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Psychology Degrees

In this section we'll cover many different elements of the psychology degree, focusing primarily on Graduate Psychology Degrees. We'll discuss the different types of psychology degrees, what you can do with a graduate degree in psychology, careers in psychology, and more.

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The Master Of Arts (MA) In Psychology

Where It All Began: The History of the Master of Arts in Psychology

Advanced academic degrees were first awarded in European universities during the middle ages and were restricted to Doctoral decrees. The PhD was the only degree conferred and it was meant for scholars interested in furthering the study of knowledge in the field. Over time there were concerns expressed about the lack of practical applications of knowledge versus the "knowledge for the sake of knowledge" orientation of the PhD.

As a direct result of this expressed need for practitioners, the University of Michigan offered the first Master of Arts degree in the United States in 1850. Masters Degrees have been the subject of disagreement within academia as some felt they should be nothing more than a step towards the ultimate prize, the PhD.

Education in contemporary society has seen an even more dramatic shift from the purely theoretical to the pragmatic and as a result, many Masters Degree programs are now sufficient for immediate entry into professional work, instead of merely a step on the PhD path.

Perhaps as a result of this shift, the number of Masters Degrees awarded almost doubled in the last 25 years of the twentieth century. In some fields, a Masters Degree is an absolute essential for entry into a profession; a Bachelor's Degree is insufficient. Psychology is one of those fields.

Before getting into the requirements for earning a Master's Degree, let's briefly review the "alphabet soup" that no describes most contemporary degrees, both graduate and undergraduate.

The letters used to differentiate academic degrees indicate both level of expertise and general field of study. The "B" in a Bachelors degree indicates a basic level of expertise while the "M" denotes additional expertise gained from an additional 1 - 2 years or study, the time range it takes to complete a Masters Degree. The "A" or "S" indicates expertise in the fields of liberal arts or the natural/empirical sciences.

What Can You Do With A Master of Arts (MA) Degree In Psychology?

Terminal Master of Arts degrees provide training for entry level careers in mental health, schools, and private industry. Today it is possible to get a license to practice in certain fields of applied psychology. As such, the Master of Arts is most suitable for candidates who have a reasonably clear vision of the professional paths which interest them. Do you truly know yourself? Have you looked yourself in the mirror and considered your strengths and weaknesses; your likes and dislikes; what excites and inspires you; what annoys and bores you? Honest self-evaluation can guide you both into a rewarding career and the kind of psychology degrees that can get you there.

As an example, if mental health is where you want to begin your professional career, a Master of Arts with a specialization in Clinical or Counseling Psychology will work for you. Although an MSW (Master in Social Work) is not a traditional Psychology degree, some schools offer an MSW in Clinical Psychology with which you can get into most mental health fields, including private practice.

If you are unsure which branch of psychology is right for you, there are a few schools that offer generalist degrees. The best source for finding them is the APA (American Psychological Association) publication "Graduate Study in Psychology" which you can buy at better bookstores or find at your local library. Typically, programs like these provide a broad base of how the scientific methodologies of psychology are applied to behavioral, cognitive, and societal issues. They are not designed to qualify students for independent practice in psychology, but rather as a means of clarifying career options or as a first step in a path towards a doctoral degree.

Next Steps

Now that you know all about the MA Degree in psychology, what should you do next? Here are the three most appropriate next steps: