How do children acquire language? What is the best method to help an adult learn how to read? What barriers do gifted learners face in typical learning environments? These are common questions that modern educators, psychologists, and researchers ask as they pertain to the manner in which people learn. But these types of questions, and an interest in how we learn is nothing new. For thousands of years, humans have sought to get a better grasp on how to teach and learn, how to improve teaching and learning, and the strategies best suited for doing so.
Educational psychology is a field of study that seeks to answer the questions mentioned above. Programs of study in this field combine the knowledge of the human condition and learning methods to devise highly effective programs of learning for all kinds of populations. Getting a degree in educational psychology means graduates have the knowledge and skills required to make a positive impact on individual learners and systems of learning as a whole.
What is an Educational Psychology Degree?
Educational psychology degrees prepare students to apply psychological principles to educational and learning settings. Primary among the subjects in this field of study is the manner in which information is absorbed and retained. Students investigate various theories that explain the learning process, and use those theories to help develop strategies and interventions to help people learn.
For example, students in an educational psychology program might use social learning theory, which states that humans learn best in a social environment, to develop classroom activities for elementary school students that require them to work cooperatively in small groups to achieve a learning goal.
Educational psychology degrees also help students develop an understanding of how social, emotional, and behavioral elements interact to make learning more or less likely. For example, students might research the impact that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has on a child’s ability to learn. In the process of their research, they might draw conclusions about how the behavior associated with ADHD makes learning more difficult.
Studies in educational psychology lead toward many number of advanced degrees. At the graduate level, Master’s of Arts (M.A.) and Master’s of Science (M.S.) degrees are offered. More options are available to students that go on to complete a doctoral program. An Ed.D is among the most common, although many students in educational psychology choose to pursue either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.
What is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Educational Psychology?
Bachelor’s degrees in psychology are just the first step towards working as an educational psychologist. Degrees at this level are not offered specifically in educational psychology. Rather, students get a degree in general psychology, then go on to graduate school to specialize. There are several primary differences between bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees.
Undergraduate degrees in psychology are among the most popular offerings at colleges and universities. Usually four years in length, bachelor’s degree programs consist of approximately 120 semester credits of coursework. Like other undergraduate degrees, a bachelor’s degree in psychology basically consists of two types of courses: those related to general education requirements, such as math and English, and those related specifically to psychology. There are approximately 60 credit hours of each required to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s degree programs have fairly broad admissions requirements. Typically, students must demonstrate that they have an acceptable GPA on a 4.0 scale, have completed high school or have gotten their high school equivalency, and have acceptable scores on college admissions exams, such as the SAT or ACT. Some schools may have additional requirements, such as specific coursework taken in high school, letters of recommendations from teachers or high school guidance counselors, and a personal statement or essay.
Master’s degree programs in educational psychology typically require about 30-33 semester credit hours. Because there are far fewer course requirements than at the undergraduate level, master’s degrees can be completed more quickly, usually in 2-3 years. Unlike at the undergraduate level where half the required courses are outside the discipline of psychology, master’s degree programs focus exclusively on this specific discipline. Additionally, where undergraduate programs are generalized in nature, the coursework at the master’s degree level is much more advanced, with many courses offered that pertain to educational psychology itself.
Admissions requirements for graduate programs are much more stringent than they are for undergraduate programs. Applicants must already have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but most will accept any bachelor’s degree, so long as it is from an accredited institution. Many graduate programs require applicants to have a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Exam as well. The specific score required varies from school to school. Some schools have further requirements, such as an interview with faculty, specific coursework taken at the undergraduate level, or a statement of personal interest in the field of psychology.
What Do You Learn in an Educational Psychology Degree?
Educational psychology degree programs may require students to demonstrate proficiency in the following common courses:
- Child development – Students learn about the processes related to mental, physical, and emotional growth during childhood and how to apply that knowledge to improving learning.
- Assessment – Students learn how to administer and interpret common intellectual, personality, and social assessments, such as the Beck Depression Inventory and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.
- Counseling theories and techniques – Especially at the graduate and doctoral levels, students acquire deep knowledge and understanding of common counseling theories and put that knowledge to the test during practicum and internship placements that allow students to work with real clients.
- Educational research – Students gain the skills needed to critically research educational topics and apply that research to the betterment of learners.
- Neuropsychology – Students explore the relationship between the brain and behavior, as well as common neurological conditions that impact one’s ability to learn.
Specialization is common at the graduate level, which will require additional coursework to be undertaken. Common specialties within the field of educational psychology are gifted education, school psychology, human development, and statistical research methods.
What is an Ed.D. Degree in Educational Psychology?
An Ed.D., which is a doctor of education program, is one of the highest possible degrees in educational psychology, on par with a Ph.D. and Psy.D. It is completed after graduate school and generally takes between 3-5 additional years of study to complete.
An Ed.D. is an extension of graduate studies that focuses more specifically on research and the student’s area of content specialization, such as gifted learning. Doctoral programs in this field continue with studies on learning and development, from learning that takes place in childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Common coursework at this level includes theory and methods, psychological research, statistics, psychological assessment, and specialized training related to teaching, education administration, and educational program development.
The primary aspect of Ed.D. programs is the residency or internship requirement. Residency programs place doctoral candidates in real-world situations in which they apply the knowledge and skills they have gained over the course of their undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate studies. For example, a student whose concentration is in educational research might complete a yearlong internship with a private educational research firm, where they might conduct studies, interpret data, and develop educational materials for learners of varying abilities.
What is an Online Educational Psychology Degree?
Online degree programs in educational psychology offer students flexible options for completing their studies. The coursework required for online degree programs is highly similar to that of more traditional on-campus programs. For example, online students would explore learning theories, types of assessments, and conduct research, just like students do on campus.
Whereas on campus programs might require research related to educational psychology, online programs might rely instead on the dissertation process. This requires a lot of research as well, but is more academically focused research rather than field-based research that is typical of many on campus programs. Some online programs may actually require students to complete an on-campus residency or internship, or complete such programs in approved settings closer to the student’s hometown.
Also like their on-campus counterparts, online programs offer multiple degree options, including graduate degrees and doctorates. These programs take approximately the same amount of time for students to complete, with 2-3 years needed for graduate work and 3-5 additional years for doctoral work.
What Does it Take to Get an Educational Psychology Degree?
There are certain skills and traits that make it easier to successfully complete a degree in educational psychology. These include:
- Love of learning – Students must have a deep love of learning and education, both because getting an advanced degree in this field takes a lot of learning and training, and because it’s the nature of the job.
- Self-discipline – Working on a degree in educational psychology requires students to have the ability to buckle down and study, complete assignments, or conduct research in a timely manner.
- Learning intelligence – The advanced studies required to become an educational psychologist require students to be adept at learning. Having the skills to learn effectively will greatly increase one’s ability to complete a program in this field.
- Desire to succeed – Obtaining formal education in educational psychology requires students to be committed to long-term programs of study, long hours of homework and research, and a desire to accomplish those tasks to the very highest of standards.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Degree in Educational Psychology?
- Rewarding work – Educational psychologists perform work that is highly rewarding. Helping others improve themselves and overcome challenges is a primary draw of this and other careers in psychology.
- Many career options – An advanced degree in this field may open the door to many potential careers. School psychology, educational research, education administration, and consultation are some common careers for workers with a background in this field.
- Endless need – Humans have been studying and trying to improve upon learning and education for thousands of years, and that isn’t going to stop anytime soon. There is excellent job security for someone with training in this field.
- The work can be mentally and emotionally draining – Educational psychologists encounter many barriers to their work, from clients that are uncooperative to educational systems that resist change. As a result, workers in this field can become overwhelmed and lose satisfaction in their work.
- An advanced degree is required – Careers in educational psychology typically require a doctorate, although some jobs are available at the master’s level. Either way, educational psychology is a career that requires a lot of education and training. Expect at least 6 years to complete undergraduate and graduate work, and another 3-7 years after that to complete a doctorate.
- Other psychology careers pay much better – Educational psychology is a highly rewarding field. However, it is not the highest paying. Individuals with training in psychology can specialize in other areas and make a much more comfortable income.
How Much Can You Make With a Degree in Educational Psychology?
While educational psychologists do not make as much as other specialties in the field, the income potential is still quite strong. Educational psychologists that specialize in school psychology or clinical psychology earn, on average, $87,450 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is slightly less than the national average for all psychologists, which stands at $98,230 per year. PayScale notes that educational psychologists that work in higher education as a counseling psychologist earn slightly less, at $69,757 per year.
There are a host of factors that influence the income potential of educational psychologists. Those that work in schools tend to make more in private institutions, as opposed to public institutions. Furthermore, work at the college or university level is similarly better compensated than that at a K-12 or junior college level.
The extent of an educational psychologist’s education also influences how much money they can earn. Master’s level workers qualify for entry-level positions with pay that is at or below the national average. However, with time and experience, master’s level workers can move up the pay scale. Doctorate level workers earn more money across the board, especially those with many years of experience working in this field.
What Degrees are Similar to Educational Psychology?
There are several degrees that are similar to educational psychology:
School Psychology – Graduate and doctoral degrees in school psychology revolve around educational and learning issues, much like degrees in educational psychology. School psychology also focuses on social, emotional, and behavioral issues related to childhood and adolescence.
School Counseling – Although usually more focused on therapy, graduate and doctoral studies in school counseling offer many of the same learning experiences as those in educational psychology programs. The emphasis is on both the learner and the learning environment, and what factors can be manipulated to improve learning, daily functioning, and relationships.
Child Psychology – Learning programs in child psychology are available at the master’s and doctoral level. Since the bulk of educational activities in one’s life occur during childhood and adolescence, there is much crossover between child psychology and educational psychology.
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