Industrial and Organizational Psychology Degrees

The Basics

Interest in human behavior, and in particular understanding it, predicting it, and controlling it, has been of interest to researchers for generations. Dozens of theories exist that seek to explain why humans behave the way they do. Some believe it’s because of choice while others believe it’s a result of our biological makeup. Still others believe it’s environmental factors that produce behavior. In reality, it is probably an interplay of all these factors (and many others) that causes humans to behave the way they do.

Organizational behavior is much like human behavior. There are a variety of factors that influence outcomes, and many dynamics that must be taken into account when examining why an organization is successful or unsuccessful in meeting its goals. While many psychologists work with individuals to address problems in their lives, psychologists that work with businesses and organizations work more at the macro level, seeking to determine what the myriad of factors are that cause problems in the workplace and prevent organizations from operating as well as they should. These psychologists work in the field of industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology.

What is an Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree?

A degree in industrial-organizational psychology prepares students to apply the principles of psychology to organizations and the workplace. Courses specific to industrial-organizational psychology focus on how psychologists can resolve problems that result from individual, group, or organizational behaviors that negatively impact the functioning of the organization. Degrees in this field include in-depth studies of psychology, but also of career and business-related topics, such as career development, consumer behavior, and job analysis. There are also elements of social psychology and sociology. This includes group theory, group processes, and organizational development.

I-O psychology degrees come in various forms. There are undergraduate degrees that offer a broad base of knowledge for students. There are two kinds of these degrees: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). There are two master’s degrees available as well, with Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) options. These degrees offer more in-depth studies for students in of industrial-organizational psychology that prepare them for entry-level positions in this field.

There are also Ph.D. and Psy.D. options in I-O psychology. Ph.D. programs are the most common doctoral degrees and give students a high level of training and skills in this area. Ph.D. programs tend to focus on research and can last from 3-5 years after a master’s degree is obtained. Psy.D. programs also usually last five years, but their focus is more on the application of psychological principles as opposed to research.

What is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

A primary difference between bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial-organizational psychology is the number of credits each requires. A typical bachelor’s degree program in this field requires approximately 120 credits, of which 60 must be in psychology. Most full-time students can complete these requirements in four years. Conversely, graduate degrees in industrial-organizational psychology require roughly 30-36 credit hours, on average. Graduate classes are far more advanced than those at the bachelor’s degree level. As a result, master’s degree programs typically take anywhere from 1-3 years to complete, although some graduate programs require even more time.

The type of coursework students undertake is different at the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree level as well. Undergraduate studies tend to be more generalized. While students may have many classes within the discipline of psychology, the subject matter will have far less depth than what is found at the graduate level. Additionally, graduate studies typically include a significant research component. Whether this is a master’s thesis, capstone project, internship, or some other major project, graduate students have many opportunities to conduct research and apply their learning to real-world situations. Undergraduate students usually do not have such options available to them.

Another major difference between bachelor’s and master’s degrees in this field is the type of employment for which degree holders are eligible. According to the American Psychological Association, while there are some jobs available to individuals with just a bachelor’s degree, they are very few and far between. Individuals that have a master’s degree will have many more job opportunities available to them upon graduating, but even then most jobs are entry-level.

What Do You Learn in an Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree?

Industrial-organizational psychology includes studies in a variety of areas, including psychology and business. Common courses may include:

Psychological research – Industrial-organizational psychology is a research-intensive area of study. Courses in psychological research help students gain the skills needed to conduct psychological research at the individual, group, and organizational levels. This includes a study of research methods, statistics, and assessment.

Group behavior – Courses on group behavior seek to help students develop an understanding of group dynamics and how they impact the functionality of an organization.

Human resources planningIndustrial-organizational psychologists often work closely with human resources personnel to develop policies regarding hiring and firing practices, training and development programs for employees, and policy-making to address critical issues in the workplace.

Testing and assessment – These courses focus on developing an understanding of various tests and assessments that can help industrial-organizational psychologists determine the source of problems and issues in organizations. Aptitude tests, personality tests, and intelligence tests may be among those that students learn to administer and interpret.

Consumer psychologyConsumer psychology is concerned with understanding the manner in which consumers behave when making purchasing decisions. Coursework delves into thought processes, feelings, reasoning, and the process by which consumers select among alternatives.

What is an Online Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree?

An online degree in industrial-organizational psychology provides students with a flexible option for obtaining the education they need to be successful in this field. Online programs offer many of the same courses and learning experiences as their more traditional on-campus counterparts. There is a focus on research, and applying the knowledge of psychological research to the workplace. There is also an emphasis on learning both psychological and business-related principles. In addition to the courses outlined in the previous section, online programs in I-O psychology might include studies in:

  • Organizational behavior, which investigates how individuals interact with one another in an organizational setting.
  • Psychological statistics, which gives students knowledge of descriptive and inferential statistics used in decision-making processes.
  • Organizational training, which promotes skills needed to design and implement training programs at the organizational level.
  • Job analysis, which includes developing systems for hiring and firing practices.

Most online degree programs in I-O psychology are at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level. Like on-campus programs, these courses of study typically last four years and an additional 2-3 years, respectively.

What Does it Take to Get an Industrial-Organizational Degree?

Getting a degree in I-O psychology is dependent upon a number of practical factors and requires a number of personal characteristics to be successful:

  • Money – From a practical standpoint, money is perhaps the greatest factor in getting a degree in this field. Especially for students that pursue a doctorate, there will be a lot of money expended getting the education they need to enter this field of work.
  • Time – Another practical factor to consider is time. Students are all but required to obtain a master’s degree if they wish to have a good number of employment options that extend beyond those that are entry-level. A master’s degree in this field will take approximately 2-3 years to complete after a bachelor’s degree program is completed. As a result, students must be able to persevere through many, many years of hard work in their studies.
  • A mind for research – Degrees in this field are heavily focused on research, including statistics, data analysis, and program design. As a result, obtaining an industrial-organizational psychology degree requires students to have the capacity to conduct research. Having strong scientific and mathematical skills is a practical factor that will greatly determine a student’s success.
  • Dedication – Pursuing an advanced degree requires students to be dedicated and committed to their studies. Coursework in this field is intensive and research-focused. This means there will be long days spent in class, in lab settings conducting research, and analyzing and reporting on data.
  • Communication skills – Although industrial-organizational psychologists do not engage in therapy with their clients, there is still a need to have excellent communication skills. Many degree programs in this field include courses that seek to build speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.
  • Social skills – While obtaining a degree in this field of study may not require coursework in social skills, students definitely need to be able to build relationships with others, read other people, and foster trust with others if they are to be successful in industrial-organizational psychology.

What are the Advantages of a Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Majoring in industrial-organizational psychology and having an advanced degree in this field may offer students many options:

  • High income potential – As outlined in the next section, industrial-organizational psychologists are among the most highly paid in the field, making it an attractive career option with strong earnings potential.
  • Strong growth in this field – The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that jobs in the industrial-organizational psychology niche will grow by 53% through 2022. This means more jobs will be available than normal for students graduating with a degree in this field. The more jobs that are available, the more likely a person is to find employment.
  • Many employment options – Industrial-organizational psychologists are qualified to work in a wide variety of settings. From government agencies to private consulting firms to university settings, industrial-organizational psychologists have the advantage of many choices when it comes to where they are employed.
  • Many different job duties – Industrial-organizational psychologists are qualified to undertake a variety of job tasks. Some workers in this field concentrate on Applied Behavioral Research while others hold the title of Employment Law Expert. Other industrial-organizational psychologists are Testing Specialists while some are experts in Workplace Training and Development. With so many options available, industrial-organizational psychologists can have varied and interesting job tasks from day to day.
  • Potential for positive change – The work of industrial-organizational psychologists is intended to solve problems and help organizations, and the people operating within them, improve their functionality. Bringing positive change to systems and people can be a highly satisfying aspect of this work.

How Much Can You Make With a Doctoral Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Industrial-organizational psychology offers excellent income potential. As of May 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), licensed industrial-organizational psychologists make an average annual wage of $90,070. Even workers in this field whose wages are in the lowest percentile still make an average of $51,970 per year. Workers in the highest percentile earn an average of $145,480 per year. These income figures make industrial-organizational psychology one of the most financially lucrative career options available to psychologists.

The amount one earns will depend to a degree on the place of employment. Industrial-organizational psychologists employed by government agencies earn around $75,000 per year while those who work as consultants average $83,110 in yearly income. The highest paying industry is the scientific research sector. Workers in that industry earn an average annual salary of $110,550.

While earnings are very good for industrial-organizational psychologists across the country, some locations offer higher average wages than others. California offers the highest incomes for workers in this field, coming in at $105,580 a year. Minnesota also offers six-figure incomes, which average $100,030. On the east coast, Virginia has the highest average wages at $94,920 per year.

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