A master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology can get you far in the world of business.
Businesses consistently seek out experts who can help them understand the obstacles that are preventing their business from reaching its goals. As an industrial-organizational psychologist, you can devise strategies that enable businesses to improve their bottom line, improve employee morale and job satisfaction, and make the process of sustained growth much simpler.
As you no doubt already know, industrial-organizational psychology is a field in which real-life problems are solved by understanding the way that people interact with their workplace and each other.
These problems are solved using many of the techniques of scientific inquiry that are used in other fields of psychology. This being the case, master’s programs in this field delve deep into the scientific aspects and applications of psychology. Having a solid foundation in the science of psychology is paramount for students that wish to pursue a master’s degree.
But since industrial-organizational psychology principles can be applied in such a wide range of business settings, there are many other prerequisites that you should check off your list. Below, find some of the most common prerequisites you’ll need to fulfill to be admitted to an industrial-organizational psychology master’s program.
Undergraduate Course Prerequisites
According to the American Psychological Association, the primary prerequisite for acceptance to a master’s program is to first obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology. With this undergraduate degree, students are able to learn the scientific inquiry methods that will make them successful in a master’s program.
There are, however, many people who major in something other than psychology as an undergraduate but still want to study psychology as a graduate student. If you fall into this category, you might still be able to gain admission to a master’s program in I/O psychology. However, you will likely have to complete a few prerequisite courses before you’re officially admitted to the master’s program.
For example, if you have an undergraduate degree in education, you might be required to take some specific psychology courses that are typical of an undergraduate program in psychology. These might include:
- Psychological statistics – A course in statistics will help prepare you to analyze large amounts of information that can then be used to better understand data that’s collected as part of psychological experiments, or, later, as part of your job as an I/O psychologist. Typically, undergraduate programs in psychology require two semesters of statistics.
- Experimental Methods – This course is designed to teach students how to conduct field research in ways that will provide valid and reliable results. Also known as experimental psychology, this course typically involves a study of the development of psychology as a science as well.
- Developmental psychology – This course explores how humans develop from birth until death. You’ll learn about everything from physical growth to personality development to social and emotional changes that result from aging.
- Social psychology – Social psychology is the study of how an individual’s behavior is influenced by social factors. Additionally, it’s a survey on how individuals and groups interact with one another. This course will teach you about leadership, peer pressure, communication, and many other topics that are pertinent to pursuing a career in industrial-organizational psychology. For example, social psychology can be beneficial as it will shine a light on how human behavior can be influenced by social situations. This knowledge is helpful when evaluating workplace environments as the workplace is a social entity that can affect how employees feel, think, and act.
- Psychology of learning – This course focuses on how people learn, and just as importantly, the history of how psychologists have studied how people learn. You’ll explore various theories of learning and behavior, discuss psychological research (including seminal experiments on learning-related topics), and you’ll learn how to integrate an understanding of learning into studying other areas of psychology, like organizational psychology.
It might be prudent to take courses on ergonomics and human factors psychology as these are areas in which industrial-organizational psychologists often operate.
For example, industrial-organizational psychologists often work to help businesses streamline their operations. Having an understanding of ergonomics and human factors psychology might help you identify areas of the operation that can be improved by making changes to how workers interact with machines, computer software, and even one another.
It’s important to note that if you’ve already taken some psychology courses as part of your undergraduate studies, they might count towards fulfilling the prerequisites for admittance to a graduate program at another school. You’ll need to work with your academic advisor at your new school to determine if this is the case.
Whatever kind of undergraduate degree you have, it needs to be from a regionally accredited institution. Accreditation signifies that the school has met the educational and operational standards set forth by the accrediting body. When changing to a new school to pursue your master’s degree, that accreditation will be critical to your application process. While regional accreditation is preferred, national accreditation (which is often bestowed to online schools) is sometimes accepted.
In addition to the above requirements, graduate schools often ask that you meet certain other criteria from your undergraduate studies.
For example, you might be required to have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, though this number varies widely from one school to the next. You will also have to provide official transcripts from any institution at which you earned credit. So, if you went to a junior college and then transferred to a university, you would need to submit your transcripts from both schools. Additionally, if you’ve taken graduate courses at another school and would like to transfer those credits, you’ll need to provide your graduate transcripts as well.
As another example, you might be asked to submit letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors. Typically, programs will ask that you provide at least one to two recommendation letters from professors and an additional letter or two from other people, like someone for whom you worked or someone that has mentored you.
It might also be required that you submit a personal statement – a document in which you tell the admissions officer about yourself and why you’re a good fit for the program. Usually personal statements aren’t required to be that long – admissions committees don’t have time to read novels on each applicant. This being the case, your personal statement needs to pack a punch – to wow the admissions committee – so you stand out from the crowd of applicants.
In some cases, master’s programs ask to meet applicants either in person or via video chat. This gives the admissions officer or committee an opportunity to engage with you in a discussion of your academic strengths and weaknesses, goals, and to get a feel for your personality – something that is hard to do when reading a personal statement. The interaction via video chat also gives the admissions committee a chance to ask you questions, and you get the opportunity to ask them questions as well. This exchange can be enormously helpful for both sides in determining if a particular master’s program is a good fit.
Some psychology grad programs will even put you to the test, so to speak, by having you participate in scenarios to see how adept you are at solving relevant problems. So, for example, you might be presented with a common workplace issue, like conflict between management and an employee, and be asked to role-play how you would address the situation as an industrial-organizational psychologist.
Not all industrial-organizational psychology graduate programs have this in-person meeting requirement, but just be aware that you might be presented with a situation in which the admissions team can get a feel for your skillset in addressing pertinent issues.
Graduate Record Exam
Prospective students to a graduate program in psychology might also need to take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE). While not the only standardized test used by graduate programs as part of admissions criteria, the GRE is certainly the most widely used.
The GRE is a general instrument that evaluates a variety of skills that are important to success in graduate school. This includes:
- Verbal reasoning
- Quantitative reasoning
- Critical thinking
- Analytical writing
These skills are not specific to psychology – and nor is the GRE (there is a separate test for psychology). As a broad-based test, you will be asked questions that evaluate these skills in a general sense as opposed to psychology-specific scenarios.
The GRE is a computer-based test that is divided into three test sections. Each section focuses on one of the skills outlined above. So, in the analytical writing section, you are asked to submit written responses to the tasks presented to you. Your answers should be short and focused, yet address the totality of the question being asked.
The analytical writing section isn’t just intended to evaluate mastery of the English language. Instead, you must show that you can effectively articulate complex ideas, support ideas with evidence, and develop a coherent argument that is well-focused.
The verbal reasoning portion of the GRE tests your ability to understand the meaning of words, sentences, and texts. It is also an opportunity to evaluate your ability to analyze discourse, to draw conclusions, and to show the ability to reason from incomplete data.
The final section of the GRE focuses on quantitative reasoning. This section puts your ability to analyze and interpret quantitative data to the test. You’ll do so by solving mathematical problems in the realms of simple math, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
The score you need to attain on the GRE will depend on the graduate school to which you are applying. The minimum score varies, so check with program representatives to determine what qualifications they require.
Some schools have done away with the GRE requirement, so you might not have to take it. This non-GRE option is gaining popularity with more and more graduate programs in psychology (and other fields, for that matter) adopting the philosophy that there are more effective ways to evaluate a student’s potential success in the program.
For example, a graduate program in I/O psychology might rely on other prerequisites listed above – undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and perhaps relevant work experience – as sufficient materials for judging an applicant’s potential.
Psychology Subject Matter Test
A psychology subject matter test measures a prospective student’s understanding of general psychological principles. It is used as a means of gauging the depth and breadth of knowledge you have of foundational topics that will support further learning in graduate school.
The psychology test from ETS is a perfect example.
This test, which is from the same company that administers the GRE, contains around 200 multiple-choice questions. Each question is taken from core learning principles of common undergraduate psychology courses. Test questions evaluate your knowledge and skills in six realms:
- Biological psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Social psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Measurement and methodology
This test is not typically required by most graduate programs in psychology. However, it’s important to know that this could be a prerequisite so you can plan accordingly. You’ll need to register to take the test well ahead of time and ensure that your test date is far enough in advance that scores can be reported in time to your selected graduate programs.
As you prepare to apply for graduate school, be aware that individual programs have their own timelines for when application materials, such as GRE test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation, need to be received.
Generally speaking, you should have your graduate school applications in about a year in advance. Additionally, while you likely have a preferred program in mind, it’s wise for you to apply to two or three programs to ensure that you are accepted into at least one program.
Pursuing an advanced degree in I/O psychology can lead to a highly rewarding career. After all, industrial-organizational psychology is a field that has many practical applications in far-ranging industries, so your expertise can be used to effect real change in many different environments.
Of course, the first step is understanding what you need to do to get into grad school. Use this guide to get yourself started on the right path.
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Updated July 2021
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