best psychology graduate programs in the world

Last Updated on December 14, 2022 by

What Can You Do With a Degree in Psychology?

Graduates can pursue careers in psychology, such as counseling and therapy, education, and business. Most psychology students work in positions that allow them to apply their understanding of human behavior to help others facilitate positive interactions.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology presents opportunities for entry-level roles in social work, community engagement, and business. To become counselors, learners often need to earn master’s degrees and state licensure. Doctoral programs in psychology can lead to executive positions and teaching jobs in higher education.

Interview With a Psychologist

Jeanne M. Slattery, Ph.D. is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She has been especially active in the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, where she currently serves as president-electShe has a small private practice working with adults and children with mood and anxiety disorders, especially after a history of trauma.

What level of education do you have, and what did you look for in your psychology program(s)?

I have a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and later went back to school to become licensed as a clinical psychologist. I particularly wanted a program with faculty who valued their teaching and were interested in my personal and intellectual development.

What classes or experiences were the most beneficial (personally or professionally) in your psychology program?

There were two kinds of experiences that were especially important for me.

I remember and value those people who were there for me and who framed what I did in a positive way. One professor, for example, talked with me about my choice of graduate programs and how to think about and choose among them.

I also remember and value those courses that were more hands-on, where we collected and considered some data together (we looked at the Moon Illusion in a series of studies when I was an undergraduate), or where I received feedback on my clinical skills. In each of these situations, I felt I was a collaborator with my professor and that I had something valuable to contribute.

What was one of the biggest challenges of your psychology program, and what advice would you have for students just starting out?

One of the biggest challenges that I experienced was in being confident about my opinion and skills. I had difficulty in believing in myself, so my professors’ belief in me provided a bridge that helped me learn to believe in myself.

For students just starting out, I’d say that you should talk to your professors ad find a mentor who believes in and supports you. A good mentor makes a world of difference!

How do I apply for a master’s in psychology?

Psychology programs vary significantly between universities. Some only include a master’s as a stepping stone on the way to a doctorate. Others offer it as a terminal degree. Some schools require students to choose a specialization within psychology. All of that is to say that the focus of the individual master’s program determines the application requirements. Some may require an undergraduate degree in psychology. Even the ones that don’t require it will usually require some undergraduate coursework in psychology, though they may also offer foundation courses as part of their curriculum. 

In general, plan to take the GRE, have letters of recommendation, and write a personal statement as part of the application process. Many of the programs below are full time, though many offer part-time options, and some are delivered online. Almost all require practicums or internships for experience in the field. As far as cost goes, the average for the 20 programs on our list is $21,542 per academic year (calculated using tuition as a base and factoring in financial aid opportunities), and the median is $17,223. 

How much can I earn with a master’s in psychology?

Remember that part about all the different jobs out there? That makes it difficult to offer a baseline figure, but count on the Bureau of Labor Statistics to take a whack at it. Using “psychologist” as a general term, it says they earn a median salary of $79,010. For more specific data, the BLS breaks them down into clinical, counseling, and school psychologists ($85,340 average salary); industrial-organizational psychologists ($109,030); and “psychologists, all other” ($95,610). On the macro level, the bureau estimates there are 181,700 psychologist jobs in the U.S., and it expects that number to grow by 14% by 2028 — much faster than the 5% national average job growth — adding another 26,100 jobs. 

We do the research so you don’t have to! 

That’s right, we get the hard work out of the way. We know that you have educational goals that you’re itching to pursue, but you may not know where to start. We’ve crafted a unique and proven ranking methodology that sets us apart. Our ranking score is based on the following three aspects:

40% potential salary after graduation

30% individual program accreditation

30% overall affordability

Want to learn more about how we gather that information? Please feel free to visit our dedicated methodology page for a step-by-step breakdown. We’re an open book!

If you’re interested in psychology, read on for our list of the 20 best master’s degrees in psychology. 1

Harvard University


Cambridge, Massachusetts



One of those “needs no introduction” schools, Harvard has been around since 1636 and has long been established as one of the finest universities in the world. U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 2 in National Universities and No. 3 for graduate studies in psychology.

A hybrid of online and on-campus study, Harvard’s master’s in psychology program is surprisingly approachable given the university’s stature. How approachable? It costs $17,030 – significantly less than the average on our list. You don’t even have to apply (at first); just register and take three graduate-level courses in statistics, psychology, and a seminar called Introduction to Graduate Studies and Scholarly Writing in the Social Sciences. Finish them all with a B or better and a cumulative 3.0, then apply to the program.

The master of liberal arts, psychology degree is built around 12 courses (48 credits), though the focus can be customized through elective choices. Students choose either a thesis or capstone track. Many courses can be taken online, though the school requires students take at least four of them (12 credits) on campus in Cambridge, MA. The course catalogue offers an array of options, from super specific (Dopamine) to more general (Introduction to Psychopharmacology). 

William & Mary


Williamsburg, Virginia



If nothing else, William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, is frank about its MS in psychology. It’s intended for students interested in research careers, or maybe in working as a school psychologist or psychological aid at a hospital or clinic. “You should be careful when choosing a Master’s program,” it says

Sold on it yet? If so, come prepared to work: “This is a two-year, full-time research oriented, residential program,” explains its website. The eight or nine students accepted by the school each year are “integrally involved in research,” working along with faculty and undergraduate students to conduct research and write it up for professional journals. 

The program requires a minimum of 37 hours of coursework, along with a first-year research project and a second-year thesis that students need to present and defend. The course load includes a year-long statistics sequence, a graduate course in research methods, and a year-long professional development sequence, where students read, discuss, and analyze other research. Sounds intense, right? At least the cost, $17,415, is right at the median for programs on this list.

Kansas State University – Manhattan, Kansas


Manhattan, Kansas



Where some schools offer a general master’s in psychology that provides a broad educational foundation for career or further academic pursuits, K State gets extra specific. Its MS in psychology has an emphasis on industrial and organizational psychology (abbreviated MIOP), with a curriculum that focuses on “the application of concepts and behavioral science methodologies to problems facing the human resource professional today.” Here you were, joking that colleges don’t give degrees in HR!

MIOP is  a hybrid program structured around online coursework, guided research, a practicum, and courses on campus for two weeks each summer. (Those include introductory courses in industrial/organizational psychology and research methods, along with ethics and legal issues.) The four online courses follow a two-year rotation and cover such fundamentals as Personnel Selection, Performance Appraisal, Organizational Psychology, and Personnel Training. Students take the practicum (Research in I/O Psychology) each fall and spring during the program.

Speaking of, it takes about two and a half years to accumulate the 38 credits needed to graduate. It also takes $17,465 per academic year, almost a bull’s eye for the median price of programs on our list.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette


Lafayette, Louisiana



Richard Simmons. Frank Ocean. Too many athletes and politicians to name. The guy who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. They’ve all matriculated at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, the center of creole and Cajun culture in the region. 

Those cultures probably have unique psychological profiles, the kind of things you could learn at the University of Louisiana. Like a lot of other graduate-level psychology programs, ULL’s is primarily geared toward people intending to pursue their doctorates. That said, it’s designed flexibly to reflect the academic and career aspirations of people who join the program. 

It requires 38 graduate credit hours, 20 of which come from core courses that examine ethics and professional standards in psychology, research methods and design, and more. Thesis work counts for six credits of that 20. In addition, students complete nine credits of “extended core courses,” generally high-level classes like Advanced Cognitive Psychology. They wrap it up with nine elective credits that can be tailored to students’ goals, like Introduction to Psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

To get into the program, students will need to have completed 18 hours of undergraduate coursework in psychology, along with some experience in statistics and research methods. The school also recommends they have research topics to pursue before they begin the program. The good news: ULL is one of the cheapest options on our list, $12,502.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Charlotte, North Carolina



Located in the biggest city in North Carolina and the country’s 16th most populous municipal area, UNC-Charlotte has a lot going for it. And not just price, $14,811, the fourth cheapest on our list. It keeps its psychology MA program small – describing the application process as “very competitive” – so that students receive the maximum amount of personalized attention from faculty.

Its MA in psychology is also versatile, with two optional areas of emphasis: community psychology and cognition. (A third, health psychology, is only available to Ph.D. students.) The newer of the two, the community psychology program debuted in 2016. While the university pointedly notes it does not provide clinical training, the specialization allows students to develop applied community skills without having to complete a doctorate. The cognition track focuses on understanding – wait for it – human cognitive processes and the complex mental tasks they complete. 

With or without a concentration area, the MA requires 30 credit hours of graduate coursework, with 18 coming from core classes in three modules: methodology (six credit hours), ethics (three), and speciality area courses (six). The classes in each are divided by emphasis area. Thesis work accounts for another one to three credits, and 12 hours of electives – selected from a long list of options – round out the remaining credits. 

National Louis University


Chicago, Illinois



National Louis University started in Chicago in 1886 with a fairly radical plan: to train women to be kindergarten teachers. Founder Elizabeth Harrison knew the importance of teaching kids from an early age, and she thought teaching deserved a degree. The university expanded with the times, adding advanced degrees in other areas.

Psychology joined the fray in 1982. Unlike other programs that treat a master’s in psychology as a stepping stone on the way to a Ph.D., NLU believes the degree has a number of applications in business, teaching, and therapy. Students in its program choose one of four concentrations: general psychology, community psychology, psychological assessment, and teaching of psychology. 

The program requires 36 credit hours for completion and includes either a comprehensive exam or thesis. Each concentration has specific courses, but all include six hours of “gateway courses” (Advanced Social Psychology and Advanced Theories of Personality), 15 hours of core courses (Advanced Abnormal Psychology, Introduction to Psychological Assessment, etc.), three hours of electives, and three hours of a capstone (either the thesis or exam). The concentration courses add another nine credit hours.

NLU’s program is offered both online and on campus in Chicago, and either choice will cost $15,319, well below average for our top 20. 

Old Dominion University


Norfolk, Virginia



Old Dominion University has a waterfront campus in Norfolk, VA, not far from the world’s largest naval base, Norfolk Naval Station, and the North American headquarters for NATO. Unsurprisingly, 25% of students are affiliated with the military in some way.

The school also attracts more than 4,800 grad students. ODU’s MS in psychology – which costs $15,213 – provides “a strong background in research methods and general psychology,” according to the school. The intent is to accommodate a variety of professional interests. A big part of its curriculum is working closely with faculty on research, beginning with a first-year research project. Students will also work with a faculty advisor on their thesis later.

The program requires a minimum of 36 hours of coursework, beginning with 11 hours of core classes (Research Methods in Psychology, Analysis of Variance and Experimental Design, Regressional and Correlational Design). Then there are six hours from a list of psychology courses (Developmental, Advanced Social, Personnel, etc.). Another 13 hours come from electives, which can focus on a concentration (applied cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, or quantitative and assessment). Research and the thesis project account for another six hours, and presto, master’s of science in psychology. 

Oh wait, did you select a concentration? Then you also need to do a research project or practicum related to that. Curse your ambition!

New York University


New York City, New York



Because NYU has long had a reputation as one of the best universities in the country – U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 29 for National Universities – it’s hard to go wrong with a major there. That naturally includes its MA in psychology, a program designed by the university to be flexible, both in schedule (evening classes) and focus (tailored by students).

The program is built on 12 courses along with a thesis or comprehensive exam. It begins with two foundation courses (statistics and research methods), then three courses from two modules of “core courses” (such as Cognitive Psychology or Theories of Personality), then seven electives (three of which must come from the psych department), for a total of 36 credits. 

As mentioned, classes are offered in the evenings to accommodate working students, and class sizes are small – an average of 15. Many of the students also get hands-on experience working in research labs, either at NYU or elsewhere. 

NYU being 1) a private university, 2) in the nation’s most expensive city means 3) it’s expensive: $36,256, the third priciest school on our list.

American University


Washington, D.C.



American University sits in Washington, D.C., the center of American government and politics. So if you’re going to study psychology, why not head to the place where psychological warfare rages?

American’s program is designed to prepare students for doctorate work or a career in research, via a combination of coursework and lab work the school describes as “rigorous” (with bold letters). The 33-credit program offers three specializations: general psychology, personality/social psychology, and experimental/biological psychology. A thesis is optional for general psych (albeit with a “substantial research project” instead), but required for the latter two.

The courses vary by specialization, of course, but the tracks aren’t completely siloed from each other. Students sample courses from all tracks, choosing from a long list of options. For example, the personality/social psychology specialization features 12 hours of courses from that area, six hours from experimental/biological, three hours from psychological research, six hours for thesis work, three hours of statistics, and three hours of electives. The curriculum allows for a well-rounded study of psychology for maximum usefulness in a career or further study.

At $32,732, that maximum usefulness doesn’t come cheap, but few things worth doing are.

George Mason University


Fairfax, Virginia



Located in Fairfax, VA, just 22 miles west of Washington, D.C., George Mason University is close enough to the nation’s capital to enjoy the benefits of proximity, but far enough so that motorcades aren’t constantly messing with traffic. Think of it as almost like a more affordable American University – it only costs $18,629.

In fact, the school’s proximity to D.C. has influenced its curriculum, which emphasizes “contemporary practical and policy implications of research in psychology,” says GMU’s website. That helps distinguish its MA in psychology program, because it focuses “on basic research and the application of research to solve practical problems.” 

Like a lot of programs on this list, GMU’s offers concentrations: applied developmental psychology, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, human factors/applied cognition, and industrial/organizational psychology. To graduate, students need 30-32 credits, depending on their specialization. A thesis or practicum is required for applied developmental psychology and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, though they’re optional for human factors/applied cognition.

Each track has a slew of specialized coursework, with the applied developmental psychology drawing something from each specialization. Most also include modules on quantitative methods (statistics, variance, etc.) and a professional seminar. Electives generally stay within psychology, but can come from other departments with an instructor’s permission. 

University of Dallas


Irving, Texas



The University of Dallas wants to take it back – back to the days when people thought about the theoretical and epistemological foundations of psychology, which has been “lost in the shuffle of current day clinical and research-oriented programs.” UD’s program is “rooted in humanistic, psychodynamic, and phenomenological traditions,” just as it learned coming up on the streets of Big D. So take that, other schools that have forgotten where they came from!

UD’s master’s program comes in three varieties: master of psychology (30 hours); master of arts in psychology (48 hours); and master of psychology with clinical concentration (60 hours). The entry-level master of psychology track is built on 12 hours of core coursework, plus 18 hours of electives. The MA ratchets it up with the same 12 core hours, but 30 hours of electives, six hours of thesis work, and a foreign language requirement where students demonstrate reading competency in another language. The clinical track is designed for people seeking their licensed professional counselor accreditation.

Such versatility doesn’t come cheap: At $26,657, UD’s program is well above the average and median cost for similar programs on our list.

Drexel University


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



As the 20 universities on this list vie to stand out from each other, Drexel University in Philadelphia takes an interesting approach: It requires students to complete a minimum of eight hours of laboratory work per week with a research mentor. It’s training for the completion of a thesis, which students begin working on their first year.

The school describes its MS in psychology as a “research-based program” that “trains students in a range of research experiences in neurocognitive and behavioral sciences.” Research how to pay for it before you apply, because Drexel is the most expensive of our list: $40,977.

The degree requires 45 credit hours, with each course worth three credits. Core coursework includes stuff like Cognitive Psychology, Data Analysis (I, II, and III), Research Methods (I and II), Behavior Analysis, and three separate credits for thesis research. Drexel offers 12 “unrestricted” elective options – i.e., open to all students in the program – that offer further specialization, such as Social Psychology, Pediatric Psychology, Behavioral Stress Management, and many more. Ph.D. students get first dibs on restricted electives, then they open to MS students. Those courses include Neurophysiological Assessment, Developmental Psychology, and others. Altogether, it’s an interesting mix of theory and research that will come in especially handy for people intending ot get their Ph.D.

Boston University


Boston, Massachusetts



Even in a city full of universities, Boston University stands out, with its campus located right on the Charles River and student body of more than 30,000. It also has one of the biggest lists of notable alumni of any university, which includes everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Julianne Moore. Boston University, as it says on its website, is no small operation. (With no small price tag: $33,728.)

Its MA in psychology also stands out on our list for its unique setup: one year, eight courses. Designed for students both with and without an undergrad psych degree (though some basic psych coursework is required), it aims to examine “the application of psychology to various behavioral, cognitive, and societal issues.” The curriculum is built around eight four-credit courses and a research project, and the required courses are pretty broad: Contemporary Trends in Psychology, Statistical Methods II, Directed Study in Psychology, and another fundamentals courses chosen by the student. 

Directed Study is the aforementioned research project, which students complete with a faculty member. They’re based on faculty interests, but with a large psychology staff, finding something good shouldn’t be too hard.  

Bridgewater State University


Bridgewater, Massachusetts



Bridgewater, MA, lies a short drive from of one of the most famous landmarks in American history, Plymouth Rock. One of the Pilgrims who landed there on the Mayflower, Love Brewster, headed west 20 miles and founded Bridgewater two decades later.

Bridgewater’s namesake university offers an MA in clinical psychology, designed for students hoping to pass the exam to become a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts (or students planning to earn a doctorate). The hallmark of Bridgewater’s program is experiential learning, as the degree requires 15 credits of practicums and internships. 

That’s one-quarter of the 60 credits necessary to graduate. Courses are divided by year, so all first-year courses – such as Research Methods and Design and Foundations of Clinical Practice – must be completed before students can begin the second-year regimen. (Among those: Human Development Psychology and Theory and Process of Group Interaction.) Bridgewater’s full-time schedule has students taking courses in fall, spring, and summer for two years, but the program is also available to part-time students.

At $16,667, Bridgewater State offers one of the more affordable options on our list, particularly for a school located in the pricey Boston area.

Pepperdine University


Malibu, California



Pro: Pepperdine University’s campus lies on a hill over the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, CA, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Con: Pepperdine’s MA in psychology program is only offered at its Graduate Campuses in West Los Angeles, Irvine, and Encino. Sadly, that $36,372 tuition doesn’t include sweeping ocean vistas.

If those locations don’t boast the great views, at least they offer flexibility: Classes take place in the evening. Full-time students can expect to complete the 36 credits necessary for graduation in two years or less, but the part-time program offers students the chance to progress at their own pace.

The program begins with 15 credits of “foundation” courses in topics like Physiological Psychology and Behavioral Principles and Theories of Learning, but the requirement may be waived for people who have completed similar coursework. The rest of the curriculum is based on 10 core courses – Social Psychology, Personality Assessment, and Multicultural Counseling among them – and one elective from two options: Introduction to Positive Psychology and Career Development Theory and Techniques. 

And those folks who were able to skip those foundation courses? They have to complete additional classes to reach 36 credits. No free rides! 

Brandeis University


Waltham, Massachusetts



Brandeis University is a small school (only 5,800 students) in a place crammed with universities (the Boston area), but aims to turn its size into an advantage: Fewer students means “direct mentorship” by faculty, and “opportunities for meaningful and collaborative work abound.” It’s a process that starts as early as day one.

Brandeis’ MA in psychology requires the completion of eight courses: four core (Advanced Psychological Statistics parts one and two, Graduate Research Methods in Psychology, and Master’s Project Readings), along with four electives. (Sign us up for Man in Space.) The Master’s Project Readings course culminates in a thesis, which is either an empirical research project or comprehensive literature review with research proposal. 

Brandeis being a private university in metropolitan Boston, it isn’t on the cheaper side: $32,714. But the program can be completed in as little as nine months, which could be less expensive in the end compared to programs that take a little longer.

University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin


Madison, Wisconsin



One of the great public universities located in one of the best college towns in America, the University of Wisconsin in Madison has a lot going for it. U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 13 for graduate psychology studies and No. 46 for National Universities. UWM apparently wants students to experience it all firsthand: Its MS in psychology isn’t offered online, at a UW satellite campus, or during evening/weekend hours. But at $15,910, well below the median and average for this list, hanging out in Madison isn’t the worst idea.

Designed for students who intend to pursue doctorates, UWM’s program emphasizes “extensive academic training in general psychology and intensive research training” in an area of concentration. It expects students “to become creative scientists” committed to research and scholarship. How committed? All students undertake a first-year research project, which they present to the entire department.

The program requires 30 credits for the master’s, including six credits in foundational courses in statistics and research and a seminar each semester. Students are also required to take six hours of classes outside of their “area of research expertise,” per the university. Graduate-level psychology courses include Psychology of Women and Gender, Computational Cognitive Science, Visual Cognition, and more.

Kean University


Union, New Jersey



Want to specialize your MA in psychology? Kean has you covered. 

It offers four options: forensic psychology (for careers in courts, law enforcement, corrections); human behavior and organizational psychology (human resources, social services, law enforcement); psychological services (mental health centers, social services, hospitals); and marriage and family therapy. While the different tracks share some courses, each has its own requirements. 

The marriage and family therapy MA requires 48 credits plus a thesis and a two-term internship. This specialization has a higher course load because it satisfies the educational requirements to be a licensed marriage and family therapist in New Jersey. Human behavior and organizational psychology needs 33 credits, 12 coming from required courses, 15 from electives, and a final six from late-stage courses with exciting names: Advanced Abnormal Psychology; Aggression, Violence Risk, and Threat Assessment. Psychological services also requires 33 credits, but 18 come from required courses and 15 from electives (further subdivided into Individual Processes, Socio-Psychological Processes, and Organizational Behavior modules). Forensic psychology has the highest required course load (27 credits), with only nine credits from electives.

Kean offers the most variation of programs on our list, and for a price that’s well below average: $16,839.

University of Michigan


Ann Arbor, Michigan



The University of Michigan offers an MS in psychology with two available specializations: clinical health psychology and health psychology. Both take two years to complete.

The clinical health psychology specialization is more rigorous, as it fulfills the educational requirements for Michigan’s limited license in psychology. It requires 48 credits for graduation and one year of supervised postgraduate experience in “an organized health care setting,” per the website. It also requires malpractice insurance for practicums. (The school tell students how to get it.) Required courses provide 36 credits, the practicum earns another six, then students choose either to do a thesis or electives for the remaining six.

The health psychology track is designed for students interested in research. It specifies 39 credits to graduate, with 24 coming from required courses. There it splits: Students doing a thesis receive six credits, and others doing a project receive three. Electives occupy the remaining credits, with students choosing them based on further specialization – such as Health Policy Studies, Health Psychology Across the Lifespan, and numerous others. 

Like the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan is one of the great public schools located in one of the great college towns, Ann Arbor. And at $9,692, the second cheapest option on our list, it’s pretty hard to beat.

California State University – Los Angeles


Los Angeles, California



Cal State-LA offers two varieties of psychology masters: an MA in psychology and an MS in forensic psychology. The plain ol’ psychology option is primarily designed for students intending to pursue their doctorates, while the forensic option is for people who plan to work in the criminal justice system.

Because faculty mentorship is a key part of Cal State’s curriculum, students in both programs are assigned a faculty mentor at the start of their degree work. Beyond that, the specializations shift considerably. Psychology requires 31 or 32 units for the degree, and it starts basically with Introduction to Graduate Study in Psychology the first semester. The first year also includes statistics and research methods courses. There’s also a Graduate Research course (for one to three credits) and 12 units of electives based on the student’s interest. Capping it off is a thesis, which counts for one to three credits.

The forensic psychology curriculum balances research and theory with practical training for the intense environments where graduates will work (courts, prisons, crisis centers, counseling centers, etc.). It requires 33 to 34 units of course work, including a nine-month practicum that happens at one of those aforementioned environments. At least the cost isn’t so intense: At $3,907, Cal State LA’s tuition is by far the cheapest on our list.

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