Earning a Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Online

Industrial-organizational psychologists use evidence-based methods to improve productivity in government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. They also work in academic settings as instructors, researchers, and curriculum designers. Since a psychology degree enables candidates to pursue diverse and lucrative jobs, students increasingly flock to this field of study. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, enrollment in graduate psychology programs grew by approximately 1,600 between 2013 and 2015. This guide provides prospective students with the necessary information to find online master's in industrial-organizational psychology programs that match their academic interests and professional goals. Distance learners also explore degree structures, course offerings, cost breakdowns, and career resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Due to the advanced curriculum embedded in online industrial-organizational psychology master's programs, students usually hold undergraduate credentials in psychology or a related field. Options include business administration, sociology, and human resources. On top of advanced coursework and extensive research practice, graduate academics offer specialized training that especially benefits working professionals seeking career advancement. In lieu of a master's degree, some professionals opt for post-baccalaureate certification. While certification generally takes less time, it also provides a smaller skill set than an advanced degree.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Pursuing Specialization

By enrolling in industrial-organizational psychology master's programs, online students build on core psychology concepts like lifespan development, social motivation, and personality theory. They explore additional topics in specializations like social psychology, which examines how humans think, communicate, and relate to each other in group settings. Psychology majors can also take on specializations in subfields like engineering psychology, sport psychology, and experimental/research psychology. Alternatively, they can focus their studies on advanced business skills, pursuing specializations in operations management, healthcare management, and finance.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A graduate education allows professionals to access more job opportunities and higher pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master's degree holders earn $12,000 more in average annual salary than individuals who possess undergraduate degrees. Professionals with graduate credentials also enjoy a lower employment rate. Furthermore, online master's in industrial-organizational psychology programs train students in leadership and motivational skills crucial to future program directors, departmental managers, and training consultants.

Online Learning Technology

Due to the interactive nature of online learning, distance learners become skilled communicators who can cogently present information and persuade diverse audiences. Regardless of a student's program structure, virtual technology, like Desire2Learn and Moodle, fuels online education. Graduate psychology students learn to aggregate information and create data models using computer programs. They also develop technical skills related to research design, implementation, and evaluation.

Prerequisites for Online Industrial-Organizational Psychology Programs

Criteria for industrial-organizational psychology master's online programs vary depending on the school's enrollment goals. Students can generally expect admissions requirements like academic performance, standardized test scores, and professional recommendations.

  • Work Experience: Since online graduate programs often function as degree-completion paths, they require applicants to possess at least two years of relevant work experience. Prospective students display professional achievements in their resumes and CVs. Even if a program does not require students to work in the psychology field, students can turn job experience into transfer credits.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Colleges and universities increasingly eschew standardized testing, seeing it as an inaccurate reflection of a student's academic and professional potential. However, many online master's in industrial-organizational psychology programs still ask applicants to submit GRE scores. Minimums vary and distance learners should confirm requirements with their prospective schools' academic advisers. Certain institutions only require GRE results if a student's GPA falls below a designated threshold.
  • Coursework: Graduate academics build on the concepts and skills students developed in their undergraduate programs. To this end, schools typically require master's degree seekers to complete prerequisite coursework in topics like general psychology, abnormal psychology, and applied statistics. Applicants should also possess a working understanding of research theories and practices. Students who do not display the necessary prerequisites may need to complete a bridge program, either through their school or a partnering institution, before taking graduate psychology classes.
  • Recommendations: Prospective students should prepare 2-3 recommendation letters. These testimonies usually come from employers, mentors, and other professionals who can positively attest to a candidate's academic achievement, job performance, or personal characteristics. Some schools ask for sealed letters, while other institutions prefer to contact recommenders directly. In either case, students should give their sources enough time to craft detailed recommendations.
  • Essays: Also known as the personal statement, this one to two-page document enables candidates to elaborate on the accomplishments noted in their resumes or CVs. The essay also allows students to detail life challenges, personality traits, and otherwise individualize themselves from the applicant pool. Some colleges provide an open-ended prompt, while other schools require students to answer short essay questions.
  • Interviews: Like the personal essay, interviews allow graduate students to explain their academic history, professional accomplishments, and general worldview. These meetings also let colleges and universities assess whether or not a student will effectively contribute to the program cohort through classroom discourse and collaborative projects. Interviews are ubiquitous parts of fellowship and scholarship applications.
  • International Students: In addition to the conventional admissions processes, international candidates take steps to obtain their F1 Student Visa. Additionally, they should find financial support outside of government funding, since noncitizens cannot use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Depending on their country, international students must submit IELTS or TOEFL scores to demonstrate English language proficiency.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for professionals who hold online master's in industrial-organizational psychology degrees is $63,000; however, salary potential varies by employer, geographic location, and individual qualifications. This section explores potential careers for students in this field, with profile information for occupational growth, average salaries, and general responsibilities. In addition to traditional industrial-organizational psychology jobs in business settings, graduate students can translate their knowledge and skills as educators and researchers.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Graduates

Career Stats Description

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Median Pay: $87,100

Job Growth: 18%

These professionals use psychological theories and methods to bolster group productivity and individual contentment in the workplace. Industrial-organizational psychologists conduct research and apply the findings to affect employee morale and work ethic. They also help company leaders search for, hire, and train employees.

Ideal for: Psychologists who possess advanced analytical and communication skills.

Human Resources Director

Median Pay: $86,413

Job Growth: 9%

As administrative leaders, human resources directors oversee their organization's budget, project planning, and employee coordination. On top of staff recruitment and evaluation, these professionals develop and implement individual training and team building programs. HR directors also manage employee benefits and resolve disputes.

Ideal for: Experienced business professionals with exceptional operations and financial management skills.

Senior Consultant

Median Pay: $87,205

Job Growth: 14%

Also known as management analysts, these professionals work with an organization's leadership to bolster revenue by improving employee functions and reducing costs. Senior consultants generally work on a contractual basis. After analyzing a company's data sets and interviewing its staff, consultants recommend new procedures and systems.

Ideal for: Psychologists with specialized problem-solving skills who want to pursue certification from the Institute of Management Consultants USA.

Training and Development Director

Median Pay: $94,774

Job Growth: 10%

Working with HR specialists and management consultants, training and development directors create and coordinate training programs. They assess employee performance and needs to concretize learning outcomes and select the appropriate training materials and methods. These professionals also evaluate program effectiveness to improve future initiatives.

Ideal for: Experienced business professionals who possess exceptional instructional skills and pedagogical knowledge.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Graduates

Career Stats Description

College or University Professor

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

In addition to classroom instruction, postsecondary teachers help students find internships and fellowships, conduct research, and apply for project funding. College and university professors also pursue their own academic interests, developing research projects and seeking publication. Depending on their position in the psychology department, these educators also help update curricula and recruit students.

Ideal for: Research-oriented psychologists with a master's or, preferably, doctoral degree.

Entrepreneur/Small Business Owner

Median Pay: $98,000

Job Growth: N/A

With graduate credentials, students can develop their own product or provide an in-demand service. Depending on their career interests, self-employment actually suits business professionals. The BLS reports that over 21% of management consultants occupy freelance positions, seeking short-term roles through self-negotiated contracts and third-party organizations.

Ideal for: Professionals with keen knowledge of their industry and the financial resources to start their own enterprise.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

With a focus on adolescent development, industrial-organizational psychologists can occupy counseling positions in K-12 and postsecondary schools. School counselors help students identify and treat behavioral problems. They also assist students with social and academic development. Some school counselors act as career guides, helping individuals explore and pursue professional goals.

Ideal for: Professionals with classroom experience and, depending on the state, certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Survey Researcher

Median Pay: $54,270

Job Growth: 2%

Survey researchers work for government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit associations. They design, develop, and conduct surveys to understand people's beliefs and preferences. In an organizational setting, these researchers evaluate employee opinions to improve functionality. They also create marketing surveys to discern consumer reaction to a product or service.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented professionals who possess advanced analytical and interpersonal skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Students invest substantial time and financial resources to obtain their online industrial-organizational psychology master's degree. Fortunately, graduate candidates benefit from institutional awards and work-study positions. They can access low-interest loans and need-based grants through the FAFSA. Distance learners save money by enrolling in accelerated or degree-completion tracks. These intensive programs require applicants to possess ample work experience but enable them to obtain master's credentials in as few as 12 months. All students may expedite program completion by earning transfer credits through prior learning assessment methods.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Beyond affordable tuition rates, institutional funds, and government awards, distance learners can pay for their graduate credentials with scholarships and grants garnered from businesses and professional organizations. This section contains five such opportunities.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Industrial-Organizational Psychology Program

Degree plans for online master's in industrial-organizational psychology programs comprise at least 30 credits, which students typically complete in two years. Most colleges and universities facilitate asynchronous classes through platforms like Moodle and Canvas. Students pace their coursework individually, taking as few or as many courses as they want each semester; however, some schools operate a cohort learning structure, where students take 1-2 classes at a time, advancing through the program at the same rate as their peers.

Major Milestones

  1. Practicum Experience

    Fellowships, internships, field research, and other practicums facilitated through university partners enable students to gain invaluable hands-on training. Depending on the school and the student's job, they can complete this requirement with their current employer.

  2. Capstone Requirement

    At the graduate level, this culminating experience typically comes in the form of either thesis composition and defense or project development and implementation. Both options require students to engage in extensive research under the guidance of a faculty adviser and/or industry sponsor.

  3. Comprehensive Exam

    By passing comprehensive examination, degree candidates demonstrate they understand and can apply key psychology theories and skills. Exams contain written and/or oral components. Online students take these tests through a school-approved proctor.

  4. Optional Certification

    Unless they plan to occupy clinical or counseling roles, industrial-organizational psychologists do not require additional credentials; however, optional certification allows professionals to display expertise in particular fields and industries. This guide covers certification and licensure in a subsequent section.

  5. Clinical Licensure

    For professionals who want to work in hospitals, physicians offices, and other clinical settings, earning a state-specific license represents the next step. Depending on their resident state, candidates may need to complete additional internships and ethics training.

  6. Continuing Education

    Regardless of their individual careers, all psychologists pursue continuing education to keep up with research, practice, and professional opportunities in the field. Certificate or license holders usually need to earn continuing education credits to maintain these credentials.


Degree candidates can expect required coursework in areas such as organizational behavior, research design and methods, and leadership development. Through electives and specializations, students engage with advanced theories and practices. This section details five popular classes in this field.

Applied Social Psychology

In this required class, students examine how the presence of other people influences an individual's thoughts and behaviors. They apply advanced social psychology theories to workplace scenarios, identifying potential interpersonal and intergroup challenges and fostering communication among professionals.

Research Design and Methods

Another perfunctory topic, this class helps students understand, analyze, and design graduate-level research projects. Students learn to integrate theory into research processes aimed at aligning components and outcomes. Additional topics comprise quantitative analysis, mixed methods research techniques, and data collection.

Training and Development

This course applies adult learning theories to the development of workplace training programs. Students identify employee needs and promote skill transfer in diverse settings. They also learn to assess the effectiveness of training programs.

Workplace Personnel Psychology

This class trains students to apply psychological concepts to aid human resources activities, including employee selection and placement. Students develop the ability to assess job performance concerning legal and ethical standards. The course also delves into job design.

Behavior and Attitude Change Theories

This is a crucial class for business managers and directors who want to identify and influence staff attitude and productivity. Topics include implicit versus explicit attitudes, selective exposure, biased processing, and resistance processes.

Licenses and Certifications

Clinical and counseling psychologists typically go on to earn a doctoral degree and state license. School psychologists also require additional training. Other jobs in industrial-organizational psychology, particularly positions with private companies, do not require specialty credentials. To occupy high-ranking roles like project manager and program director, professionals must cultivate at least five years of relevant work experience with demonstrable accomplishments. They should also consider specialized certification programs, like the options detailed below.

  • Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology Board Certification: This speciality credential requires candidates to hold doctoral degrees. Candidates demonstrate competency through three areas, including academic coursework, postdoctoral experience, post-licensure experience, and continuing education. Additionally, they submit practice samples and pass an oral exam.
  • Professional Researcher Certification: This certification from the Insights Association allows professionals in any field to demonstrate research prowess. To take the exam, candidates must possess at least 12 relevant education hours earned within the last two years. Insights members pay $350, while nonmembers pay $450.
  • SHRM Certified Professional: The Society for Human Resource Management offers this credential to professionals who hold a graduate degree and at least one year of HR experience. The computer-based exam spans four hours and contains 160 questions, divided into knowledge and situational judgement items. Organizational members pay $300 and nonmembers pay $400.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Online master's in industrial-organizational psychology programs help learners cultivate the specialized knowledge, research skills, and professional relationships necessary for career entry and advancement. Graduate students can further empower themselves by engaging with professional organizations. Membership often comes with an annual fee but grants professionals access to project grants, travel funds, and achievement awards. Members gain the support of their peers, collaborating with each other through online forums and national conferences. Professional organizations also facilitate skill development programs, like the Leading Edge Consortium sponsored by the SIOP.

  • American Psychology Association: APA is the largest professional psychology organization in the world, supporting more than 115,700 members. Students benefit from in-depth academic guidance, including information on undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs. APA also offers a job center and continuing education opportunities.
  • Association for Psychology Science: Founded in 1988, APS supports students, educators, and practitioners across all psychological disciplines. Members access international conventions and a vast employment network. APS also publishes research and best practice guides through its six academic journals.
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society: A multidisciplinary organization, HFES promotes education, research, and application in workplace efficiency and human improvement. Members connect through webinars, social meetings, and annual conferences. HFES also delivers a career center that enables job seekers to post resumes and explore listings.
  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology: As the preeminent professional organization for I-O psychology, SIOP helps students find accredited graduate programs. Learners can also explore career paths and find internships and fellowships. Furthermore, SIOP funds research grants and achievement awards.
  • Society of Psychologists in Management: SPIM supports certified psychologists who occupy business leadership roles like managers, consultants, and executives. Members share knowledge and experiences through journals and conventions. SPIM also offers career guidance, job listings, and research funding.
  • American Board of Professional Psychology: Connected to the APA, ABPP oversees the examination and certification of specialty psychologists. Professionals may earn advanced credentials in 15 subfields, including organizational and business consulting, group psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, and psychoanalysis.
  • Association for Talent Development: In addition to training leading to certification, ATD provides live and self-paced online continuing education classes. The association operates a large job bank and sponsors meetings and conferences all over the world. Students can use ATD's degree database to find suitable academic programs.
  • Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers: APPIC supports psychology students and recent graduates as they pursue internships and postdoctoral positions. In addition to accessing online job listings, learners can seek the help of professional mentors and participate in skill-training summits. APPIC also provides guidance on topics like early career development, student immigration processes, and multicultural training.
  • Psi Chi: Established in 1929, Psi Chi is the international psychology honor society, supporting students through scholarships and grants. Students connect through campus meetings, joint research opportunities, and national conventions. Psi Chi also guide students through important milestones, including applying for graduate school and completing master's thesis projects.
  • Society for Human Resource Management: On top of two certificate programs, SHRM offers webinars, onsite training, and senior leadership programs. Professionals gain insight on employment law, workplace immigration, and talent acquisition. They can also find job openings through the SHRM website.