Interested in Earning a Degree in Psychology?

Please refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook” to learn more about what psychologists do and about the field of Psychology in general, including the nature of the work and its conditions, earnings, education/ training requirements, qualification requirements, advancement opportunities, job outlook, projections, earnings, related occupations, etc.

  • The website for the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” is http://www.bls.gov/oco/.
  • Once there, perform a search on specifically on “psychologist”.

The American Psychological Association (APA) website is another good source of information for learning about the field of Psychology.

In today’s practice world it is proper for a person refer to him/ herself as a “Psychologist” only if he/ she holds a graduate degree (i.e., a master’s or doctorate degree) specifically in the field of “Psychology” and often only if he/ she is registered, certified, and/ or licensed as a Psychologist by the state he/ she practices in.

  • In all states, the practice of Psychology is regulated and generally requires registration, certification, and/ or licensure by the state.
  • In some regions, the state places specific legal limitations on who can officially call themselves a “Psychologist”.

Employment opportunities working with individuals with psychological issues do exist for individuals who do not hold a graduate degree in Psychology. 

  • Some of these jobs require an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree in a helping discipline (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, Human Services, Social Work, etc.).
  • Some do not, especially entry-level positions.

There are jobs that require an applicant to have a degree specifically in Psychology.

  • These usually minimally require a graduate degree in Psychology with a specialization in a specific subfield of Psychology such as School Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Neuropsychology, Forensic Psychology, or the like.

It is possible to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and a doctorate degree in Psychology.

There are no undergraduate (i.e., associate or bachelor) degree programs specifically in “Psychology” that are recognized by the APA, the nationally recognized accreditation organization for graduate programs offering professional degrees in Psychology.

  • Students who graduate with an undergraduate degree in Psychology are not considered to be “Psychologists” although they are able to perform some of the same basic functions that Psychologists typically perform and rely on many of the same helping theories to understand people.

As previously stated, the American Psychological Association (APA) is the accrediting body for graduate Psychology programs.

Making certain that a graduate degree in “Psychology” is earned from an APA approved program is very important because:

  • Employers and state registration, certification, and licensure boards generally require that a degree in Psychology is earned from an APA approved program before an applicant will be eligible for employment and registration, certification, and/ or licensure as a Psychologist in a state.
  • Insurance companies also often require Psychologists to be degreed from APA approved program before they will authorize reimbursement for the activities that Psychologists perform.

Earning a graduate degree in Psychology from a school that is not accredited by the APA is possible in today’s world but will make it hard, if not impossible, to find employment as a professional Psychologist and to obtain registration, certification, and/ or licensure in a state.

Registration, certification, and/ or licensure is required by a state in order for a Psychologist to practice legally.

  • This is true at the master’s level and doctorate level.
  • Bachelor’s level practice is not regulated and limited to entry-level work that virtually anyone with a bachelor’s degree in a helping profession can perform.
  • State registration, certification, and licensure requirements for professionals with an associate’s degree in Psychology and fields similar to but different from Psychology are generally nonexistent.
  • Regulations for registration, certification, and licensure for Psychologists vary by state.
  • There are differing types of registration, certification, and licensure for Psychologists across the states and even within states.
  • To learn about the registration, certification, and licensure of such practice in North Carolina, please refer to the North Carolina Psychology Board at www.ncpsychologyboard.com.
  • If you plan to practice Psychology, it is a good idea to check on any registration, certification, and licensure requirements in the state that you desire to practice in before committing to a Psychology degree program, especially a graduate program; this should be done to make certain that you are aware of how the practice of Psychology is regulated in the state and to make certain that the degree you plan on earning will satisfy such criteria.

Earning a master’s degree in Psychology from a school that is not accredited by the APA would make it difficult if not impossible for the person to pursue a doctorate degree at a school that is accredited by the APA.

To learn more about the APA  and its standards and to find a list of its approved programs:

  • Perform an internet search on this organization.
  • Or go directly to www.apa.org.
How to earn an associate’s degree in Psychology:
Many colleges and universities do not offer an associate’s degree in Psychology. However, some do, and, in such a case, a student can apply directly to a college or university that does. All undergraduate and graduate programs, including online programs, should be accredited by their regional association of colleges and by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • If a college or university is not sanctioned by either of these two accreditation bodies, the coursework that a student takes to earn a degree and the degree itself will likely lack credibility with colleges and universities that are and probably with employers and state registration, certification, and licensure boards.
  • This can be problematic when a student desires to transfer course credit or is applying to a college or university for a graduate degree.
  • In the case of colleges and universities in North Carolina, accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACSCOC) is the recognized regional association of colleges accreditation body for both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Since the field of Psychology is its own distinct field few, if any, course credits from programs offering associate degrees in fields similar to but different from Psychology will transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, although a college offering an associate’s degree might have some sort of transfer agreement with a 4 year institution offering a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has transfer agreements in effect and offers an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology.
    1. The courses that are required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as courses that will transfer by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement” in North Carolina.
    2. Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology program- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university he/ she wishes to later.
  • State registration, certification, and licensure requirements for professionals with an associate’s degree in fields similar to but different from Psychology are generally nonexistent.
  • Depending on the region, associate degrees can be earned in fields similar to but different from Psychology such as “Social Work Assisting”, “Social Work Technology”, “Human Services Technology”, and the like.
  • Such graduates are technically not considered to be “Psychologists”, although they can perform functions that entry level human service/ helping professionals perform and rely on many of the same helping skills and theories that Psychologists and other helpers do.
Some community colleges might offer a “psychology transfer track” which allows a person to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree or an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree along with some specific course credits that will transfer specifically toward a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at a four year institution. 
  • Essentially this type of associate’s degree counts as the first two years of college toward a four year degree. 
  • The other courses taken under such a track are counted toward the specific course credits needed for the completion of a Psychology major.
  • The rest of the requirements for the degree are finished at that four year institution.
  • Institutions that are SACSCOC accredited and that might offer such transfer recognition are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu
    4. The University of North Carolina at Asheville at www.unca.edu
    5. Montreat College at www.montreat.edu
Another way to progress toward a bachelor’s degree in Psychology is for a person to earn an associate’s degree in a field similar to but different from Psychology such as “Human Services Technology” and then to transfer as many credits as a bachelor’s degree in Psychology program will accept.
  • Institutions that are SACSCOC accredited and that might offer such transfer recognition are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu
    4. The University of North Carolina at Asheville at www.unca.edu
    5. Montreat College at www.montreat.edu
  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has transfer agreements in effect and offers an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology.
    1. The courses that are required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as courses that will transfer by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement” in North Carolina.
    2. Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology program- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university he/ she wishes to later.
Some students who desire a bachelor’s degree either in Psychology or in a closely related field elect to earn the general A.A. or A.S. degree and an associate’s degree in a field similar to but different from Psychology such as “Human Services Technology”.

Among other things in such a case, they are attempting to maximize the amount of transfer credits that they can apply toward a bachelor’s degree in Psychology or a closely related field.

Many schools have limits on the amount of transfer credit that they will count toward an undergraduate or graduate degree, thus requiring a student complete a certain portion of his/ her major coursework at the school in order for the student to be eligible to earn a degree from the school.

In the case of A-B Tech’s associate’s degree in Human Services Technology:

  1. The courses that are required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as courses that will transfer by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement” in North Carolina.
  2. Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology program- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university he/ she wishes to later.
  3. Some of the advantages of pursuing an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology include:
    1. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology is a less expensive way for a person to obtain entry-level status as a helping professional than is earning a bachelor's degree.
    2. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology takes less time to complete than does earning a bachelor's degree.
    3. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology provides a person a less expensive way to test out his/ her ability to succeed in college than does earning a bachelor's degree.
    4. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology is less expensive way for a person to test out his/ her ability to work long-term as a helper than is earning a bachelor's degree. 
    5. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology tends to increase a person’s chance of securing entry-level employment as a helper over those who lack a formalized academic training in a helping profession.
    6. Earning an associate’s degree can provide a person with a means to support him/ herself while he/ she works as a helper and pursues a bachelor’s degree.
    7. For a person whose college financial aid  is limited to a couple of years' worth of coverage, earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology offers an opportunity to earn a professional degree in a helping field without exceeding the limits of coverage.
    8. Several of the credits that a student can earn through the associate’s degree in Human Services Technology program are applicable toward the education credentialing requirements needed for qualification as a substance abuse professional in North Carolina.
    9. In comparison to earning a bachelor’s degree in a helping profession, earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology often means that a student has received more classroom practice utilizing several of skills that professional helpers rely on.

f a person earns a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, he/ she is not obligated to pursue an advanced degree in Psychology.

  • He/ she cannot practice as a Psychologist, but he/ she can find entry-level work in human service settings.
  • He/ she also has the option of pursuing advanced degrees in other fields of study including other helping disciplines such as Human Services, Social Work, Sociology, Counseling, etc.

Earning a master’s degree in Psychology requires that a person obtain a bachelor’s degree first, usually in some sort of helping discipline (e.g., Social Work, Human Services, Psychology, Sociology, etc.).

  1. Many institutions do not require applicants for master’s degree programs in Psychology to hold a bachelor’s degree in Psychology; however, they may prefer it.
  2. Again, graduate programs should be accredited by the APA.
  3. In some states, licensed master’s-level Psychologists must continue to obtain/ pay for ongoing clinical supervision by a licensed doctorate-level Psychologist until they either qualify for licensure as a doctorate-level Psychologist in the state or cease practice.
    1. In other words, they are not allowed to practice independently without supervision like some other types of master’s level helpers can after a couple of years of supervised post-master’s experience.
    • Historically, this has been true in North Carolina.
    • Please consult the North Carolina Psychology Board for current laws related to the practice of professional psychology in North Carolina.
      1. The Board’s website can be found at www.ncpsychologyboard.com.

It is possible to earn a doctorate degree in Psychology.

  • However, it is not necessary to earn a doctorate degree to practice Psychology and to obtain registration, certification, or licensure in a state; this can be done with a master’s degree in Psychology.
  • Doctorate-level Psychologists may or may not actually practice Psychology.
    1. Some, for instance, focus on teaching and research.
  • Doctorate degrees that can be earned in Psychology that qualify a person for professional practice are the Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) and the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy).
  • Again, such programs should be accredited by the APA.

When pursing a degree in Psychology, it is possible, depending on the selected institution, to earn the degree with one or more specializations and even concentrations or certificates; this occurs most commonly at the graduate level.

  • Such specializations, concentrations, and certificates are offered in a variety of unique areas of practice, including Clinical Psychology, School Psychology, Organizational Psychology, Industrial Psychology, Sports Psychology, Health Psychology, Neuropsychology, Forensic Psychology, etc.
  • If you desire to pursue a graduate degree in Psychology, it is very important to select a graduate program that offers specialization in the area of practice that you desire to practice in upon completion because, if you have not had training in that specialized area of practice at the graduate level, you will not be eligible for registration, certification, and/ or licensure in that area of practice in the state that you desire to practice in.
    1. E.g., obtaining a master’s degree in School Psychology from an accredited college or university will allow a person to apply for licensure as a School Psychologist but will often be insufficient for the person to qualify for licensure as a Clinical Psychologist in a state.

A person who earns a graduate degree in Psychology might not elect to practice in the field of Psychology that he/ she was trained in; instead, he/ she might elect to teach Psychology at a school or university.

A person who earns a bachelor’s degree in Psychology might not desire to work in entry-level human services/ helping practice; instead, he/ she might attempt to teach at an elementary, middle, or high school, provided he/ she can meet a state’s qualifications for becoming a teacher.

There are post-graduate specializations that can be earned by graduates of master’s and doctorate programs in Psychology in a variety of areas of practice such as Neuropsychology, Forensic Psychology, Psychopharmacology, etc.

Well in advance of committing to any academic program in Psychology, it is a good idea to:

  1. Become knowledgeable about and committed to the field of Psychology and its subfields.
  2. Know how the field of Psychology and its subfields are unique in comparison to other types of helping fields.
  3. Know which specialization of Psychology you are interested in, particularly if you desire to pursue a graduate degree in the field.
  4. Know state requirements for any registration, certification, and/ or licensure that might affect the type of professional practice that you desire to perform.
  5. Become informed, at the very least, about the program’s:
  6. Admission requirements
  7. Policies on transferring in credits
  8. Costs
  9. Specializations, concentrations, and certifications
  10. Time-limits on degree completion
  11. Standing with the APA and SACSCOC.
    • The APA website contains a list of programs that  it has accredited.
    • The website can be found by performing an internet search on this organization.
    • Or it can be found at www.apa.org

Various professional organizations in Psychology exist, including the APA (The American Psychological Association) which has affiliated organizations in each state and which publishes a list of ethical standards.

  • Such professional organizations fulfill many purposes, including research, advocacy, education, lobbying, setting standards, publishing, information and referral, and etc.
  • The APA website can be found at www.apa.org.
  • The North Carolina Psychological Association can be found at www.ncpsychology.com.
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