For most students, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a starting point to prepare for a rewarding career in this field. After earning an undergraduate degree, the next step is often earning a master’s degree, and possibly even a doctorate, depending on your personal career goals.
Choosing the right master’s degree can seem like a daunting task, so it’s important to know your options. Before deciding which degree is right for you, you will need to carefully consider your career aspirations and academic interests.
For some careers, such as a psychologist, it is necessary to earn specific degrees as well as additional licensure and other experience. If you are interested in such a career, look into what degrees are required for these paths. As a psychologist, you’ll need both a master’s and doctorate degree in psychology. To get into clinical practice, you’ll also need a clinical internship and licensure.
Getting a master’s degree in psychology opens the doors to many rewarding careers in this field—careers you can pursue with fewer credentials than a psychologist. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a mental health counselor, a master’s degree will give you the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in this position.
A Master’s Degree in Mental Health
One option for those who want to pursue a master’s degree within the field of psychology is a master’s degree in mental health and wellness. Mental health counselors typically receive broad training, enabling them to work with many types of clients. With this degree, students often aspire to work in fields like community health, grief and prevention.
Counselors act as trusted confidants, empathizing with their clients and helping them troubleshoot life’s challenges. Some of the specific tasks they may perform include the following:
- Assess clients’ behavioral issues and overall mental and physical health
- Develop treatment goals and plans and discuss them with clients
- Help clients develop effective coping skills and behavioral modifications
- Work with clients’ family members as appropriate, helping them understand their loved ones’ challenges and how best to support them
- Provide referrals to recommended community resources and other professionals as needed
This career allows you to work directly with individuals who are experiencing challenges and to help them achieve better quality of life and mental wellness. A mental health counselor may work with a diverse spectrum of clients, including those struggling with substance abuse, eating disorders and behavioral disorders. Some counselors may specialize in a certain population, such as couples or families.
If you’re curious about becoming a mental health counselor, it’s important to research the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. Each state establishes its own requirements, but in general, aspiring practitioners can expect to need a master’s degree in mental health counseling as well as an internship working under the supervision of a licensed counselor. These credentials should enable you to pursue licensure or certification in this field.
You can also look for a program that is specifically intended for aspiring counselors. Universities often offer specialization options, such as a specialization in trauma or child/adolescent development. You can choose a concentration that best fits your specific career aspirations.
A Master’s Degree in Psychology
Many students who earn a bachelor’s in psychology choose to continue this path by pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. Although most psychologists hold a doctorate degree and licensure allowing them to participate in clinical practice, there is at least one subfield of psychology that a professional can enter with just a master’s degree: industrial–organizational (I/O) psychology.
Industrial psychology is branch of psychology that is largely concerned with individual employees and how they interact with or respond to the workplace. Employee safety, training and hiring are all relevant topics.
Organizational psychology, on the other hand, focuses on the workplace and company organizations, including how workplace environments and interpersonal relationships affect workers and their productivity. Now, the two subfields are merged into industrial–organizational (I/O) psychology.
The work of I/O psychologists is quite impactful in modern society because countries run on the strength of their economies, and worker productivity is an integral component of the health of any organization. In a nutshell, I/O psychologists study, analyze and evaluate human behavior in all types of professional organizations, including nonprofit, academic and business settings.*
For example, an I/O psychologist might evaluate the behaviors, attitudes and productivity of workers in order to make impactful recommendations, including:
- Training programs
- Hiring practices
- Administrative policies
- Management practices
- Performance review protocols
Many I/O psychologists also work as consultants. They may work for a consulting firm or have their own consulting practice for which they travel to various organizations. Other I/O psychologists work directly for one large corporation on a full-time basis.
If you want to pursue a career as an I/O psychologist, you’ll first need to earn your undergraduate psychology degree, followed by a master’s degree. It’s ideal to choose a master’s degree that has a concentration in I/O psychology.
A Master’s Degree in Social Work
An undergraduate psychology degree can also lay a solid foundation for a career in social work. Social workers often provide mental health counseling services to their clients, so an understanding of the fundamentals of psychology and human behavior is helpful.
It’s often thought that social workers primarily work with children, such as by investigating possible cases of abuse and neglect. Although this is true, social workers often work with clients of all ages—from infants to the elderly. Some social workers work in school districts, while others work in hospitals, nursing homes, addiction treatment centers and community services organizations.
The day-to-day life of a social worker can vary tremendously, often depending on the client population they serve. In general, however, a social worker may do any of the following:
- Assess clients’ situations, needs, support networks and challenges
- Provide counseling intended to help clients cope with challenges in their life, ranging from unemployment to abuse and illness.
- Connect clients to needed community resources, such as assistance in applying for food stamps or finding childcare
- Respond to mental health emergencies and similar crises
If you’re interested in becoming a social worker, you will need to earn a master’s degree in social work. This program is usually followed by the completion of an internship or clinical practicum. The master’s degree and internship may allow you to meet the criteria necessary for pursuing licensure in your state, although you should double-check your state’s requirements before proceeding.
A Master’s Degree in Education
After earning a bachelor’s in psychology, some individuals decide to earn a master’s degree that enables them to enter the education field. If this path interests you, look for a degree that aligns with the state standards for acquiring a teaching license or certification. There are many master’s of education degrees to choose from in this path. One of the most popular is the master’s in elementary education.
Alternatively, if you would like to work in a school but do not wish to become a teacher, you might consider becoming a guidance counselor. Guidance counselors play an integral role in a student’s development, helping students overcome challenges that affect school performance, cope with social and behavioral issues, develop important life skills and plan for life after high school.
Aspiring school guidance counselors need a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field. Some states also require future counselors to acquire licensure or certification. Students should also plan to complete an internship experience.
A Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice
Some psychology majors decide to pursue a career in law and criminal justice after earning their degree. Because this field focuses on deviations in human behavior, a background in psychology is often a good fit. Some career possibilities include:
- Lawyer: After earning a psychology degree, you may decide to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice, followed by law school. From there, you could go on to be a prosecutor, defense attorney or personal injury lawyer. Your background in psychology will serve you well, no matter which specific path you take in this field.
- Police officer: If you want to apply to a police academy in order to become an officer, consider earning a master’s in law enforcement. Since police officers must be adept at objectively assessing the individuals with whom they interact, a background in psychology is ideal.
- Criminologist: Criminologists study criminal patterns, behaviors and trends to develop programs and policies that can help reduce criminal behavior and recidivism. After earning an undergraduate psychology degree, you may decide to earn a master’s in criminal justice or psychology in order to pursue this career.
After earning your bachelor’s degree in psychology, you can choose from a wide spectrum of master’s degree programs at Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore all of your master’s degree options available at GCU.
*Retrieved from the American Psychological Association, Industrial and Organizational Psychology in May 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.