Imagine having the educational experience to work in a wide variety of careers. You could work with mentally ill people or those that have a substance abuse problem to help them make positive changes in their lives. You might find employment as a home health aide, and help make the daily lives of the elderly or chronically ill much easier.
You could work in schools, assisting teachers in their daily activities to educate children of all ages. You might even work in a business setting as a salesman, in human resources, or in customer service. Each of these career paths is an option for people that graduate with an associate’s degree in psychology.
What is an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
Associate’s degrees in psychology are introductory degrees that help students develop an understanding of the most basic theories and principles of psychology. The studies completed at this level prepare students to either continue their education to pursue a higher degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, or enter the workforce in an entry-level position.
Associate’s degrees are usually pursued at a community college, where students typically take two years to complete the program. However, associate’s degrees can be completed in as little as 1-1 ½ years, if students take enough courses each semester, including in the summer. Part-time options are also available for students that work or have other obligations. Many students in associate’s degree programs fall into this category and take 3-4 years to complete their studies.
Associate’s degree programs in psychology are extremely popular, and can be found at colleges all across the country. There are two types of degrees in this field of study. A student can get an associate of arts degree (A.A.), which is the most common, or they can get an associate of science degree (A.S.). Both options require around 60 semester credit hours of coursework, but the type of degree earned will depend on the focus of one’s elective and general studies. An A.A. degree is earned when students take more classes in the social sciences and humanities, while an A.S. degree is earned when students have more of a focus on science and math.
What Do You Learn in an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
The coursework involved in associate’s degree programs in psychology is intended to provide students with a broad base of knowledge about critical issues in psychology. Courses may include the following:
- General psychology – This is what is known as a survey course, which means it briefly touches on a wide variety of psychology topics. General psychology is the first psychology course a student will take, so it offers short previews of just about all aspects of psychology, from psychological theories to principles of learning to issues related to human development.
- Developmental psychology – Courses in developmental psychology focus on how humans develop across the lifespan. Students learn about cognitive growth in babies, physical growth during the teenage years, relationships and social development throughout adulthood, and issues related to aging, such as memory loss and dealing with death, to name a few.
- Abnormal psychology – Abnormal psychology gives students insight into common psychological problems. Students explore phobias and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and mood disorders. Oftentimes, students will also get an introduction to diagnosis and assessment of mental disorders, as well as the theories that seek to explain why abnormal behavior occurs.
- Social psychology – Social psychology courses explore how society influences the thoughts and behavior of individuals. Common topics of study include peer pressure, self-concept, prejudice and stereotyping, and group processes.
Associate’s degree programs also include elective and general education requirements. These courses, including math, science, humanities, and English, are basic, introductory courses that provide a general overview of knowledge and skills that are necessary for a continued education.
What is an Online Associate’s Program in Psychology?
Online associate’s degree programs in psychology offer students flexible options for completing their studies. Like the on-campus A.A. and A.S. programs outlined above, online programs are approximately 60 semester credits in length, which can take as little as one year and as many as four years to complete, depending on whether a student is full or part-time.
The subject matter in online programs in psychology is the same as on-campus degree programs, but obviously the delivery of those courses is much different. Online programs typically have an interactive component to their classes, like a chat room, discussion board, or even real-time video chat so that students can interact with one another and with their professor. Some courses might have specific times to “meet” online, while others might simply require students to complete tasks within a given timeframe. For example, a professor of an online course might post a discussion question at the beginning of the week and require students to respond to that question on the class discussion board by the end of that week.
Like all degree programs, online studies have their pros and cons. The greatest advantage to taking online classes is that assignments can be completed at virtually any time of the day, making online learning a great option for people that have busy schedules. However, the greatest disadvantage of online learning is that there is no face-to-face interaction with one’s classmates and professor.
What are the Requirements to Enroll in an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
While specific admissions requirements vary from one school to the next, there are some criteria that are pretty common to gain admission to an associate’s degree program in psychology. They may include:
- High school diploma or GED
- 18 years of age or older
- A minimum high school GPA, such as 2.0 or above on a 4.0 scale
- A minimum score on a college entrance exam, like the SAT or ACT
Many community colleges also have what is called an open enrollment policy, which means anyone can enroll to take classes, even if they don’t meet the typical admissions requirements as outlined above. Students that begin their studies through open enrollment may be required to take assessments to determine their ability level in certain subjects, like math and English. If their abilities are not strong enough, the college may require them to take basic courses to build their skills before being allowed to pursue the required courses to get an associate of arts in psychology.
What Can You Do With an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
Many students that get an associate’s degree in psychology go on to obtain a bachelor’s degree. But students that choose instead to get a job may find entry-level options available in the social services and mental health industries:
- Social and human services assistant – Workers in this position assist people in finding the resources they need to meet their daily needs. Social and human services assistants also offer direct services to clients, such as helping them eat, bathe, or dress. They work under the supervision of a licensed professional, usually a social worker or psychologist.
- Home health aide – Home health aides provide assistance to elderly or chronically ill clients who cannot take care of themselves. Aides have a wide range of duties that might including laundry and housekeeping tasks, administering medications, scheduling appointments, and providing companionship.
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder assistants – Workers in this field are often employed in inpatient and outpatient settings, and provide direct support to clients. This might include helping the client develop goals, teaching the client essential skills, or helping the client repair broken relationships. Assistants may also be responsible for establishing a set schedule for the client and ensuring he or she maintains that schedule. If working in a substance abuse setting, assistants will often be responsible for administering drug tests to clients.
Additional opportunities are available for graduates of associate’s degree programs in psychology in the fields of education and business. A background in psychology is excellent preparation for working with students as a teacher’s assistant or paraprofessional. These jobs can be found at all grade levels, from pre-kindergarten through high school. Many opportunities exist in business as well. Basic training in psychology prepares individuals to be effective in entry-level jobs in human resources, customer service, and sales positions.
How Much Can You Make With an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
Because the training and education in an associate’s degree is fairly limited, the income potential is limited as well. Social and human services assistants make around $28,850 per year, according the to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS estimates that home health aides earn an average yearly income of just $20,820. However, substance abuse and behavioral disorders assistants can make around $38,520 per year.
Workers in the business and education sectors have incomes that vary widely as well. Paraprofessionals and teaching assistants can earn anywhere from $17,180 per year to more than $36,000 per year. If employed in sales, workers can expect to earn an average hourly wage of $10.29. Customer service agents tend to make slightly more money at $14.70 per hour. Each of these positions does offer higher income potential as workers gain more experience and complete on-the-job training.
What are the Opportunities for Advancement With an Associate’s Degree in Psychology?
Again, because an associate’s degree is an entry-level degree, there are limitations to advancement in the workplace. Moving up the career ladder in psychology related positions requires additional schooling. For example, to become a case manager or probation officer, at least a bachelor’s degree is required. To advance even higher and work as a counselor, psychologist, or social worker, a master’s degree is required. These positions also require state licensure, which cannot be obtained without a master’s degree.
That being said, many employers offer employees opportunities to get additional training and education that can open doors to additional positions and higher income. Some employers also have programs that pay for part or all of an employee’s tuition should they go back to college to pursue a higher degree. In these situations, career advancement and a higher income are much more likely.