Social Psychology Degree Programs & Schools

Social Psychology is a specialty area of general psychology. Social psychology is the study of how being in the presence of people can influence and affect an individual’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Not to be confused with sociology, which focuses on group behavior, social psychology focuses on how a group influences an individual.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Psychology

A bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in social psychology is the best educational starting point for anyone choosing Social Psychology as a career. Students need to build a strong foundation in key concepts such as human behavior, mental, physical and social processes, and cognitive function. Typical coursework offered by psychology programs include the following major subjects:

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Community Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Social Services
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Quantitative Design
  • Personality Psychology
  • Human Behavior
  • Organizational Psychologist

Experience gained while earning a degree, including internships or volunteer opportunities, will provide a student with exposure to scenarios they may encounter as a practicing social psychologist. This experience is also valuable when applying to advanced degree programs. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) also recommends that students join professional organizations for networking opportunities with professionals in the field. Connections made from these interactions may be useful when applying for employment or seeking professional recommendations for school applications.

Master’s Degree in Social Psychology

A master's or doctorate degree is required to practice as a social psychologist. Although it is possible to enter this field with a master's degree, professionals typically earn a doctoral degree to distinguish themselves as social psychologists. At the master’s level, social psychologists engage in advanced study concerning how individual behavior is influenced by group behavior.

Areas of study at the master’s level may include:

  • Group dynamics
  • Criminal behavior
  • Social cognition
  • Stereotyping
  • Statistical methods of research

The social psychology master’s program helps students develop the skill set to facilitate change at the individual, organizational, or societal level. This program will provide a social psychologist with knowledge in the following areas:

  • The impact of social development and behavior
  • Application of psychological concepts on social change and global issues
  • Evaluation psychological theories
  • Multicultural issues/concerns
  • Global perspectives of psychological theories, research and practice
  • Principles of research and statistics
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Relation of self and culture
  • Concepts of attractions, persuasion, conformity, prejudice, and group dynamics
  • Social inequalities

It is recommended that master’s level students join professional associations, volunteer and obtain internships while attending classes. One professional resource to consider is the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Subscribing to professional journals is also recommended. These may include the Personality and Social Psychology Review, and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Doctoral Degree in Social Psychology

Social psychologists that wish to gain employment in a clinical setting should consider earning a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. Individuals interested primarily in research or academia should earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. It should be noted that some programs follow a multi-step process, including:

  • First awarding a master’s degree in social psychology, followed by earning a doctoral degree
  • Bypassing a terminal master’s degree, and proceeding straight into a PhD program

A doctoral degree will give students advanced knowledge in research methodologies, theories and concepts related to social psychology. At this level, doctoral students will study aspects of motivation, attitudes, and social development. Coursework should include:

  • Perception and attitude
  • Social neuroscience
  • Psychology of self-control
  • Human stereotyping
  • Social development
  • Groups and cooperation

Doctoral students are also required to complete an independent research project and dissertation in the field of social psychology. Although not typically required, except for employment in a clinical setting, to obtain licensure an individual must complete a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and have at least one or two years of professional experience. Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is also required. The APA outlines requirements and recommendations for the EPPP exam.

Online Programs in Social Psychology

Earning a degree online is becoming an increasingly common and accepted choice for people seeking flexible degree options, as programs and curriculum become more sophisticated. Individuals considering a career in the field of social psychology will find programs for statistics, quantitative research, and most areas of general psychology online.

When considering an online degree, it is important to identify schools (and programs) that are approved by the accredited body responsible for establishing educational standards for the profession. The accrediting body for psychology colleges and universities is the American Psychological Association (APA).  Students who attend a program without APA accreditation may face significant obstacles when searching for employment, and may be ineligible for licensure (if needed) in some states. Accredited degree programs can be found at: the American Psychological Association accreditation page.

Search Accredited Online Programs

Social Psychology Licensing and Certification

Because social psychologists are not health service professionals and do not treat individuals, licensure is typically not required to practice as a social psychologist. However, state requirements for credentialing are generally the same as for general psychologists if a social psychologist wishes to practice as such. Each state has its own requirements, so inspiring social psychologists must explore credentialing and licensing requirements in the state in which her or she wishes to practice.

The following areas may not require social psychologists to obtain licensure:

  • College and university employment
  • Government agencies
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Private corporations
  • Research laboratories

Steps to follow to determine if a license is required:

  • Speak with college counselors
  • Inquire at various places of employment or during internships
  • Contact state and national psychology organizations regarding career licensing requirements

Social Psychologist Career Outlook and Salary Estimates

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the job outlook for all psychologists as competitive, but quite well, with a growth rate of 12 percent over the next decade. However, job opportunities increase as the level of education increases. For this reason, social psychologists with a doctoral degree will typically enjoy more opportunities than master’s degree graduates. Social psychologists with a doctoral degree can find employment opportunities in research facilities (usually in the field or in school laboratories), in a clinical setting, as a college or university professor, and in government.

Social psychologists with a master’s degree may find employment outside of research or academia, in sectors, such as:

  • Consulting firms
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Political strategists
  • Nonprofits
  • Hospitals and medical facilities
  • Social service offices
  • Private corporations

Additionally, social psychologists that conduct research at the university level or for government agencies can expect long-term employment. Individuals who choose to pursue a teaching career in social psychology at the university level can expect fewer opportunities for employment over the next decade.

The American Psychological Association’s salary figures indicate that many positions in social psychology pay far better than positions in clinical, school psychology or counseling. Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not record specific data for social psychologists, it does record data for similar professions.

 On-Campus Programs

Campus-based programs offer the opportunity to study face-to-face with leaders in the field. For many students, on-campus learning is necessary for disciplined study and interaction with other students and professors.

  • Professors are more accessible
  • Students have greater access to tutors, clubs, and associations
  • On-campus learning can offer greater potential for internships and employment
  • On-campus programs often carry more weight when individuals are competing for the same jobs
  • Professionals in the field of psychology, in general, recognize on-campus degrees as more credible than online degrees