Which Psychology Courses Do Graduate Programs Require?

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Are you a psychology major with plans to go to graduate school? If a grad degree in psychology is in your future, then now is the time to start thinking about the courses you need to take. Most programs have certain requirements and prerequisites that must be met before a student can begin a graduate degree in psychology.

Which Undergraduate Psychology Courses Do You Need?

If you're planning to study psychology at the graduate level, it is important to select undergraduate courses that will prepare you for further study in psychology.

An article published in the journal American Psychologist (1996) looked at graduate admission requirements provided by 2,023 graduate psychology programs in both the United States and Canada. The results describe the prerequisite courses most often required by psychology graduate programs.

Top 5 Required Courses

1. Statistics 

Over 85% of school's surveyed require or prefer that applicants have taken at least one course in statistics.Having a solid background in statistics will allow you to make better sense of the research you will encounter in graduate school. In many cases, you will even be conducting your own research, so being able to understand and perform statistical analysis is essential for success in a graduate program.

2. Experimental Methods/Research Design

More that 65% of programs surveyed require or prefer at least one or more courses in experimental methods and research design.

The amount of research you will be doing in graduate school depends a great deal on the type of program in which you enroll. Ph.D. programs tend to focus more on research, while Psy.D. programs concentrate more on professional practice. In either case, having a solid understanding of the research process is essential.

3. Abnormal Psychology 

Abnormal psychology courses are required or preferred by over 30% of graduate programs. Even if you do not plan to work in mental health, understanding abnormal behaviors, psychological disorders and treatment options can provide a richer perspective on human psychology.

4. Developmental Psychology/Child Development

Developmental psychology or child development courses are required or preferred by over 35% of graduate programs. Such courses can help prepare students for careers as clinical psychologists, school psychologists and other areas, as well as providing a deeper look into how children develop and how people grow over the course of a lifetime.

5. Personality Psychology 

Courses in personality psychology are required or preferred by over 25% of graduate programs. Such classes explore topics such as theories of personality and the many influences that impact personality development.

Other Important Courses

Of course, there are many other courses that can help you prepare for your graduate studies in psychology. The following are just a few of the classes that you might want to consider taking.

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • History of Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Psychological Testing and Measurement
  • Psychology of Learning
  • Sensation and Perception
  • Physiological Psychology

The courses above offer a glimpse of which classes you should take as an undergraduate student. If you are preparing for graduate school, be sure to check the specific admission requirements of your chosen school. In addition to the appropriate coursework, most graduate programs also require applicants to take the GRE.

In addition to these core psychology courses, the (2016) recommends that students also take courses in public speaking and communications, writing, biology, math, and advanced statistics.

More Psychology Education FAQ

What Factors Should You Consider Before Choosing a Psychology Major?

What's the Difference Between a B.A. and a B.S. in Psychology?
Should You Get a Master's or Doctorate Degree in Psychology?
What Factors Should You Consider Before Going to Psychology Graduate School?
What Are Some Alternative Graduate Programs for Psychology Majors?
How Do I Choose a Psychology Graduate Program?


American Psychological Association. (1994). Graduate Study in Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Norcross, J. C., Hanych, J. M., & Terranova, R. D. (1996). Graduate Study in Psychology: 1992-1993. American Psychologist, 51, 631-643.

Norcross, J. C., Mayne, T. J., & Sayette, M. A. (2016). Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling psychology. New York: Guilford Press.

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