Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology can earn up to $200K in 2022

BY Dawn RzeznikiewiczJune 08, 2022, 1:41 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman

Students considering a master’s degree in psychology might be wondering what financial payoff they can expect postgraduation. Because of the many ways this degree can be put to use, expected salaries can also vary. Graduates with a master’s degree in psychology could land jobs that pay anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000, according to Gimel Rogers, Psy.D., ABPP, visiting clinical professor and associate director of online MAP/MACLP programs at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. 

This range is in line with estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported a 2021 median annual salary of about $81,000 for psychologists, a career path that could require an additional doctorate degree. Meanwhile, the median salary was nearly $50,000 for marriage and family therapists and about $48,000 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. On the higher-earning end of the salary range are industrial organizational psychologists, who can generally be categorized as those applying psychology to business, with a median salary of $113,320.

Salaries for psychologist roles vary widely as they are based on someone’s chosen career path, geographical location, areas of special expertise or certifications, and level of education, according to Rogers. “There’s so many factors in psychology—that’s why psychology is gray, because humans are gray, right?” she says. “Humans are not zeros and ones, we’re not binary coding, we’re not on or off. Humans are gray and complex. So yes, it just depends.” 

Fortune spoke with Yas D. Hardaway, executive director of career services at Pepperdine University, to learn about the areas of psychology that have the highest earning potential, which careers are of interest to 2022 graduates, and what’s next for the psychology industry.  

What psychologists earn working in the behavioral field

One of the most popular career paths for people with a master’s degree in psychology is the field of behavioral psychology. The majority of students who are on the clinical track end up pursuing a fairly straightforward path, according to Hardaway. Lucky for these students, employment of marriage and family therapists, a common clinical concentration, is projected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. 

Other clinical paths include professional clinical counselors, clinical social workers, and educational psychologists. These occupations pay salaries averaging about $50,000 to $60,000, according to Payscale, with the potential to earn more depending on where and how you practice, as well as further education. 

Some graduates with a master’s degree in psychology will consider pursuing a doctorate. “That’s a higher earning potential,” says Hardaway. She offers the following example of how a Ph.D. can open up career opportunities: “Say I’m a psychologist, I might be more likely to be hired at a research institution as a faculty, whereas a licensed therapist, they might only be hired as an adjunct.”

An advanced degree can also offer a level of prestige for those people who are practicing in a clinical setting or private practice and who are trying to attract clientele.

Of course, there are many other ways that a master’s degree in psychology is an asset even in non–psychology-related jobs, which is why the salary band for this degree is so wide. Students in the online master’s degree program in the 2020–21 class at Pepperdine University reported postgraduation salaries ranging from $30,000 to $200,000—and they landed a variety of jobs, including those directly related to psychology (counselors and behavioral therapists) to roles working in the corporate sector. 

The highest-paying psychology jobs on the market

While clinical counseling and other psychologists are among the highest-paying jobs for grads of a master’s degree program in psychology, there’s possibly an even higher paying career path: industrial organizational (IO) psychology. These psychologists focus on the intersection of business and psychology, and apply psychological principles and research methods to improve the overall work environment, including performance, communication, professional satisfaction, and safety, according to the American Psychological Association

“They look at the behavior of people within organizations,” Hardaway says. “IO psychologists will most likely fall under the umbrella of learning and development in human resources.” 

Industrial organizational psychology roles often work on issues such as employee retention, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, and workplace safety. And these jobs clearly pay well, regardless of location. The national median salary for industrial psychologists is $113,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The pandemic and recent move to a more remote workforce is contributing to a changing, yet exciting, time for people pursuing psychology careers. And recent graduates of top-ranked psychology programs are pursuing some new types of careers, as Hardaway told Fortune. 

“I’m seeing increasing interest in the intersection of technology and mental health because of apps like Calm and Talkspace,” she says. “I also would say there’s an increase in students who are interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion, or belonging, and perhaps providing consulting or training on inclusivity in the workplace.” 

In 2022, organizations have a bigger focus than ever on the mental health of their employees, which has led to an increase in a need for stress-reduction training. “There are more resources in organizations going towards supporting the mental health and well-being of employees,” says Hardaway. 

According to Hardaway, meditation is another area that students have shown interest in. “I’ve seen an increase in mindfulness and more holistic practices, because they’re being seen as valuable, accepted, and encouraged within the corporate sector. And so, our psychology students are seeing other spaces outside of the traditional community of mental health where they can apply their knowledge and training.”

In addition to some new career areas of interest, students today are also facing new methods of working in psychology. “Today’s world of work promotes freelance independent contractors. Because of that, today’s employees are more likely to have hybrid careers,” says Hardaway.

Instead of working at one organization, graduates are choosing to cobble together work in all different areas simultaneously. This might include working in community mental health; having a private practice a couple of days a week; teaching as an adjunct at a university; and consulting for organizations around well-being and stress reduction. It’s not uncommon for today’s mental health employees to have their hands in different areas of work.

It’s also not uncommon for recent or soon-to-be graduates to be interested in telehealth or providing therapy remotely. “What I’m hearing is that a lot of students like having the flexibility. Of course, there are still students that prefer to be in person, and there are some organizations or clientele that may require it,” says Hardaway.

“But many people are feeling more confident in their ability to provide a high level of service online, which I don’t think was necessarily the sentiment in the past,” says Hardaway. “I think we’ve just realized that both those realities exist.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s in psychology programs, public health programsbusiness analytics programsdata science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.