Cognitive Psychology Degree Programs & Schools

Cognitive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology, yet has developed into one of the most popular subfields. Cognitive psychology is the study of the mind and mental functioning, and focuses on decision-making, learning, attention, memory, perception, reasoning, and conceptual development. Given the wide variety of ways this type of knowledge can be applied, a degree in cognitive psychology offers individuals the opportunity to explore a variety of careers.

Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Psychology

The average timeline to earn a bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Psychology is typically 4-years. Each college or university will have several psychology course prerequisites that all accepted graduate students must have completed. If an applicant hasn’t taken the required prerequisites, this will either hurt his/her chances of being accepted, or the student may have to complete all missing classes before enrolling in graduate school. Because of this, many undergraduate students choose to major in psychology.

Another option is to choose a major that compliments their psychology major. For example, many cognitive psychology students may major in neuroscience, human development, or education instead of psychology.

Coursework at the bachelor’s degree level may vary by college or university, but typically includes:

  • Statistical Modeling and Analysis
  • Seminar in Cognitive Psychology
  • Seminar in Neuropsychology
  • Experimental Foundations of Psychology: Biological Basis of Behavior
  • Advanced Statistical Modeling and Analysis
  • Experimental Foundations of Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition
  • Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Psychological Research Methods and Procedures

Master’s Degree in Cognitive Psychology

A master’s degree in cognitive psychology can prepare students for careers as a research coordinator, school psychologist, or community or technical college instructor, among other career paths. This degree requires at least two years of graduate study after completion of a bachelor’s degree.

The biggest difference students often notice in graduate school is that they are not required to take electives in other areas, such as literature or math, as was required for undergraduates. The primary focus of graduate training is to help students learn what they will need to know and apply in their careers.

Master’s degree programs typically incorporate advanced training in research. This helps students develop strong research skills and a sound methodological background. Coursework includes:

  • Adolescent psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Psychophysiology
  • Psychopathology
  • Functional neuroanatomy
  • Neuropsychology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques
  • Cognitive development of children

Taking additional coursework in psychology will further expand a student’s knowledge and help gain valuable insight into relevant areas of opportunity.

Cognitive Psychology Doctoral Programs

Most cognitive psychologists' careers are focused on conducting research. Most will work at a college or university; however, some cognitive psychologists with a Ph.D. are employed by the government or privately-owned companies.

Getting a doctorate in cognitive psychology usually takes at least eight years—four years of an undergraduate bachelor’s program, and four-to-six years of doctoral study. Many students choose to earn their master’s degree before earning their Ph.D., which can add another two years. Students may also complete a postdoctoral fellowship (often called a “postdoc”) after completion of graduate study.

Students who choose to get their doctorate in cognitive psychology will take much more specialized and focused classes than when they earned their undergraduate degree. Doctoral coursework can include:

  • A series of statistics classes—each statistics class is focused on one concept, such as ANOVA, multivariate methods of analysis, or psychometrics.
  • Advanced neuroscience classes, which focus on the structure and functioning of the brain.
  • Advanced Cognitive Psychology
  • Advanced Social Psychology
  • Advanced Abnormal (Clinical) Psychology
  • Other specialized topics depending on the student’s degree focus. For example, a student studying cognitive psychology may take courses that focus on early childhood development, adolescent development, intelligence test administration, and/or clinical cognitive psychology.

Like bachelor’s degrees, it is important for any doctoral program to be accredited. In addition to institutional accreditation, doctoral programs can also seek accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Licensing Requirements for Cognitive Psychology

  • Generally speaking, cognitive psychologist are not required to be licensed unless they will practice in a clinic, counsel or diagnose patients, or fill a consulting role.
  • Licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction.
  • Cognitive psychologists who practice in a federal or state institution or agency, in a university or college, or in research may be exempt from licensure in some states
  • The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) outlines states licensing requirements
  • As licensing requirements are changing, it would be wise for a student to explore options in the state in which they choose to practice.

Cognitive Psychology Career Outlook & Salary Estimates

Although many cognitive psychologists focus on conducting research, they can work in a variety of settings. Research-focused cognitive psychologists often work in higher education or are hired as consultants to the government or private companies. Other times, a cognitive psychology degree can complement other career paths—for example, some may become child (developmental) psychologists who focus on children’s cognitive development.

A cognitive psychology can find work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Probation officer
  • Survey researcher or Data analyst
  • Personnel administrator
  • Organizational psychologist
  • Employment counselor
  • Community health coordinator

Continuing Education in Cognitive Psychology

In order to stay up-to-date with trends and advances in the field of cognitive psychology, and for professional development opportunities, graduates should consider continuing education. In many states, sources for continued education credits include:

  • Workshops and seminars offered by state-approved educational institutions.
  • Seminars, courses and workshops sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • Membership in societies and subscribing to industry journals.

Cognitive Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowships

As the job market in psychology becomes more and more competitive, an increasing number of individuals are seeking postdoctoral positions (or “postdocs”) to help bolster their credentials. Although not required, cognitive psychologists who have research-focused careers (rather than teaching-focused) usually seek out these positions.

These positions usually last one or two years, and postdocs usually work on grant-funded research within their area of specialization—on topics similar to the research topics they worked on as a graduate student—at a large university.