Education Psychology Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of jobs can you get with a degree in educational psychology? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and educational psychology programs.
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Studying Education Psychology: Degrees at a Glance

Earning a graduate degree in educational psychology can lead to a wide range of careers. If you're a teacher or school administrator, it could provide insight into your students' learning processes. You could also conduct research or serve as an instructional coordinator. Master's level graduates are more likely to work at schools or educational agencies, while PhD holders often work as collegiate-level faculty or as researchers in educational testing facilities. Despite the name, however, educational psychology degree programs don't prepare individuals for licensure as school psychologists.

From 2010-2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted employment of high school teachers would grow 7%, and hiring of school principals would grow 10%. Employment of instructional coordinators and postsecondary teachers was predicted to grow 20% and 17%, respectively, over the same decade.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in learning basic research methods to work for an educational agency, apply research to a career in teaching or school administration or later study at the doctoral level Individuals who would like to conduct original research concerning the ways in which people learn or who are interested in teaching at the collegiate level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Secondary school teacher ($54,000 - licensure required to teach at public schools)*
- Education administrator ($87,000 -could require 5 years of related experience)*
- Assessment specialist (salary unavailable)*
- Instructional coordinator ($59,000 - licensure and experience working as a teacher, principal or administrator are typically required )*
- Postsecondary teacher ($64,000 - based on salaries across all fields)*
- Psychometrician ($65,000 - with 1-4 years of experience)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 5-7 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 10-12 graduate level courses
- Comprehensive exam
- Thesis for students on the research track
Master's degree requirements, plus:
- 4-6 additional graduate-level courses
- Doctoral qualifying exam
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in any field - Bachelor's or master's degree in any field (may need to complete additional coursework if degree wasn't in education psychology or a related field)
Online Availability Yes Yes (limited availability)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (May 2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Educational Psychology

Master's degree programs, which can lead to a Master of Science, Master of Arts or Master of Education in Educational Psychology, are often divided into two tracks. One track focuses on providing students with the foundational knowledge and skills to conduct research in educational psychology. Research methodology courses are emphasized, and a thesis is required. This track is appropriate for students interested in performing research for a testing or educational agency or who plan to continue on to earn a PhD in Educational Psychology. If you decide to pursue a career in research or with an educational testing agency, keep in mind that you'll often be competing for jobs against individuals who hold a PhD.

The second track focuses on subject matter and how to apply educational psychology to the classroom - this type of program is well suited for educators. Programs for educators may combine educational psychology coursework with curriculum design and leadership training. Coursework in research methodology is common, and you may need to conduct a research project, but research is not the focus, and a thesis is usually not required.

Pros and Cons


  • Teachers may qualify for an administrative or leadership role in a school after completing a master's program in educational psychology.
  • If you take the research route, you may qualify for roles within educational agencies or testing organizations, and you can also apply for doctoral programs, if you desire more training.
  • Some programs are designed with teachers' schedules in mind - courses are offered during the summer months, and a lighter course load is offered during the school year with classes scheduled on evenings and weekends.


  • If you seek to become an educator in a public school, these programs will not fulfill all of the requirements. You will have to complete additional coursework and training to qualify for a teaching license.
  • Employment of teachers and principals was predicted to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations from 2010-2020.*
  • If you're applying for jobs with educational or testing agencies, you may be competing with PhD graduates.

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework may split between courses that cover sub-areas of psychology, as they relate to educational settings, and courses that teach ways to measure the effectiveness of different teaching techniques. Students can also study quantitative and qualitative methods of conducting research. Courses you may take include:

  • Development of adolescents
  • Cognition and learning
  • Educational social psychology
  • Assessment in education
  • Research design
  • Educational statistics

In addition to coursework, students interested in focusing on research will need to complete a thesis and an oral defense of the thesis. Students who select the non-thesis option may be required to pass a comprehensive exam.

Online Degree Options

Online options for a master's degree in educational psychology allow you to complete the entire degree program online. Other programs may require on-campus time, such as a summer session. Programs that are completed entirely online are more likely to consist of coursework and a comprehensive exam with no thesis option. Therefore, these programs could be better suited to professionals who seek to apply the knowledge gained in a master's program to their current work, rather than to individuals looking to embark on a career in research.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you plan to conduct research, become involved with an existing research project as early as possible during your master's program. Finding a research mentor early in the program can help you develop your own research and may be necessary if you seek to complete a thesis. Your options could be limited if you don't start research until your second year.

Individuals on the non-thesis track may want to concentrate elective choices in the subject areas most relevant to their work. For example, principals could focus on social psychology and overall adolescent development, while English language teachers may be interested in taking classes in the psychology of language.

Degree Alternatives

If you're interested in the psychology behind learning disabilities, consider a bachelor's or master's degree program in special education. Special education teachers work one-on-one with students with learning differences, such as dyslexia, and developmental disorders, such as autism. As a public school teacher, you'd need to be licensed. According to the BLS, employment of special education teachers was predicted to grow 17% from 2010-2020, which was faster than the projected growth in employment for teachers and principals. As of May 2011, the median salary for special education teachers was around $53,000.

Another profession to consider is counseling. School counselors work directly with students, supporting them in their social, emotional and academic development. Most states require school counselors to hold a master's degree in school counseling or a related area. Credentials, such as licensure or certification, are also required to work as a school counselor. The BLS predicted that employment of school counselors would grow 19% over the 2010-2020 decade, faster than the projected growth for teachers and principals. The median salary for educational, school, guidance and vocational counselors was around $54,000, as of May 2011.

PhD in Educational Psychology

PhD programs in educational psychology are generally designed to prepare students to work in academia, and program requirements often include advanced coursework, research and teaching experience. However, some programs are designed for education professionals who seek to apply research methodology to real-world situations, and graduates from PhD programs may go on to work at educational or testing agencies, conducting research on effective testing methods.

Each school offers different specialty areas, and it's important to learn about the research interests of the faculty at programs you're considering. It will likely prove beneficial to attend a program where researchers are studying subjects that interest you.

Pros and Cons


  • Graduate assistantships in research or teaching may be available to help cover the costs of the first 4-5 years of a PhD. Fellowships may also be available to support doctoral students throughout their studies.
  • You can gain a greater depth of knowledge in a specialty area than students completing only a master's degree.
  • A PhD qualifies you to teach at community colleges and universities.


  • Employment in academia is competitive, and professors are increasingly being employed as part-time adjuncts (29% of university instructors held part-time positions in 2010*).
  • A PhD may not be required for some research positions in educational and testing agencies. A master's degree may be sufficient.
  • Programs in educational psychology do not prepare graduates to practice school psychology as licensed psychologists.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

During the first 2-3 years, students typically complete advanced coursework, undertake a preliminary research project and take doctoral qualifying exams. The next 2-4 years are usually spent conducting research, then writing and defending a dissertation. Students entering with a master's degree in educational psychology or a closely related field generally have fewer coursework requirements and may be able to proceed directly to the dissertation proposal without completing a preliminary research project. Doctoral students may also have the opportunity to serve as teaching assistants and/or independently teach undergraduate classes.

Coursework completed as part of a PhD program covers many of the same topics as the coursework in a master's degree program. However, as a PhD student, you'll take more advanced classes in a particular specialty area and may complete an additional exam in that specialty. Possible specialization areas include:

  • Special education
  • Learning and instruction
  • Psychological and educational measurement
  • Technology and education

Online Degree Options

Online and hybrid PhD programs are rare, but they do exist. These programs are generally designed for education professionals who desire to maintain their current employment while earning a PhD. Similar to their on-campus counterparts, online programs require you to take advanced coursework in educational psychology and complete a dissertation. Hybrid programs may require you to take face-to-face summer intensives and complete online coursework during the school year. Students in online and hybrid programs are also required to complete and defend a doctoral dissertation, and residency requirements may be interspersed throughout online programs for you to participate in face-to-face sessions.

Get Ahead with This Degree

Teachers are increasingly expected to integrate technology into their classrooms. Therefore, researchers are conducting increasing amounts of research into the effects technology has on education and learning. Specializing in this area may make you more competitive when applying for jobs.

Gaining as much proficiency as possible with methods of quantitative analysis may also put you ahead of the competition. Being skilled with advanced statistics and data-driven research could potentially make you a more attractive candidate for employment at a testing organization.

Degree Alternatives

If you're interested in providing psychological services to students, consider a PhD in School Psychology. Doctoral programs typically require advanced coursework and completion of a dissertation or passing an examination. In addition to graduating from a master's specialist (Ed.S.) or doctoral degree program in school psychology, school psychologists must be licensed to practice in schools. Typical licensure requirements include completing an internship, obtaining professional experience and passing an examination. Employment of school, clinical and counseling psychologists was predicted to grow 22% from 2010-2020, and their median annual salary was nearly $68,000, in May 2011.

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