You love understanding human behavior and mental health. You want to learn what drives people, what makes them tick, what makes them happy. Naturally, an undergraduate degree in psychology was right for you. It laid the foundation of your field and assured you it was the path you wanted to pursue. Now you’re ready for more and you want to level up in your psychology career with a graduate degree. 

Before you commit to one master’s degree program or the other, though, it’s important to understand the difference between a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Science (MS) in Psychology.

Read on for more about what to expect from these master’s degree programs and how they can impact your future.

What Is an MA in Psychology?

A Master of Arts in Psychology is a two- to three-year degree program that prepares you for a career in psychology. The curriculum typically includes coursework in research methods, psychological theory, and statistics. Often, students will also take courses that provide hands-on experience working in the field.

Many colleges and universities across the country offer master’s degree psychology programs. Some schools offer an online MA in psychology, which can be a great option for busy individuals who want to earn their degree while continuing to work full-time or care for family.

What Is an MS in Psychology?

A Master of Science in Psychology is a two- to three-year graduate degree designed to prepare students for careers in psychology and related fields. The curriculum for an MS in psychology, explains Very Well Mind, typically includes coursework in psychological theory, research methods, and statistics. You may also dive into courses such as forensic, abnormal, experimental, and cognitive psychology. Finally, students may be required to complete a thesis or practicum project.

When choosing between an MA vs MS in psychology, there are a few notable differences to consider. Very Well Mind summarizes the key distinction: “An MA degree may indicate a stronger liberal arts focus, while an MS usually means there’s a stronger concentration on research and the sciences.” 

How to Decide Between an MA and an MS in Psychology

Given these definitions of master’s degree programs in psychology, you should still take time to dive into the specific degrees and universities available to understand how the curriculum, faculty, career outcomes, and schedules line up with what you want out of the degree. 

Traditionally, liberal arts backgrounds emphasize holistic learning, which means an MA in psychology may value a curriculum offering both the scientific rigor of psychology as well as the behavioral skills needed to practice in the field. An MS, on the other hand, is likely to have you focusing more on scientific processes and less on the humanities. 

Benefits of an Online Master’s Degree in Psychology 

There are many benefits of pursuing an MA or MS in psychology online. One of the greatest benefits is the flexibility online programs offer. You can start taking classes anytime, and you can complete your coursework on your own schedule, making it easier to juggle work and other commitments.

Benefits of earning a master’s degree in psychology online, for example, may include:

  • Flexibility and convenience
  • Taking one class one at a time
  • Taking classes that last only six weeks
  • Studying on your own schedule
  • Adding a specialization that interests you
  • Learning on-the-go from your phone, tablet, or laptop
  • Completing your degree in as little as two or three years
  • Preparing you for a successful psychology career

What Skills Will You Gain from an MA in Psychology?

An MA in psychology will give you a strong foundation in the field, equipping you to enter into the workforce. With advanced knowledge of psychological theories and principles, you’ll be able to better understand human behavior and assist people in resolving personal issues.

Job board site Indeed identifies several skills many employers hope to find from someone in the field. From highly valuable skills for any career – think writing, critical thinking, time management, reasoning, research, and communication – to the more specific skills of a psychologist, your resume will be packed with marketable skills. If these sound like skills you might gain in any advanced degree, rest assured only graduates of a Master of Arts in Psychology program can hope to gain skills in areas such as psychological research methods, how to collect data on groups and people, how to investigate psychology, how to develop theories regarding social and educational psychology, and how to establish a more in-depth understanding of peoples’ behaviors.

What Skills Will You Gain from an MS in Psychology?

The skills you’ll gain through an MS degree in psychology are virtually the same as those you will pick up in an MA in psychology. In addition to the above, asserts you will gain the following skills in your MS program:

  • Analytical research
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Familiarity with information technology
  • Communication (written and verbal)

The unique combination of hard and soft skills, on top of your master’s degree, will set you up for success in your career and make you a very desirable employee in a variety of roles and industries.

What Can I Do With an MA or MS in Psychology?

With a diverse education covering human behavior, theory, and research, career opportunities abound. Five exciting fields to explore include human resources, health care, education, law enforcement, and social services.

  1. Human Resources (HR) is a fascinating and ubiquitous field – you’ll find it in almost every office and industry across the country. If you like helping professionals and solving problems facing the workforce today, there is a place for you in HR.
  2. Health care spans a wide variety of settings, but the underlying responsibility of any role you take will be helping others through a hard time and focusing on improving their mental, physical, or emotional health. Whether it’s an ongoing health issue they face or a crisis they’re fighting to overcome, the skills you learn in a psychology master’s degree program will help you care for the health of others in need.
  3. The need to address mental health issues and unique learning needs in the field of education will add to the demand for qualified psychology graduates to offer guidance and understanding to future generations.
  4. Research and analysis play a vital role in many facets of law enforcement, making a master’s degree in psychology very valuable.
  5. There is a growing demand for social workers, and the lessons learned in psychology can help graduates address some of today’s most important social issues.

Is an MA or MS in Psychology Worth It? 

The answer to the value of an MA or MS in psychology is, as with most things in life, it depends. 

Here are a few factors to consider when making the decision to pursue an MA in psychology:

  1. Your career goals: If you have specific career goals in mind, an MA in psychology may be worth it. For example, if you want to pursue one of the four types of psychology, an MA in psychology is a good place to start. You’ll gain valuable and marketable skills such as problem-solving, working with difficult people, understanding diverse thinking, mental health and human behavior theory, and much, much more. 
  2. The cost of the program: An MA or MS in psychology program typically lasts two or three years. That means the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses can add up quickly. Before you decide to pursue an MA or MS, be sure to do your research and make sure you find a program that fits your budget. Choosing an online program may help reduce the time and cost to completion. 
  3. The job market: The job market for the field of psychology has traditionally been favorable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a holder of a psychology degree in 2019 was $50,000. The number of jobs with that education requirement was 3,141,710. However, competition for jobs may be stiff depending on when you enter into the job market. Gaining experience while earning your degree can help set you apart.
  4. Your personal interests: Last but not least, you should pursue an MA or MS in psychology if you have a genuine interest in the subject matter. After all, you will be spending a lot of time and money on your education, so you should make sure you enjoy the material. Never underestimate the value of fulfilling a personal achievement.

For instance, according to Very Well Mind, you can expect an MA in psychology to help you:

  • Gain the skills to work in a variety of settings, such as mental health facilities, schools, businesses, and government agencies
  • Get a deeper understanding of the psychological theories that explain human behavior
  • Gain a better understanding of yourself and others
  • Build the skills to work with people of all ages
  • Gain insights into the psychological factors that influence human behavior in different cultures
  • Better understand the relationship between mind and body

Summary: MA vs MS in Psychology

As you investigate an MA vs MS in psychology, it’s important to examine your own mental well-being and understand what’s best for you, not only in terms of curriculum, but in the academic environment – online or in-person – and in a specific area of study: counseling, clinical, learning, or language development. Answering these questions will help you make the best decision for you and your career.

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