You really cannot work as a professional psychologist without a Ph.D. or Psy.D.. However, a Master's degree in psychology is sufficient for working as a school psychologist or as a psychological aid in a mental hospital or clinic. Depending on the program, a Master's could also qualify you to work as a research assistant, social worker, or teacher in a junior college. You could also work in human and industrial relations.
You should consider a Master's program in psychology if
- You are interested in any of the career paths listed above.
- You want graduate training, but are not ready to try for a Ph.D. program. Most Master's programs are easier to get into than Ph.D. programs
- You are undecided on which specific area to focus your studies. The coursework in a Master's program can give you more insights in the discipline's sub-fields.
- You had a weak GPA in your undergraduate years, or you were not a Psychological Sciences major. The best predictor of performance in a graduate program is performance in a graduate program. Successful performance in a Master's program can show your potential for success at the Ph.D. level and strengthen your application.
Choosing a Master's Program
You should be careful when choosing a Master's program. Most emphasize the terminal degree, which means they are primarily job oriented. Make sure the program matches your desired career.
A terminal program is not a dead end; you still can go on to a doctoral program, but fewer courses might transfer into a Ph.D. program.
There are also predoctoral Master's programs that match the first year or two of standard doctoral programs. Check the track record of any Master's program for getting their graduates into doctoral programs.
Non-psychology Master's programs
Many psychology majors are interested in working with children with learning and social problems. If you are such a one, Masters programs in education and social work would be worth investigating. In some cases, after two more years of supervised work, you can become licensed.
Professionally, this would put you somewhere between a Master's and a Ph.D. In most states, you can set up a private practice with the right license. For these and other programs, a good first step would be to go to the nearest university and arrange to speak to people in these programs.
The W&M M.A. Program
If you have an undergraduate degree in Psychological Sciences from W&M, you should not apply to our M.A. program, even though it is a very good one. It is much better to move to a new environment with different faculty. Staying at the same school may be convenient, but you will cover many of the same topics again from the same faculty (albeit at a graduate level). One of the reasons for going to a Master's program in psychology is to broaden your experience with different approaches to the discipline. It is difficult to do that if you stay in the same place.