Educational Psychology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an educational psychology degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Study Educational Psychology: Degrees at a Glance

Educational psychology is the understanding of how humans learn and remember. Graduate students will come to understand how the brain works and what motivates individuals. An emphasis within research allows students to focus on an area of their choosing and add to new developments in the field.

To work as a social worker or psychologist, a master's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that psychologists will see an above average employment increase from 2010 to 2020, with the greatest demand being in schools and hospitals. This is partially because the number of students will continue to grow over time. A PhD can help you gain employment in higher education or research.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Those who wish to work as a psychologist or counselor, or who intend to go on to earn a doctoral degreeIndividuals who will enter the fields of academia or research
Common career paths (with approx. mean salary)* - Psychologists ($86,000)*
- School and career counselors ($45,000)*
- Social workers ($54,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($74,000)*
Time to completionUp to five yearsUp to eight years
Common graduation requirements - Comprehensive examination
- Thesis option
- Research work
- Comprehensive examinations
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - GRE
- Undergraduate coursework in social sciences
- Undergraduate or master's degree
Online availability YesHybrid programs are available

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

Master's Degree in Educational Psychology

Educational psychology master's students will be prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. Students will study how and why we learn the way we do, while focusing on evaluation and special cases, such as special needs or exceptional children. Students have the option to complete a thesis, which may be valuable for those intending to pursue a PhD or a career in research. You may also be asked to focus on a concentration such as community counseling, research and development, school counseling or school psychology.

Pros and Cons


  • The field of psychology is rapidly growing, and employment growth is favorable
  • A master's degree is typically necessary to practice psychology or counseling
  • You may have the option of completing a capstone project, research project or a thesis paper


  • Most states require psychologists to be licensed and certified, which requires you to have experience and pass an examination
  • You are required to complete a comprehensive examination, which tests what you have learned throughout the entire graduate program
  • These programs do not include teaching certification

Courses and Requirements

Students are required to take core courses along with electives. Elective classes must be chosen with an advisor to ensure that you are keeping with your path of specialization. Core courses may include:

  • Life span development psychology
  • Theories and principles of learning
  • Educational assessment
  • Trends and issues in educational psychology
  • Educational testing

Additionally, students must take research methodology courses to prepare them for the capstone project or thesis paper.

Online Degree Options

Some colleges and universities offer a master's degree in educational psychology entirely online. These programs offer a flexible schedule that allows you to work towards your degree in your own time. They are ideal for working professionals or stay-at-home parents. The same coursework and research requirements as the on-campus program are compulsory.

Stand Out with This Degree

New technologies have a profound effect on education and the ways in which we learn. Many educational psychology programs focus on the influence of these technologies on our students. To stand out with this degree, it is important to keep up with emerging developments and pay attention to the ways they are changing the learning experience. A good way to begin this process is to focus on technology when writing a thesis or researching a project.

PhD in Educational Psychology

The doctoral program in education psychology focuses on psychological theory and research. Generally, students of these programs are teachers or psychologists who wish to continue studying educational issues. Students are trained to conduct studies and research in their field of specialization.

Students may choose to concentrate on a variety of different areas, including special education, educational policy or school psychology. You are required to complete a number of examinations as well as write and defend a dissertation.

Pros and Cons


  • You are able to concentrate on a specialization that best suits your interests and needs
  • A dissertation is an excellent stepping-stone for a research-based career
  • You may also earn a PhD to move into leadership positions in an educational setting


  • A doctoral degree is unnecessary to practice psychology or counseling
  • The examinations and dissertation can be very demanding
  • Employment of higher education instructors is dependent on government funding

Courses and Requirements

All PhD students must take core courses in educational psychology such as history and current systems, statistics and computer programming, research methods, concepts of human development, and learning theories and education. Courses in statistics and research methods are required prior to beginning the dissertation. Students will also take elective courses in the area of their specialization. Some doctoral programs also require the students to complete an apprenticeship or practicum before taking the comprehensive examinations.

Online Degree Options

Hybrid PhD programs in educational psychology are available from some colleges and universities. These programs allow you to complete the bulk of your coursework online via distance learning. Some seminars will require you to travel to campus. You will be able to continue working, at least on a part-time basis, while completing your degree.

Stand Out with This Degree

Again, a focus on emerging technologies is an excellent way to stand out above the competition. If your intention is to continue a career in research, then it is vital to focus on new developments in your field. For higher education instructors, work experience is the best way to stand out. With substantial experience, you may have an opportunity to become tenured, which guarantees you will not be let go from a job without just cause.

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