Organizational Psychology Degrees: MBA, PhD & Online Course Info

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MBA and Ph.D. programs in organizational psychology can lead to careers in academia and in business. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your MBA or Ph.D.
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Studying Organizational Psychology: MBAs and Ph.D.s at a Glance

Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology applies psychological theories and research to the workplace. I-O psychologists advise managers and company directors on hiring practices, employee training, group dynamics and communication, feedback systems, productivity and overall well-being of employees. In an MBA program, you'll learn business principles and practical psychological concepts that can be applied in the workplace; if you get a Ph.D., you'll be trained more in theoretical concepts and may have opportunities to conduct research and teach at the university level.

I-O psychologists are expected to experience faster-than-average employment growth, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 35% increase in jobs from 2010 to 2020. Employment of postsecondary teachers was expected to grow 17% during that time. Professors with backgrounds in I-O psychology may have more employment opportunities than individuals in other branches of psychology since they can be employed in both psychology departments and business schools.

MBA Ph.D.
Who is this Degree For? Individuals who want to work in business settings, possibly as consultants or human resources professionals Individuals who want to serve as business consultants, psychologists, researchers or professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Training and development manager ($99,000)*
- Human resources specialist ($59,000)*
- Human resources manager ($109,000)*
- I-O psychologist ($124,000)*
- Psychology professor ($76,000)*
- Business professor ($94,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4-6 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 38-57 credits worth of courses
- Internship
- 60-80 credits worth of courses
- Master's thesis or qualifying papers
- Comprehensive examinations
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Scores from the GMAT or GRE
- Bachelor's degree with some coursework in psychology
- Proven ability to conduct research
- Scores from the GRE
Online Availability Similar programs are available Available, but may not qualify you for licensure

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

MBA in Organizational Psychology

MBA programs in I-O psychology typically consist of an MBA core curriculum and the option to concentrate in I-O psychology or a similar area, such as organizational behavior or organizational consulting. This means you'll focus mostly on business and take only a handful of courses in I-O psychology. After an MBA program, you may be well-equipped to take on a number of jobs in business; positions in training and development management or human resources may be particularly good matches.

MBA programs tend to be selective. The curriculum is usually structured around group projects, and students are encouraged to do collaborative work when appropriate. In this way, MBA programs attempt to mimic work environments. Many programs offer part-time and evening scheduling options to accommodate students who want to maintain their current employment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The diversity of skills learned in an MBA program can prepare you for many positions in business
  • An increased awareness of the contributions of psychology in the workplace has led to substantial growth in this field
  • Coursework focuses on real-life work situations, which may better prepare you for employment than more didactic forms of learning

Cons

  • Because of the minimal coursework devoted to I-O psychology in the MBA curriculum, you may not feel as prepared to serve as a psychological consultant as you would if you were to earn an M.A. or Ph.D. in I-O psychology
  • An MBA will not qualify you for licensure as a psychologist
  • You may be competing with Ph.D. graduates for similar positions

Courses and Requirements

MBA programs require you to fulfill all standard MBA core coursework, which typically covers business subjects such as accounting, finance and management. Your concentration in I-O psychology will consist of classes such as:

  • Personnel psychology
  • Job design
  • Motivation in the workplace
  • Training and development
  • Psychological research design

Much of your work will be conducted in group settings. You may be required to complete an internship or work placement during the summer between your 2 years of study. Some programs require a capstone experience, which will require you to utilize the skills you've learned to execute a final project.

Online Degree Options

There are many online MBA programs; however, there don't appear to be any that offer an exact concentration in I-O psychology. You may be able to find an online program that offers a concentration that will allow you obtain similar positions upon graduating, such as human resources.

Most of the online MBA programs use a hybrid format that requires you to come to campus to participate in face-to-face seminars at least a couple of times during the program. Some programs are designed for individuals who already have substantial professional experience.

Stand Out With This Degree

Look for opportunities to complete extra work experiences or internships. These experiences will allow you to develop the hands-on skills needed to succeed in the workplace, such as leadership, managerial, organizational and decision-making skills. You could also make professional contacts and network with professionals in your field.

In your work experiences, seek placements with companies you would like to work for in the long run. Internships can sometimes turn into job offers, and managers are more likely to hire someone they know or have connections with. Even if you don't end up working in the company you intern with, your manager during your internships will likely know other professionals in similar companies.

Degree Alternatives

You might want to consider a Master of Arts in I-O Psychology. This degree program is more focused on I-O psychology classes and does not have as many business classes. This type of program may better prepare you for a position as an organizational psychologist. You'll have opportunities to participate in internships, conduct original research and write a thesis.

If you're enrolled in a bachelor's degree program in psychology at a university that has a business school, you may want to ask about options to complete both your B.A. and an MBA in 5 years. This would allow you to finish both programs in a shorter amount of time, thus reducing your total tuition costs.

Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology

Ph.D. programs in psychology are competitive, and entering class cohorts are kept small (around 20 students) at most programs. Programs in I-O psychology take the scientist-practitioner approach, meaning they actively combine applied practice and research and focus on how the two realms of practice influence one another.

Coursework covers the various subareas of I-O psychology, and students typically are encouraged to engage in research as early as possible during the program. During your first few years, you might work on a research team led by a professor and gradually gain more responsibility until you're conducting independent research. Some programs require a field placement, and you might want to look for one that does since it will give you valuable experience in learning how your skills apply to the workplace.

If you're interested in gaining business skills alongside training in organizational psychology, you might consider joint degree programs that allow you to study for a Ph.D. and an MBA at the same time.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • After gaining relevant professional experience, you'll be able to qualify for state licensure as a psychologist
  • I-O psychology is a rapidly growing field
  • You'll likely develop in-depth expertise in one or two specialties and competency in several areas, making you a competitive job candidate for consultancy positions in business

Cons

  • Psychology Ph.D. programs are among the most competitive of graduate degree programs
  • Ph.D. programs do not usually include business classes, so if you want to work in a business setting, you may need to seek out extra coursework in areas such as finance and management
  • If you haven't taken enough psychology coursework as an undergraduate, you may need to complete a master's degree program before applying for a Ph.D

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in a Ph.D. program covers topics of I-O psychology, quantitative skills and research methodology. Common courses include:

  • Principles of organizational behavior
  • Testing and measurement
  • Research design
  • Advanced statistics
  • Motivation in the workplace
  • Principles of leadership

You'll likely need to pass a comprehensive examination and complete a master's thesis or other research project before advancing to the status of doctoral candidate. You'll then develop a dissertation proposal. Once the proposal gains approval, you'll spend about 2 years researching and writing your dissertation. The completed dissertation will go before a dissertation committee, where you'll complete an oral defense of your research before being awarded the Ph.D. Some programs also require field placements or teaching experiences. If you intend to pursue licensure, you'll want to talk to your program director to ensure that all of your state's education requirements for licensing will be met.

Online Degree Options

There are some online Ph.D. programs in I-O psychology, but they are rare. Most require some attendance at short on-campus seminars, but the large majority of coursework can be completed online.

Online programs will limit your opportunities to participate in research and teaching activities, so you would probably have a tough time finding employment in academia after graduation. Online programs may not prepare you for licensure as an I-O psychologist, either. However, you may want to consider an online program if you're already working in a business environment and want to deepen your knowledge or gain credentials that can help you advance in your current career.

Stand Out With This Degree

Since I-O psychology programs can prepare you for a few different careers, look for ways to tailor your program to your specific career goals. For example, if you want to go into academia, be sure to get involved in research as early as possible and look for opportunities to submit articles to academic journals and present research at professional conferences. Find a subarea of I-O psychology that interests you, and choose more classes and conduct research in that area so that you can begin to develop a specialty. You'll also need teaching skills for academic jobs. If your program doesn't require teaching experience, look for optional teaching assistantships or classes in pedagogy. Alternatively, if you intend to go into business, your time might be better spent completing an internship or field placement in a business environment.

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