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Master of Applied Psychology | Context - Context
Online Master of Applied Psychology
Master of Applied Psychology In Context

The Master of Applied Psychology is a graduate-level degree that can lead to employment in the field of psychology or help prepare for a doctoral program. [2] [3] Applied psychology focuses on using scientific findings to solve problems of human behavior and experience. [1]

Applied psychology professionals are most often employed as counselors and therapists, but many find work in research, program evaluation, and for nonprofits or corporations. [6] A master’s in applied psychology may be a good fit for you if you would like to obtain steady employment in a field where job growth is strong, while also helping others and engaging in continuous learning. [11][4]

There are many options for obtaining a Master of Applied Psychology degree, including both online and on-campus options. You may wish to consider a master’s in applied psychology program with online components if improved flexibility while achieving equivalent preparation and training appeals to you. [32]

What is applied psychology?

Applied psychology is a branch of psychology that involves using “the methods and findings from scientific psychology to solve practical problems of human and animal behavior and experience.” [1] Applied psychology can be thought of as the umbrella under which many other psychology specialties fall. Some examples of applied psychology specialties include clinical, counselling, educational, forensic, industrial/organizational, and sport psychology. [8]

What do applied psychologists do?

There are two main branches in the field of psychology: basic (or “pure”) psychology and applied psychology.

  • Basic psychology is sometimes called “pure psychology.” This field explores and develops theories about human behavior and experience through hypothesis testing. Usually, practitioners of basic psychology are driven by a desire to have a fundamental understanding of human functioning. This is sometimes considered a more academic category of psychology. [8]
  • Applied psychology looks to solve practical human problems by applying methods and findings from experimental psychology to real-world issues. Graduates working in applied psychology focus on knowledge translation and application of ideas from science to practice. [8]

These two branches of psychology have begun to overlap, with funding agencies often requiring practitioners of basic psychology to focus more on the practical use of their findings to obtain funding. [8] This means that applied psychology is a growing field, and the practical application of psychology is becoming increasingly important in employment sectors. If the application of psychological knowledge to real-world issues and problems appeals to you, a master’s degree in applied psychology may be a good fit.

What is a Master of Applied Psychology degree?

The Master of Applied Psychology is a graduate degree that is best suited for those interested in obtaining scientific training for practical work in psychology. Master’s in applied psychology programs often use the scientist-practitioner model, which involves a dual focus on training students to understand and apply research methods, and also on how to translate and apply research findings to real-world situations. There is a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice. [9]

Generally, it takes between 16 months and three years to complete this degree, and graduates work in many diverse fields, such as research, sports psychology, counseling, clinical psychology, school psychology, forensic psychology, and organizational psychology. [11-20] [6]

The Master of Applied Psychology degree can also be a stepping stone toward a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree, which may be required for practice in certain fields. Educational requirements vary between states, so it is important to check the educational and licensure requirements to practice in your home state.

Who gets a Master of Applied Psychology?

People who have bachelor’s degrees in psychology are among those most often applying for Master of Applied Psychology programs. [2] [3] Some master’s programs in applied psychology do admit applicants with bachelor’s degrees in other related disciplines, such as education or social work. [2] [3]

Although only 22% of applied psychology degrees awarded in the U.S. are master’s degrees, 32% of all applied psychology professionals in the workforce have a master’s. [2] This indicates that a master’s degree is highly valued by employers.

Graduates of the Master of Applied Psychology program are most often employed as counselors, social workers, and educators. [3]

Why earn a Master of Applied Psychology degree?
If you have an interest in using psychological methods and scientific findings to help solve real-world problems, the Master of Applied Psychology may be the degree for you. This degree offers diverse opportunities for ongoing learning and making a difference in society, while also providing a steady job with opportunities for both personal and professional development. Several important factors to consider if you are thinking about pursuing this degree are:

Job growth

The field of psychology, and in particular applied psychology, has grown quickly in recent years, with an expected 20% growth rate between 2014 and 2024. [11] [4] Due to its breadth and adaptability, the field of psychology is a solid career choice, even in times of economic downturn. [11]

Make a difference

If you pursue a master’s in applied psychology, you can make a difference in many people’s lives throughout your career.

You will use scientific research to “better understand how people learn, interpret events, and make decisions.” [12] Using this knowledge, you can help people make healthier choices in their daily lives, regardless of which field you choose to work in.

You may help people recover from serious mental disorders, or help those struggling with their work-life balance. You might do educational assessments with children so their schools can help them learn more effectively, or do research to find new solutions for existing problems. All of these will create lasting change for the people you work with, and are associated with a high level of career satisfaction for applied psychology professionals, as well. [12]

Constant learning opportunities

If you identify as a lifelong learner, the field of applied psychology may be for you. Because of its connection to science and knowledge creation, applied psychology is constantly evolving.

Most professional organizations and associations host continuing education and research opportunities for professionals in the field. [5] The American Psychological Association alone holds more than 80 continuing education workshops at its annual convention, many of which are also available online for those unable to attend in person. [13]

New developments and treatment paths are constantly emerging. This ongoing change and opportunity for professional development means this career path is never stagnant. [5]

Master of Applied Psychology Career Advancement
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “most of the problems in the world are problems in behavior — how people treat others, how they treat the environment, and how they treat themselves.” New problems arise consistently in our changing world, and so too does the need for applied psychology. [11] Between 2014 and 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that careers in psychology will grow by 20%, with 32 500 new jobs expected from 2014 to 2024. This is a much faster rate of growth than in all other industries in the United States. [4] [7] Job prospects are also better for individuals with an applied specialty. [7] The APA writes that the areas of fastest growth within the field of applied psychology include:

Program evaluators use psychological and research tools to evaluate the strengths and limitations of programs in various fields, such as health and education. Goals of program evaluation involve ensuring that the programs that agencies deliver achieve the intended results. One example of program evaluation work could involve testing to see whether a “Just Say No to Drugs” program results in fewer youth experimenting with substance use. [11]

Older adults are increasingly interested in obtaining psychological services, and make up a growing proportion of the population (21% by 2021), resulting in increased demand. Psychologists in this area may provide direct services to older adults, or may help to design or facilitate mental health and/or assisted living programs for elders. [11]

A government initiative to ensure that soldiers, veterans, and their families receive adequate support has resulted in a 36% increase in applied psychology positions in this area. [11] Applied psychology professionals may help soldiers prepare for deployment, assist with reintegration after employment, treat trauma and other psychological injuries, and assist with any family problems that arise as a result of the soldier or veteran’s service to the country. [11]

Homeland security

Applied psychology professionals working with homeland security assess terrorist threats from a social science and behavior perspective. The Department of Homeland Security is increasingly recognizing the importance of this perspective, resulting in a significant increase in positions. [11]

A combination of new positions for psychology professionals and a high level of retirement of senior psychologists makes government service a major opportunity for applied psychology graduates. Divisions such as the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Mental Health, and National Cancer Institute all have large and active divisions for applied psychologists. [11]

This growing field involves employment for applied psychology professionals in workplaces. Membership in the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology has grown by 11% since 2000. Particularly lucrative and increasingly available positions include those related to executive coaching and occupational health psychology. [11]

Since forensic psychology was recognized as an approved specialization in 2001, psychologists have become increasingly involved in the judicial system. Important growth areas in the past few years include psycho-legal assessment, assessing and managing violence, evaluating cases of abuse, and providing expert witness testimony. [11]

What fields can I work in with a Master of Applied Psychology?
Graduates of Master of Applied Psychology programs work in many different areas of practice. Some of these include:

Research/experimental psychology

Applied experimental psychologists focus on creating new knowledge through research related to current problems of behavior and emotions. Some examples of applied experimental research include studies on human behavior during war situations, relationships between experiences and post-traumatic stress, and cross-species comparisons. [6]

Sport psychology

Applied sport psychologists work with athletes and sports teams to refine competitive goals, address fear of failure and/or performance anxiety, and help enhance motivation toward the sport. [6]


Applied counseling psychologists help people solve problems of everyday life. This may mean helping people to find their strengths to become resilient, or it could mean assisting someone to cope with serious life events. A counseling psychologist may help people with work or vocational problems, family problems, and lifespan issues (healthy development and aging). [6]

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists focus on treating emotional and behavioral disorders. They work directly with people experiencing these challenges to help them to reach wellness. These disorders may include depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, among others. Clinical psychologists might also specialize in a certain population, such as adolescents, older adults, or ethnic groups. [6]

Educational/school psychology

Applied school psychologists help students and school staff to improve learning outcomes. They may complete educational assessments for learning disabilities, assist teachers with classroom management, or help with behavior plans for students with behavioral challenges. [6]

Forensic psychology

Forensic psychologists bring a psychological lens to a wide variety of legal issues, including criminal and family law. Applied forensic psychologists are often consulted to complete assessments or speak as expert witnesses as part of a court process. They may work on parental capacity assessments, risk or threat assessments, and then make recommendations to the court related to custody and sentencing. They may also do research on eyewitness testimony and jury behavior with the goal of assessing and improving judicial system processes. [6]

Organizational/industrial psychology

Often the terms “industrial” and “organizational” psychology are used interchangeably, and abbreviated I-O or I/O. An applied I/O psychologist applies principles of psychological research and practice to the workplace. Often, they focus on “improving productivity, health, and the quality of work life.” [6] They also may be part of strategic planning, corporate change management, and human resources procedures. [6]

Where do applied psychology professionals work?

Graduates of a Master of Applied Psychology program work in many different settings, and many psychologists work in more than one setting. [6] About 25% of applied psychology professionals work for universities, 25% work for hospitals or other health services, 16% work for government agencies, 10% work for businesses, top 100 companies, or nonprofit agencies, 8% work in schools, 5% work in independent practice, and 6% work for laboratories or other academic institutions. [6]

How can a Master of Applied Psychology degree help my career?

Graduates of master’s in applied psychology programs are presented with wide opportunities for stable, solid careers with impressive growth patterns. [4] They are employed in many diverse areas of practice, which means that most people with an interest in psychology can find personal satisfaction and maintain a high level of interest. [12] Graduates with master’s in applied psychology degrees can achieve stable, lucrative employment and are afforded a certain level of prestige within the profession. [11]

Master of Applied Psychology Curriculum
Students enrolled in a Master of Applied Psychology program will need to take a combination of core and elective courses to graduate. Some universities offer a thesis or capstone project option for those wishing to work in research or move on to Ph.D. or Psy.D. studies; others offer internship or cooperative education programs that provide opportunities for students to gain practice knowledge while studying. [11-20] There is a large variety of Master of Applied Psychology programs available, with differing course selections based upon chosen area of specialty. Across programs, basic core courses remain consistent regardless of mode of program delivery, so students can be confident that a choice to enroll in a Master of Applied Psychology program that contains online components will result in equivalent learning in a more flexible atmosphere. There are several accredited Master of Applied Psychology programs with online components. [11-20][32]
Core courses

Core courses provide crucial knowledge for work as an applied psychology professional. All core courses for a program must be taken to graduate. There is some variation in core courses across universities and programs, although some commonalities exist. It is important to check with your university to confirm which courses you will be required to complete. Some common core courses found in master’s in applied psychology programs include:

  • Foundations of applied psychology
  • Ethical, professional, and legal issues in psychology
  • Human development and behavior
  • The social and biological basis of behavior
  • Basic counseling and interviewing
  • Psychological assessment and testing
  • Qualitative and quantitative statistics
  • Research methods
Elective courses

Elective courses provide the opportunity for specialization or furthering knowledge in an area of interest. Most universities offer a high level of choice when it comes to which electives a student can take, but require completion of a certain number of these courses to graduate. It is recommended that students choose electives that focus on areas of interest, or areas in which they would like to specialize. There is a wide variety of elective courses available, which reflects the diverse employment opportunities for applied psychology professionals. Some common elective courses available within Master of Applied Psychology programs are:

  • Decision analysis
  • Group dynamics and leadership
  • Psychology of organizational change
  • Behavioral systems in criminal justice
  • Principles of forensic psychology
  • Seminar in program evaluation
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Psychology and the law
  • Family therapy
  • Job analysis
  • Occupational health psychology
Specializations and Concentrations

There are many potential areas of specialization in the field of applied psychology. To specialize in a given area, students must complete a certain number of courses that provide knowledge and skills in that area. The specific number of required courses to obtain a specialization varies across universities and states. You should consider your specialization carefully, ensuring that it closely aligns with your career goals and interests. Specializations in applied psychology most often fall into two categories: population specializations and content specializations. [14]

Population specializations

Applied psychology students may specialize in work with a particular group of people, or population. This could be specializing in a certain age group, such as children, adolescents, adults, or elders. Others specialize in group facilitation, or providing group therapies. Still others specialize in work with particular ethnicities, cultures, or subgroups, such as work with LGBT communities or aboriginals. [14]

Content specializations

The most common specializations available to students of master’s in applied psychology programs are those that focus on a specific type of content. These closely mirror the many areas in which applied psychology professionals might work, such as forensic psychology, counseling, industrial/organizational psychology, school psychology, positive psychology, program evaluation, and research/experimental psychology. [14]

If you would like to pursue board certification in your specialty, it is important to review the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) criteria for certification in that area. Please see the Certification/Licensure section of this guide for more information.

Master of Applied Psychology Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Applied Psychology Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Generally, Master of Applied Psychology programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in psychology. [2][3] Some programs to make allowances for applicants with undergraduate degrees in related disciplines, though these students may have to take additional courses to complete the program. [2][3] [11-20]

It is important to note that a number of Master of Applied Psychology programs require psychology-related work experience. This is especially true of health, clinical, and school-focused programs, according to the APA. [10] Some programs require experience with research, particularly those that focus on experimental psychology and program evaluation. [10] These requirements vary between universities, so ensure you are familiar with the requirements of the institution to which you are applying.

Master of Applied Psychology Alternative Degree/Field of Study

When considering a graduate degree in psychology, it is important that you choose the degree that is the best fit for your professional interests and career goals. This section illustrates the differences between the Master of Applied Psychology degree and several alternative degree options. When it comes to choosing between these options, the choice is often made by strong consideration of what type of work you would like to do in the future.

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Master of Psychology

The main difference between the Master of Applied Psychology degree and the Master of Psychology degree is course content. [8] Courses in the Master of Applied Psychology degree focus on applying psychological principles to real-world problems, and tend to center on areas in which graduates may work: forensic psychology, school psychology, organizational/industrial psychology, etc. Master of Psychology programs tend to focus on topics such as cognition, perception, and abnormal psychology, with the focus on learning and understanding for the sake of knowledge, as opposed to having a specific application to the practice of psychology. [8] There may be significant overlap between these two programs at some universities, as there is a movement within the field to ensure that more knowledge is translated to practice. [8] Both degrees can prepare you for moving on to a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program.

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Master of School Psychology

The Master of School Psychology degree is a specialist credential that is often accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists. [18] It often takes three years to complete as opposed to two years, due to the requirement for a 1,200-hour internship to achieve the specialist credential. [18] The Master of School Psychology is considered an entry-level degree in school psychology, and graduates can often be employed in public schools after completion.[18]

A master’s in applied psychology can be a much broader degree, and can specialize in many potential areas. If you would like to specialize in school psychology, a Master of Applied Psychology could still be appropriate for you, but it is recommended that you choose a program with a School Psychology specialty, and ensure that the program is accredited as a specialist-level program by the National Association of School Psychologists. [18]

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Master of Counseling

A Master of Counseling prepares graduates for practice as a professional counselor or counseling psychologist. Often, these degrees are course-based and terminal in nature, which means they prepare graduates to work in counseling rather than in research or academia. Courses are often focused on psychotherapy techniques, and contain little emphasis on psychological assessment. [19]

There are some master’s in counseling degrees, particularly those in counseling psychology, that require a thesis option and prepare graduates to enter a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree, for those interested in becoming a licensed Counseling Psychologist. [19]

In comparison with a master’s in applied psychology, a master’s in counseling has a higher concentration of technique-focused courses, with more emphasis on assisting the student to model and learn how to practice each technique. As a result, there is generally less focus on the application of scientific findings to psychological problems. [19] If you are interested in counseling, a master’s in applied psychology may still be a good fit for you, particularly if you are interested in applying evidence from psychological research to problem solving with clients. If this is your interest, choosing a master’s in applied psychology with a concentration in counseling may be appropriate for you. [11-20]

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Master of Social Work

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate-level degree in the field of social work that allows graduates to practice clinical therapy and general social work directly with clients. Graduates may also become involved in policy development. [20]

The MSW degree often differs from the Master of Applied Psychology degree in terms of course content and program duration. Master’s-level social workers learn how to provide clinical therapy and general social work services. [20] Based on several online MSW programs, coursework tends to focus on the social systems and structures that negatively impact clients and create personal challenges and struggles.

The field of applied psychology tends to focus more on assessment and treatment of individual challenges, and the translation of scientific findings to practice. [33] The MSW degree generally requires one to two years for completion, whereas the Master of Applied Psychology degree takes between two and three years to complete. [19]

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

A Doctorate of Psychology (Ph.D. in Psychology) is viewed as the “traditional” degree obtained by practicing, research, and academic psychologists. [19] A doctorate degree is required in most states to achieve a license in professional psychology and to use the title “psychologist.” [21] A license in professional psychology is required for the independent practice of psychology, and for practice in a number of specializations, such as health and clinical psychology (see Certification/Licensure section for more detail). [19]

The Ph.D. in psychology program has the most focus on research and theory, and is also part of preparation to enter formal teaching or academic positions at universities. Ph.D. programs usually take approximately six to seven years to complete. [19]

Obtaining a Master of Applied Psychology degree can be part of your preparation to enter a Ph.D. program if you are interested in becoming a licensed psychologist. However, if you would like to work as a psychological assistant/associate, therapist, or counselor, a master’s in applied psychology degree can help you achieve this goal in fewer years than it would take to gain a Ph.D. [19]

Master of Applied Psychology vs. Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.)

A Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) is another doctorate degree that can lead to the licensed professional psychologist credential. This degree tends to focus exclusively on clinical practice, as opposed to equal focus on practice, research, and academics. [19] The Psy.D. takes approximately four to six years to complete, and then usually requires an extra year of supervised practice for licensing purposes. [34]

The Master of Applied Psychology can serve as important preparation for those interested in pursuing a Psy.D. [35] Those interested in working as a psychologist assistant/associate, therapist, or counselor may find that a master’s in the psychology field better prepares them to undertake the additional education required to enter those roles. In fact, data suggests that master’s holders entering a doctoral level program are better equipped to complete their program than those without a master’s degree. [36]

Master of Applied Psychology Relevant Industry Associations/Organizations

There are several important professional associations and organizations in the field of applied psychology, the largest of which are described below. It is recommended that you connect with these organizations if you are interested in pursuing further study or employment in this branch of psychology.

The American Psychological Organization (APA):

The APA is “the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.” [21]

The APA is responsible for accrediting doctoral programs in psychology across the United States, and graduation from an accredited doctoral program is required for licensure as a psychologist in most states. Although the APA does not accredit undergraduate or master’s programs, it does provide a wealth of information related to undergraduate and graduate psychology education that can be useful when choosing your Master of Applied Psychology Program. [15][16][17]

All psychologists, counselors, and therapists are required to engage in continuing education, and the APA can facilitate access to many recognized and prestigious continuing education opportunities through its conferences, publications, and events. [13]

The International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAPSY)

IAAPSY is the oldest international association for applied psychology. [22] Through conferences, publications, meetings, awards, and training opportunities, IAAPSY seeks to broaden and centralize the field of applied psychology on the international stage. [23]

There are several benefits to joining a professional association specific to applied psychology, such as IAAPSY:

  • Access to continuing education that is specific to your field, often with reduced fees
  • Rate decreases for subscriptions to psychological journals
  • Become part of a community of like-minded psychology professionals
Master of Applied Psychology Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Specialized accreditation

The American Psychological Association accredits psychology programs only at the doctoral level, so there are no APA-accredited Master of Applied Psychology programs. However, the APA does recommend that prospective students connect with the APA Office of Graduate Education and Training and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students when choosing a master’s program. [10][15][16][17]

Master of Applied Psychology Certification/Licensure

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) licenses and certifies psychologists in the U.S. and Canada. [25]

The ASPPB creates and maintains the international licensing exam, the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). It also focuses on establishing and maintaining a high level of standardized expectations for becoming a licensed psychologist by facilitating communication and cooperation between boards. [25]

What is a licensed applied psychologist?

There are several types of licenses that graduates from a master’s in applied psychology program can pursue. Some can be achieved directly after completing the master’s degree, while others require further education. One of the following licenses could be an important step toward your professional practice in psychology:

  • Licensed psychologist: Can engage in independent, unsupervised work and can use the title “psychologist.”
  • Temporary/provisionally licensed psychologist: This license is generally provided to students completing practicum placements or post-graduate supervised work.
  • Psychological associate/assistant: This license is often achieved by graduates of master’s programs, such as the Master of Applied Psychology, in states where a doctoral degree is required to become a licensed psychologist. The psychological associate/assistant may require supervision by a licensed psychologist or engage in a more limited scope of practice. These professionals often use the title “psychological associate” or “psychological assistant,” but the titles vary across states. [24]

How do I become a licensed applied psychologist or licensed psychological associate?

The steps to becoming a licensed applied psychologist vary somewhat between states, so it is important to check with your home state to confirm the path you will need to take. However, all states share some common steps toward becoming licensed: [24]

  1. Choose an APA-accredited graduate program (often you will need a doctorate degree, though master’s degrees are accepted in some states)
  2. Sign up for the ASPPB credentials bank and begin banking credentials
  3. Complete required courses and practicum experience
  4. Complete internship
  5. Complete post-doctoral supervised work in your field of interest
  6. Complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) [24]

Do I need to take the EPPP if I want to work as psychological associate/assistant?

Many states do require applicants for the psychological associate/assistant credential to pass the EPPP, but this is not always the case. [26]

Can I use my degree without a license?

any states do require some form of licensure, but depending upon your state, career goals, and interests, you may be able to work in the field of psychology without becoming licensed. [30] Some graduates of the master’s in applied psychology program obtain work as therapists or counselors, and depending upon the work setting, these roles may be exempt from licensure by the ASPPB. Graduates who work for colleges or universities, research laboratories, or for corporations may also be exempt.

Often, those who are exempt from licensing requirements are also unable to use the title “psychologist,” as this title is regulated in most states and requires a license. The requirements for licensure vary by state, so understanding your state’s requirements is crucial. [30]

What is the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP)?

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) is responsible for for defining and setting expectations for licensed psychologists related to competence in specific specialty areas. This is known as becoming “board certified” in a certain specialty. The ABPP is made up of separate state specialty certification boards that have agreed to come together. [27]

Specialties approved by the ABPP include: [28]

  • Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
  • Clinical Health Psychology
  • Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Couple and Family Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Geropsychology
  • Group Psychology
  • Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology
  • Police and Public Safety Psychology
  • Psychoanalysis in Psychology
  • Rehabilitation Psychology
  • School Psychology

What are the steps to becoming board certified in a specialty?

The APBB outlines four broad steps to becoming board certified in a chosen specialty: [29]

  1. The ABPP completes a credentials review (often a doctorate from an APA accredited program is required)
  2. Submission of peer-reviewed practice samples
  3. Oral examination of content area within the identified specialty
  4. Some ABPP specialties, such as Forensic Psychology, also require a written exam
History of the Degree

In the late 19th century, psychology became known as an independent discipline in a general sense. [1] Over the course of the early 20th century, developments in psychological theory, psychological testing, and newfound interests in human motivation and delinquency coalesced to formalize the branch of applied psychology. This was cemented in 1915 with the development of the Carnegie Institute of Technology’s Applied Psychology Division, the first educational establishment dedicated to applied psychology. [1]

Early applied psychology interests included “vocational testing, teaching methods, evaluation of attitudes and morale, performance under stress, propaganda and psychological warfare, rehabilitation, and counseling” [1] Later interests in optimizing human resources led to the development of industrial/organizational psychology, while interests in aerospace and the space race led to the development of engineering psychology, all of which are modern specialties in the field of applied psychology. [1]

New problems continue to arise in the areas of human behavior and functioning, which the field of applied psychology continues to work toward answering. This continual process of question and answer across time has led to the development of the varied fields of applied psychology described within this guide.

As the field grew, degree programs in this area expanded and became more numerous. As the sheer number of programs expanded, professionals in the field of psychology began to call for the establishment of educational standards that would bring further definition and credibility to the field. [31]

The American Psychological Association was founded in 1892, but grew significantly throughout the period of World Wars I and II, which coincided with a growth in academic programs in the field of psychology, and also progressive political movements emphasizing the importance of psychologists to societal functioning. The APA initially focused on development of standards for knowledge and skills required to practice psychology, and quickly became the premier accrediting body for psychology education programs in the United States. [31]

With this growth in education came an understanding of the responsibility that applied psychologists have to the public, and the need for public protection and accountability. This led to the professionalization of the field through the development of licensing bodies, such as the ASPPB (established in 1961) and the ABPP (established in 1947). The field of applied psychology has grown greatly since its inception in the late 19th century, and so too have its educational standards and professionalism.

Master of Applied Psychology Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A Master of Applied Psychology (MAP) degree is designed to enhance your knowledge of human behavior and provides methods of practical application to help patients improve their mental health. The MAP program focuses on real-world utility of psychological methods and concepts in settings across business, government, community, education, and more. [37] Most MAP programs include courses that focus on human behavior, consumer psychology, and organizational psychology.

The MAP degree allows for practical application in a counseling or research setting. For organizations to be successful long term, the focus needs shift to be on two factors: understanding consumers and retaining quality employees. Consumer behavior has long been important to organizations, but as the cost of retaining employees increases, it becomes crucial that resources be allocated to understanding the psychology of its employees. Using a combination of theory and practice, the MAP degree can help you position yourself as a thought leader and a necessary advocate to overcome these business challenges. In addition to seeking personal satisfaction, students graduating with an MAP degree can develop a unique set of skills ready to be applied to the workforce.

Yes. Because the degree appeals to a wide group of individuals across most occupational disciplines, MAP graduates are needed in many organizations. Some candidates may choose the MAP over an MBA in order to work specifically in companies and organizations as industrial/organizational specialists.

Online MAP programs are available both full-time and part-time. Most working professionals opt for part-time study, because online learning allows for the flexibility to accommodate their careers and obligations.

Many institutions offer MAP degrees online.

Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, typically schools follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

The typical time to complete an MAP degree is two years if you opt for full-time study. Students who choose to study part-time or who take time off in between terms may take longer than that to complete.

On average, students spend approximately 10-20 hours per week on the MAP courses.

MAP candidates typically come from many different backgrounds, such as psychology, sociology, political science, communications, business, humanities, or the social sciences.

Yes, you will need an undergraduate degree from an accredited university to apply for most accredited MAP programs.

Most MAP programs prefer that individuals have undergraduate degrees in psychology or the social sciences. However, this is typically a recommendation and not a requirement.

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.

Some, but not all, MAP programs require a background in psychology before being granted admission. Many of these programs offer guidance on how and where to take prerequisite courses, and some will allow you to take extra courses before starting official coursework in order to gain proficiency in the necessary subjects.

Most MAP programs teach a combination of the following core subjects:

  • Consumer psychology
  • Counseling
  • Group dynamics
  • Human behavior
  • Human resources
  • Organizational psychology
  • Research methods
  • Statistics

When choosing an MAP, look for a curriculum that covers the core subjects mentioned above, along with any specialty subjects or courses that may be of interest to you. It is important to note that completion of the MAP degree does not qualify individuals to be a licensed psychologist. Individuals interested in becoming licensed should follow the licensure requirements set forth by the state in which they hope to practice.

The subject offerings and course curriculum taught in an online MAP program should not differ from an institution’s on-campus MAP. The main differences between the two delivery formats will be in the way you interact with your faculty and fellow students, and how you access and complete your courses.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees. The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and class itself. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

No, labs are not required for the MAP degree.

Some MAP degrees can be tailored to your goals and aspirations via concentration or specialization offerings. The most common specializations include:

  • Applied Research
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Community Psychology
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Some MAP programs that don’t offer specializations may grant the ability to select electives that will help you focus your degree on an area of interest.

Not usually. Most concentration or specialization options within an MAP program are the same length and allow you to complete your degree with your original cohort.

No, most MAP degrees require students to complete the core courses before selecting a specialization or concentration.

If you are looking to further your career and stand out from the competition, a Master of Science in Applied Psychology is a great and unique option. This degree can help you develop the competencies required to help improve business operations and outcomes in a number of important fields, such as education, marketing, and business. You also may have opportunity to work in a clinical setting with schools, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities.

Keep in mind that many clinical, counseling, and research-oriented psychologist jobs require a doctoral degree, so the MAP can’t prepare you entirely for those roles, but it can be a stepping stone toward doctoral work. [38]

According to the BLS, employment of industrial-organizational psychologists is projected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024. [39]

The national average of salary for a psychology professional is $88,038, well above the national average. [40]

No — attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

Accreditation helps determine if an institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality set by recognized regional or national accreditation agencies. A recognized list of regional and national institutional accrediting agencies can be found at the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality excellence, but they also are a requirement for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [41]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.


[9] Donaldson, Berger & Pezdek. (2006). Applied Psychology: New Frontiers and Rewarding Careers. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates, p. 6-9.
[20] and Planning