Why I chose to get my master’s degree in psychology online

BY Sydney LakeJune 03, 2022, 4:03 PM
A student rides a bicycle past the bell tower on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., as seen in October 2012. (Photographer: Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

After graduating from Goshen College in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in business and economics, Clara Swald went on to pursue a career in customer service. While she says she got a great education from Goshen, “I think I chose the wrong program for me,” she tells Fortune. 

Swald worked for nearly two decades in customer service and sales jobs, eventually landing at Harman International, a branch of Samsung. But when the company started closing plants in Elkhart County, Ind., where Swald was working, she reevaluated her career plans and explored graduate degree programs. 

Because Swald studied business and economics as an undergrad, she was looking for something different from an MBA so that she could develop new marketable skills. Then she landed on psychology. 

Swald graduated from Purdue University’s online master’s in psychology program with a concentration in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology in 2020 and now works as a human resources generalist with the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief service organization. Fortune sat down with Swald to find out why she chose to pursue her degree online. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How a master’s in psychology led to a role in HR

Fortune: Why did you decide to pursue your master’s in psychology online as opposed to in-person?

Swald: When I started searching, I found Indiana University. They had a I/O psychology program, but it wasn’t online. I was looking for it to be online was because I’m a mom of two girls; I’m a wife. And I knew that it would be hard, and I would also be working full-time. It would be hard for me to go to a building for my classes.

I don’t know if this is all women, but we tend to do a lot more, a lot of stuff all at once. So I knew that the online way would be better for me. And so that’s how I ended up at Purdue

What was your work/life/school balance like? How much time did you spend on school?

Two hours every day or more. Sometimes I wouldn’t take a lunch at work. I would be eating while studying just to get ahead—I wanted to be ahead. My goal was to complete it in a year and a half. I ended up completing it in a year and a half, which was a blessing for me because during March 2020, when everything was closing down and COVID was kicking in, I was actually diagnosed with breast cancer.

I learned a lot from that. It allowed me to push myself to graduate ahead of time. After I was done with chemo and done with all my treatments, I was able to say I’ve graduated. Now, how can I use this degree that I’ve earned? 

How did you know that you wanted to study psychology?

I knew that I wanted to work in HR. During my life, as an employee, HR was considered one of those groups of people that you are scared of. But after taking my psychology classes, I realized that HR has been there from the beginning. HR is there to help to provide solutions before things get muddled or complicated. I was hoping I could be part of the solution, not the problem. Instead of just assuming HR is there to mess things up or to reprimand you, they’re not the disciplinarian that are there to just give you a lecture.

Benefits of a master’s degree in psychology

How did the online program help you get to where you are now?

I feel like I have been empowered to speak on a lot of what’s going on in our company and the recruiting. My degree was in I/O psychology with an emphasis in human resources, and right now I’m working with some of my coworkers to create a uniform onboarding process. I know that if I didn’t go to Purdue Global, I would not have any knowledge or ideas or know where to start. 

It also has empowered me in how we do interviews. I can actually speak in interviews and say, ‘Hey, I don’t think this is something that we want to deal with right now,’ or I could say, ‘Hmm, let’s make it uniform.’ 

My supervisor asked, ‘Hey, what, what kind of training do you think we need?’ And I was like, ‘I think bias training would be a very strong thing at this time because I think everyone has biases, and we could learn a lot and it would help us with our recruiting.’ So right now we’re planning to have a bias training coming up in May, and I think that’s going to be beneficial to all members in HR. 

I know for a fact that if I did not do my degree at Purdue Global with I/O psychology and an emphasis in human resources, I would not be at this job.

What advice do you have for candidates who are looking to pursue their degree online?

The biggest thing is discipline. Every weekend you go and eat dinner with friends, go to movies—that all can wait. And I think this also applies to any other degree.

You have to try to read ahead, stay ahead of the program, look at the syllabus, plan your few months according to that syllabus. Nothing stops in your personal life. For instance, your kids still need you, your husband still needs your support and help. You still have to get your eight hours in every day at work. Discipline is important. 

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programsdata science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.