knowledge in the field. Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field such as cognitive science, neuroscience, or linguistics, and successful applicants often hold a master's in psychology or undergraduate research experience.
Stanford University is one of the top research institutions in the world, characteristically ranked among the top five national universities by all major publications like Forbes magazine and U.S. News and World Report. Also, the psychology graduate school is ranked #1 in the most recent edition of Best Grad Schools. Academic programs include the PhD in Psychology, which allows students to earn a master's on their way to earning a doctoral degree. There is no terminal master's in psychology degree, but a co-terminal program. Five specialty areas include affective science, cognitive, developmental, neuroscience, and social psychology. Admission is highly selective and requires GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose among other documentation.
The Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Washington University groups its doctoral students in four specializations: aging and development; behavior, brain, and cognition; clinical psychology; and social and personality psychology. Incoming students gain exposure to all areas through early coursework and research, and then choose a focus area. The program also offers research strength in diversity science, which investigates underrepresented and understudied populations. Doctoral students in the clinical science training program build skills in both clinical science and practice, with many students choosing to become practitioners after completing their degree. Applicants to the Ph.D. program do not need a master's in psychology to gain admission.
Duke University's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience offers five graduate training areas in clinical psychology, cognition, developmental psychology, social psychology, and systems and integrative neuroscience. For those interested in a master's in psychology, the doctoral-level psychology programs allow students to earn a master's while pursuing their PhD. There is no terminal master's in psychology degree offered by Duke. Duke University is ranked by all major publications. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school as the 8th best national university in the country. Also, Duke ranks #21 among the best graduate psychology schools in the country–tied with Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State, and University of Chicago.
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Grad School Hub compiles rankings based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics play a significant role in how we source our educational data. After collecting insight for each institution, we organize information into five weighted categories.
Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates
Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid
Admission and enrollment rates
Number of program options
Online Enrollment Score
Portion of learners taking at least one online course
Answering your questions about psychology graduate programs
What are the different master’s degrees in psychology?
There are many concentrations to choose from when attending graduate school for psychology. First, you’ll have to choose between a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Science (MS). After that, you’ll choose from one of many concentrations that include clinical psychology, school psychology, organizational psychology, and more.
What are the best graduate programs for psychology?
There are many excellent programs to choose from when seeking a master’s and a doctorate degree in psychology. When choosing the right program for you, consider factors such as tuition cost, reputation, location, and average years of completion.
What can you do with a master’s degree in psychology?
There are many jobs available to someone with a master’s degree in psychology, other than in a counselor’s office, including hospitals, schools, and government. Keep in mind that many jobs in the field also require a doctoral degree or licensure before you can start working.
What GPA do you need to get into grad school for psychology?
The GPA requirement will vary depending on the school you choose to attend. In general, you’ll need at least a 3.0 GPA to attend a master’s in psychology program. For a more competitive program, expect to need above a 3.5.
What Can I Expect From a Master’s in Psychology?
Pursuing your master’s degree in psychology is an important step in entering the field. Most psychology jobs require an advanced degree, so you’re on the right track. Before you get started, you’ll have to choose what program to attend and whether to seek an M.A. (Master of Arts) or M.S. (Master of Science).
During the program, you’ll study a variety of topics related to psychology. You’ll be required to earn anywhere from 30-36 credits, which typically takes about two years, though it can take longer if you’re attending school part-time. Many jobs in psychology require a doctoral degree, so a master’s degree is often a stepping stone for the next level of schooling.
Why Should I Get a Master’s in Psychology?
Psychology is an important field that can be incredibly fulfilling to work in. The knowledge you gain from this advanced degree can open the door to various benefits, like professional mobility and significant job satisfaction.
Upward Job Outlook
Overall the BLS projects growth in most occupations in which professionals with an advanced psychology degree are employed. Health specialists, counselors, and educational advisers are projected to see the highest job growth. Many of these opportunities will be in settings such as mental health centers, hospitals, and schools.
Opportunity to Make an Impact
When you work as a psychologist or another professional in the psychology field, you often work directly with individuals, helping them to work through some of the more challenging times of their lives. While the journey to become a licensed psychologist and the career itself are both difficult, people often find it worth it because of how rewarding the field is.
Specialization and Certifications
Earning a master’s in psychology is the first step towards finishing a doctorate. Most state licensing boards require a doctorate degree if you’re interested in practicing psychology, but you can still choose other rewarding career paths with a master’s degree. Many professionals who skip a doctorate specialize in educational psychology or organizational psychology and find meaningful work in universities, nonprofits, and private corporations.
What is the difference between a master’s in psychology and a Ph.D. in psychology?
A master’s degree is an advanced degree that is one level above a bachelor’s degree and usually offers various types of specializations. This type of degree takes anywhere from one to three years to complete. You must generally complete a thesis or capstone project before graduation.
A Ph.D. in psychology is the most advanced degree in any field, including psychology. These degrees take about six years to complete and require students to complete a dissertation. A similar degree is the Psy.D., or Doctor of Psychology. This degree is significantly newer and requires fewer years, and often no dissertation. Depending on the doctoral degree you choose to pursue, you’ll be surprised to find a relevant position in some unusual fields.
Admissions and Requirements
The admission requirements for graduate school in the field of psychology will depend on the school you choose to attend, but there are a handful of standard requirements. You will most likely be required to submit undergraduate transcripts with a competitive GPA, as well as test scores from either the GRE or GMAT.
When it comes to graduate programs, the pool of candidates may be smaller, so schools look at more than simply GRE scores or GPA points too. Consider spending time on your personal statement, if the program requires one, as well as a resume that reflects relevant and recent work applicable to psychology.
Another thing to consider is showcasing skills from other professions that can transfer over to the psychology program of your choice. For example, if you have marketing experience, highlight your research and data analytics skills. Both skills are great foundations for research assistant work.
Career and Salary Outlook for Psychology Graduates
According to BLS data, the median annual wage for a psychologist in the United States is $82,180. The highest 10% of earners make more than $137,590. This above-average salary reflects the fact that licensed psychologists are usually required to have an advanced degree. Psychologists working in government and hospital settings tend to be on the higher end of the pay spectrum, while those working in schools are at the lower end of the pay spectrum.
The job outlook for psychologists is generally positive. Employment is expected to grow by about 3% from 2019 to 2029. The greatest increase is likely to occur for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists due to the greater demand for those services in schools and health care centers.
Concentrations in Psychology and Master’s Programs
This concentration of psychology focuses on the connection between our mind and our behavior. It looks for patterns in human behavior and seeks to determine why humans behave the way they do.
In this concentration, you’ll focus on the study and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. This type of study focuses on hands-on work directly with clients in either a clinic, counseling center, or hospital setting.
This concentration studies the connection between someone’s behavior and their nervous system. You’ll study the relationship between injuries and illnesses and their effect on behavior.
This concentration is a type of general practice psychology where you learn to counsel patients on a variety of topics surrounding their mental and emotional health. Professionals in this area often counsel patients through stressful life events and focus on individual well-being.
Quantitative and Measurement Psychology
This concentration is primarily focused on the data and statistics behind psychology. Students who seek this concentration often go into research-focused careers.
Certifications and Licenses
There are a variety of certifications and licenses available in the field of psychology. Each of these licensures prepares you to work in a different part of the psychology field. Depending on the direction you choose to go, licensure happens either through your state government or through a particular organization, such as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Which you choose to pursue will depend on the type of work you hope to do.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
This license is used in 24 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The LPC is known as a broader term that refers to professionals with counseling and rehabilitation training. Most LPC’s are required to perform most types of counseling, whether they’re directly related to health or not.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
If you’re interested in providing counseling services to marriage and families, this license can help you narrow your field and meet regularly with clients in private practices. With this title, you will be able to work alongside social workers as well.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
Individuals can pursue this state license, which is used in New Hampshire, Utah, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Like an LPC, a licensed mental health counselor must pursue an advanced degree before providing counseling based mental health therapy.
Scholarships, Grants, and Financial Aid for Psychology Graduate Students
Advanced degrees such as master’s and doctoral degrees can be a significant financial investment. Luckily, there are different types of financial aid to consider when pursuing graduate studies. Here are a few scholarships available to psychology students.
Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship Who Can Apply: Students working on graduate-level scholarly projects that use a psychological perspective to help understand and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Amount: $1,000
Benton-Meier Scholarship Who Can Apply: Graduate students studying neuropsychology who have completed their doctoral candidacy and demonstrate research competence and area commitment. Amount: $2,000
Minority Fellowship Program Who Can Apply: Promising and postdoctoral students focusing on areas related to ethnic minority behavioral health research can apply for this fellowship. Amount: Varies
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Erin Gobler is a freelance writer who covers education topics for Best Value Schools, Graduate School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, among others. Her work has been published on sites like Fox Business, Rocket Mortgage, and The Balance.
Andrea Perez is the schools editor at Grad School Hub who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. A graduate school alumna of the University of South Florida, she previously served as an editor at The Simple Dollar, as well as a staff writer at Connect, USF's digital magazine.
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