Career Options with a Master's Degree

People with master's degree in psychology work in a variety of settings including schools, businesses, community mental health care centers, public and private institutions, and community colleges, among others. However, career advancement in most areas is limited without obtaining a doctoral degree, and persons at the master's level often work under the supervision of a doctoral-level psychologist. In general, career possibilities at the master's level depend in part on whether the person obtained a general master's degree or a professional terminal degree.

Paths for Teaching and Research

People who obtain a general, research-oriented degree usually enter doctoral programs after graduation. Graduates who do not pursue further study often obtain jobs in teaching, research, or service, with some limitations that exist without a doctoral degree. Teachers at the master's level usually work in community colleges and, often on a temporary basis, at some of the smaller four-year colleges. Researchers at the master's level may work in either university-based or private company research programs as research and development officers at pharmaceutical companies or in military research programs, for example. They are usually employed at the research associate level or as a middle-manager who reports to a doctoral-level person.

Persons who do not obtain the doctoral degree in psychology will encounter some limitations in their career development. They will probably not be able to obtain a permanent position in most four-year colleges and universities, be the principal investigator on research grants, or provide psychological services without supervision.

Careers in Community Mental Health

Persons who obtain a professional/terminal master's degree are prepared for immediate subdoctoral employment in applied settings. Graduates of professional/terminal master's programs in applied psychology are often employed in community mental health settings and public and private institutions. Those with master's degrees may provide assessment and intervention services in community-based programs, particularly in rural areas and with other traditionally underserved populations. They may also work in programs dealing with special problems such as substance abuse, spouse abuse, crisis intervention, and vocational rehabilitation. In institutional settings, they may work as behavior change specialists designing and implementing programs to serve special populations.

In industrial/organizational psychology, professional/master's program graduates are employed in the selection and training of employees in private industry and government organizations. They may focus on human resource development and employee assistance programs. Graduates sometimes work on the design and validation of assessment instruments and determine the fairness of these tests, particularly for minority applicants. They may also create work environments in public and private settings that maximize employee satisfaction.

School Psychology

The training of most people in school psychology consists of a specialist's degree, which requires a minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate education. Most professionals in school psychology with this level of training work primarily in schools. Among other activities, they may evaluate students with special needs and assist with the planning of appropriate educational programs for such students, work with other students, provide on-the-job training for teachers in classroom management, consult with parents and teachers on ways to support children's and youths' efforts in the schools, and work with administrators on variety of psychological and educational issues. Opportunities in psychology at the master's degree level vary considerably. Further information about employment in specific areas can be obtained from people who work in the areas that interest you, from academic advisors, and from the specific psychology departments to which you are applying.

At present, unemployment among graduate-level psychologists is rare. Only .6 percent of PhDs and 1.3 percent of MAs are unemployed and seeking work. However, 13 percent of PhDs and 20 percent of MAs report themselves to be underemployedthat is, they do not have a job which they feel is commensurate with their training and experience (Stapp, Fulcher & Wycherski, 1984).

(Includes information from the American Psychological Association, 1993)