Psychology Associate’s Degrees: Choosing a program that’s right for you

Psychology associate degrees can be a first step for students who will be pursuing further education: anything from baccalaureate level case work to graduate level mental health. They can help students obtain some lower level human service or technician positions. However, this depends on choices made by the individual student as well as on local opportunity.

Featured Programs:
  • Grand Canyon University (GCU) - offers an online Bachelor's in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. Several Master's in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.


  • Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an Online Bachelor’s in Psychology. This program is modeled around the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines. APA does not accredit undergraduate psychology programs. Capella University, also offers several Online Master’s and Doctoral programs in Psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
  • Pepperdine University - Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy online - Prepare to pursue licensure as an LMFT or LPC in as few as 24 months. No GRE required. Click Here to request information today.


  • New York University - Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance online - No GRE required. MPCAC-accredited. Complete in as few as 18 months. Bilingual concentration available. Scholarships available.Click Here to request information today.


  • University of Southern California - Online MSW - With options for both online and in-person field placement, USC's CSWE-accredited MSW program allows those with a BSW to earn their degree in as few as 12 months. Click Here to request information today.


  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Psychology Study at the Associate’s Level

The following are typical associate’s level psychology courses:

  • Introductory psychology
  • Psychology research
  • Human development
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Social problems

The American Psychological Association (APA) does not accredit programs at the undergraduate level, but has put together resources for selecting them. The APA released Guidelines 2.0 in autumn of 2013 them (http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/about/psymajor-guidelines.pdf).) The foundations level is a step below the baccalaureate level. It does not necessarily entail the completion of an associate’s degree, but rather several introductory courses. However, the APA has noted that this level may be comparable to a psychology minor or an associate degree that emphasizes psychology and has cited smooth articulation between associate and baccalaureate programs as one of the goals.

At the foundation level, the student should have a basic understanding of the discipline, including methodologies. Among the many goals are summarizing psychological factors that contribute to healthy lifestyle decisions, identifying challenges created by diversity, and navigating psychology databases — the latter being important to a student pursuing psychology at a higher level.

Choosing an Associate Level Psychology Program: Other Considerations

Associate level psychology programs may grant an Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Arts (AA), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree.. Programs are highly variable. One variable is how many general studies courses students take and how many courses they take in the major. Baccalaureate level professional programs generally assume that a majority of the first two years are spent taking liberal arts and other general studies.

Students may want to consider articulation: Does the school itself have psychology programs at higher levels? What institutions, if any, does it have articulation agreements with?

Students who are not planning on continuing on in the near future may have different priorities. Some psychology associate programs include courses relevant to lower level human services employment. The program may even include an externship. Such experiences can help students make connections in the ‘real world’ and provide them with references.

Extracurricular Options

Psi Beta is an honor society for lower level psychology students (http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2013/09/psi-beta.aspx). It provides opportunities for service learning, competitions, and other programming. The APA notes that students have sometimes been successful in starting chapters where there was none previously.

Careers at the Associate’s Level

Having an associate’s degree is valued by employers in everything from child care to human services. Schools offering psychology associates degrees cite the following as possible associate level career choices.

  • Psychiatric nursing assistant or orderly
  • Youth counselor
  • Case technician
  • Human service assistant
  • Home care aide
  • Addiction rehabilitation assistant

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that psychiatric technicians typically complete certificate programs geared toward the job role while psychiatric aides (a lower designation) may benefit from some postsecondary education in areas like psychology (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-4).

Students should be aware that mental health positions at the lower levels often entail helping individuals with problems and challenges of daily living. They may be called upon to monitor individuals in addiction treatment while taking medications or to transport them to services.

Next Steps

Foundation level professional goals include identifying skills sets that are valued by employers and understanding how course selection and options will influence later career paths. These competencies can confirm major or career choice, help students plan future studies, and help them in the job market if they don’t immediately continue on for higher degrees.