2017 Guide to Accredited Online Psychology Degree Programs

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that psychology is the third most popular undergraduate path in the nation. Between 2013 and 2014, 117,000 learners graduated from a psychology program. Many degree seekers in these programs are aware that positions in psychology are growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that psychology positions will grow by 19% between 2014 and 2024. If you’re passionate about helping others address problems in their life and contributing meaningful research to the field, an online psychology degree could be a perfect fit for your interests and future goals.

Employment Growth for Psychologists, 2014-2024

  Employment, 2014 Employment, 2024
Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists 155,300 185,900
Industrial-organizational psychologists 2,000 2,300
Psychologists, all other 16,600 18,300

Source: BLS

Not sure where to start in terms of finding the best school to complete your online psychology degree? Look no further than Accredited Online Colleges’ Directory of Schools to get a great sense of the online psychology programs available.

What’s the Difference Between a Counselor, Psychologist, and Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have chosen to specialize in mental health. They can prescribe medications, but they do not commonly counsel patients or provide therapy. Psychologists typically have a Phd., or PsyD, and are only allowed to prescribe medication in Louisiana and Mexico. Counselors typically have a master’s degree in psychology or social work and are not allowed to prescribe medication under any circumstances.

What Can I Do With a Degree in Psychology?

Because psychology degrees teach students how to understand human emotions, motivations, and factors affecting behaviors, careers for graduates are varied and countless. While associate degrees prepare students for careers as psychiatric technicians, corrections officers, or social work assistants, those with terminal doctorate degrees in the field can be found working as clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, and other specialty positions.

What Are the Advantages of Getting a Degree in Psychology?

Individuals who enjoy working with others are frequently drawn to psychology degrees online as they allow graduates to help improve the lives of the people with which they work. Psychology graduates can find work in many different fields, including advertising and criminal justice. An associate or bachelor’s degree also serves as an excellent foundational plan of study for advanced degrees in many different topics.

Can You Get a Psychology Degree Online?

Yes. There are hundreds of online psychology programs available at public and private colleges and universities throughout the country. While not all programs are created equally, many of the best online psychology degrees are available through distance learning.

What License Do I Need to Become a Psychologist?

To be a psychologist, all individuals must receive licensure through their state’s licensing board. Requirements vary by state, but all require students to graduate from a doctoral program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association and/or the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Psychology Specialities and Concentrations

Psychology is a wide-ranging field with many subtopics and specialties. When completing an advanced psychology degree online, distance learners will have the opportunity to select from a range of concentrations to specialize their knowledge (and future practice) in the field. Below, is a list of common concentrations.

Clinical Psychology

Focuses on preparing graduates to assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders through a variety of methods. Clinical psychology is a diverse concentration that prepares students to work in many settings.

Forensic Psychology

Applies the principles of psychology to issues related to law and the legal system. Graduates can be found working in prison rehabilitation, jury selection, crime prevention, and advanced police work.

Educational Psychology

Emphasizes how individuals learn, process, and understand social-emotional factors and how to use that information to properly educate individuals. Graduates work in school and university settings as researchers and in curriculum design.

Child Psychology

Delves into child development from prenatal to adolescent stages and how certain events affect emotional, mental, physical, and social development. Child psychologists can be found in schools, mental health clinics, and private practices. They can also find work as consultants.

Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology

Focuses on experimental clinical approaches that incorporate human development and cognitive processing to promote better behavior. Work can be found in mental health clinics, hospitals, private practices, and schools.

Geropsychology

Places emphasis on the psychology of aging by incorporating theories culled from biology, sociology, social work, and other disciplines that address age. Graduates can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, and private practices.

Accreditation for Online Psychology Programs

When choosing a psychology degree online, it’s important that you look at accredited programs. Most programs are either regionally or nationally accredited; regional accreditation is commonly seen as more valuable to employers. Postgraduate online psychology degrees should be accredited by the American Psychological Association (the APA does not accredit associate or bachelor’s-level degrees) to be deemed reputable by licensing boards. Although students may spend years pursuing an advanced degree in psychology, it will be all for naught if they graduate from a psychology degree online program that isn’t accredited. No state licensing board will provide licensure to practice as a psychologist to individuals who haven’t met these requirements.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Students should also look for programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The council accredits master’s and doctoral programs in counseling, including specialties. Accreditation from CACREP ensures that a program meets national standards. It also makes it easier to gain licensure. CACREP accredited programs meet the eight national standards deemed important by the American Counseling Association and the Department of Education.

Educational Paths to Becoming a Psychologist

Because online psychology degrees are offered at every academic level, the range of careers available vary greatly based upon what degree a student obtains. Graduates of associate-level programs mostly work in support roles, while those who complete doctoral online psychology degrees are able to become fully licensed psychologists and see patients.

Curriculum for an Online Psychology Programs

Psychology is a broad discipline that offers many different specializations, so distance learners are likely to encounter a variety of course options based on what school they attend and the program they select. Another significant variable is the level at which the student is studying, as advanced degree paths will likely have more nuanced coursework than traditional associate or bachelor’s programs. The courses highlighted below are provided as a way of giving students a glimpse of classes they may be expected to take.

Cognitive Psychology

Students are introduced to the scientific study of mental processes in this online psychology course. The course focuses on topics such as how people acquire, use, and communicate information, and how things like perception, memory, language, reasoning, decision-making, and problem solving are used. This class is a prerequisite for many future careers in psychology.

Evolution and Human Nature

Students discover how aspects of human behavior are explained through natural selection in this online psychology course. Specific topics include sexual differences, selfishness versus altruism, homicide, violence, and the use of human reasoning in understanding context. Individuals planning to work in more scientifically-driven lab/research roles are drawn to this course.

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

This online psychology course focuses on providing an overview of the neurobiological principles behind learning and memory. Emphasis is given to cellular and molecular studies of memory, amnesia, aging, Alzheimer’s disease, intellectual disability, and emotional intelligence. This class prepares students for roles as neuropsychologists, as well as roles working with the elderly.

Degree Types

Graduates of online psychology degrees will see their salary potential affected by many different factors, like state of employment, chosen career, and degree level. The table below represent the salary graduates can expect for each degree level and how years of experience will affect their earnings.

Associate of Arts (AA)

A foundational degree that leads either to a bachelor’s degree or to entry-level employment in a psychological setting. Not sufficient to pursue a professional career in psychology.

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

This degree is best suited for those who wish to study the field of psychology and then pursue non-psychological careers, attend law school, enter an MBA program, or pursue graduate work in fields such as education, educational psychology, or social work.

Bachelor of Science (BS)

This degree is the best choice if you want to become a psychiatrist, as it is a precursor to medical school, which is the necessary degree for psychiatry, as well as allied health professions including physical therapy, physician assistant, dentistry, occupational therapy, and optometry.

Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS)

Some professional occupations open up with a terminal master’s degree (including entry-level positions in mental health, occupational psychology and forensic psychology), but generally speaking, a master’s degree is not sufficient to become a practicing psychologist. If your goal is to become a professional counselor, you might consider a Master’s in Social Work, which, unlike psychology master’s degrees, is sufficient to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC). Most LPC programs will accept students with bachelor’s degrees.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

In order to take the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), the licensing exam required to practice psychology and become a clinical psychologist or therapist, you must have a doctoral degree from an accredited psychology program. These degree programs generally require only a psychology bachelor’s degree to apply.

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.)

These are degrees that allow you to practice medicine, prescribe medications, and practice psychiatry. If you are interested in this career path, consider pursuing the BS degree in psychology and completing all pre-med coursework required for the degree program(s) of your choice. Only students graduating from accredited medical programs will be licensed to practice medicine in the US.

Doctor of Educational Psychology (EdD)

This degree focuses on learning and development, and usually leads to careers in teaching or research, instructional design and curriculum development, or special education.

 

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    Skills Needed

    Psychologists are required to have many skills and knowledge of theories to be successful in their field. Review the following table to learn about some of the most in-demand skills for graduates of psychology degrees online.

    Patient Counseling

    Communication and listening skills are sacrosanct to the profession of psychology, and students are taught these valuable skills through clinical and traditional coursework.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 13%

    Psychological Testing

    Psychological tests are similar to the diagnostic tests done by doctors. They provide a baseline for understanding what work needs to be done. Students learn how to administer these tests by taking a psychological tests and measurements course.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 10%

    Health Psychology

    Distance learners enrolled in a health psychology course gain skills that help them ascertain how health and illness are affected by psychological, cultural, and behavioral factors.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 7%

    Forensic Psychology

    Forensic psychology combines psychology with the legal system. It develops the skills needed to work with law enforcement officials.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 6%

    Clinical Psychology

    Clinical psychology is a broad, well-established branch of the discipline. It focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of a range of emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders. All students are required to take at least one clinical psychology course as part of curriculum requirements.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 3%

    Autism Experience

    Students learn about autism through cognitive development and childhood psychology coursework. They learn how to help patients overcome social disabilities.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 8%

    Geriatrics Experience

    Geriatrics involves the study of specific psychological issues of the aging population. Skills related to serving these individuals are typically gained through a geropsychology course.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 3%

    Psychotherapy

    Psychotherapy courses teach distance learners to treat mental disorders by addressing the psychological undercurrents that are causing issues for the patient.

    Salary growth potential for professionals with this skill: 13%

    Source: Payscale.com

    Internships and Fellowships

    Completing an internship is a critical requirement of any accredited program. APA-accredited terminal psychology degrees require a minimum of 1,900 hours of supervised clinical practice before qualifying for graduation. Internships resemble medical fellowships when compared to other academic internship requirements, and students should be prepared for long hours and strenuous schedules. During psychology internships, students may find it difficult to balance schoolwork, required clinical hours, and outside employment, so consider your options before starting this portion of the degree.

    Licensing and Certifications

    • Clinical Health Psychology and Clinical Neuropsychology: This post-doctoral certificate requires one year of study and provides advanced and specialized training alongside post-doc hours. This type of certification is ideal for students looking to work in in clinical settings providing services related to health and neuropathy.
    • Nutritional Psychology: This online certificate focuses on the integration of nutrition and healthcare. Emphasis is placed on learning how nutrients affect health. Graduates go on to work in clinics, hospitals, eating disorder facilities, and in private practice.
    • Child and Adolescent Psychology: This certificate is offered fully online and takes about five months to earn. It prepares professionals to work in youth and family service organizations by teaching them how to serve youth and adolescents struggling with mental health concerns.

    Career Outlook for Psychologists

    While many subfields of psychology are growing at rates above the national average, others are more stagnate. The majority of psychologists are employed in individual and family services or school settings, but the increase of emerging clinical subfields may give rise to more positions in hospitals or other clinical facilities. Students have many options when pursuing a psychology career, and their degree is transferable to other professional avenues. The table below provides an overview of psychology career settings.

    Career Setting Percentage of total psychologist employment
    Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 25%
    Government 10%
    Offices of mental health practitioners (except physicians) 9%
    Hospitals; state, local, and private 6%
    Individual and family services 5%

    Source: BLS

    Scholarships

    Resources

    • American Psychological Association: Operating as the leading professional organization for psychologists in America, the organization serves more than 115,000 members through advocacy, funding, chapters, and conferences.
    • National Association of School Psychologists: NASP represents more than 25,000 professionals in the field of school psychology, including graduate students. The organization provides professional development opportunities, certification programs, publications, and research.
    • Association for Applied Sport Psychology: For more than 30 years, AASP has served thousands of members practicing sports psychology in 50 countries. Aside from promoting development within the field, the nonprofit provides certification within the discipline.
    • International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology: IACFP started in 1954 with the mission of helping practitioners learn how to better respond to the mental health needs of criminal offenders. The group provides continuing education credits, publications, and other helpful resources.