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Obtaining your Psychology or Counseling Master's Degree

written by: Jacqueline Chinappi•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 9/22/2010

When looking into programs for a psychology or counseling master's degree, a student must consider his or her actual career goals. There are many specializations to choose from in the psychology field. Here we will look at some of the more popular specializations and what each degree would entail.

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    After Graduation

    After you have graduated with your undergraduate degree, you may want to go on for a master's degree. If you have studied social science at the undergraduate level, you more than likely will be pursuing your graduate degree in the same or similar field. A student who has graduated with a B.S. in psychology may look at psychology or counseling master's degree programs. While these majors may seem similar, they usually differ depending on the specialization the student chooses.

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    Specializations

    A student wishing to pursue a psychology master's degree will usually need to choose a specialization. Some specializations include clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, experimental psychology, educational psychology, school psychology, or counseling psychology. The degree program will normally have a set of core courses, such as history and systems of psychology, graduate statistics, and research methods. The elective and additional courses will focus on the specialization the student has chosen. Here are a few specialization courses a student may encounter:

    Clinical or Counseling Psychology:

    • Cognitive-Behavioral Theory and Therapy
    • Family and Couples Therapy
    • Psychopathology

    Cognitive Psychology:

    • Perception and Cognition
    • Psychology of Thinking
    • Memory

    Experimental Psychology:

    • Advanced Research Methods
    • Advanced Experimental Design
    • Multivariate Methods

    Educational Psychology:

    • Theories and Principles of Learning
    • Educational Assessment
    • Child Development

    School Psychology:

    • Introduction to Special Education
    • Language Disorders in Children
    • Formal and Informal Methods of Assessment

    The student will choose a specialization depending on their long term career goals. A student who wants to work in a school setting will choose to study school psychology or educational psychology. These specialized degrees can lead to jobs as a guidance counselor, school counselor, or school psychologist.

    A student studying clinical or counseling psychology will normally look forward to a career as a mental health clinician or licensed professional counselor. With these job titles, the student will normally have to complete internships while in graduate school working directly with clients. They will also have to take state tests and apply for licensure after graduation and obtaining supervised work hours. A graduate from one of these programs can be found in agencies, hospitals, and even in private practices.

    A student wishing to study cognitive psychology is normally preparing for a career in research and theory of cognitive processes. Cognitive psychologists work in university setting, organization-industrial settings, and state, federal, or city agencies. Experimental psychologists also follow a career in research and experimentation. Experimental psychologists aim to research and teach about behavioral processes such as learning, memory, language, and motivation.

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    Obtaining Admissions

    So how do you get into a psychology or counseling master's degree program? While admissions requirements will vary between colleges, normally there are a usual set of standards needed for entrance.

    All colleges will require a bachelor's degree for admission and some may desire that the degree be in psychology or a similar field. If the undergraduate degree is not in a similar field, the student may have to complete basic psychology or counseling courses in addition to graduate work.

    Many times a GRE is also required. The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination needed to obtain admission into many graduate schools, similar to the SAT for admission to an undergraduate program. Some schools may even require the GRE Psychology Subject Test, which as you can tell by its name focuses on the topic of psychology. Again, grade requirements will vary from college to college.

    Transcripts and a personal essay will also have to be sent into the admissions office for review. In certain circumstances, the student may be required to meet administration for an in person interview; this is normally the final step for admissions.

    Once you choose a specialization depending on your career choice, you can then take steps towards researching graduate schools and programs available.