What Are the Different Types of Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree Programs?

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  • Written By: Kenneth W. Michael Wills
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2019
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Industrial-organizational psychology degree programs typically are offered in two different orientations: practitioner-oriented and scientific-practitioner. The practitioner-oriented type of degree is usually a terminal master’s degree that prepares students to work as an industrial-organizational psychologist, while a scientific-practitioner model at the level prepares students to continue study at the doctorate level. At the doctorate level of study, students can almost always expect the rigors of the scientific-practitioner model. Within the field of industrial-organizational psychology, the difference in the type of degree qualification usually determines the type of career the professional will have. Those graduating with the terminal master’s degree will usually work for a company applying their qualifications to human resources and management issues, while those continuing on to the doctorate level usually end up working in academics or conducting research.


Students considering industrial-organizational psychology degree programs upon completion of a bachelor’s degree need to first understand what type of career they want. Working as an applied industrial-organizational psychologist often means working closely with human resource departments and managers on key issues related to employee or organizational performance. As such, a terminal degree at the master’s level is usually practitioner-oriented, and the student will focus studies on key theoretical areas of industrial-organizational psychology as applied in an organizational environment. Research training is often included; however, the training is rarely broad in scope at this level, often only consisting of one or two research courses. Graduates therefore are qualified as applied organizational psychologists upon graduation and often do not consider further study at the doctorate level.

Candidates that enter study into industrial-organizational psychology degree programs at the master’s level, which are not terminal in nature, but instead offer students a good balance between research and applied theory, are usually prepared to continue study at the doctorate level. While these students may also enter the workforce upon graduation, they are not prepared to take on research jobs, but also will not have all the theoretical knowledge usually required to take on some applied positions. Never-the-less, while prepared to study at the doctorates level, some students may take junior positions in the field and work their way into a psychologist or research assistant position with experience. Most often, however, these students will continue study for a PhD in the field of study.

Graduate study in industrial-organizational psychology at the PhD level is heavily grounded in research theory and application, including statistical methods and analysis. Preparation for leading research projects both in organizations as well as academic settings is the primary focus. Completion of PhD requirements will also give candidates the required qualifications to teach within or lead industrial-organizational psychology degree programs, which are often limited to the graduate level as undergraduate study usually focuses on general psychology.


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