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Is An Online Psychology Degree Right For Me?

Are you fascinated by the human mind? Why we do the things we do, and feel the ways we feel? The mind is a complex, amazing tool, and researchers are constantly learning new information in their quest to understand exactly how this tool functions. If the thought of joining that pursuit excites you, then maybe psychology is the field for you!

Psychology is a rich field of study that offers a wide variety of career options for those who choose to pursue it. Of course, there is the traditional route of therapy, but there is so much more. You would be shocked to learn how many areas of industry utilize the psychologist’s tools to further their long-term goals.

When considering how to go about obtaining a degree in psychology, many are turning to online education as an alternative to traditional brick and mortar classrooms. Quality online schools offer the same educational opportunities as traditional colleges. They provide the same level of rigor and information as the more traditional options. Often, the professors are the same you would find at a brick and mortar school. Additionally, online education offers distinct advantages to the traditional route- particularly in the form of flexibility. Generally, online classes do not adhere to a traditional schedule. There is no need to commute to a classroom, you can do your learning in the comfort of your own home, based on a schedule that is convenient for you. Instructors make course materials, including lectures, assignments and tests, available on the school website, allowing you to review them and complete tasks at your pace. It can be an amazing option for those with busy schedules, families to consider, or even just a desire to follow their own unique path to success.

However, online programs are not for everybody. Here are a few things to consider before you decide which route is best for you:

Are you tech savvy? Certainly, you do not have to be a computer whiz to take part in online learning. However, you will need to be able to navigate a website, download materials and complete assignments utilizing a variety of online tools. You should have some knowledge of navigating the internet, or a strong desire to learn these skills in order to be successful.

Are you self-motivated? The lack of a traditional classroom schedule is one of online education’s greatest advantages. However, it also means it is up to you to ensure that you review the course materials and deliver your assignments on time. You need to be motivated and organized in order to be fully successful. Without a professor looking over your shoulder, you must be willing to take control of your own learning environment.

Are you able to be your own advocate? Without direct contact with your professor, it is easy to become lost in the crowds. It will be up to you to engage with your instructors, and fellow students, to ensure that you get the most benefit from your educational experience. There will not be anyone holding your hand in online education.

If you are able to motivate yourself, and willing to take control of your educational experience, online psychology courses can be tremendously beneficial to you. Consider carefully, but be aware that there are tremendous benefits if you do decide to go this route.

Options for Online Psychology Degrees

Psychology is a broad field of study which applies to many different aspects of our life. If there is a human element to whatever is happening, in all likelihood, a psychologist will be studying it. This opens up a wide variety of subjects for you to focus your attention on.

There are many different types of degrees you can pursue when looking into a career in psychology. Generally, your path is going to be dictated by what your area of focus is. For example, perhaps you are interested in working with children. If so, you can look into the field of child psychology or educational psychology. Either one will focus primarily on working with children. If you are artistic, you may be interested in pursuing a degree which focuses on art therapy. Business psychology would give you the opportunity to work in a corporate setting, generally investigating ways to improve worker productivity and employee interpersonal interactions.

As with any type of college-level education, certain schools will specialize in certain areas of psychological study. That doesn’t mean that you cannot hope to get a degree in your chosen specialty from another school. However, choosing a school that specializes in your chosen area may expose you to better professors, materials and learning opportunities in that area than one that does not. A constant theme when seeking an online degree is research. You want to take the time to do your fullest research on the schools you are considering before you enter into any binding agreement with them. Doing so will save you time, money and frustration down the road.

When you are making your decision, consider some of the following questions. They may help you narrow your field:

  • What types of people would you like to work with?

Consider, would you like to work with children, the elderly, business professionals, students, etc.? If you hate working with kids, and some people do, obviously you would want to choose a field that minimizes the chances of your having to do so.

  • What kinds of work would you like to be doing?

Some people love working with at-risk individuals. Others love nothing more than doing research. Still others prefer the idea of teaching what they know to others. Knowing how any field of study you consider spends the lion’s share of its time may help you eliminate poor fits.

  • What environment would you most like to spend your time?

Do you enjoy the thought of being in a lab all day? Maybe you’d prefer a nicely furnished office? Or, how about an elementary school, filled with the sounds of children all day? Try and think of your ideal work situation, and then consider what area of study would most likely be utilized in that area.

There are many options for careers in psychology. If you take the time to understand your best fit, you will be far more successful in choosing the school that is right for you.

Online Psychology Degree Specialties

Psychology covers many different aspects of daily life. Your own personal interests and temperament are definitely things to consider when choosing a specialty. As of now, the American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes 14 different specialties within the field of psychology. Take the time to determine which is right for you:

  • Clinical Neuropsychology
    This specialty deals with disorders specifically associated with brain conditions, such as: strokes, dementia, Multiple Sclerosis or epilepsy.
  • Clinical Health Psychology
    This specialty deal with the relationship between physical and mental health.
  • Psychoanalysis
    This field concentrates on the subconscious mind as being the root of psychological disorders. It is rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud though many of the theories have been updated.
  • School Psychology
    As the name implies, this field works with students, parents and administrators on mental health issues as they relate to education, or the school setting.
  • Clinical Psychology
    This is a broad field, which deals with diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral and emotional disorders.
  • Clinical Child Psychology
    This is much like traditional clinical psychology, except that it focuses on the unique challenges associated with childhood and child development.
  • Counseling
    Counseling generally focuses on providing life skills or coping skills to clients in need.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology
    This field studies human behavior in the workplace, and applies those theories toward better methods of hiring, firing, incentivizing and training employees, among other things.
  • Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology
    This specialty focuses on human learning and development, as well as cognitive processes to impact behavior and thinking.
  • Forensic Psychology
    Generally, these are counselors and clinicians who provide expertise to the judicial system.
  • Family Psychology
    This broad field specializes in, as the name implies, family dynamics and interpersonal relationships.
  • Professional Geropsychology
    This field specializes in the research and treatment of mental health concerns of older adults.
  • Police and Public Safety Psychology
    These professionals deal with the mental health of law enforcement and other public safety officials, and how such officials successfully handle their duties and responsibilities.
  • Sleep Psychology
    This specialty works with disorders which affect one’s ability to effectively sleep.

Psychology AS, BS, MS, Ph.D. Options

As you consider your future in the field of psychology, you must take the time to decide the level of education you wish to pursue. There are options within the psychological community which require only a two-year Associate’s Degree, while others require you to successfully complete a doctorate program. Obviously, the amount of time and money required of you can vary greatly depending on the path you choose. These are two significant factors to consider as you plan your educational track. At the same time, you should give due consideration to your ultimate goal within the field as well, for this will surely require a specific minimum education. At the same time, you should bear in mind that many people who are seeking higher levels of education begin by receiving a lesser degree and using that to find a position to help fund their pursuits.

Let’s take some time and look at what your options are for education levels in psychology:

Associates of Science Degree

There are not many jobs which require an Associate’s Degree in Psychology. The majority of psychology careers require a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in order to be considered. In some states, you may be able to get a job as a mental health technician, which generally involves assisting psychologists or psychiatrists in their treatment of patients. This is generally work found in mental health institutions. The degree may also be helpful for those looking to pursue a career in law enforcement, or working as a social worker’s assistant. Generally, recipients of these degrees go on to find work in non-psychology related fields which are looking for applicants with Associate’s degrees.

At the same time, this can be beneficial, as it is a relatively inexpensive degree to attain, only requires two years, and does provide you with a good foundation to use when you are prepared to pursue higher levels of education.

Bachelor’s of Science Degree

The Bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum degree required to enter into a psychology related field. It is usually a four year program, when pursued full time. Recipients of this degree can find careers in many different areas of industry and public sector work. Some of the careers a recipient of this degree can pursue include:

  • Human Resource Specialist
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Social Worker
  • Sales/ Sales Manager
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Community Service Manager
  • Administrative Service Manager
  • School and Career Counselor
  • Victim Advocate
  • Teacher
  • Management Analyst
  • Health Educator
  • Computer Programmer (You’d be amazed how much of computer programming involves considering the human factor)

Master’s Degree

The Master’s Degree in Psychology generally takes 2-3 years to obtain, once you have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree. Most psychology students who obtain this degree do so as a stepping stone to obtaining their Doctorate. However, having a Master’s Degree can make you more competitive within your chosen specialty, and often commands a higher salary than just a Bachelor’s Degree. Additionally, you may find that your state requires a Master’s Degree in order to be certified to work within a specific public sector field.

Ph.D in Psychology

The Ph.D., or Doctorate, is the highest level of education one can attain for psychology. Generally, if you reach this level, you will either be acting as a clinical psychologist, treating patients, or as a teacher at a college or university. The process of earning a Ph.D. usually takes between 4 and 7 years, though that can vary greatly depending on your field of study and time

The demand for psychologists at this level is high, and is expected to continue growing. Salaries usually begin around $60,000, with higher level psychologists earning upwards of $100,000. Generally, it is during the process of obtaining a Ph.D. that you would determine a specialty to pursue. States require licensure of clinical psychologists. The process for obtaining a license differs from state to state, so you should take the time to familiarize yourself with your chosen state’s requirements.

While a Ph.D. will always open the most doors for you within the psychology field, it is entirely possible to successfully pursue a rewarding career without reaching that level. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Finding Online Psychology Programs

There are a myriad of options for you if you are looking to pursue an online degree in psychology. The most crucial factor you want to consider when pursuing your degree is accreditation. If possible, you want to ensure that any university you attend has accreditation through some oversight body. The American Psychological Association (APA), the governing body of the field of psychology, does not offer accreditation for bachelor’s or master’s programs. However, there are still accrediting bodies that ensure the programs meet the guidelines necessary to provide you with a quality education that will assist you in finding a career when you have finished. The Council for Higher Educational Accreditation (CHEA) has a comprehensive list of accredited universities. When you are researching schools, you would do well to consult their directory before choosing.

The greatest benefit when searching for an online school is that you are not limited by geography. You can, essentially, pursue a degree from anywhere. However, you should consider the fact that most graduate level programs are considered hybrids. This means that they combine online learning with some on-site work. Make sure, while you are searching, that you are aware of the work that would be required of you, and where you would be expected to complete it. This can be an important factor.

Make sure, when you are searching for a program, you know whether you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor’s of Arts or Sciences. BA candidates are generally those who are interested in pursuing primarily counseling as a final goal, while BS candidates are more likely to be involved in research.

Some resources for finding online psychology programs include:

There are, of course, many other online resources that will assist you in finding schools to choose from. Take your time, and find the right fix for you.

Choosing a Great Psychology Online Program

There are many online options to choose from when considering a degree in psychology. Yet, it is important to note, not all psychology degrees are created equal. Where you receive your education may be the most important decision you make in your career. It is important for you to choose wisely.

When you are searching for a psychology program, you need to be your own greatest advocate. No one will simply hand you the information you need. You must be willing to go out and find it. Most online universities are for-profit institutions. The representatives you speak to, whether by phone or email, are incentivized to enroll as many students as possible. This means they are most likely going to accentuate the positive aspects of their school. You need to be ready to as the kinds of questions that will lead you to the best possible choice.

Ask the hard questions when you are deciding to attend a school:

Is the school accredited?

When you are checking into a school, check and see if it has accreditation. Some schools will list dubious, or even outright meaningless accreditations. Your best bet is to check their accreditation on the CHEA website to ensure it is legitimate. The APA does not provide accreditation for undergraduate programs, but you definitely want any Masters or Doctorate work to be accredited by the organization. There are many different accreditation bodies, both national and local. Make a point of checking the accreditations, to ensure that it is from a respected organization.

Will your credits transfer to another school?

It is possible that you will want to continue any post graduate work at a different university. If so, you want to be sure your credits transfer. Make sure and verify this. Also, if, for any reason, they do not transfer, you definitely want to know why.

What curriculum do they offer?

A traditional university offers a variety of courses which provide the fundamentals of psychology. AN online university should be no different than that. You want to be sure you are getting all of the core classes you need in order to get the most well-rounded education possible.

What kinds of career services do they have?

When you get out of school you need to find a job. Not all institutions are created equal when it comes to career placement. Make sure you know the percentage of graduates that go on to higher education, and who find jobs when they leave the school.

What kinds of financial aid is offered/available for the school?

Many online schools have been known to push students into expensive private loans to fund their education. You should be able to speak with a qualified financial aid counseling. You should feel comfortable that your counselor is providing you with the best possible information. Most reputable online schools qualify for federal financial aid. If you cannot get that, you need to know why, and how that may impact your future career prospects.

What is the graduation rate for the school?

Online schools traditionally have lower graduation rates than traditional schools. However, you should always be careful of a low graduation rate. This could mean the school provides little support for their students, or that the programs are not what they seem. A low rate should always be a red flag.

Overall, you want to be sure that you feel you are getting ready access to the information you need. A school that seems reluctant to provide assistance when you are deciding whether or not to attend is not likely to become more helpful once they have your money.

Paying for Psychology Online School

Whether you choose to attend an online school, or a traditional one, you will always face the question of how to pay. Higher learning is an expensive prospect. The idea is that it will eventually pay off in the form of higher earnings and greater career prospects.

One of the benefits of getting your degree online is that the cost of your education is usually less than that of a traditional school. However, the investment in your education is still likely to be a substantial one. Costs for an online school can vary wildly depending on the institution, anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 per year. These costs can be intimidating to anyone. However, just as with a traditional school, there will always be ways to pay, if you are prepared to do the work.

First, all schools should have a financial aid department, with counselors willing to assist you in finding the right program for you. This can include federal aid, private loans, scholarships and grants. Whatever form your financial aid, make sure you are fully aware of the terms and conditions of the aid before you agree to anything.

  • Scholarships and grants are generally good ways to pay for schooling, as they generally do not require any sort of repayment. However, you need to be aware of any terms that are included, such as minimum GPA scores or work/volunteer expectations. Also, they may not be continuing sources of aid. Some are a lump sum, only to be used once, meaning you need to know how you are going to make up that lost revenue when it runs out.
  • Federal loans are good because they generally have the best interest rates. Make sure you are fully aware of the rates and payment schedules. Also, be aware that you will be required to repay this money regardless of whether or not you complete your schooling. Generally, you can have your payments deferred or reduced depending on your earnings post-graduation. However, you will need to apply for such dispensations in a timely manner. Make sure you keep up with the requirements. If your school does not qualify for federal aid, that should be an enormous red flag.
  • Private loans should be the avenue of last resort. Such loans usually have much higher interest rates, and lack the same deferment options as federal loans. Before you agree to a private loan structure, make sure you fully understand what you are signing up for. Many students have found themselves in dire straits when the bill comes due.

Make sure you choose the program that is right for you. Some online schools are incentivized to offer private loans as a way of paying for tuition. Do not accept any offer for private loans until you are sure this is your only available option. If your financial aid counselor is reluctant to discuss other options, that should be another red flag for you. Only sign once you feel comfortable with the terms and conditions, and do not allow anyone to pressure you. Ultimately, you are the one who will be held responsible for any and all debts incurred, so you need to be the one to make that decision.

Prerequisites for Psychology School

Generally, school have specific requirements for students looking to earn a degree in psychology. These requirements can vary from school to school, so it is always important to know what your school expects of you. Take the time to learn the coursework you are expected to have taken, including those outside the psychology department, as well as the minimum required GPA for those classes. Many schools will require you maintain a GPA of 2.0 (C-) or higher. Some have stricter rules, some less strict. Always take the time to know exactly what your expectations are.

While different schools will have different prerequisites, most follow the same basic formula. Most of the time, they vary somewhat depending on whether you are pursuing a Bachelor’s of Arts or Sciences.

Language Arts – Most schools will require you at least have some kind of writing experience in college. Writing courses can help when and if you are ever looking to publish articles in journals, a large part of any research-based psychology fields, or just to assist with general interpersonal communication. Schools like to see you have well-developed communication skills.

Mathematics – At the very least, you will be required to take some kind of statistics course as part of your education. Being able to generate and/or interpret statistical data is a critical component of psychological study. A BS candidate will likely be required to take further mathematics classes, as they are expected to possess the same quantitative and analytical skills as any science-based field of study.

Science – Regardless of your field of specialty, most schools will expect you to have some degree of understanding of the anatomy of the brain, as the primary organ of thought and consciousness. As such, you will be required to have at least one biology course under your belt while attending school. If you pursue a BS in psychology, you may be expected to show mastery in further biology courses.

Make sure you are well aware of your prerequisites before you plan out your schedule. Most higher level classes have certain prerequisites before you can take them. Some courses are only offered during certain semesters. You need to be sure you are able to take the correct classes at the correct time in order to move on in your studies. Do not wait to fulfill your requirements, or you run the risk of delaying your graduation.

Entrance Requirements for Online Psychology School

The most basic requirement for entrance into an online psychology program is a high school diploma or GED. From there, you can find a certain amount of variation. Schools may require other standards in order to accept an applicant. Arizona State University’s online program, for example, requires that freshman applicants have been in the top 25% of their class, and graduated with a 3.0 average in their competency courses. Most schools have far more lenient standards, however. Many schools will take into consideration life experience when considering an applicant.

Some schools may not allow entrance into their specific psychology programs until students have met certain admission requirements. This does not mean students are barred from attending the school, they may simply be required to enter under a general admission program until they have fulfilled those requirements.

As always, you want to check with your school of choice as to their specific requirements. It is better to do so sooner rather than later, in case you need to schedule a specific exam, such as the SAT or ACT.

Even if you do not seem to meet specific requirements, you should not allow it to discourage you. Schools will definitely take a much harsher look at your application, but a strong narrative can go a long way toward convincing an admissions board. Figure out what makes your story unique, and how you can utilize that uniqueness to your advantage.

Online Psychology School Application Process

Generally, the application process for online universities is fairly streamlined and simple. It can all be completed online, usually, though sometimes the school will contact you in the form of an admissions specialist who will guide you through the process. You will likely need to provide a copy of your transcripts from the last school you attended, as well as official copies of any required test scores. Usually, these can be submitted via email or fax, so begin gathering the materials as soon as possible. Many schools will provide a fairly simple contact form on their website. From there, you will be either prompted to fill out an online application or you will be contacted by a school representative.

Most applications for online schools do not have a fee associated, as they do with traditional schools. However, you should be aware of any fees associated with the application process before you begin.

You should be aware that applying to an online college or university does not obligate you to anything, even if you are accepted. Some representatives will attempt to pressure you into signing up for classes. You should only do so when you feel comfortable that you are prepared to begin your education, and that the particular institution is the right fit for you. Do not allow any high-pressure sales tactics sway your decision. If you feel uncomfortable by the approach your representative is taking, you always have the right to terminate the conversation. Be wary of any school that seems overly eager to push you into a decision. Such a school may be more interested in collecting your money than providing a quality educational experience.

About Jeff Morrow

With an English Literature degree from UCLA and a passion for career counseling and publishing, Jeff has worked at CareerPath and Microsoft. He published four editions of the World Wide Yellow Pages in partnership with Barnes and Noble. He now uses that passion for managing Psychology Online Degrees.

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