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Online Degrees in Psychology: Pros and Cons

Updated on March 30, 2012

The US Department of Labor Statistics has crunched the numbers, and the jury is in on careers in psychology. In the midst of an improving economy and better jobs numbers, the growth in the psychologist jobs market is expected to outpace growth in other areas, and students everywhere are taking notice. More and more people are choosing to pursue a PhD in psychology, but at a time of rising college tuition and unprecedented competition for admission, many potential students just have one question: Is it worthwhile to pursue an online PhD in psychology? Unfortunately, the answer is as complicated as the question. While there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to pursuing such a strategy, in the end the answer depends on you and your situation.

Online degrees are seen by some as carrying a stigma. Someone with an online degree simply won’t measure up to a job candidate with a “real” degree from a respected school, the argument goes. Indeed, the reality is that while there are some employers who frown on degrees earned online and there are virtually no employers who favor those who took the online route, the truth is that the prejudice against online degrees is rapidly decreasing. More and more employers are coming to see online educational systems as practical and convenient alternatives—which for the most part, they are. In fact, a degree earned online can make a resume look far more formidable when it is seen as a measure of a candidate’s interest and initiative in the subject. If someone worked a full-time job and earned a degree studying by night, all the more power to them. If a college student studying behavioral science is awarded a degree from a web-based educational program, this will be seen as an additional indicator of the student’s dedication. Online degrees in any subject, including psychology, can complement other foundations of a job applicant’s education very well. In today’s job market, the most important point that can be made on the subject is that an online degree is certainly better than no degree.

This statement has one caveat; the source of the degree has to be a respectable institution. There are plenty of online schools that offer accredited courses and degrees that are universally seen as hard-won and credible. However, there are also institutions that offer watered-down, meaningless degrees for little work and a fee. These online schools, called “degree mills,” should be avoided for anyone serious about using a degree for a career. Fortunately, degree mills aren’t hard to spot because of their blatant opportunism, and if a potential student has any suspicions at all, he has only to search the US Department of Education’s database of accredited and recognized institutions.

With plenty of legitimate options for an online education available, the online degree offers students the benefits of convenience and affordability. So with an online PhD with all of these advantages within reach, the question of how it compares to a traditional PhD remains. The answer is mixed, and students should consider the option of an online PhD mainly in the context of their own financial and structural situation. Here are the most important facts for anyone weighing the decision to work for an online PhD:

·For people who are older and must balance their studies with their current career, online degrees are ideal. Online courses can be taken at any time and any place, making them convenient for people with demanding or inflexible jobs that must take priority for now.

·Online PhDs in psychology and other fields are generally cheaper than traditional PhDs, but can still be prohibitively expensive for some. Before deciding to seek an online PhD, it’s essential to be sure that your finances can enable the long-term commitment that will be needed.

·If money and time are not obstacles for you, a traditional PhD might be preferable. This is mostly a matter of prestige; traditional PhD’s are never seen as suspect or looked down on, though it’s true that PhD’s from accredited online institutions rarely are either.

·If you decide an online PhD is the way for you, be sure to do your research properly before choosing an institution. Make sure it’s accredited, and beware of the aforementioned degree mills. Job candidates have been laughed at in the past for listing degrees received from those scams.

·Know that paying and studying for an online PhD has been a very wise investment for some. There is no reason to doubt that time and effort with an accredited program will enhance your career and earning prospects. Experts are agreed: any PhD earned through honesty and hard work can bring about the benefits a traditional degree has to offer.


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    • Mark Sparks profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Sparks 

      6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      well, the traditional one is always more prestigious. People who get a degree online are always counting on employers being open-minded. I'm just curious, what kind of employers have you talked to about it?

    • mkowlowitz profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      Although extremely convenient, from my experience, I find that employers perceive an online degree as less valuable than a conventional one


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