Psychology Master’s Programs

A psychology master’s degree is a step along the path to a doctoral degree and a career as psychologist. It can also be the ticket (or part of the ticket) to mid-level mental health positions like school psychologist, psychological assistant, behavior analyst, or professional counselor. If you choose the right program, you may find yourself with multiple options.

The Master’s as Terminal Degree: Master’s Programs in School Psychology and Counseling Psychology

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The master’s can be a terminal degree. Master’s programs in psychology prepare students for careers — though usually not as professional psychologists. Most states allow individuals to work as school counselors with less than a doctoral degree.

Although you need a doctoral degree to be licensed as a counseling psychologist, you may achieve mental health licensure by studying counseling psychology at the master’s level. Graduates of master’s programs in counseling psychology are sometimes licensed as professional counselors.

One advantage to the counseling psychology program is that it may be more academically rigorous than a traditional counseling program. Upon graduation, you may have the option of either completing postdoctoral practice requirements for a professional counseling license or being accepted to psychology study at the doctoral level.

In states that are very particular about program-level accreditation, however, it may not qualify you for a professional counseling licensing.

Other Employment at the Master’s Level

In some jurisdictions, master’s level professionals work at the organizational level as industrial-organizational psychologists. They may also work at the program level as developmental psychologists.

In Vermont and West Virginia, master’s graduates may be licensed as psychologists following a period of supervised work experience; students considering this option will want to visit the websites of the licensing agencies to see specific program requirements.

In some other states, psychology master’s degree holders are credentialed as associates or assistants ( In some cases, master’s level practitioners can administer assessments but not interpret them. In some cases, they provide psychotherapy under supervision. Whatever careers one is considering, it’s a good idea to do some state-specific research.

Many psychologists enter fields that seek knowledge of human behavior but not clinical psychology knowledge. They may be in human resources, employee training, or human services. The American Psychological Association has published information about employment status of master’s and doctoral graduates (

Master’s Programs as Preparation for Doctoral Education

A master’s in psychology can also be a first step toward a doctoral degree. The American Psychological Association notes that those who didn’t study psychology at the undergraduate level may find it more realistic to apply first to a master’s program (

At some schools, highly qualified master’s students may transfer into doctoral programs. There is also an option of entering a doctoral program at a later stage with advanced placement. However, this is by no means guaranteed.

What should a master’s student do before applying to doctoral programs – besides complete those required courses? The APA cautions that admission to the doctorate is not all about grades — after all, this is an area where the typical master’s student does well! Students can make themselves more competitive by getting some experience in research or in the clinical arena.

Professional affiliations can increase access to resources and mentoring. A master’s student can join the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). ( Resources include publications, grant and scholarship opportunities.


The American Psychological Association does not accredit programs at the master’s level. In the case of school psychology programs, approval by the National Association of School Psychologists may be important ( What’s far important, in most specialties, is institutional level accreditation. For the most opportunities, seek regional accreditation.