By studying how humans and other species relate to each other and the environment, psychologists examine mental processes and behavior. Scientific methods, procedures or principles help psychologists to test their ideas when looking for patterns that will guide them in predicting behavior. Through research, psychologists have uncovered information that fosters understanding among individuals, groups, institutions, cultures, and nations.

To practice psychology, students must earn a master’s or doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) through a graduate program. From there, they work in a variety of industries and complete a wide range of functions. Psychologists employed in health service may provide mental health care in clinics, schools, hospitals, or private settings. In applied settings such as business, government, industry or nonprofit organizations, psychologists may offer training, conduct research, design organizational systems, and act as advocates for the field of psychology.

Psychology branches off into many professional specializations. The largest group, clinical psychologists, works to assess, diagnose, treat and prevent mental disorders. Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and court professionals understand the psychological findings of a particular case. Typically designated as an expert witness, forensic psychologists further specialize in either family court, civil court, or criminal court.

The fastest-growing and most lucrative field of psychology is industrial and organizational psychology. Using their knowledge of workplace relationships and power dynamics, these psychologists maximize the corporate efficiency and well-being of the companies that employ them.

Professionals in the psychology field lay the groundwork for their career with rigorous academic studies, beginning with a bachelor’s degree followed by the mandatory master’s degree through a psychology graduate program. Some of the most common undergraduate majors pursued by future graduate students in psychology programs are:

  • Psychology
  • Behavioral Science
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Human Development and Family Studies

Graduate Program - Psychology Career Opportunities

Psychology graduate programs offer many different specializations at both the master and doctorate level.

  • Psychologists: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were 170,200 employed psychologists in 2008. As our population continues to age and grow, the demand for psychologists will as well. In fact, The BLS anticipates that 19,700 new psychologists jobs will be added over 10 years, bringing the total to 189,900 positions by 2018. The 12% growth rate predicted for psychologosts is about the same as the average for all professions.

The estimate for real job opportunities for psychologists is expected to be be better than the projected BLS estimate. The Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, predicts that there will be 68,000 positions available to certified psychologists between 2008 to 2018. This figure, which is three times higher than the job growth predicted by the BLS, includes those 19,700 predicted new positions as well as those positions vacated by career change, retirement, and early termination.

Industrial and organizational psychologists, although the smallest sub-group within the field of psychology, will see surprisingly fast job growth: 26%. Another unique factor about industrial and organizational psychologists is that they are the only group that can practice with just a master’s degree. However, the BLS clearly notes that doctorates are becoming more and more expected in the ultracompetitive job market.

Clinical, counseling and school psychologists, which make up the largest sub-group in psychology, will experience an 11% growth rate, which closely matches the average for all professions.

Psychology Annual Salary Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Graduate Programs - Psychology Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts clinical, counseling, and school psychologists (comprising 89% of the field) earned an AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY OF $64,140 IN 2008. The MIDDLE 50% of the industry earned a salary BETWEEN $48,700 AND $82,800, while the BOTTOM 10% earned a salary that was LESS THAN $37,900 and the TOP 10% earned AS MUCH AS $106,840 OR MORE.

Industrial and organizational psychologists made significantly more with a YEARLY MEDIAN of $77,010 IN 2008. The aMIDDLE 50% of the field earned BETWEEN $54,100 AND $115,720, while the BOTTOM 10%< earned LESS THAN $38,690 and the TOP 10% earned MORE THAN $149,120.

Psychologist Career Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Graduate Programs - Psychology Educational Benefits

Entry-level psychology positions require advanced, high-level psychology education. Psychologists have always been required to have substantial post-secondary and post-graduate education: The Occupational Information Network reports that the vast majority of psychologists have earned master’s and doctoral degrees.

A graduate degree (generally a doctorate) is required for all psychologist positions, and admission to graduate psychology programs is generally very competitive.

In psychology positions, as with all professions, a significant gap in earnings exists between bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates: Median earnings of $64,116 per year for master’s degree holders compared to $52,624 for bachelor’s degree holders, according to 2008 BLS numbers. That’s a difference of $11,492 a year; $852 a month; and $213 a week!

Graduate Programs - Psychology Programs Online

Online psychology programs have offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Supervised clinical components, ususally in the form of clinical rotations, are generally part of master's and doctoral programs. Beware of online psychology graduate programs that do not have supervised clinical work as part of their requirements, since they will unlikely to meet your state’s licensing requirements for psychologists.

The best online psychology graduate programs give students a high-quality education that stands up to those at a local ground school, but in a flexible format that may better suit working students or professionals. As with any costly, but necessary, educational decisions, research thoroughly when choosing an online psychology degree program. Take a close look at this website, and speak with your admissions counselor about these items:

  • Is the graduate psychology school accredited?
  • Will your psychology credits transfer?
  • What are the reviews for this program and school?
  • Have you looked into the qualifications for your career choice and will this program assist you in pursuing this path?
  • Have you looked at what the job placement and salary data is for graduates of this psychology program?
  • What career placement resources do you offer to graduate students in your program?
  • How many semester hours of psychology graduate study are required in your master’s degree program?
  • Does this counseling psychology degree meet the licensing requirements of every state?

Graduate Programs - Psychology Skills and Abilities

Particularly in the realm of direct patient care, psychologists should be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people. They should also be excellent communicators, with the ability to draw upon their experience and education to provide concise and helpful advice in their chosen psychology specialization.

Sensitivity, compassion, and leadership and communication skills are relevant qualities for clinical work and counseling. Additionally, these professionals may need to employ creative thinking, patience, and perseverance when treating long-term behavioral, developmental, or relationship issues.

Because psychologists work with quite a few patients and clients at the same time, and each client has different issues, psychologists need to have strong organizational skills so that every meeting can proceeed without a problem. The field of industrial and organizational psychology places a special emphasis on efficiency expertise and organization skills.

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