An MBA vs. a Master’s in Psychology

MBA vs Master's in PsychologyPsychologists have had a profound impact on businesses, shaping the way we think about issues ranging from group dynamics to motivation and employee behavior.

However, there are multiple paths to working in business psychology, and the best option for you will depend on the exact roles you want to fill. For example, do you see yourself as a psychology consultant working with business leaders, or a manager who wants to learn motivational strategies for your employees?

Another important factor to note is that the field of industrial/organizational psychology is dedicated to applying psychological principles in business settings, and graduate psychology programs, including Lynn’s, often offer this as a track or focus area. For this article, we’ll examine two potential routes to developing expertise in business psychology and how they differ in terms of time required, career outcomes and advancement opportunities—by exploring the program structure and outcomes for an MBA vs. a master’s in psychology.

MBA in Psychology Programs

PayScale data indicates that an MBA in Psychology degree is an uncommon education path, with only 14 people with this degree reporting, compared to the more than 700 who contributed to PayScale’s data for an M.S. in Psychology.

The more common options for combining an MBA with psychology graduate education are in the form of dual degree programs. These options represent a considerable time commitment, with many joint degree offerings taking approximately five years to complete. However, this approach can be beneficial for those interested in business leadership and who still want the same depth of psychology knowledge that is covered in an M.S. in Psychology program.

MBA programs may cover some foundational psychology concepts, but they will be more focused on expanding students’ knowledge of different business functions, such as marketing, finance and accounting. Coursework related to psychology is likely to be tailored for managing teams, or the psychology of consumer behavior for marketing.

MBA in Psychology Career Outcomes

There are some common areas where the disciplines of business and psychology intersect, such as in the human resources or marketing. Managers also benefit from an understanding of psychology principles, which they can use to help motivate and inspire their teams.

Because of the general business knowledge covered in an MBA program, graduates of these programs will also be prepared for other roles that may not necessarily be tied directly to their psychology specialization, such as project management.

M.S. in Psychology Programs

Master of Science in Psychology programs typically offer more rigorous curriculum with research methods, statistics and more comprehensive knowledge of psychological theories and principles when compared to an MBA. Some common M.S. in Psychology specializations, such as industrial/organizational psychology, include business courses.

While there will be some overlap in programs like these and MBA programs, an M.S. in Psychology degree will focus more specifically on psychological principles, theories and research. In our industrial/organizational psychology concentration, for example, students take courses in human resources, management and leadership in addition to the core psychology curriculum. This approach enables graduates to better understand how psychology expertise can be applied to manage organizations and influence business HR policies.

For example, the relationship between employee performance and reward structures in organizations has been a heavily researched topic, and it’s an area that still yields new findings about what motivates us at work. One study from 2018 found that while extrinsic factors like compensation played an important role, other factors such as the ability to learn new skills and career growth also had a strong correlation with performance.

Professionals with a background in industrial/organizational psychology have opportunities to conduct studies like this one, or step into roles like HR, where they’ll be the ones implementing policies based on I/O psychology research.

M.S. in Psychology Career Outcomes

M.S. in Psychology graduates have opportunities to work in a variety of business, non-profit and clinical settings. Some of the common career paths for professionals with an Master of Science in Psychology include:

  • Behavior Analyst
  • Executive Director
  • Program Manager, Non-Profit
  • Clinical Director
  • Human Resources (HR) Manager

Related content: Careers with an M.S. in Psychology

I/O psychologists may enter management roles themselves or work with management and executives to implement employee onboarding and training programs. They can also assist with marketing, human resources, and with creating company-wide policies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following disciplines have the highest levels of employment for I/O psychologists:

  • Scientific research and development services
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools
  • State government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Management of companies and enterprises

How organizational psychologists shape businesses

Many psychologists have helped to shape the way we think about business issues that range from group dynamics to motivation and behavior. Anita Wooley, who developed the concept of “collective intelligence,” referring to the idea that team-wide intelligence grows as a result of working together earned her master’s in psychology in 2001. She has since published research exploring how different factors affect team performance in business— such as the impact of team thinking on creativity.

In addition to academic work, organizational psychologists often work as consultants and help organizations solve challenges. For example, Gary Nomie developed the largest survey on workplace bullying and founded the Workplace Bullying Institute, which offers training services for businesses to reduce bullying, and provides informational resources for affected employees.

Evolving challenges in I/O Psychology

There are countless other challenges that M.S. in psychology graduates could play a role in solving, ranging from generally motivating employees to addressing cultural differences in increasingly global workplaces. The field of I/O psychology as a whole will also be impacted by newer trends such as increased globalization, the adoption of artificial intelligence and developing ways of training and retaining new generations of employees. Modern I/O psychologists will be similarly challenged to develop policies and practices that balance the needs of employees with those of the modern workplace.

The Online Master of Science in Psychology at Lynn University

Lynn University offers an entirely online M.S. in Psychology program that can be completed in as little as one year. With general and industrial/organizational psychology tracks available, students can tailor their degree according to their goals and without putting their careers on hold.

The passionate researchers and educators who comprise our master’s in psychology faculty are eager to share their real-world experience in professional, individual and clinical settings with their students.

Our award-winning iPad initiative and commitment to providing an affordable, accessible education ensures our graduates benefit from a balance of intellectual flexibility and the ability to gain practical knowledge.

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