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Best Online Psychology Courses in 2021

September 20, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Psychology is a fascinating and broad field with a variety of career options in it. Someone who has a psychology degree could go on to work in criminal justice, education, business, or in the healthcare profession. Those who don’t want to become fully licensed psychologists could use the things they learned in their psychology course to augment work in marketing or even law.

Psychology is a popular major at many universities, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics demand for qualified psychologists is expected to increase at a similar rate to the rest of the job market between 2019 and 2029, with the average income of a psychologist being $80,370 per year.

Most people who choose to pursue psychology at the bachelor’s degree level will do so at a traditional university, aiming for an on-campus degree, but there are options for online bachelor programs.

To become a psychologist, a person must complete not just a bachelor’s degree, but a doctoral-level qualification. They’ll usually specialize in a clearly defined area such as developmental psychology, forensic psychology, or social psychology. Throughout their studies, they’ll gain some valuable experience in clinical psychology, building up the hours required for licensure.

Online courses are becoming increasingly popular due to their comparatively low cost and the increased flexibility they offer. Online study allows students to schedule their learning around work or other commitments, giving those who might otherwise struggle with the demands of a 4-year degree the chance to complete a psychology program.

Reasons to take online psychology courses

Online study is an incredible tool that gives people the opportunity to study degree programs that interest them in a more flexible and affordable way. If you’re considering doing an online psychology degree you should learn as much as possible about the course content, pacing, and workload before you start.

What should you expect from an online psychology course?

Studying a psychology degree program entirely online can be a challenge, and it isn’t for everyone. For those who are unable to study on-campus, however, it can open up a whole new world of study.

Students who decide to study online at the bachelor’s degree level have access to a huge variety of degree programs. This means they can study for specializations that aren’t available in the universities in their area. There are online degrees in health psychology, addiction, behavioral psychology, research methods, criminal justice, applied psychology, and many other areas.

This means learners have the option of pursuing careers in education, criminal justice, workplace psychology, or clinical practice. There’s no substitute for real-world experience, and those who wish to earn their license will need to take their studies to the next level, but an online psychology degree is a good start towards a new career.

How are online courses in psychology delivered?

Online psychology programs are usually delivered through a combination of required reading and pre-recorded lectures. Some institutions also use online meetings to encourage students to meet with their peers and help them stay motivated.

This kind of course delivery gives learners the freedom to do their coursework at any time, whether that’s early in the morning before work, or late at night when their family members are asleep.

Not all online courses are actually entirely online. Hybrid delivery, with some courses delivered online and others offered on-campus, is often used to ensure those who are pursuing clinical-related jobs can start getting the experience they need. Where this is offered, students will usually have the choice of attending evening classes, weekends, or a summer school to cover the practical elements of the course.

Online programs usually use a combination of examinations and coursework to confirm that the students understand the material. The coursework requirements may be more in-depth for remote learners, because lecturers have fewer opportunities to interact with students throughout the year, which means they have fewer ways of assessing a student’s understanding of the content.

Why do students take online courses?

Online courses appeal to people for many reasons:

  • Self-paced study
  • Lower course costs
  • Flexible study hours
  • Access to a wider range of courses
  • The chance to get a degree from a specific university without travel

Some people who study an online psychology program choose online study because they don’t have the time to attend an on-campus course. Others want a degree from a named university or want to study an obscure specialization, but don’t want to travel to another state to complete the course.

Online study can be particularly appealing for those with disabilities that make travel to a campus and daily time in a lecture hall seem daunting. For these students, the growth of distance learning has opened up opportunities that were once inaccessible.

The cost difference between online study and on-campus study should not be overlooked. Online degree courses can cost as little as one-third of their on-campus counterparts. Prices vary between institutions, and many institutions charge more for out-of-state learners than local ones even if they’re enrolling in an online-only course, but the fee differences can still be significant.

For someone who needs to self-fund their studies, the potential financial savings of studying online can be appealing. This is especially true given many online-only students study psychology while working full time, so they spend less and are still able to benefit from having a steady income.

What courses will you take in an online psychology program?

A psychology student will be expected to take 120 credit hours worth of courses. The exact content of the course will depend on whether they study a B.A. or a B.S. degree. Each institution can set its own requirements in terms of courses, but in general, B.S. degrees have a heavy weighting toward psychology and related sciences, while a B.A. degree provides a solid psychology foundation but includes more mandatory general education courses to give a rounded liberal arts education.

An example of the curriculum of a psychology degree program could include the following major courses:

  • First year
  • English 101: Writing and Rhetoric
  • General Psychology
  • Human Biology
  • Careers and Issues in Psychology
  • Second year
  • Research Design & Data Analysis – Developmental Processes
  • English 202: Writing and Critical Inquiry
  • Research Design & Data Analysis – Personality & Social Psychology
  • Third year
  • Applied Psychology
  • Learning and Cognition
  • The Biological Basis of Behavior
  • Elective 1
  • Fourth year
  • History of Psychology
  • Elective 2
  • Elective 3

In addition to the above courses, psychology students will usually be expected to complete several credit hours worth of minor courses and required liberal studies courses to round out their education.

Upon completion of the degree, the student has the opportunity to progress to post-graduate certificates, a master’s degree, or a doctoral-level qualification.

Effectiveness of online psychology courses

Historically, distance learning was viewed as being lower-quality than on-campus courses, but the views of employers are changing. Today, the quality of content that can be delivered online is incredibly high, and video conferencing allows for a more interactive learning experience.

Many employers actually appreciate students with online degrees because those students have proven they’re self-motivated and disciplined. Being able to complete a degree online with limited support compared to an on-campus student is an impressive feat and the skills the learner demonstrates in the process of completing the course are highly transferrable.

What is the effectiveness of an online psychology course when compared to a traditional course?

In terms of the quality of academic content, online courses can be on par with their on-campus counterparts. Some universities even have professors record their lectures and upload them to online learning platforms, so a distance learner can hear the same content, and read the same books, as a student who is studying on campus at a prestigious university such as Stanford or Harvard.

Where online courses may fall down is in the way they handle any practical elements. Students who wish to progress into clinical psychology may wish to look for a blended or hybrid learning course, so they can get some experience in this area.

A lack of clinical experience at the bachelor’s degree level isn’t a huge issue, but if you’re considering doing an online master or doctoral degree then you’ll need to find an externship or visit the campus to get some supervised practice time while you’re a psychology student.

Concerns about the quality of the material, supervision, and student support available via online courses have generally been addressed, but employers and learning institutions do still have valid issues about the difference between “book learning” and experience.

How does online learning affect a student’s performance?

The average drop-out rate for undergraduate students across the United States is 40% for on-campus courses. Drop-out rates for online courses are far higher, with up to 80% of learners dropping out of online courses. These are general, non-psychology-specific statistics, but they hold true for the subject.

Online study can be challenging. Some online degrees allow students to complete courses at their own pace, without even using milestones to determine whether a student is on track to complete the required content each year or semester.

Even the courses that do make use of milestones and regular check-ins still require the learner to be reasonably self-motivated. This can be easy when the content is not demanding, but as the course progresses onto dry, complex, or challenging content it becomes harder for learners to stay motivated.

If a learner doesn’t understand the content, they have to be able to either contact a lecturer or find other source material themselves to study that part of the subject from a different angle. Many learners either lack the skills to do this or lack the motivation.

This means students may either drop out or end up getting lower grades than they might have been capable of if they’d had support from a traditional institution.

Such issues are more common at the undergraduate degree level than at the master’s degree level. Someone who has already completed an undergraduate degree has proven they have the skills they need to study at a high level, and therefore they’re more likely to be able to handle the challenges of online learning.

How does studying online influence other life commitments?

In the early days of starting an online bachelor’s degree, a student may be full of enthusiasm. The course content is fresh and exciting, and the student is particularly fascinated by the idea of studying for a general psychology degree.

Once the student realizes the course could take up four years or even longer to complete, their motivation may suffer. A student who was once willing to get up early, sacrifice break times at work, or go to bed late might realize the course requires more time than they thought, and they need to start studying during more normal times at home, or cutting down on the amount of time they spend socializing or pursuing other hobbies.

Online study gives people who would not otherwise be able to achieve a degree the chance to do so, but as the saying goes “there are only so many hours in a day”. A psychology student with a full-time job will have to choose what they do outside of their working hours carefully. It’s hard to fit in the task of studying, family life, and a vibrant selection of extra-curricular activities.

This is one area where on-campus study can be beneficial in some ways because the social pressure of attendance checks and having to see faculty members can be very helpful for encouraging students to stay the course.

In most cases, when a distance learning student’s life starts to get challenging, it’s the course that suffers, not the other aspects of their life. Students start to miss deadlines, get poor grades, or drop out of the course.

Putting studies on hold makes sense if the alternative is risking employment or damaging your relationship with your family. However, the ideal alternative would be for a student to be able to juggle all of their commitments. The best online learning psychology programs offer students the support they need to manage deadlines, stay motivated, and cope with the demands of coursework, exams, and day-to-day life.

What to be aware of when getting your psychology degree from an online school

If you’re considering enrolling in an online bachelor’s degree with the goal of becoming a psychologist, it’s important you choose the program carefully so that you have the career options you’re looking for.

Students who are studying psychology with the goal of moving into loosely related professions should find that any online degree from a regionally accredited university will do the job. Licensure, however, requires a higher level of study and this means you’ll need to study a degree with an institution that is widely recognized.

What psychology degree concentrations are offered online?

A lot of people who choose to study a psychology degree online opt for a general psychology degree, then choose to focus in a more narrow area when they move up to the bachelor’s level. It is possible to choose a focus for your psychology major, however, and many universities offer multiple concentrations to choose from, such as:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Industrial/organizational psychology
  • Human factors
  • Experimental psychology
  • Neuroscience
  • Educational psychology
  • Developmental psychology

What career paths are available to those with an online psychology degree?

A psychology degree does not necessarily force someone down the career path of becoming a psychologist. Many people who study psychology go on to work in education, especially those who focus on developmental psychology.

Others might focus on social work, going into rehabilitation, or helping people who are dealing with addictions. Psychology training can be helpful in marketing, law, sales, management, and many other fields. Some people start with an associate degree in psychology then branch out into such areas to round out their education.

Someone with a degree in organizational psychology could go on to work in human resources, or have a job helping businesses that employ people who work in high-stress conditions find ways to reduce that stress. A person who has studied neuroscience could work as a technician in that area. General and developmental psychology both lend themselves to social work, school psychology, and clinical work.

Those who do decide they’d like to be a psychologist will need to invest many years in their education in order to reach the doctoral level and will have ample opportunity to decide which age groups and demographics they’d like to work with.

How much do online psychology degree programs cost?

The cost of an online psychology degree can vary depending on the institution, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student, and how long it takes for you to complete the program. In general, it costs far less to complete an online psychology degree than it does to complete an on-campus or hybrid course, but the difference in fees can be massive.

For example, Kaplan University offers an online B.S. in Psychology for around $10,710 per year. The University of Phoenix has a similar program priced at $10,240 per year. Meanwhile, tuition from Waldorf College, which offers a B.A. in Psychology and a Bachelor of Applied Science in the subject charges $20,316 per year.

It can be tricky to compare prices between programs becomes some institutions charge per credit hour, some charge per semester, and others have a flat fee per year. Even where flat fees are listed, there may be other expenses for subscriptions, books, continuing enrollment, and student society memberships that even remote students may be asked to pay.

If you’re worried about the cost of studying for an online psychology degree, consider contacting the American Psychological Association to ask about scholarships and financial aid. Talk to the student finance department at the institution you’d like to study with as well.

There’s a lot of financial help available for low-income students, minorities, and those who are able to qualify based on academic merit. This support is available to online students as well as those who are studying on-campus.

Competition for scholarships can be high, so be sure to apply early. Send in applications to all of the scholarships that you think you might qualify for, because it is possible to be awarded more than one as long as the total amount of all of the scholarships does not exceed your total study costs. Do take the time to write out separate applications for each one, however, making sure to explain why you feel you meet the criteria for that specific scholarship. Tailored applications are more likely to be accepted than blanket, boilerplate ones.

Best online psychology programs

Psychology degrees are incredibly popular both on-campus and online. There are a huge number of online psychology programs to choose from, ranging from certificates and associate degrees to higher-level qualifications.

Some of the best online psychology programs include those offered by:

  • University of Florida
  • Florida International University
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Illinois at Springfield
  • University of Houston

All of these institutions offer accredited online bachelors in psychology. These programs are affordably priced and have graduation rates of between 50 and 60%, which is a reasonably positive rate for an online program.

What do the best online psychology programs have in common?

The best online psychology programs are ones that are accredited by a recognized body and that would allow progression onto a master’s degree or a doctoral-level qualification. Someone with a doctoral qualification can take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology exam and pursue a license to practice as a psychologist in their state.

A good psychology program will give you exposure to school psychology, organizational psychology, research, health, and other areas so that you can make an informed choice about what to specialize in at a later date. You may have the opportunity to put some extra focus on your chosen specialism at the undergraduate level, but it’s still important to have a broad idea of what else is happening in the field.

How can you determine which online psychology program is right for you?

Choosing an online psychology degree is not always easy. Depending on your age and your goals you’ll have a lot to think about. Students should take into consideration issues such as:

  • Accreditation
  • The level of the degree
  • Cost
  • Study schedule
  • Specialization
  • How the content is delivered
  • Progression options
  • Completion rates

In general, employers and even educational institutions aren’t too concerned about the “brand name” of the institution, as long as the degree is accredited by an awarding body that’s on the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. A degree from a school or college that’s on this list will be recognized as being of a high enough academic standard to allow entry into postgraduate programs or certifications as required.

The level of the program also matters. Students who are confident in their choice of subject and who have a robust scientific grounding may want to study for an honors degree. An undergraduate who is interested in progressing to master’s degree level might wish to enroll in a 4+1 degree, collecting bachelor’s on the way to a master’s.

At the post-graduate level, the number of credits the course includes may be of interest. Master’s degrees can vary in their depth and in the specialization level, and someone who is aiming for a competitive Ph.D. program could get a significant advantage if they choose the right program at the postgraduate level.

Learning platforms and study flexibility

Some universities have very sophisticated online learning platforms that offer interactive quizzes, video chat, pre-recorded lectures with the option to fast-forward and rewind easily, closed captions, and transcripts. Users can chat with each other, collaborate on group assignments, and easily contact their lecturers.

Others have much more basic online learning systems that are limited in features and require users to do much more work themselves, installing third-party chat apps to communicate, tracking their progress in a spreadsheet, and handing in assignments over email.

At first, you may not think the difference in quality would bother you too much, but if you’re planning on studying for a four-year psychology degree program you’ll be spending a lot of time working on these platforms. Choosing a platform that is easy to use can make a big difference.

It’s also worth considering the pacing. If you are someone who needs a little extra motivation and who has a fairly steady schedule, you may benefit from studying a course that has fixed milestones and regular online lectures.

If you’re a shift worker who is passionate about moving into a different career, and you’re sure you’ll be able to keep up a sensible pace of study, you might be better off with an entirely self-paced degree where you have the freedom to work through the content in your own time, to your own schedule.

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