Psychology Undergraduate Programs

Do you need an undergraduate degree in psychology to be admitted to a PhD program? No, but it can be an asset, especially since you will be embarking on a very competitive journey. According to the American Psychological Association, most programs favor candidates with a lot of psychology coursework; often this means either a major or minor in the field of psychology.

Featured 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. Visit School's Website.


  • 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. GCU also offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Visit School's Website.


  • 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. Visit School's Website.


  • 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. Visit School's Website.


  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Visit School's Website.


Psychology Undergraduate Program Options

Psychology undergraduate programs may award an associate’s degree in psychology, a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts. BS programs may place a greater emphasis on scientific methodologies or on biological bases of behavior than BA programs, but this varies a good deal from school to school. The American Psychological Association notes that there is much overlap and the decision is not critical. Either should cover the prerequisites—of course, programs may be impressed by a transcript that goes above the minimum in psychological scientific standards.

Since undergraduate programs are not geared toward meeting licensing standards and are not subject to program-specific accreditation, there is little standardization. Students should expect, at the onset or foundational level, to get an introduction to the discipline and to the scientific methods (for example, statistics).There will be some coursework in human development.

Some undergraduate courses survey psychology specialties. Some require multiple human development courses focused on different stages of the life cycle. It is possible to do a concentration or specialized track in fields like applied developmental psychology or even cognitive neuroscience. Some concentrations (for example, addictions) may help students achieve baccalaureate-level certifications.

The American Psychological Association does not have an approval or recognition process for undergraduate programs in psychology, but does offer resources for assessing program quality.

The APA has also put out a set of guidelines, newly revised and published in 2013(http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/about/psymajor-guidelines.pdf). Some standards are discipline-specific, some shared with other majors. Standards cover psychology knowledge base, scientific inquiry, and professional development, among others.

The Undergraduate Psychology Major as Preparation for Graduate School

That undergraduate psychology coursework can be an advantage at the graduate level. But just enrolling as a “psych major” and taking the classes won’t be enough to propel a person into a competitive Phd program.

The American Psychological Association notes that research is part of what can help you make the cut. The APA has this advice to offer students who are planning to take their education beyond the undergraduate level: Look for a school where you will have research opportunities and access to faculty members. (Your professors should be available to do more than grade your papers!)

There are plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to immerse themselves in the professional culture. Many schools have an undergraduate psychology association. Undergraduates also have the option of becoming student affiliates of the APA. As such, they have access to high-quality professional journals. The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) also accepts undergraduates.

The APA has a list of research and internship opportunities for undergraduates (http://www.apa.org/education/undergrad/research-opps.aspx). Exceptional students can apply for the APA summer science fellowship program; those who are selected work on research in areas like clinical psychology, applied developmental psychology, applied cognitive psychology, and industrial/ organizational psychology.

The Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology showcases the very best research carried out by undergraduate psychology majors (http://www.yale.edu/yrurp/submission).

Psychology BS or BA as Terminal Degree

Is the undergraduate psychology degree only valuable to those who will be continuing on to grad school? Absolutely not. It develops strong research and writing skills and provides knowledge of human behavior, which is applicable to everything from business and marketing to human and social services. The APA publishes a book on job search tips for the baccalaureate level psychology graduate (http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4313023.aspx).

You may also want to check out Graduate School FAQs on the APA website: http://www.apa.org/education/grad/faqs.aspx?item=7