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Should You Earn a Degree in Psychology, Social Work, or Counseling?

Your interests and career aspirations can help determine which degree program is best for you.

Those who feel their work is meaningful are more content in their lives.* While meaningful work can come in many forms, one of the best ways to give your work meaning is to focus on helping people. And one of the best ways to help people while making a living is to choose a career in psychology, social work, or counseling. The question is: Which degree and career path is right for you? Making a choice begins with understanding how each degree is unique.

Differences in Focus

A psychology degree program can help you gain an understanding of the key analytical skills, problem-solving techniques, and research methods used by psychology professionals. Put simply, when you choose a career in psychology, you’ll be studying human behavior and the mental processes that accompany these behaviors. Coursework for this program is designed to introduce you to a wide range of theories, approaches, and perspectives within the field and provide you with a strong understanding of the issues affecting individuals and communities in today’s increasingly diverse society. You will also be able to specialize in a number of areas.

Should You Earn a Degree in Psychology, Social Work, or Counseling?

A social work degree program can help you gain the hands-on training and the knowledge of evidence-based practices you need to provide compassionate mentoring, supervision, advocacy, and collaboration within varied populations across an array of settings. Coursework is designed to empower you to become a generalist scholar-practitioner working within the social services system to help individuals and families overcome difficult life challenges.

Counseling degrees typically start at the master’s level and allow you to specialize in a specific form of counseling (e.g., mental health; school; or marriage, couple and family). In a counseling degree program, you can gain the confidence, qualifications, and critical thinking skills needed to help clients overcome challenges. Where social work tends to provide a wide range of services within the framework of the social services system, counseling focuses more on helping individuals overcome specific problems.

Differences in What You Learn

A psychology degree will help prepare you to:

  • Understand and apply basic research methods in psychology, including research design and data analysis and interpretation.
  • Use critical and creative thinking, skeptical inquiry, and a scientific approach to solve problems related to behavior and mental processes.
  • Understand and apply psychological principles to personal, social, and organizational issues.

A social work program will help prepare you to:

  • Apply principles of advocacy toward promoting cultural understanding and positive social change in individuals, communities, and society.
  • Use evidence-based research and critical thinking skills to meet the needs of diverse clientele.
  • Apply knowledge and skills in the areas of engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

A counseling degree will help prepare you to:

  • Analyze cultural development theories and models.
  • Apply evidence-based counseling practices for prevention and intervention.
  • Select facilitation strategies that are culturally and ethically relevant.
  • Earn the license appropriate to your specialty.

Differences in Career Options (with varying degree requirements)

Common careers for those with psychology degrees include:

  • Researcher
  • Jury consultant
  • Victim advocate
  • Professor of psychology
  • Psychologist
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Human resources professional
  • Marketing researcher
  • Organizational consultant
  • Industrial and organizational psychology practitioner

Common social work careers include:

  • Case worker
  • Case manager
  • School social worker
  • Licensed clinical social worker
  • Social service assistant
  • Medical social worker
  • Clinical social worker

Common counseling jobs include:

  • Mental health clinician
  • Clinical manager
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Licensed professional counselor
  • Clinical supervisor
  • Mental health therapist
  • School counselor
  • Academic counselor
  • Marriage and family counselor

How Online Education Can Help You Earn the Right Degree for You

Whether you think a career in psychology, social work, or counseling is right for you, online learning can help you gain the education you need. That’s because attending an online university gives you a number of advantages you can’t find at a campus-based college.

Online degree programs are designed to allow you to complete coursework from home on a schedule that works for you. This means you can continue to work full time while earning your degree. Common online degrees in these fields include:

BS in Psychology, MS in Psychology, PhD in Psychology

Social Work
Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, PhD in Social Work or Doctor of Social Work

MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

A career helping people can help you lead a more meaningful life. Start the right career for you by earning a degree online.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Psychology, a Bachelor of Social Work, an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and an MS in School Counseling degree online, along with other degree programs in psychology, social work, and counseling. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*K. Weir, American Psychological Association, More Than Job Satisfaction, on the internet at

†Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.

‡The MS in School Counseling program is offered by Walden University, an institution accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which is a requirement to practice as a school counselor in some states. The MS in School Counseling program meets the standards for school counseling licensure or certification and is a state-approved program in Minnesota and Ohio. The MS in School Counseling program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which also may be a requirement to become licensed or certified as a school counselor in some states. In addition, some states require school counselors to have an existing teaching license or certification, and teaching experience, in order to be eligible for a school counseling certification/license.

Further, many states require school counseling programs to be approved in at least one state, either their own or another state. The MS in School Counseling program is approved by the states of Minnesota and Ohio, and while this approval is accepted by the majority of states that require state approval, it may not be accepted by all states.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,