BY Meghan MalasJune 02, 2022, 4:09 PM
A master’s degree in psychology can advance your career path, or help change the trajectory of your professional life altogether. There is growing demand for professionals in therapy and psychology, and obtaining a master’s degree can pave the way for a job in the field—or open the door to opportunities in other professions, as well.
People who have a master’s degree in psychology can apply what they learn to occupations in private business or government, schools, hospitals, or mental health settings, according to the American Psychological Association. Moreover, online degree programs allow working professionals to see how the skills and information they obtain in class fits into their current role. And a master’s degree in psychology can also be edifying in one’s personal life.
To find out more about how an online master’s degree in psychology can boost careers, Fortune spoke with two graduates from the CUNY School of Professional Studies and a graduate from Divine Mercy University. Here’s what they told us.
Pursuing a master’s degree to become “more marketable”
Jennifer Holland took a circuitous route to the field of psychology. Before obtaining her master’s degree from CUNY, she was an office manager at for a luxury Italian jewelry company. When she was laid off from the company in 2008 during the Great Recession, she decided to earn a bachelor’s degree in business and then went on to work part-time at CUNY SPS for five years, managing the school’s course catalog. She then moved into a full-time role and began earning her master’s in psychology degree in 2016.
“I knew I needed a master’s degree to progress in higher education and become more marketable in the job market, but I chose this degree because it related to the work that I was moving into, but also spoke to who I was as a person,” she says.
Holland started working at the age of 14 and noticed how poor leadership left employees feeling emotionally drained. She was seeking a graduate degree that would help her become a good leader while improving organizational effectiveness. She wanted to improve the administrative processes at CUNY SPS so that the school could be more efficient in its mission of providing access to academic excellence, so she chose to pursue the school’s industrial and organizational psychology specialization.
“The program provided an extensive list of skills and abilities that I apply to my work regularly, including research methodology, survey design, data analytics, people skills, change management skills, an expansion of leadership, and group-dynamic skills,” Holland says.
A psychology degree “enables us to be healers in our society”
Jonathan Kane is passionate about education—just look to all of his degrees for proof. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences, a master’s degree in philosophy, and a Ph.D. in geophysics, Kane is currently working on obtaining a master’s in theology—doing so while working as a patent engineer for a law firm specializing in intellectual property. Along the way, he also graduated from Divine Mercy University’s online, full-time master’s degree program in psychology.
Kane’s degrees may span multiple fields of study, but they’re more related than they appear. After earning his master’s degree in philosophy, he worked as a neuroscientist in a psychiatric hospital, studying the effect of depression on the brain.
“This was useful, but I felt that to really understand the mind, mental illness, and the human person in general, one needs to study it from the first-person, subjective point of view,” Kane says. “Hence, I decided to return to school and study psychology.”
While Kane does not formally apply information from the psychology degree program in his current role, he informally uses what he learned every day. Having a master’s degree in psychology is also beneficial as he intends to start a blog about issues at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and religion.
“Having the empathy and knowledge to know what someone is going through, and giving them the right words at the right time, can make all the difference in someone’s life,” Kane says.
“According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five adults lives with mental illness. This is a staggeringly large number, and it means that many people we meet every day are suffering,” he adds. “Understanding what they are experiencing, and knowing what may be helpful to them, enables us to be healers in our society—even if we are not working as professional psychologists.”
Obtaining knowledge in a program that’s “bearing fruit”
When Nivi Toth decided to earn her master’s in psychology from CUNY SPS, she was providing private piano lessons to children and adults in her community, teaching religion classes at urban high schools, and coordinating community service outreach opportunities for students. She wanted more tools to increase her effectiveness as a teacher, grow in her understanding of the human person, and support the mental health of her students.
“The prospect of studying psychology at the graduate level addressed these goals,” says Toth, who eventually went on to serve as program director for a nonprofit organization that provided after-school religious education for private school students in New York City.
Toth chose to pursue her degree online as she knew the time she saved by not having to commute could be put to good use. She was able to participate in research experiences at psychology labs at CUNY and Columbia University, volunteer at a suicide hotline center, and intern at a psychiatric hospital.
“I planned to pursue a doctorate in psychology, with the hope of eventually teaching at the university level and engaging in research,” Toth says. “Since I lacked a background in psychology coursework and hoped to increase my odds of being accepted into competitive doctoral programs, I enrolled in CUNY’s online master’s in psychology program.”
While Toth hopes to eventually pursue a doctorate in psychology, in the years since completing her degree program she has been focusing much of her time and energy on being a foster parent. CUNY SPS’s human development specialization covered topics like the stages of child development, attachment in early life, trauma and resilience, theories of learning and cognition, and the psychological implications of aging—knowledge that has informed Toth’s approach to parenting.
“Throughout the process, I frequently observed that the knowledge I gained through my psychology studies was bearing fruit,” she says. “I believe the developmental psychology coursework equipped me to face the numerous challenges associated with serving as a foster parent.”