Can You Study Psychology Online?
Yes, you can study psychology online and earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. With roughly 15% of undergraduates enrolling in fully online programs, many schools offer distance learning options in this field of study. Graduate students can also earn online master's and doctoral degrees in psychology, though these programs usually require an in-person experiential learning component in addition to online coursework.
Applying to an Online Psychology Program
Students need specific materials to apply for an online psychology program. While some colleges are more selective than others, most require prospective psychology undergraduates to provide the following documentation in addition to an online application:
- Official high school or GED transcripts, usually with a minimum GPA between 2.5-3.0
- SAT or ACT scores
- An entrance essay on a designated topic
- Letters of recommendation from teachers, mentors, or volunteer coordinators
In some cases, students may have to take general and prerequisite education credits before applying to a psychology program in their second or third year. This involves completing specified introductory courses in certain subjects — such as psychology, mathematics, and statistics — while meeting minimum grade requirements. Students may also have to submit a separate reflective essay.
A bachelor's in psychology typically includes 120-124 units of coursework and takes four years of full-time study to complete. Many programs also include a practicum or internship component, where students spend around 1,000 hours working in hospitals, correctional facilities, substance use clinics, or other healthcare settings, depending on their chosen specialization. These experiences are designed to provide students with real-world experience on how to practice psychology in different contexts.
Many programs include a practicum or internship component, where students spend around 1,000 hours working in hospitals or other healthcare settings.
Choosing an Online Psychology Program
Students should choose an affordable online psychology program that helps them meet their personal objectives and career goals. For instance, individuals interested in specific areas, such as child psychology or emergency management, should ensure that their prospective degree offers the chance to specialize in these subfields. Those hoping to continue their education beyond the bachelor's level may want to consider programs that prepare students for graduate school by helping foster essential research and clinical skills.
Students should also consider whether pursuing a psychology degree online aligns with their learning needs. For those who work or have a busy schedule, programs that offer asynchronous classes and part-time enrollment are often favorable. However, online students should determine whether these programs offer their preferred amenities, such as 24/7 technical support, the chance to communicate regularly with peers and faculty members, and access to fieldwork opportunities.
Common Online Psychology Courses
The curriculum for a psychology bachelor's degree aims to provide students with a solid foundation in the field, covering multiple topics in human behavior. While elective course offerings and available concentrations can vary based on the program, students can expect to take introductory classes in human development, cognition, and research methods. Below are some common courses that most colleges include in their psychology programs.
In this course, students typically learn about the most common psychological disorders. Subjects include anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders, substance use, schizophrenia, and dissociative disorders. This course typically focuses on causation and diagnosis, along with treatment options for each case.
Behavioral Analysis and Modification
Professors generally introduce the theory and practice of treating psychological problems by modifying patient behavior. Students are expected to examine positive and negative reinforcement, clinical and nonclinical treatment settings, and ethics in intervention.
Students enroll in this class to learn about human cognition processes associated with perceiving the world, solving problems, and making decisions. Some versions of this course also cover the history of cognitive theory alongside the latest technologically-driven research.
Human Language Acquisition
This course builds on concepts in neuroscience and cognitive psychology to describe how humans learn to communicate. Faculty often discuss the physiological structures that produce language and the mental processes behind word finding and retention. Students may find this course listed as a linguistics class.
This subject area examines the brain's physiology. Topics include the chemical makeup of the brain, sensory and motor processes, and neurotrauma's physical and cognitive effects. Students may also investigate the physiological foundation of emotions and psychological disorders.
Research Methods in Psychology
In this introductory class, students typically learn how to design psychology studies and experiments, collect data, and formulate conclusions. Faculty may cover ethical research, the difference between causation and correlation, and how research papers are written and presented.
Bachelor's in Psychology Concentrations
Students should consider which area of psychology they want to specialize in when enrolling in a bachelor's program. Psychology is a broad field where specific degree concentrations typically aim to foster a unique set of skills and area knowledge, thus qualifying graduates for distinct careers based on their education. Below is a list of concentrations commonly offered in online psychology programs.
Clinical Psychology: Students take classes that introduce clinical psychology as a unique field of study. This primarily involves learning about the scientific processes that go into diagnosing and treating patients with various psychological disorders.
Health Psychology: This concentration includes coursework on how to work with people and families who are experiencing illness. Students may learn how they can help patients develop coping strategies, apply psychological theories in family settings, and support individuals with mental health challenges associated with their illness.
Rehabilitation Psychology: Students electing this concentration take classes on how to help individuals recover from or cope with a serious illness or injury. Some programs may also include electives that focus on substance use recovery.
School Psychology: This specialization focuses on supporting students and professionals in educational settings. Coursework may cover early child development, classroom intervention, and proper assessment administration.
Social Psychology: In this concentration, students typically learn about the psychology of community-level behavior. Some take classes in social justice to better understand how cultural, political, and economic factors shape community values.
The Importance of an Accredited Degree
Accreditation is a process in which recognized bodies evaluate whether a college or university meets national standards of educational excellence. Regional accreditation, the most common type, assesses an educational institution as a whole. Students interested in an online psychology bachelor's should ensure their prospective school is regionally accredited because this impacts their ability to receive federal aid, transfer credits, and apply for licensure after graduating. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation each offer a current list of regionally accredited schools.
Some organizations also accredit specific degree programs. In the field of psychology, the American Psychological Association (APA) only accredits on-campus doctoral programs. This means that undergraduate degrees — whether in-person or online — do not require program-level accreditation.
Careers with an Online Psychology Degree
While a bachelor's degree in psychology provides access to some entry-level jobs within the field, students should be aware that many psychology specializations require further licensure and schooling beyond a bachelor's degree. However, online bachelor's degree holders in this field may still secure jobs that aren't directly related to their subject area.
By developing versatile skills in research, communication, relationship building, and critical thinking, graduates may qualify for entry-level positions in marketing, social work, education, and government, to name a few sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8% is the average growth projection across U.S.-based jobs through 2030. Below is a list of potential career options for graduates with an online bachelor's in psychology, along with salary and comparative job outlook data:
Market Research Analysts
Median Annual Salary: $65,810
Job Outlook: 22%
Market research analysts help businesses identify ways to promote their goods and services. This typically involves using statistical research, focus groups, opinion polls, and other techniques to forecast consumer demand and evaluate market conditions.
Median Annual Salary: $51,760
Job Outlook: 12%
Social workers work with both individuals and communities as they navigate unemployment, familial conflict, or illness. Their work spans multiple sectors, including education, healthcare, and policymaking. Social workers may also research the root causes of the challenges individuals and communities face.
Median Annual Salary: $74,650
Job Outlook: 12%
Technical writers help produce manuals, online content, and media publications. They focus on making technical information accessible to a wider audience and typically work in businesses, government offices, and non-profit organizations.
Training and Development Specialists
Median Annual Salary: $62,700
Job Outlook: 11%
Training and development specialists help upskill employees in businesses and organizations. Their work may involve designing training programs, monitoring progress, and using technology to better deliver learning materials.
Requirements To Become a Psychologist
For students interested in becoming a psychologist, it can be helpful to know the additional steps that lie ahead beyond the completion of a bachelor's degree. As individuals who research human behavior and offer therapeutic services to patients, clinical psychologists require a graduate degree and licensure to practice. While each state has its own licensing requirements, nearly all require that applicants have a doctoral degree along with several years of professional experience. Additionally, applicants must typically pass a state exam. Many states also require students to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, or a variation of this test.
Before beginning a specific educational path in this field, it is recommended that students investigate the requirements for psychology practice in their particular state.
Licensed psychologists who specialize in a particular area of psychology, such as clinical neuropsychology, clinical psychology, or counseling psychology, may also choose to earn professional certification. Agencies, such as the American Board of Professional Psychology Certification, issue credentials to eligible applicants in many other areas as well. To apply, individuals must have a doctoral degree and meet specific work experience requirements. They must also enroll in continuing education to maintain certification.
Before beginning a specific educational or career path in this field, it is recommended that students investigate the requirements for psychology practice in their particular state.