By Sarah Stevenson
A career in psychology, counseling or social work may be just a few clicks away, thanks to cutting-edge online programs that take advantage of the latest interactive technology. An online psychology degree is becoming an increasingly respected method of gaining the education needed to start a career in the field—in fact, online education was lauded in a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education, which found that online and hybrid education methods are at least as effective as traditional programs.
Online psychology degrees can offer a good value for the money, too. Properly accredited programs ensure that students are eligible for federal financial aid such as loans, grants and scholarships. And as far as curriculum goes, if you do your research, you'll be able to find a degree program that is tailored to your needs and career goals. Some online psychology degree programs are administered entirely in virtual format, whole others include a hybrid component that imparts critical practical experience in a laboratory or clinic environment. Regardless of format, your online program should be just as rigorous and comprehensive as a traditional in-person degree.
Use our career resource guide to find information about online psychology degree programs and learn about psychology careers and salaries:
Online Psychology Degree Fields
Once you've completed basic courses in the psychology or counseling field, you'll be able to narrow down your focus according to your career interests. Here's a quick-start guide to specialties in the psychology field:
- Psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behavior, including how behavior is influenced by both biology and the environment. Some common subfields include clinical psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology, industrial-organizational psychology and school psychology.
- Counseling provides a very direct and focused approach to solving problems ranging from job woes to relationship issues, in diverse settings throughout the community. Counseling specialties include vocational counseling, school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and marriage and family therapy.
- Social work also directly addresses a range of client issues, from disabilities to domestic conflict to unemployment-related stress. Some social workers' jobs also include research, advocacy, or policy development. Social workers usually work in an office or agency. Common careers include child and family social work; medical and public health social work; and mental health and substance abuse social work.
Types of Online Programs
- Real-Time vs. Asynchronous: Online courses and programs can take place in real time, much like a regular college course, or they may be asynchronous, meaning you can complete assignments at your own pace. Still others may allow for some flexibility in hours, but require you to log on for periodic live sessions with your peers and the instructor. Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages, so you'll want to consider your scheduling needs and study habits. As a graduate student, you may need to complete some coursework or clinical experience on a set schedule, so keep that in mind if an advanced degree such as a PhD or PsyD is your goal.
- Hybrid vs. Fully Online: Some online psychology degree programs may be hybrid programs as opposed to fully online degrees; this means that some courses or sessions are offered in person, on a college campus or in another designated classroom setting. Requirements may vary, including residency requirements, so be sure to carefully check the details of each program. Master's degree and doctoral degree programs usually require more extensive laboratory work and/or supervised clinical experience, which must be completed in person.
Licensure and Accreditation
Psychologists, counselors and social workers need to meet state certification or licensure requirements in order to practice in their field. An accredited degree at the appropriate level, such as an online psychology degree for clinical psychologists, is a primary requirement. Licensing requirements vary by state, but for psychologists, they include the academic degree, an internship, one or two years of professional experience and an exam. Social workers generally need a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience. Counseling licensure varies widely according to specialization, so if you're interested in a counseling career, be sure to check the requirements of your state with respect to your field of specialty.
Accreditation ensures that an institution or program meets minimum standards of quality. For online psychology degrees, accreditation is usually granted by one of seven regional accrediting bodies approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) also accredits schools that offer online programs. Internships and doctoral programs may be accredited by the American Psychological Association. Other program-specific accrediting bodies include the National
What Online Psychology Degrees Are Available?
You can pursue an online psychology degree at any level, from 2-year associate's degree programs all the way to highly specialized doctoral programs, including the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and Doctor of Education (EdD). To research accredited online psychology degrees, take a look at our featured schools.