Here’s What You Need to Know About Cost-Effective Online Psychology Degrees

Here’s What You Need to Know About Cost-Effective Online Psychology Degrees
Online education can be every bit as rigorous and life-changing as traditional education. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry April 2, 2020

Is studying psychology by URL less expensive than studying IRL? Unfortunately, no. However, there are plenty of affordable online psychology degree programs that offer a lot more flexibility than traditional ones.

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There’s no getting around the fact that earning a college degree means making a significant financial investment in yourself. If you’ve dreamed of studying psychology at the bachelor’s-degree and master’s-degree levels, the high cost of college may have discouraged you from researching psychology degree programs. Not all schools have Ivy League price tags, however. It’s time you took a look at what’s out there.

Here’s what you need to know first: there are quite a few online psychology degree programs that are relatively affordable. Relative to the degree programs at the top schools for psychology, that is. Psych students at the colleges and universities we list below still pay thousands of dollars for their degrees, but they may be able to graduate with minimal student loan debt or without any debt at all.

You should also know that where you get your degree will matter less and less as your career progresses. You won’t see schools like Stanford University or Yale University in the list below, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a great education that delivers all the knowledge and skills you’ll need to launch a rewarding career.

In this article about cost-effective psychology degrees, we cover:

  • What can you do with an affordable online psychology degree?
  • What courses can be taken for an online psychology degree?
  • What are the cheapest online psychology degrees?
  • What are the best online universities for psychology?
  • How much do online psychology degree programs cost?
  • Do online students pay less tuition?
  • Are online psychology students eligible for scholarships?
  • How long will it take to earn your online psychology degree?
  • Are online psychology degrees respected?

What can you do with an affordable online psychology degree?

It doesn’t matter whether you study online or on-campus or whether you spend a lot on your degree—the opportunities out in the world will be the same. With a bachelor’s degree or master’s in psychology under your belt, you’ll be qualified to work in a wide range of professions.

If you decide to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology online, you won’t be able to work in a clinical capacity. Still, you’ll find there are plenty of opportunities for psychology majors in fields like:

You’ll also be in good company. About half of bachelor-level psychology graduates don’t aspire to work in clinical counseling, nor do they go back to school to get advanced degrees in psychology.

However, if you do want to work in clinical settings, there are a handful of entry-level jobs related to psychology and counseling open to undergrad psychology students. You might, for example, work in a substance abuse program, work with data in a research laboratory, or even work directly with clients (under supervision) as an applied behavior analyst.

Enrolling in an online master’s degree program in psychology after earning a bachelor’s degree can open more doors. In some states (e.g., Alaska, Kentucky, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia), graduates of psychology master’s programs can provide therapy if they are licensed professional counselors or licensed clinical psychologists. Most states do not allow master’s-level psychologists to practice, however, and most master’s degree holders work in fields like:

  • Career coaching and life coaching
  • Criminal justice
  • Crisis counseling
  • Education
  • Family services
  • Health administration
  • Human resource management
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Intervention advocacy
  • Market research
  • Marketing management
  • Research
  • Social services
  • Social work
  • Victim advocacy

If your goal is to become a psychotherapist, you’ll probably need to earn a doctoral degree in psychology (either a PhD or a PsyD)—and you won’t be able to do that online. That’s because the American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation does not offer accreditation for doctoral programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or applied psychology. The organization has adopted regulations that prohibit the accreditation of PhD and PsyD programs conducted primarily or entirely online. To become a clinical psychologist, you’ll need to study on-campus.


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What courses can be taken for an online psychology degree?

The core curricula in bachelor’s-level online psychology tend to be similar. Students typically take core liberal arts courses like English and mathematics, though they might take more of the former in an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program and more of the latter in an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology program. They also take general psychology classes designed to give students a firm foundation in the discipline. A typical program will cover:

  • Adulthood and aging
  • Behavioral psychology
  • Child and adolescent development
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Critical thinking
  • Developmental psychology
  • Public health
  • Sociology
  • Quantitative psychology

Online psychology programs at the master’s level (e.g., Master of Science in Psychology and Master of Arts in Psychology programs) also cover some foundational topics but may focus primarily on advanced, graduate-level subjects like:

  • Applied psychology
  • Bias and ethics
  • Counseling psychology and methodologies
  • Group dynamics
  • Learning, cognition, and memory
  • Multicultural psychology and diversity
  • Organizational behavior
  • Principles of neuroscience
  • Research methods in psychology
  • Statistics for psychological research

Some accredited online programs for students pursuing master’s degrees in psychology offer opportunities to specialize. Some colleges and universities offer on-campus and online students the same concentration options, while other online programs limit the specialization options open to distance learners. Popular master’s-level psychology concentrations include:

  • Psychology of Addiction
  • Child and Adolescent Development
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • School Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Human Behavior
  • Industrial-organizational Psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Sport Psychology
  • Quantitative Psychology

Most online psychology master’s degree programs require students to complete a certain number of supervised hands-on internships or practicum hours to graduate. Many programs help part-time and full-time students locate professional psychology internships local to them but be aware that some online master’s programs expect students to find and secure their own placements.

What are the cheapest online psychology degrees?

At the bachelor’s degree level, there are strong affordable online psychology degree programs at:

At the master’s degree level, there are strong affordable online psychology degree programs at:

What are the best online universities for psychology?

Best is subjective—especially given that the list of online programs in psychology is relatively short. It’s possible to get a world-class education online in psychology at any college or university accredited by a reputable accreditation organization like the Higher Learning Commission, and sometimes the best online psychology program is often the one that’s accessible and affordable.

That said, there are a few well-ranked and/or high-profile schools that offer online psychology degrees. Northeastern University, for example, offers an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology. If you’re looking for master’s programs, you can’t do better than Harvard University‘s online Master of Liberal Arts in Psychology. Neither program can reasonably be described as cheap, though.

How much do online psychology degree programs cost?

You can earn an online psychology bachelor’s degree for just over $15,000, according to US News & World Report That’s the total in-state tuition for online students at the University of Florida who are studying to earn undergraduate degrees in psychology. Most online degree programs in psychology cost between $30,000 and $40,000, however, and there are plenty that cost more than that.

Finding affordable degree programs can be tricky not only because the cost of going to college has been steadily going up, but also because of how universities set their prices. “Students should really be cautious about how tuition and fees are structured,” Lynette M. O’Keefe, director of the Online Learning Consortium’s Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership, told US News & World Report. “Are they paying by the credit hour, by the course, are they paying for the whole semester at a time, a flat rate? These are all different ways colleges charge for their courses.”

Do online students pay less tuition?

Unfortunately, you can’t bank on an online psychology degree costing less than a traditional one. Many publications, including US News & World Report, have examined the relative costs of online and campus education and found that there’s no consistency when it comes to how schools determine tuition for on-campus and online programs. Some colleges and universities charge online students higher annual tuition—which many people find surprising since online learning seems like it should be more cost-effective for school. Others charge the same per-credit tuition but may bill for additional fees that on-campus learners don’t pay.

Are online psychology students eligible for scholarships?

Here’s some good news: at most colleges and universities, students in online degree programs are eligible for some or even all the same financial aid, scholarships, and grants. In many cases, the application process is the same for online students and students in traditional psychology degree programs.

There are two caveats, however. First, you’ll notice we said most online colleges, not all online colleges. The only way to be sure that you are eligible for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance is to check with the registrar’s office or financial aid office. Second, students pursuing online master’s degrees in psychology typically can’t offset some of their graduate tuition costs by working in assistantships the way they might if they were studying on campus.

How long will it take to earn your online psychology degree?

Given that distance learners typically take the same psychology courses as on-campus students, earning an online psychology degree shouldn’t take any longer than earning one on campus.

That is, provided you’re a full-time student. Online bachelor’s degree programs typically take four years to complete, while online psychology master’s degree programs can usually be completed in two years of full-time study. Part-time students, whether they study online or IRL, may take up to seven years to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and four years to earn a graduate degree in psychology.

Are online psychology degrees respected?

These days, it’s unusual for employers to discriminate against job applicants who attend online programs. Most schools now award their on-campus students and online students the same degrees, which means that even if there are differences between online and offline programs, no one has to know. It’s up to each student to decide whether they want to share the fact that they studied online with prospective employers.

That said, don’t opt for the cheapest online psychology degree just to save a few bucks, because you may not end up getting the degree you thought you were paying for. The difference in total tuition between affordable online colleges may only amount to a few thousand dollars. You may be able to enroll in a degree program that has the courses, concentrations, or networking opportunities you’re looking for by paying a little more.

Online education can be every bit as rigorous and life-changing as traditional education, after all. Above, we list the most affordable psychology degrees. It’s up to you to do the research to figure out which of those programs not only fits into your budget but also aligns with your career goals.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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