Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home » Psychology » Graduate » MA Program in General Psychology » Choosing the Right Degree: MA, PhD, PsyD and Others
Document Actions

Choosing the Right Degree: MA, PhD, PsyD and Others

Students are often unsure about exactly what professional course they wish to pursue. We cannot tell you what will be best for you, but we can give you some general information that will help you decide. You should independently consult reference books that provide information about different advanced degrees (such as the APA guide, Graduate Study in Psychology, which lists individual schools, their programs, criteria, and so on), and speak to advisers of programs granting each of these degrees. Don't expect to find a single individual who can tell you everything you need to know. You may need to do a lot of research to determine what is your best course of action.



In psychology, the MA is not a necessary stepping stone to the PhD. Many students go directly from a BA in psychology to a PhD program. But if a student has been out of school for some time, high-quality MA work is one way a student can show PhD programs that he or she has the necessary qualifications for PhD work. Similarly, students with little background in psychology may find it useful to enroll in an MA program which has good coverage of the field of psychology.

MA programs vary considerably in their content and requirements. The Hunter College MA program will give you a solid background in psychology. It requires 30 course credits and a thesis, and for most students requires 2-4 years. Non-matriculated MA study can be helpful for students who want to fill gaps in their background or test their interests in psychology.

Our program at Hunter College involves no supervision in therapy. It is an academic program only. If you are interested in clinical psychology, an MA from Hunter College will not qualify you to practice therapy, nor will it meet the licensing requirements of NY State. But it will give you strong preparation for more advanced work, and it can be useful academic preparation for more applied degrees in social work, education, public health or public policy.



A PhD program involves coursework and research (even if the program is a clinical program). While some MA credits will probably transfer to a PhD program, many may not.  Each school wants to make sure it trains its students in the areas it considers important.  Students generally begin doing research when they enter a program, and perform a significant research project for their thesis.  The minimum amount of time required to get a PhD is 4 years of full-time study and research; the usual amount of time is 6-8 years.

In most PhD programs, students are expected to be full-time students. Applications are submitted 6-9 months before a September admission.  Most programs provide some form of financial support to entering students, in the form of tuition remission, stipend, research or teaching assistantships; continuation of support usually depends on the student's progress in the program.

Admission to a PhD program is likely if you have:

  1. A strong undergraduate background in psychology
  2. Good overall grades
  3. High GRE scores
  4. Research experience
  5. Detailed and substantive academic letters of recommendation
  6. A statement of interests that demonstrates that you can approach intellectual issues thoughtfully



A PsyD is similar to a PhD but does not have as heavy a research component, and a research-based thesis is typically not a requirement for the degree. It provides solid clinical training, and meets licensing requirements if the program is accredited by the APA.


MSW and Other Degrees

Students who are primarily interested in doing therapy or counseling should actively seek information from schools of social work and education. Those schools have programs which train students in counseling work, and generally require 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years. Little if any research work is required.  Degrees in social work or education are less prestigious than the PhD in clinical psychology or the PsyD, but they also require significantly less time and energy.  An MA in psychology can be a useful academic adjunct to such a degree.


Virginia Valian
Department of Psychology, Hunter College - CUNY