When Marjorie Ramos, a working psychologist, decided to continue her studies with a master’s degree, she knew she’d need to juggle several things successfully to reach her goal. A mother of two children, ages 6 and 8, Ramos lives in Colombia—and her family moves a lot because her husband is in the Colombian military.
How do students in an online master’s degree program in psychology manage their time?BY Nicole Gull McElroyJune 01, 2022, 3:11 PM
Ramos’ lifestyle demands flexibility even without going back to school, so an online program seemed to make the most sense for her. Plus, she could broaden the geographic scope of her search, considering programs as far-flung as Spain and the U.S. In the end, given her budget and educational objectives, Ramos landed on the online master’s degree program in psychology at Purdue University Global.
“I was looking to take two classes per term,” says Ramos. “But then COVID hit and my children weren’t in school. I had to take care of them longer than I’d thought and could only do one course per term. But that’s what I like about the online option. People taking their master’s online are busy people.”
Many online programs are specifically designed to increase access to higher education for working adults just like Ramos, according to Robert deMayo, associate dean for the psychology division at Pepperdine University. “We find it’s particularly attractive to working adults who need the flexibility of an online environment.”
Pepperdine’s online program is a blend of synchronous and asynchronous work that draws students from across the country, and can take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 years to complete, depending on a student’s concentration and any related state-mandated licensing requirements. “For students who are good at time management and pacing, these programs are an excellent fit,” deMayo says.
Here’s what applicants need to know about managing their time in an online master’s degree program in psychology.
Online master’s degree programs require organization
Ramos enrolled in Purdue’s psychology program in 2019, and she will graduate this Spring. Having served in the Colombian military, Ramos aims to use her degree to work with first responders, a topic she’s also chosen to research for her thesis project. Overall, she estimates that she spends roughly 10 to 15 hours per week on school, maybe a little more given that her first language isn’t English.
Ramos found she needed to break her day into blocks to study, to attend class, to be with her children, to take care of her home and family, and to complete projects or do research. Doing so allowed her to stay on top of all aspects of her life while in school.
“Instead of traveling to and from school I used the extra time to study,” she says. “I wake up early in the morning before my children and then I study again when they go to sleep at night.”
Campus resources for grad students
Some online master’s degree programs in psychology offer students extra guidance on balancing school, work, and life. Arizona State University has an initiative called Success Coach which helps students manage the demands of a busy course load, stress levels, and a career—along with any other time-related demands, according to Casey Ambrose, executive director of marketing operations at Arizona State. This is part of the school’s academic support team to help students navigate their time at ASU in a productive and healthy way.
The school also leverages platforms like Slack to simplify communication between faculty and students. It helps keep dialogue open and efficient between class time and office hours for students and professors, as well as another way to reach advisors, peers and coaches.
Budgeting time for other activities outside the classroom
While synchronous and asynchronous work factor into any online master’s in psychology, there are certain programs that require in person, real time attention and effort. The addiction track at Purdue Global, for instance, requires both in person and online work, while at Pepperdine the master’s in clinical psychology also requires some supervised fieldwork that is generally done in person.
Ramos, for instance, has focused her degree on addiction at Purdue and struggled a bit sorting out her practicum work given travel restrictions throughout the pandemic. She was meant to complete this work in the U.S., but when borders were closed that became impossible. So Purdue worked with her to locate an organization in Washington D.C. that would allow her to do her residency online. “It was a great experience,” she says.
In addition to working with patients, some schools also offer extracurriculars that might add more time into the work/school/life balance. At Pepperdine, students with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.7 and at least nine units of graduate courses completed, can apply to Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology. It offers fellowships and special programs for its members, even holding annual conferences regionally and nationally for students to network and grow their tie to the profession and its practice.