Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions with an emphasis on the functions affecting behavior in specific contexts. Psychologists are able to work in a number of different settings including schools, prisons, hospitals, private practice, and other healthcare facilities. Individuals can also take the route of researching or teaching within the field. Psychologists conduct research to help understand their patient's behavior, memory, and mental health disorders. Through such understanding professionals can then utilize different counseling efforts to bring improvement to these specific areas in their patient's lives.
Due to the variety of different specialties within the field individuals can choose specific areas of concentration during their studies in order to go the desired route in their professional career. An associate degree in not sufficient to enter the field but it can well prepare students to move on to the next level of education. A bachelor's degree will provide a solid foundation for graduates to begin working entry-level positions within the field, but individuals should seek to earn their master's or even doctorate degree to practice in clinical settings treating patients.
Associate Degrees in Psychology
An associate degree in psychology will lay the foundation for a broad base of knowledge by combining general education courses with specialized psychology courses. Students will be required to complete 60 credit hours over the course of two years. Key classes include introduction to psychology, social psychology, human growth and development, abnormal psychology, psychology of personality, and social impact of technology. Graduates will be ready to move on to bachelor level programs without any additional education requirements. In order to qualify for admissions to an associate degree program applicants must submit their high school transcripts or proof of GED. Though it isn't a requirement, high school students who gain an early interest in psychology should take as many relevant classes as they can while they are still in high school. This will give them additional preparation for post secondary education. Average annual tuition usually runs under $10,000 a year.
Bachelor's Degrees in Psychology
Students who choose to participate in bachelor's degree program can complete it within four years. This level of program will refine participant's knowledge and skills that can be used in a number of areas within the field. Students will more than likely begin their program by focusing on general education while the second half of their program will immerse them in major specific courses. Total course requirements are comprised of 120 credits and include courses such as introductory psychology, psychology as a science and profession, basic research methods in psychology, statistics for psychology, and senior seminar in psychology. Some programs will also have the option for students to take part in an internship for credit. This will also help students to gain hands-on experience prior to entering the workforce. A bachelor's degree will help students prepare for graduate school as well as careers in social work, probation and corrections, and recreational therapy. To apply for this level of program the applicant must be a high school graduate or have completed their GED. Applicants who have earned over 24-credits from another institution will also need to provide their college transcripts. Transfer credits will be subject to approval by the college in which they are applying for. The annual tuition for a bachelor's degree program typically ranges from $16,260 to $28,800.
Master's Degrees in Psychology
A master's degree is the minimum education required in order to work as a licensed mental health counselor in a clinical setting. During their graduate studies participants will learn to work with diagnostic and therapeutic approaches that are common in the industry. They will learn how to evaluate their patients with accuracy to ensure the proper route of treatment is taken. Students can graduate with their degree in two years by completing up to 72 credit hours of study.
There are also several concentrations that students can focus on depending on their career aspirations and goals. Concentrations include child and adolescent development psychology, forensic psychology, and industrial organizational psychology. Students taking the child and adolescent approach can expect to take courses such as theories of personality, therapeutic approach to family, developmental psychology, and child and development psychology seminar. Courses like forensic psychology, intersection of law and psychology, and psychology in the courtroom are specific to the forensic psychology concentration. Students who take the route of industrial organizational psychology will participate in courses such as motivation in the workplace, psychology of leadership, and organizational consulting. During their second year of study students will enter in a practicum with an organization that fits their educational and career interests.
Applicants will be required to have an undergraduate degree, and although it is not required that it be in psychology, it will be expected that the applicant has completed basic courses in psychology, statistics, and research methods in social science. A satisfactory GRE or GMAT score must also be presented. Lastly, two letters of recommendations must be submitted that outline the applicant's likely success in the program. The references may be either professional or academic. Annual tuition will of course vary depending on the institution being attended, with tuition on the low end starting at under $8,000 and ranging up to $30,000 a year.
Doctoral Degrees in Psychology
After an individual has earned their master's degree in psychology they will have the option of continuing on to doctorate studies in which they will have two different degree options. The first option is a Doctorate in Psychology and the second is a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. A doctorate in psychology is a treatment-focused degree in which individuals who seek to work in a clinical setting can benefit from. Many graduates of a doctorate in psychology program go on to start up their own private practice. A doctor of philosophy in psychology is more academic in nature and is often sought after by individuals who wish to work as researchers or teachers.
It is important to note that regardless of the path chosen this level of program is rigorous and the admissions process is quite competitive. Applicants must have a master's degree and submit their transcripts during the admission process. They will need to showcase a high grade point average along with good GRE scores to remain competitive. A statement of purpose written by the applicant is also an important part of the admission process. This will showcase the potential student's academic and professional goals and how the program will aid in their success. Two letters of recommendation along with a professional resume may also be required. Lastly, although not a requirement, it is highly suggested that the applicant showcase some type of research experience. This will speak volumes about the applicant's drive and passion for the field.
It can take up to six years to complete a doctorate program, during which time students will complete classes such as neuroscience, foundations of cognition, mind, culture, and society, affective science, and graduate statistics. All students will also complete a dissertation. Total cost of education for a PhD program ranges from $31,038 to $62,680.
The Importance of Accreditation
Accreditation is the process in which academic programs are reviewed by outside organizations to ensure quality. This is an important factor that individuals must take into account before making a final commitment to any program because it can have an effect on them both during their studies and after graduation. By participating in an accredited program the student will have the confidence that they are receiving an education that is going to well prepare them for their future career. This will also allow the student to transfer credits with ease if they intend to move on to graduate studies. Accreditation also plays a role post graduation because many employers only recognize degrees if they are from an accredited institution.
The American Psychological Association (APA) is one of the most sought after accrediting bodies for post-secondary psychology programs. The APA Commission on Accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as well as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Their mission is to uphold policies, procedures, and guidelines that are relevant within the industry. To ensure that their accredited programs are also in keeping with their standards the APA-CoA conducts reviews on faculty, facilities, student resources, and testing procedures. The APA-CoA accredits doctoral programs, post-doctoral residency programs, and internship programs.
Those who wish to work as a psychologist will need to obtain licensure in their state, and license requirements vary depending on location. Individuals can also seek professional certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. The process to become certified involves a credentials review, peer-reviewed practice samples, and an oral examination conducted by board certified psychologists. Even if the individual's state does not require certification they may want to consider it anyway as it may give them an advantage when seeking employment.
Specialties Within the Field
There are several different specialties within the field of psychology. Aspiring professionals will want to take this into consideration before committing to a psychology program. They will want to ensure that they are participating in a program that includes classes that focus on the specific concentration that they intend to practice in their professional career.
Clinical Psychology: Clinical psychology is the practice that focuses on mental and behavioral health. These types of psychologists work with patients of all ages as well as families to diagnose and come up with treatment options that will best fit their needs.
Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychologists aim to explain the changes that both children and adults go through as they get older. An important component of this specialty is the examination of the level of influence that both nature and nurture has on the significant changes in a human's life.
Forensic Psychology: This area of specialization is where law and psychology meet. Forensic psychologists often work on legal cases alongside attorneys to help solve cases. They also work in settings other than the courtroom such as rehabilitation centers, police departments, law firms, or government agencies.
Health Psychology: Health psychology involves the analysis of mental, emotional, and social factors and how they can have an effect on an individual's well-being. Health psychologists also help their patients who experience illnesses cope with their conditions.
Industrial Organizational Psychology: This area of psychology is the study of human behavior within the workplace. IO psychologists help develop training, policies, and other organizational needs in order to create a more enjoyable working environment.
School Psychology: School psychologists apply their expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior to help students succeed academically and socially.
Social Psychology: This is a branch of psychology that deals with social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual.