The word "psychologist" often conjures an image of a person taking notes and peering over bifocals as a client lies on a couch and describes a trauma. The field of psychology, of course, covers far more territory. At its core, the discipline's role is to understand, predict, and guide human behavior. With a master's degree in psychology, there's a wide range of careers in which that role can be applied. Yes, psychologists can spend time just listening, with the goal of helping people and families work through problems. But duties also can include research and testing, collecting and analyzing data, teaching, and consulting for businesses and organizations.
Some of the eight outstanding universities on this list see a master's degree in psychology primarily as a stepping stone to a doctorate degree, which broadens academic and professional possibilities, such as becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. Other degree programs listed here are aimed at leading directly to a professional career, such as teaching psychology at a college or high school, or entering industrial/organizational psychology, a popular field that involves training and evaluating personnel, along with helping businesses refine their staff hierarchies. A graduate can also join a human resources department in various capacities, help people in need as a substance abuse counselor, or enter a high-energy clinical setting as a psychiatric technician.
By most measurements, careers attainable with a master's degree in psychology pay well. A person with training in industrial/organizational psychology is looking at an average salary of $97,260, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other salaries cited by the bureau include college psychology teachers who can make $73,770, psychiatric technicians who can make $36,070, substance abuse counselors who can make $46,630, marriage and family therapists coming in at around $53,860, and school psychologists who can make $85,340 per year! No matter the salary, people with psychology training share a goal of improving the human condition and making the world a little better for everyone.
Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference – we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and are acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplied; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25 percent of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
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The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.
#8 – Colorado State University
Master of Science in Psychology
Fort Collins, CO
The Master of Science in Psychology program at Colorado State University's graduate school offers five paths of study that can continue to a doctorate in the discipline. Those paths consist of applied social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, counseling, and industrial/organizational psychology. A sixth path is a master's terminal program in addiction counseling. Colorado State, a public school that runs on a semester calendar, is located in a mid-size college town about an hour from Denver. The master's program can be completed in two years and required credit hours can range from 38 to 42. Many of the paths of study call for a capstone project in which the student can demonstrate lessons learned. The addiction counseling path differs in that the goal is to become a licensed counselor in two years; the first year consists of course study and the second year is an internship. Application requirements include three letters of reference. There are different application deadlines for the Psychology paths of study. Please follow our link to the program's information page for more details.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,214 / $25,040
#7 – Kansas State University
Industrial and Organizational Psychology Master's Degree
The Industrial and Organizational Psychology Master's Degree at Kansas State University is a terminal program; in other words, it's designed to lead straight to a professional career, rather than act as a transition to a Ph.D. program. The master's degree has a unique design in requirements and coursework; there are two summer courses held on campus, each one is two weeks in length, along with online classes, research, and practicums in the spring and fall semesters. The industrial and organizational psychology degree, commonly known as MIOP, is a two-year program, with the availability of required courses being rotated through every two years. Classwork covers subjects such as organizational psychology, personnel training, performance appraisals, and legal/ethical issues. Application requirements for the degree program include a GPA of at least 3.0 in the last 60 credit hours of a completed bachelor's degree. Successful applicants should have at least two years of professional experience under their belt, preferably as a supervisor. Experience or undergraduate coursework in psychology or a related field such as human resources or social science is also preferable.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,061 / $22,709
#6 – Stanford University
Master of Arts in Psychology
Palo Alto, CA
Stanford University has earned its lofty pedigree. The San Francisco Bay Area school is ranked No. 7 among all universities by U.S. News & World Report. The publication also places Stanford at No. 3 among best medical schools, which is important for those applying to the Master of Arts in Psychology program. The master's in psychology at Stanford is designed primarily for doctoral students pursuing a Ph.D. or similar degree, such as J.D. There is no terminal master's degree – one that leads directly to a professional career – available to students not in a doctoral program. There are 45 semester credit hours of courses, which include 27 hours of required core courses – five classes on subjects such as neuroscience and cognition, plus two statistics courses. The remaining 18 hours can be lab work, practica, graduate-level classes outside of the discipline, and independent study. After the first year, students must write a report on their completed research.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $50,703
#5 – University of Illinois
Master of Science in Psychology
The Master of Science in Psychology program at the University of Illinois isn't designed to send a student straight to a professional career. It is considered a step – albeit a big one – on the way to a Ph.D. As a matter of fact, Illinois doesn't require a master's degree en route to a doctorate. Students, however, must do a master-level report on the progress of their research on the way to a Ph.D. The program consists of 32 semester credit hours of coursework, along with up to eight credit-hours of research. The 32 hours include 12 hours which can be devoted to electives in specialized fields, such as data analysis and research, or general/applied psychology. No matter which route a student chooses, it's being taken at one of the best schools in the nation as Illinois ranks No 46 in U.S. News & World Report's list of the best universities. Application requirements include GRE scores, a written statement of goals, and three letters of recommendation.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,068 / $28,221
#4 – Harvard University
Master's in Psychology
Not only is Harvard University highly regarded – U.S. News & World Reports ranks it No. 2 among all universities and No. 2 among best medical schools – but its Master's in Psychology program has flexible and customizable features. The degree consists of 12 courses. At least three must be taken on campus in Cambridge. The balance can be taken online. Students can choose to develop a master's thesis or put together a capstone project that combines elements of research and the practical world. Admission to the master's program hinges on three graduate-level classes: Introduction to Graduate Work with an Emphasis on Psychology and Anthropology, a statistics course, and one graduate-level psychology classes. Complete those three courses with at least a 3.0 GPA. You can apply to the master's program while taking the third course as they can be taken in any order. If you meet the requirement, you're in. And the three courses apply toward the degree's 12.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $46,384
#3 – University of Wisconsin
MS in Educational Psychology
As the name implies, the MS in Educational Psychology program at the University of Wisconsin focuses on the numerous ways that psychological skills can be applied in the field of education. All coursework is done on the campus, located in the mid-size college town of Madison. Students can pick one of four areas of emphasis: school psychology, learning sciences, human development, and quantitative methods. Students can learn alongside instructors as they conduct research and participatory tests on campus and in partnership with community organizations. Two specific options of study will prepare students for teaching psychology or for serving as a school psychologist. In addition to these professional tracks, Wisconsin's master's program also works as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree. Credit hour requirements vary according to the area of emphasis, from as little as 27 for Human Development and Quantitative Methods to 55 for School Psychology. A GPA of 3.0 in all graduate coursework is required. The graduate school has one application deadline per year, on December 1st. Application requirements include three letters of recommendation, along with a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,728 / $24,054
#2 – University of Maryland
Master of Professional Studies in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
College Park, MD
The University of Maryland's degree is designed for working professionals. Courses on campus in College Park are scheduled in the evening, and the remaining classes and activities can be taken online. The Master of Professional Studies in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is a mouthful. In short, program graduates will be ready for jobs that focus on improving different work environments. Responsibilities can range from staff and applicant testing to helping design organizational structures. The degree is commonly referred to as MIOP. Maryland's program consists of 30 credit hours and can be completed in as few as 15 months. Online content is a combination of live lectures and recorded sessions and interviews. Maryland follows a three-term calendar of 12 weeks each. The master's program has ten classes, offered in a specific order and starting in the fall. The program ends with a practicum course. Application requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all previous undergraduate and graduate coursework, along with two letters of recommendation.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,906 / $27,864
#1 – University of California-Los Angeles
MA in Psychology
Los Angeles, CA
The MA in Psychology program at the University of California-Los Angeles is considered part of the path to a Ph.D. There is no terminal master's degree. What the university does offer is a strong learning environment. UCLA is No. 19 on U.S. News & World Report's list of best universities and No. 6 on its list of best medical schools. The psychology Ph.D. program is one of 18 different Ph.D. programs in bioscience offered by UCLA. The school's goal is to turn out graduates who can work in various forms of research, or serve as college and university instructors. One of the key facets of the psychology program is its numerous areas of study. There are ten programs of study and they include examples such as Behavioral Neuroscience, Developmental Psychology, and Computational Cognition. Application requirements include a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all previous coursework. A strong academic background in the sciences is preferred as if an undergraduate major in psychology. Neither is required. The program starts only in the fall semester.