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Grad School: Managing a Career Change to I/O Psychology

2015 June 17

Grad School Series: Applying to Graduate School in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Starting Sophomore Year: Should I get a Ph.D. or Master’s? | How to Get Research Experience
Starting Junior Year: Preparing for the GRE | Getting Recommendations
Starting Senior Year: Where to Apply | Traditional vs. Online Degrees | Personal Statements
Alternative Path: Managing a Career Change to I/O | Pursuing a PhD Post-Master’s
Interviews/Visits: Preparing for Interviews | Going to Interviews
In Graduate School: What to Expect First Year
Rankings/Listings: PhD Program Rankings | Online Programs Listing

A career in I/O psychology requires a Master’s degree or Ph.D., and most of the resources I’ve presented in my graduate school series are intended for those on the “traditional path” to graduate school.  Most PhD students these days, whether in I/O or otherwise, finish their bachelor’s degree and head straight to Master’s or Ph.D. training.

This is certainly the easiest way. As with any career, the earlier you know what you want to do with your life, the easier it is to set yourself down the path to get there. But that doesn’t mean a career change to I/O psychology is impossible. It just mean it will take a little more work.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the first decision when considering a career in I/O is whether you will enter a Master’s or Ph.D. program.  Normally, you would first consider the sort of job you might want: I/O’s with Master’s degrees tend to be the “technicians” of our field, applying I/O knowledge out in the world, whereas I/Os with Ph.D.’s tend to be the “researchers” of our field, conducting research studies within organizations to apply I/O knowledge out in the world but also to build that knowledge. Practically speaking, however, a career change into a Master’s program is substantially easier than a career change into a Ph.D. program.

The reason for this is the type of experience needed to apply for each degree. Research experience is useful for a Master’s application, but it is only necessary for a Ph.D. application. If you’re already out in industry and don’t see research experience as a realistic option for yourself, you might want to start by targeting a Master’s degree. In that path, experience as an HR professional, and preferably in strategic HR, will be most helpful to your application in lieu of research experience.

If you do want to strive for the Ph.D., you need research experience. The easiest way to get it will be to find a local college or university with psychology researchers that you can easily drive to. Use Google to search for specific people doing work you find vaguely interesting at that university, and then email and call those faculty members. Explain that you are interested in getting research experience and are willing to donate 10 to 20 hours per week of your time, preferably at home, but that you are willing to come in for meetings. This will give you the best chances of being taken on as a volunteer research assistant.  Remember that you don’t need I/O experience specifically, although this is certainly better if you can get it. Any experience as a research assistant in psychology will help your application.

One of the biggest challenges you will face is taking the GRE. If you haven’t been in school for a while, studying for the GRE will probably bring back a lot of bad memories. But it’s worth it; I/O psychologists helped design and validate the GRE, so we take it seriously. You should too. If you haven’t studied in a while – potentially years – give yourself plenty of time to prep. I recommend starting at least a year in advance.

Finally, your personal statement is critical. This is where you explain why you want to change careers. Remember that taking you on as a graduate student is a risk for your new advisor too. That person is worried that 1) you don’t really know what kind of commitment you’re getting into and 2) you heard that I/O was a high paying, fast growing field, and that’s the only reason you applied. Remember that a Master’s program will be at least a 40 hour per week commitment, and a PhD program will be 60 to 80.  You need to explain, convincingly, that you understand that and undertake the challenge knowingly and willingly. Remember that even online programs require this sort of time commitment.

Once you have all of your preparation and materials in order, the next big challenge in a career change is figuring out where to apply. My most important advice: don’t be lured into applying to a program because 1) the application requirements are easy, 2) the timeline matches yours, 3) they accept credits for “life experience,” 4) it’s cheap, or 5) it’s an online for-profit.  All of these are signals that the program is not going to lead you to a new job.  They are generally intended for people who already have a job lined up, but someone said, “for promotion, you need a higher degree.”  If you don’t already have a job lined up, don’t go into those sorts of programs.

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73 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Kim permalink
    July 19, 2015

    Dear Dr. Landers,

    I want to say thank you for all your useful information on your website. Your website has been a big help answering some of the questions I had about the I/O psychology. I admire your work and all the great advice that you have given to the others on your blog. I was hoping if you could take the time to answer a couple questions and tell me the chances of me being accepted to a PhD program.

    I really want to pursue a PhD, because while working in Korea, I have noticed many things that need to be changed about the work culture and I want to be the person to start making some changes. I believe to be even taken seriously, I would need a respectable degree. I have considered a PhD online, but I feel as though if I am going to pursue a PhD, why not do it right.

    I went to school in the United States and I received my bachelors from the University of Minnesota. My GPA was less than good. I recently finished my masters from the Adler Graduate School online program (3.9/4.0 GPA) while working full time in a Korean conglomerate in the Human Resources Development department. I recently quit my job to work at a Korean university as a career/guidance counselor counseling International MBA students. I quit to that I would have more time to prepare for the GRE and start the process for applying to PhD programs for next year.

    My concerns however are my lack of research experience, my grades from my undergraduate and the quality of my master’s degree. I do not have any research experience at all. I am currently trying to contact universities and psychology associations here in Korea for some research experience.
    I have tried to think of a number of different scenarios. I thought that perhaps I could keep my fingers crossed and apply to some PhD programs in the states and pray that I get accepted. Or try to do an expensive PhD program online (which I do not want to do, because I feel as though the cost or return is not worth it, and I know one of the major benefits of a PhD is the network that you create).

    My third option would be to apply for another online master’s program in Industrial Organizational Psychology, perhaps from a university with a better name (perhaps Colorado State University or Kansas State) and then either work in the I/O field or to apply for another PhD program. If this were to happen, I was wondering if you have ever heard of people doing research projects online.

    I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my e mail.

    Paul Kim

    • July 19, 2015

      Lack of research experience is the biggest problem you’ve got right now. Contacting local universities is a good thought, although I don’t know how common that sort of thing is in Korea. You will definitely need research experience to have a shot at any American IO PhD program. If you take that path, the IO program will most likely want you to complete a second Master’s degree, but of course, this time in IO.

      I would not go for a paid IO PhD. They just don’t have good ROIs unless you already have a job waiting for you.

      If your goal is a PhD, an online Master’s will only help you from a better program. Even then, it’s not the same. For example, at Colorado, the online Master’s degree is a “Master’s of I/O Psychology” whereas the in-person Master’s degree that students get on the path to a PhD is a “Master’s of Science”. Even if you had the MAIOP degree, you would most likely need to complete an MA/MS in a new PhD program.

      You can certainly complete research online, but there are limited opportunities. In my department at my university, for example, I am the only faculty member that has ever taken an online research assistant, and I have only taken 1 in the last 6 years (and she was a student here, with a perfect GPA). There are just fewer things you can do if you aren’t in person, so online RAs aren’t as needed – you can’t proctor studies, you can’t attend lab meetings, etc. But if you find such a position, there is still a lot you can do, like research literature reviews, statistical analyses, and so on. So it is better than nothing.

    • Swishy permalink
      May 12, 2017

      Hello! I am a student from India. I did my Bachelor’s in History. I am currently pursuing an MSW in Mental Health. I have taken courses in research methods and I’m doing some research now. Will I be eligible for a course in IO Psychology with a good score in GRE and the subject test?

    • May 15, 2017

      You are probably “eligible,” sure. Whether you have a good chance at admission at a good program is an altogether different question, and it also depends on what degree you wish to pursue. I will say that the MSW will not count as a psychology MA/MS, so you would need to complete a second Master’s degree if you wished to pursue a Ph.D.

  2. Paul Kim permalink
    July 19, 2015

    Wow! Thank you for the quick reply. I did not expect one so soon!

    Thank you for putting everything into perspective. I believe that I would have to apply to a traditional Masters program that would let me transfer a majority of my credits.

    I had another question. If I were to apply to an IO master’s program should I apply to schools that offer both a master’s and a PhD in IO psychology? Would my chances be better to enter the school’s PhD program if I were to complete their master’s program?

    Thank you for all your help and taking the time to answer my questions.

    Paul Kim

    • July 19, 2015

      I’m not sure we’re using the same terms to refer to the same things here, but credits don’t usually transfer at the Master’s level at all, so I’m not sure that’ll really help you. The bare minimum to potentially transfer anything is an empirical thesis – if you defended a Master’s thesis, there may be room for some transfer credit. But if you did an internship or final paper or “thesis equivalent,” then there is zero chance. Even then, the only courses that will transfer are usually statistics courses. In an IO PhD program, you’ll probably take somewhere between 4 and 10 stats and research methods courses, and 1 or 2 of those will be at the Master’s level – so you might be able to skip one of those.

      There are programs, like George Mason, where people in the Master’s program commonly apply to enter the PhD program, although only a fraction of them are usually accepted. But there are other programs, like mine, where the Master’s program is essentially only a temporary stop for PhD students – people apply to enter the Master’s program, but unless they already have a working relationship with a faculty member they want to work with, it is very unlikely that they’ll be accepted. So this is something that varies school by school. You would need to contact each school you were interested in, to see if their Master’s program feeds into the PhD.

  3. Paul Kim permalink
    July 19, 2015

    Thank you for all your help Dr. Landers

  4. July 20, 2015

    I would like to thank you for writing this. I currently have decided to switch from Clinical mental health counseling to I/O. I was bored with Clinical, and found the combo of Business and Psychology beyond appealing. I appreciate the help.

    I have the research experience, I believe 1 publication… I was second author to the professor who was monitoring the research, and a secondary publication, where I believe I was third? maybe fourth? (I graduated before I could finish it).

    My biggest concern is that I will have difficulty finding a job that fits my personality. I understand that job titles that employ Master’s degrees in I/O vary, and so do the responsibilities. There is no one set responsibility like counseling where you have 1 on 1 or groups, private or non-profit. It’s a bit scary in that sense.

    • July 20, 2015

      Well, there are certainly overarching job classes – the big distinction is external consulting (i.e., B2B, where you work in a consultancy helping other businesses) or internal consulting (i.e., working as an I/O within Target, 3M, etc.). They are very different sorts of positions. In an external position, for example, you need to worry about billable hours, and you can’t really dig too deeply into a single client because it’s not cost effective. In an internal consulting role, you usually have a bit more freedom. But in either role, you take advantage of the training in your specialty, e.g., selection, training and development, leadership, and teamwork are probably the most common.

      Authorship credits are fantastic. If you already have a Master’s degree with publications, those publications are your biggest selling point, so you’ll want to emphasize them in applications. Also, one of the advantages of a career switch versus going straight from undergrad is that you should have a compelling story – a how you “came to see the light” of I/O sort of tale. You just need to be careful to convey that you’re not going to see the light again, and switch out. 🙂

  5. July 20, 2015

    I appreciate the speedy response. The publications that were done in my undergrad were on the development and validation of an assessment I created. It was definitely a good experience which forced to go to many research conferences, where I typically presented. In my undergrad, I was kind of pushed into a Counseling program with the notion that if I went onto pursue my Ph.D. I would be able to do therapy a couple days of the week and research the rest. I have always had a strong interest in research; However, my GRE scores are 151/151, which prevented me from going into a doctorate program… After I graduated from my undergrad (in 2014), I immediately started working as a case manager for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness, while I attended grad school at night. I am finishing up my second summer session now, and have accumulated about 24 credits. I have realized that counseling is not really the field for me. I have started to feel that once individuals experience neurosis, and/or psychotic breaks, its hard to come back from. I’ve started to realize all of the systemic issues the world has to offer. I started looking into I/O and looking at how it impacts the work environment, increasing productivity, and changing the over-all appeal of work. Pursuing a career in I/O would basically stopping the advancement of mental illness brought on by the work environment. Not to mention, it offers the ability to research, which is definitely appealing.

    I believe that I am quite afraid of internal and external consulting because it comes off like there will not be a permanent secure job position where I can spend the next 50 years of my life, slowly building dust on my attire. I have read about every post you have done on neoacademic, and most of the posts on SIOP website and still am unsure if that type of position is in line with a masters degree in I/O. I have a tendency to overthink and postulate what if’s at times, which I may be doing now. I guess simply put, is it all consulting?

    • July 20, 2015

      I don’t think you could find a job where you can spend 50 years with secure employment even in counseling… same is true for I/O. The only job that is as secure as you are describing is tenure-track university faculty, but that definitely requires a PhD, and they’re quite difficult positions to get.

      However, I would just recommend you not worry about it. In careers where knowledge is the primary currency of success, and I/O is one such field, the more experience you gain, the more valuable you become. So as long as you get a good shot out of the gate, from a good school, and then work toward continuous learning, you are unlikely to have trouble finding employment. We are a field that still gets headhunted; people with established reputations are often poached from one company to work for another. Job security is not a thing most I/Os worry about that much (again, at least, those that attended good schools).

  6. July 20, 2015

    I appreciate the information! I am currently researching three programs in my area.

  7. August 5, 2015

    Dr. Landers,

    I have recently enrolled in an IO masters program. My parents are getting on my back partially because they have never heard of IO. Their biggest concerns are employment, and money. Since my primary support group is worried, its creating anxiety in my life. I know we’ve discussed this in the past, but since I had to transfer universities, I am taking on more student loans (an extra semester worth). I have heard stories of those who were able to pay them off relatively quickly when they get out of school. Will the career be lucrative? I know this sounds GOD awful, but will I make money? I’ve read everything and am still concerned about salaries.

    The program is excellent and it is based off of the SIOP req. I guess I am just nervous about the switch. I haven’t had much business exposure. Some would say that my clinical experience is excellent.
    Is there anything that I could prepare? Any literature you would recommend? I am not that worried about the statistics, because of my research experience (working on my third publication… boooo yaaaaaa).

    Thank Dr. Landers, I really do appreciate all the help


    • August 5, 2015

      For your parents, I’d first show them this:

      I don’t know where you’re going to school specifically or what connections they have, but as long as they have a high placement rate, then sure. Average salaries for I/Os with Master’s have been dropping a bit lately as more people with Master’s degrees are entering the workforce, but they are still usually above $55K (although this varies a lot by location – if you live in DC, New York, etc, it should be higher). I would be shocked if they got lower than that. If you want a more accurate estimate, SIOP does a biannual-ish salary survey which they put on their website that will get you a better number for you.

      You’ll probably have an internship after your first year that will give you a much clearer picture of how well you fit in the business world. Stop worrying. 🙂

  8. Laura permalink
    August 6, 2015

    Hi –

    I graduated college in 2008 and moved right into the HR field starting in a rotational training program, which led to a position in lateral recruitment, running a summer internship program, building a campus recruitment effort, running a high potential talent group (requiring a tremendous amount of coaching/mentoring), and more currently. into a business partner function. I have always loved the talent and development parts of my career and am seriously thinking that an IO degree would be useful at this stage in my career (I am interested in potentially becoming an executive coach). I am however, tentative to leave a decent paying role and I know that I am not a strong test taker (I did go to Georgetown University for my undergrad studies and graduated with a 6.8 GPA). I am at a crossroads and have been receiving extremely divergent advice about whether or not to get a degree. I am looking at the IO programs now at NYU and Columbia and going to information sessions.

    Can you shed some advice?

    Many thanks for the help,

    • August 6, 2015

      Assuming you’re talking about a Master’s degree, it is often a bad idea to change careers from an income perspective. You lose many, if not all, of the connections you have built in your previous line of work, which makes upward movement a longer process. If you’ve been working 2008-2015, you have 7 years of experience and relationships that will all need to be rebuilt in a new career path. Unless you’ve worked something out ahead of time, the income boost you get from a Master’s degree may not compensate for the 7 years of lost time. So you probably shouldn’t be considering this for money.

      The reason to change careers is because you want to do different work, when the idea of continuing on your current career track is not personally satisfying. When the place you picture yourself at the end of your career track is not a place you’d think “a life well lived.” If that’s where you are, you should first figure out exactly what you would lose by changing careers, and whether or not that is really worth it to you. A graduate program is an extreme timesink, and if you stop working to earn your degree, you will additionally lose 2 years of income.

      What I would do: The easiest path here is to not decide anything for now. Wait until you have a school offer in hand (or don’t) before deciding. You can take the GREs while still employed; it just means a few hours of studying each night for a few months in preparation. If you prep from now through November, you will have plenty of prep time and also have time to complete the GREs before applications are due. If you don’t do well on the GRE and don’t get an offer you like, the decision has been made for you. If you do, then suddenly you have a much more concrete opportunity in front of you to decide on.

      If by testing, you meant you are worried about testing in school (and not the GREs), there are a couple of things to think about. One, most grad programs don’t involve a lot of tests. Generally, grades are more discussion-, writing-, and/or experientially-based. Two, you may find you do a lot better on even traditional tests when you really care about/love the material. I’ve known a few folks who did “ok” in school but once they found their calling, suddenly it was straight As all the time. But you never know until you get there.

  9. Sonarika Mahajan permalink
    August 16, 2015


    I hold a Bachelors in Marketing & Advertising from Lancaster University, after which I went on for a one year honours diploma in Entertainment Business Management from Vancouver Film School. The dream is to make impactful media content that changes the world. I want to get into Cause Marketing, inventing powerful marketing campaigns for brands that work with various not-for-profit organisations and touch social issues.

    However, I want to gain a deeper understanding into the minds of the consumers, for which I feel psychology is the right path. I have always been drawn to the subject and I feel, knowing more about consumer behaviour can get me closer to my goal.

    My problem is this: It’s hard to find strictly Consumer Psychology Masters’ programs in the good American universities. On continuing my search, I came across the I/O Psychology program and found most of them had electives in Cognitive/social/consumer psychology. Despite of that, the main focus remains in HR management.

    I love Psychology. I feel studying this subject would give me the environment to stretch my knowledge and use it to formulate effective marketing campaigns and strategies. I’m ready to put in my hard work for GRE and take introductory psychology perquisite classes, but where I have some doubts is whether MA/MS in I/O Psychology is the right degree for me.

    Would really appreciate having your advice.


    • August 16, 2015

      I/O does not really overlap marketing at all. If you do get consumer psych classes in an I/O program, that is probably a sign it is not a very good I/O program. So I wouldn’t recommend doing that. From your description, it sounds like you want a Marketing MBA – that is where consumer psychology is researched and practiced, these days. Most remaining consumer psych programs are just holdovers from the days before the shift to business schools happened. If you want a more psych-leaning marketing MBA, all I can recommend is looking for the term “consumer behavior” specifically.

  10. Peter Marshal permalink
    August 16, 2015

    Very useful information. Thanks a ton.

  11. Glynis permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Hi Dr. Landers,
    I appreciated this article and thank you for writing it. You gave such good guidance to the other responders I was hoping you’d give me some pointers as well.
    I started out in college pursuing a degree in psychology; I wanted to be a psychologist. However, I was a single mom and needed funds. I accepted a position as a social worker and for 20 years did this. I finished a degree in human services.
    I left that job last year and find I still want to be a psychologist, namely i/o.
    I feel a healthy work environment does so much for a person’s well being, as we spend a great deal of time at work. I feel I have much to contribute in this area, from personal experience to ideas/processes.
    What would you suggest as the best route for me? I work from home as an assistant training director and have a supportive employer and husband. While I cannot commit to school full time I can get a plan together and work it.
    I am 47 and hoping it is not too late for me to pursue my dream.
    Thank you so very much!

    Glynis Boyd Hughes

    • September 6, 2015

      Well, first, I would think carefully about the area of psychology you’re interested in. I/O is not generally targeted at a “healthy” work environment, although some I/O psychologists might do something sort of like that. In most cases, that would be the area of a work counseling psychologist or possibly a work-focused positive psychology practitioner (which is a very small field right now). If you do want to pursue that sort of idea in I/O, assuming I’m interpreting what you mean by healthy, you’ll be limited to a very small set of schools.

      Without being willing to commit full time, you won’t be able to participate in any rigorous PhD program, most of which require 60 to 100 hours per week. I don’t know if you think of “psychologist” as a PhD or Master’s level degree, but you have effectively locked yourself out of all PhD programs except perhaps online for-profits, but I would not recommend those for a variety of reasons (explained in that linked article). At the Master’s level, there are a few online programs you could reasonably attend (more information about that here), but I don’t think any of them have a focus on workplace health.

      So my overall thought here is that you might be targeting quite narrowly to be an I/O. It’s also important to remember that personal experience is not particularly relevant to most I/O practices – we base our decisions and methods on scientific research – so while your experience would provide you some practical context for your I/O program, it would not necessarily help you succeed in I/O practices. For example, a lot of my older undergraduates balk when I say that most interviewers are pretty bad at picking good people for jobs – that using interviews for hiring is only marginally better than throwing names in a hat and drawing at random – not because the interviewers themselves are bad but because unstructured interviews are, as a method, very messy. But we have a lot of evidence that very clearly indicates just that. Unlearning is more difficult than learning, and it’s important to remember that as you progress through any program.

      Regardless of all of that, and whichever degree path you might want to pursue, I wouldn’t let age stop you. As long as you’re willing and able to learn, age doesn’t really matter. The reason most people who pursue PhDs do so early in their careers/lives is because of the other challenges you’ve described – most people need to work outside of their school responsibilities which directly takes time away from learning, and I suspect you are probably unwilling to move across the country. So it’s not your age, it’s the commitments and responsibilities that typically come with age that stand in the way. If you can work around those somehow, then there is no real age barrier.

  12. Greg permalink
    October 6, 2015

    Hello Dr. Landers,

    I’m currently looking into schools to apply for a MA in I/O. I take the GRE in November.
    I have 3 letters of recommendation as well.

    I graduated from undergrad with a degree in accounting and economics this past spring. I’m currently working for a small accounting firm. I work directly with clients and help them with financial and operational issues (could be a selling point?) I have been interested in I/O for a little more than a year now and have thoroughly researched the industry. During my senior year, I took a psych research methods class and loved it.

    My big issue right now is whether or not I’m being delusional about applying to an MA program. I have taken statistics and the research methods class, which satisys the majority of program’s prerequisites. However, I have a 2.98 GPA and no experience in a research lab. Although i have done a research project/paper in economics (linear regression, collected data, used SAS.)

    Will my application be at all competitive? Should I frame my personal statement around work experience?

    Thank you!

    • October 6, 2015

      I’m not sure what you mean by “most” prereqs, but you need to have all of them – a lot of programs will require a specific number of hours of psych undergrad courses (often 9 or 12 or 15). This may not be advertised and is something to ask their program director directly.

      For admissions, I think you are right to be worried. That GPA will make it tricky although not impossible to get into a decent program. If your project was independent (i.e., not for a class), I would lean on it heavily in your statement and possibly include it with your application. Financial experience will not be a selling point, although operational could be, if you did anything HR related. Any translation possible between what you’re doing now and an IO career will be important. Any independent HR-related research project you’ve done for your job would be worth discussing (i.e., there was some sort of people problem that you needed to investigate and solve). Your primary saving grace would be a phenomenal GRE score – that would do a lot to offset your GPA.

  13. Kaitlin permalink
    January 26, 2016

    Dear Dr. Landers,
    First I want to thank you for all the information you’ve provided on this website. It has been one of the most useful resources I’ve found on I/O psychology and I/O psychology programs.
    I graduated in undergrad in English, with a 2.8 GPA, about 4 years ago. I discovered I/O psychology and I am extremely interested in pursuing this as a career. My plan is to take some psychology courses, take the GRE (since I haven’t yet) and then get as much psychology research experience as I can, by volunteering in a lab as you suggested. I know this might take some time, but I am willing to put in the hard work to make the career change.
    My questions are these:
    1) I am extremely interested in psychology research, and it seems like a Ph.D program would be the best fit for what I want to do. However I am concerned that my GPA (even if I ace all my classes from this point on) will prevent me from even being considered. If that is the case, will I only qualify for masters degrees?
    2) If it’s possible for me to pursue a Ph.D, what would I have to do to be a competitive applicant?

    Your opinion is greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance,

    • January 26, 2016

      That GPA will basically cut you out of the running for any PhD program unless your GREs are above 95th percentile – and even then, it’s risky. I believe that GPA would even automatically exclude you from the list of applicants I receive, although that will vary school to school. Your safer option is to pursue a Master’s in IO or a Master’s in General Psychology in a decent program, attain straight A’s, get a publication or two, and then apply into PhD programs afterward. I would not bother with taking extra time to take psych undergrad courses if you can get into a decent (non-online, major university) Master’s program now. And I do mean now – Master’s applications at good programs are generally due in the January-March area. If you see a Master’s program with a “rolling” deadline or a deadline after June, it’s probably not a good choice (i.e., such programs are often intended to scoop up people desperate and without any other options).

  14. Milly permalink
    February 8, 2016

    Hi Dr. Landers,
    Thank you so much for your website. It has been tremendously helpful in gaining information about a field in which not many people have expertise. I am currently in a general psych masters program, focusing on the biological basis of relationships, but I am considering transitioning to IO psychology. I am wondering how difficult it would be to make the transition from a neuro/bio based masters program to a PhD in IO psych. I do have a lot of research experience, and GPA & GRE scores are good. The content of my studies so far is my main concern.

    Additionally, I am also interested in other topics of social psychology such as relationships and sexuality. I was wondering if it would be possible to combine topics such as these into an IO psych PhD program. Alternatively, if I were to pursue a PhD in social psychology, might there still be a way for me to practice IO psychology (perhaps with some additional training/classes/internships in IO psych)? Could a PhD in social psych help at all with getting my foot in the door to some IO psych jobs?

    Thank you in advance for any feedback you may be able to provide!

    • February 8, 2016

      There are probably around ten thousand of us. So not all that small. Just small on a national (or larger) scale!

      Your ability to enter a PhD program post-Master’s in a different area is not great unless you’re at a program with a high-quality PhD program with identical coursework to what you have completed. Even then, you might need to re-complete all of your Master’s coursework. If you’re okay with that, and you have some pubs from your Master’s program, and good GPA/GRE, you should be competitive for such programs. I would just be very, very clear in your letters that you are willing to complete a second Master’s if the faculty think it a wise move. Many faculty will automatically discard any post-Master’s applicants that appear to want to skip the Master’s program at the school they are applying to, so to avoid being culled early, you need to be crystal clear.

      Relationships and sexuality are topics researched in I/O psych – no need to combine anything. You should look for faculty studying them. I would start with this paper ( and look for researchers in psychology departments that cite that paper in their current work, and researchers that paper cites. That will give you a set of I/O programs to think about.

      PhD in social will not qualify you for I/O. Sorry. 🙂

  15. Margie permalink
    February 13, 2016

    Dear Dr. Landers,

    I am taken aback with the quality of responses you’ve been able to provide so many people and was hoping to pick your brain as well, if you’d be willing. 🙂

    I have a Specialist in School Psychology degree (60 graduate credit hrs, applied research project, year-long internship) and have been practicing in schools for five and a half years. Unfortunately, I’ve been considerably unhappy in this profession for a variety of reasons, but haven’t yet pushed myself to make the final decision to leave yet. I am just beginning now to write down all my ideas. Today, I put all the possibilities I could think of into an Excel spreadsheet and rated them based on a variety of weighted factors. I/O came out as one of the highest on my list.

    While my true passion lies in the area of art and design (interior design is also highly rated on my list), I’d love to be able to apply my previous skills and knowledge in psychology to something having to do with design (e.g., affects of workspace design on wellbeing and productivity). The only thing I’ve been able to find that is similar is a PhD program in Human Behavior and Design at Cornell, which I’m sure is extremely competitive. Anything you know of that is similar or even slightly related? I do feel I could enjoy the consulting side of I/O regardless of having to do with design, but it would be amazing to do both!

    If I do decide on applying to typical I/O programs, I’m not sure if I’d want to quit my job and immerse myself in a full-time program while racking up a considerable amount of debt. However, I might be willing if I was accepted into a highly ranked program. I’ve considered the PhD route in the past and it interests me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to the time requirement. I live in Chicago and found one program that has an MA degree in I/O that can be completed in the evenings (Elmhurst College), but I am unsure of the quality. I checked out your listing of online programs and see that Colorado State and Kansas State might also be decent options. Any thoughts on this? Lastly, I haven’t taken the GRE since I was an undergrad about 8.5 years ago; do you know if I would be required to retake it in order to apply to I/O programs?

    Thank you so much for your generous time, insight and knowledge!


    • February 15, 2016

      Nothing comes to mind, I’m afraid. There are certainly people who consider design in relation to worker behavior, but I haven’t seen anything in mainstream IO journals for years. You might actually have more luck with positive psychology, or more specifically positive organizational psychology (or in business schools, positive organizational behavior – although such programs in b-schools are generally intended to train academics).

      Master’s programs are usually quite tied to their particular geographic location. So if you do pursue a Master’s, you’ll want to ask current students how their job prospects look and also get a sense of how many people that recently graduated found work. If you are interested in work in the Chicago area, I’d recommend doing this for all Chicagoland I/O programs.

      For Ph.D. programs, don’t do an online Ph.D. There just aren’t any that give you the same quality of training, at least right now. Don’t pursue a part-time Ph.D., either. It’s just not going to be the same. Most of my students work in the neighborhood of 60-80 hours a week, which is pretty common, so when you compete with that sort of student trying to get a job, you have literally thousands fewer hours of experience and learning effort than they do. Whereas my students are likely to start in the $80-90ks, a person with a part-time degree is not. So you are better off with a Master’s, spending only 2 years completing course work before gaining some earning power, and also competing against other Master’s students, who tend to be in the same boat as you.

      Remember that you make a trade-off when you aren’t willing to go full time, either Master’s or PhD, because there are other people who are willing, who will spend more time and gain more expertise than you will, and who will be preferred for jobs over you, at least for that first job post-school. It often still works out – just know that it’s a choice you’re making with implications later down the road.

      GRE scores remain valid for 5 years. You will need to retake it. The test is quite different now, having gone through several revisions since 2007, so don’t assume your previous prep will still be appropriate.

  16. Gari permalink
    March 8, 2016

    Dr. Landers-

    Thank you for the website, I have found the blogs to be extremely useful. I was hoping that you would also be willing to provide me with guidance. I will graduate this May with a MS in I-O Psychology (from a school on your list) and as such, am attempting to make a career change into this field as soon as possible. The rub is that I have worked for the federal government (DoD) over the last ten years as a civil servant and the majority of my job experience is not IO related. IO psychology relevant positions do exist within the federal government, however, priority placement programs and hiring practices make it difficult to be referred even for a careerist such as myself. I am not opposed to resigning from the government if that is what I have to do to work in this field. I should also mention I lean more towards the organizational side of IO. Would it be more beneficial for me to wait it out and keep pushing for an IO job in federal service, or should I start applying to the private sector? What career advice can you offer for someone in my situation?
    I greatly appreciate your guidance. Thank you in advance.

    • March 8, 2016

      I’m not quite sure which list you’re referring to, but most IO Master’s programs offer career placement assistance. If you truly want to go into IO as a career, I’d take the leap and dive into the best job you can get through the traditional channels. The DOD does have IO positions (at least for PhDs – not sure about Master’s actually), but you don’t need to have continuous service with the DOD to get into one – you could theoretically leave and come back later, if you wanted. If you’re against leaving the DOD because you are worried about a loss of benefits, that’s more of a family decision than a career one – you need to decide what’s best for everyone involved.

      One thing to keep in mind which is true in the private sector and less true in government – the more jobs you have, the higher your salary will ultimately be, since each new job generally involves a 5-10% raise over your previous one. So if you leave now, you could end up with much better lifetime earnings by the end of your career. But there is certainly higher risk to that plan.

  17. Titori Tingly permalink
    April 2, 2016

    I did my graduation in Botany honours(42.63%), then Mba in Hr (66.9%). I have a career gap due to some health related problems. Now I want to start my career again. I read about Industrial /organizational psychology through internet search. I am from India and I want to move forward in my educational area. Am I qualified to study abroad or what will be the procedures of getting admission to internatinal universities? Plz share .

    • April 2, 2016

      There are no special requirements for admission to international universities other than proof of English fluency, usually through a test called the TOEFL. Otherwise, the expectations are identical – high GPA (or equivalent), high GRE scores, research experience, strong letters of recommendations from research professors, demonstration of high quality research papers, etc.

  18. Titori Tingly permalink
    April 7, 2016

    Thank you sir, I did Graduation in Botany Honours and MBA in Hr , can you suggest for me If I want to change my carreer path to I/O psycholgy … which degree programme should be good start it MS or Phd Progamme ? Where do I get sample questions and answers for GRE in I/O psychology ? Or any books or site can you suggest ?

    • April 8, 2016

      It sounds like you may not have sufficient experience in psychology to enter most graduate programs in Psychology. Have you completed introductory psychology, statistics, and research methods at the undergraduate level? If not, I might recommend you start by completing those courses as a non-degree-seeking student first. At that point, given your background, I think you probably are interested in a Master’s degree. But I’d recommend you look at my Master’s v. PhD article ( for more food for thought on that.

  19. Titori Tingly permalink
    April 10, 2016

    Yes sir I dont have idea about introductory psychology. Can you tell me where can i do sych introductory courses ? Specialy through online if possible. I only did my MBA IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMANT. thats why I wanted to study I/ O psychology. I had idea about statistics little. About the reasearch method part , dont understand actually. For studying I/o further what should i have to do?

    • April 11, 2016

      I don’t really see how you can know you want a career in I/O psychology if you don’t know really what psychology is? You really need an undergraduate-level foundation in psychology to qualify for an advanced degree program. You might want to talk to your advisor at whatever university you obtained your undergraduate degree or MBA from to get some guidance on how to do that.

  20. Sakura permalink
    April 12, 2016

    Hi Dr. Landers,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! I’m so impressed by (and grateful for) your input so far. If you don’t mind, I could really use your honest opinion about my current situation as well.

    I just finished my undergraduate psychology degree (B. Sc.) with a GPA of 3.67/4.0, and with almost two years of research experience in one (wonderful) lab. I don’t have any experience in HR unfortunately; it’s mostly been research work and crisis management volunteering.

    I’m not sure if my GPA is anywhere near competitive for a good I/O program, so I was thinking of registering for two more semesters as an independent student in hopes of raising my GPA. I’m also preparing to take the GREs, however I don’t have a set examination date at the moment.

    I would greatly appreciate your input about my current situation. Given my current GPA, and my lack of HR experience, do I stand a chance? Is there anything I could do right away to boost my chances? Should I definitely register for the extra two semesters (which will hopefully raise my GPA)?

    Thank you so much for you help and guidance! I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


    • April 19, 2016

      That’s what I would characterize as a “normal” GPA for graduate applications. Mostly A’s, scattered B’s. As long as you don’t have any C’s or lower, most graduate student applicants have that sort of profile, so it won’t really help or hurt you. I would not delay graduate school applications just because of that. If you have time, I would recommend you take graduate level courses as a non-degree-seeking student instead of taking independent undergrad courses. Remember that faculty will actually read your transcript, so if you take classes after graduating just to raise your GPA, that will be extremely obvious. But if you take difficult grad courses (e.g., in psych or stats) and get A’s in them, that is a good indicator that you’d do well in their program regardless of your undergrad GPA.

      Also, you didn’t mention if you’d thinking about a Master’s or PhD, but PhD programs will not care about HR experience regardless. Most Master’s programs won’t really care, but it doesn’t hurt and could potentially help if you’re looking for something to do over a summer. It is like building a house – removing or weakening a particular piece of the frame is not really going to change anything – it’s the total picture. HR experience also gives a lot of students insight into what running the people operations of an organization is really like, which helps with writing personal statements. But it is not strictly speaking “necessary.”

  21. May 17, 2016

    Dr. Landers,

    Thank you for sharing this very valuable information. I am planning on applying for a I/O psychology phd program to begin in the fall of 2017, and I’m hoping you could give me some advice on how to make my application stronger. I am interested in pursuing a phd program rather than a master’s because i want to do research and contribute to the field.

    I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a dual degree in Psychology and human resource development in the fall of 2014 with a GPA of 3.8. While I considered going directly to an I/O program, I took some time off to work because I wanted to figure out if I really wanted to pursue I/O psychology or if I wanted to do HR. I have been working in recruiting for just over a year now, and after a lot of thinking and research,  I have decided that I/O is the route i want to take.

    However, I am concerned that I do not have enough research experience to be a strong candidate for the programs that I am interested in. I worked as a research assistant for two graduate students in the I/O program for about 6 months while in college,  but other than that I have no additional research experience outside of class. How important would it be for me to gain additional research experience as you suggest in your article? Might schools consider my current job as relevant experience?

    Thank you.  I so appreciate your insight.

    • May 17, 2016

      If you are still in Mpls, I would suggest you re-volunteer in the I/O program. UMN’s HRIR program actually has some I/O-types too (the programs interact a fair amount), so you could also pursue that. If you want to go into a PhD program, research experience is critical. Your job is unlikely to count, unless you are doing research in it. THus the alternative route, if you are high up enough in HR, would be to partner with some I/O psychologists to run some studies within your organization, with the understanding that you would want to be a part of/observe/participate in the research effort. Even if you aren’t high up enough, you might talk to a supervisor about it (e.g., “I would like to partner with a research university to strategically improve our department’s outcomes”). That way you could get some research experience from within your job. But aside from that, you’ll need to volunteer somewhere.

      The only potential exception is if you have fairly stellar GREs, e.g., 90th+ percentile on both Q and V. Then you might have a shot with just your 6 months of research experience, although that’ll differ by school a lot.

    • May 17, 2016

      Thank you so much Dr. Landers. Unfortunately, I am no longer in Minneapolis, but I will reach out to psychology departments at local universities to find research opportunities. I appreciate your advice!

  22. Chris permalink
    June 11, 2016

    Dr. Landers,

    Thank you so much for this educational resource, it has been a tremendous help as I think through the possibilities of transitioning into a career in I/O Psychology. I graduated in 2013 from Texas A&M with a BS Psychology and a rather low gpa (I believe it was 2.7 overall and 3.5 in major). My senior year, I started my own business in energy management and for the last year and a half have taken a position as a VP Sales for a fast-growing manufacturing company. I did what I believe many Psyc undergrads have done, saw my growing debt and decided to pursue money over a personally satisfying career. I’ve done well in business, but am quickly losing personal satisfaction in what I do. I am planning to go back to school and earn a Masters in I/O Psyc.

    My reasons for wanting to return to Psyc and specifically I/O psyc is that I’ve seen in both my own company and the fast growing manufacturing company, that organizational structures and behavioral approaches to productivity/processes are things that are drastically missing in small and growing companies. I dream of starting a non profit (or participating in an existing one) that assists small and growing companies within the realm of I/O Psyc in everything from hiring practices, training, organizational structures and processes, interpersonal dynamics (especially among those at the executive level), etc. I believe this is a perspective that small and medium companies overlook due to lack of knowledge and resources and is a big part of what can keep companies from reaching their true potential.

    My question to you is having been out of school for awhile and not having a great GPA, will my experience in business help overcome my lacking academic credentials? I’m truly excited about returning to my passion in psychology, I’m just a bit unsure of where to start and what I can do to improve my chances of acceptance to a good program. Also, any thoughts you have regarding my non profit aspirations would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks and Gig ’em,


    • June 12, 2016

      For a practical Master’s degree, it will help, but it will still be an uphill battle. The main problem is that you have no evidence to show that you are capable of Master’s level work. So if you want a good shot at such a program, you will want to contact the graduate program director of any program you are considering and explain your situation, gauging their reaction. If none of them seem particularly favorable, the best path would be to find a local university and take some graduate-level Psychology and/or statistics courses as a non-degree-seeking student. If you get straight A’s in those courses, you can make a good case that you’d likely get straight A’s in their programs as well – but you’ll want to hammer that idea quite hard in your personal statement and also reach out to the program directors directly to explain that too. Otherwise you might get discarded before anyone who might actually make a decision sees your application (i.e., a 2.7 GPA will get you auto-sorted to the reject pile in many places, regardless of your other qualifications).

  23. Yasamin Roozbeh permalink
    June 14, 2016

    Dear Dr. Landers,

    I’ve recently stumbled across PsyD Programs in I/O Psychology, one program in particular is Phillips Graduate University. What is your opinion on this type of program, is it reliable and trust worthy? Or would I be better off going to an APA Accredited School and receiving a Masters?

    • June 14, 2016

      A PsyD sometimes implies that they’re combining clinical training with I/O, which is a complete waste of time as far as an I/O degree goes. It might alternatively imply a very practice-oriented program, but it’s hard to say – you’d need to look at the curriculum closely and see where their graduates are becoming employed (they should have a list on their website somewhere of sample workplaces, like this: I/O degree programs are not accredited and don’t directly benefit from APA accreditation. However, you as a student might indirectly benefit from attending an accredited program in that accreditation in a clinical program usually indicates that the school has a serious psychology program in general. It is no guarantee though. I’ve never heard of Phillips, personally. Just be sure they list their faculty somewhere, and those faculty have I/O PhDs. If not, that is a sure sign of a place you want to avoid.

  24. Maia. D. permalink
    July 2, 2016

    Dr. Landers

    I am 45 year old female who immigrated to the NYC about 5 years ago with Masters in Teaching English language and literature, which I didn’t use in US, but now I decided to change career to i.o.psychology which I always admired. Is it worth to go for i.o.psychology (MA) in my age and start again

    • July 9, 2016

      A Master’s is only a two-year commitment, and if you can get into and graduate from a decent program, the median salary for I/Os with Master’s degrees was $55K/year right out of school as of 2012. So the balance will be different for everyone, but if you are making $45K or less now, then the answer is probably yes. If you go to a not-well-regarded program, that is not as good of a decision.

  25. Jason Willey permalink
    August 5, 2016

    Dr. Landers,
    First and foremost, thanks for your time. A little about me and what I am trying to accomplish. I’m 32 year old Army Vet. After completing my enlistment I decided I would further my education. During my undergraduate I struggled due to some unresolved issiues post deployment. After a couple years of council, I graduated with a 2.6 gpa. As you can imagine, I had a passion for psychology and thought I wanted to work with veterans, specifically OIF/OEF. I took a job a psychological services clinic but it wasn’t as appealing aa I once thought it would be. From that point, I decided to pursue my MBA. I graduate with a 3.5 from Louisiana State University Shreveport and found that with my experience in Psychology, Human Resources, and staffing that a PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology could be greatly beneficial in terms of the direction my life is headed. With the that said, I am curious if a PhD is out of the picture due to my subpar undergraduate GPA and if so, what would you recommend?

    • August 5, 2016

      Since you have a reasonably strong MBA GPA, not necessarily, but it will be a tough road. You will need to demonstrate to an admissions committee that 1) you know what psychological research is, preferably IO research in particular and 2) are capable of it. You would probably be best off enrolling in a (non online) Psychology Master’s program and use that experience in PhD applications.

      Have said that, be sure you actually want a PhD. A PhD is specifically a degree in conducting research. If you just want to develop an I/O-related skillset, you may actually want an I/O Master’s degree.

  26. Evelyn permalink
    August 31, 2016

    Greetings Mr. Landers,

    First, and foremost, thank you for your blog! It has been a huge help to me navigating the world of I/O Psychology especially for the reason I will describe.

    Towards the end of my college career I got an internship at an I/O firm and completely fell in love with the field. As my internship was converted to a job I continue to be enthralled with I/O psychology and it has become apparent that (someday) I should be pursuing a Masters (or PhD) should I want to actually practice it.

    However, I got my undergraduate degree in Political Science and took no Psychology courses in college. Do you have any recommendations for someone in my place who wants to have as competitive of application as possible?

    Any advise would be so greatly appreciated!


    p.s. I am planning on graduate school at least 2 or 3 years away so I do have time I just like to be proactive (and make some money to actually pay for it).

    • August 31, 2016

      So, #1, if you want to pursue a PhD, remember that reputable PhD programs are free to attend. Your tuition will be covered and you will (usually) receive a stipend to work as a part-time research or teaching assistant. It does not pay WELL but it is enough to survive while you are in school, with a roommate if you want to be a little more comfortable. Plenty of people take out small government-supported loans (FAFSA) to supplement their income, which is usually a good idea. For example, if you get a $15K/year stipend, you might take out a loan for an additional $10K/year, which leaves you with a low-interest $50K loan at the end of grad school. When you are making $80K+/year, you won’t even notice the payment. Many students also take summer internships, which can be a way to avoid needing loans, since IO summer internships usually pay in the $20-$30/hour range, which if managed carefully, is plenty to live on as a supplement to your income the remainder of the year without loans.

      The potential problem with this approach for someone out of school is if you have a family to move around. Unless you are phenomenally lucky (not much to do with ability/credentials), you probably won’t get into a decent grad school where you already live, so you’ll need to move. Except in a few unique cases (e.g., a school in Minneapolis, NYC, DC, Atlanta, or Chicago), you also probably won’t get summer internships where your grad school is, so you’ll need to move temporarily each summer too.

      A Master’s degree is a different story. You will likely need to pay for that yourself – but it only takes two years, there are more schools that offer them, and admissions is easier, so you are less likely to need to move.

      So what to do for each of these career paths. For either, you’re going to need to learn what Psychology is. The easiest way to do this is to take a half-time course load as a “non degree seeking” student. This will enable to take college courses but not get any credit toward a degree, which you don’t need anyway. You should take, Intro Psych in your first semester, then the Statistics and Research Methods course(s) afterward. Anything else is optional.

      While doing that, you should volunteer at a research lab in that school. It does not need to be in I/O, although that’s better. This experience is more important for PhD but is still a good idea for a Master’s app. In either case, you’ll want to explain to your lab advisor exactly what your plan is and why you want to volunteer. You should get a sense from that how much hands-on mentoring you’ll be able to get from that advisor – more is better. Tell him/her that your goal is to earn an authorship role on a research paper to be presented at a national major conference. In 2-3 years, with a supportive advisor, you should be able to make that happen.

      All of this also assumes that your GREs are solid. I would recommend right now taking a (reputable) practice GRE. You need a minimum of 40th percentile scores on both Quant and Verbal. The further you are past that level, the more likely you’d be able to get into a PhD program (vs a Master’s) – most of our successful applicants (top 20 PhD program) have above 75th. The top ranked programs usually admit closer to 90th. That will give you the best sense of which degree is the right path and thus how you need to prepare.

  27. Harshpreet kaur permalink
    September 10, 2016

    Hi dear,
    My name is Harshpreet Kaur.presently,I am in newzeland.i have done master in I/O psychology from I want to start my career over here. Just help me with the option that I can opt for.

  28. December 17, 2016

    Hey Richard,

    Thanks a ton for this awesome blog and helping the people in it.

    My situation and your response may have some similarities to Evelyns above, but I’d appreciate any input from you!

    I am interested in applying to a Masters Degree in Organizational Psych but I don’t know what the best approach to take is. I’m looking for some possible tips going forward. Do I have a chance at getting in? Will anything I have already done help me get in? What are some things I can do to improve my chances? (Volunteer at a research lab, get a high score on my GRE, What score should I aim for, etc)

    My background:

    I graduated about a year and a half ago with a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and a Minor is Psychology. During that time I also wanted to pursue some business classes and possibly a business degree, I was told by advisers to wait, finish my current degree and then get my MBA. Well, I’m sitting here a year and a half later and I am about to begin a couple of classes toward an MBA. Then it dawned on me..

    My GPA in my psych classes was above a 3.5. My favorite class, by far, in college was Organizational Psych (which I received an A). Org Psych was one of three careers that matched perfectly for me based on my interests on After reviewing my strengthsfinder (top 5- Strategic, Relator, Belief, developer, ideation) and breaking it down, Org Psych was a near perfect fit. No other career path has ever seemed like a better fit. This is the path I really want to take.

    Some other possibly useful information:
    -Undergrad GPA 3.24
    -No current research experience
    -Some experience in the non-related field of fitness (Though, I train, motivate and develop people using psychology)
    -High school Coaching experience (Similarly, I train, motivate and develop kids using psychology)

    To briefly rehash my questions:
    Do I have a chance at getting into a program?
    Will anything in my past help me get in or even just look alright to potential Masters programs?
    What are some things I can do moving forward to increase my chance of getting in?
    Any other information!

    Thanks a ton!

    • December 20, 2016

      That’s a big question, and there are a lot of factors involved, but here’s a high level pass. You do have a chance at getting into a program, but not a particularly great program. More selective programs are going to see that GPA as a significant problem. It will make them question if you are capable of Master’s level work. I would recommend in your materials emphasizing things like “last two years GPA” and perhaps the psych GPA you mentioned. Research experience is a common way to distract away from a weaker GPA, but you don’t have that either – so you might consider getting some research experience at a local university and then applying later. The fitness experience probably isn’t all that relevant, although the high school coaching might be, if you have an interest in something like executive coaching later down the road. All of this is potentially upended if you have a stellar GRE score, so that is probably where I would focus my effort, if I was you.

  29. January 1, 2017

    Dear Dr. Lenders,

    Thank you for all the information shared. I have completed my undergraduate in information and communication technology (ICT) and I have got a keen interest in psychology, Now I am thinking about graduates school in I/O but with no prior or relevant experience/knowledge in the field. So I do not know how to proceed with application process for the grad school. It would be a great help if you can help me through this.

    Looking forward for your reply.

    Thanks a lot 🙂

    • January 1, 2017

      The application process just involves going to each school’s website, checking what documents are required for your application, and then applying using their online platform. I imagine it’s the same in ICT.

  30. Jason permalink
    February 4, 2017

    Dr. Landers,

    Thanks for keeping this blog up and continuing to respond. I’m writing to try and gain a bit of perspective. My question is more in line with what to do after completing the program.

    I recently completed my MS in Applied Psychology (emphasis in I/O) through an online program– I was comfortable doing so because it was through a name university in CT. However, halfway through the program I began to question the wisdom of doing an online program, but I pushed through and finished anyway. But I feel like I’m at a bit of a loss. I had a solid GPA (3.71), but… in terms of research experience, or experience in the industry in general, or some sort of professional network that would lead to a position in I/O, the program didn’t provide in that regard.

    So… in terms of finding a position, how valuable is having an online I/O degree, what would be your recommendations when pursuing a position, and did I quadruple my student debt for no reason?


    • February 5, 2017

      Online degrees generally do result in lower salaries than non-online degrees, which I suspect is for the reasons you mention – lack of network, lack of experience, etc. That is not to say you’re sunk, but it will be a bit more of an uphill battle in comparison to people who didn’t do that. As to recommendations, it depends on your specific program, so I will give you some info and you can make your own call.

      In any Master’s program, academically speaking, you’re mostly going to be defined by your coursework. Most people that complete a dedicated I/O Master’s will take somewhere between 9 and 12 dedicated courses (about 27 to 36 credit hours) in courses that are specific to I/O, statistics, and research methods. Did you get that, or did you end up taking a lot of electives/gen eds, e.g., cognitive psych, social psych, etc? “Applied Psychology” programs can be many different things. If you are going on the market with a lot of non-IO courses, that will make you less competitive than someone who does.

      If you did get that coursework, you should have a lot of specific skills, e.g., scale development, selection system design, legal evaluation, performance appraisal management, development of feedback systems, team design, training evaluation, etc. So that is what you need to market yourself on. Keep a steady eye on SIOP listings for jobs for IOs, but also watch general job boards for related positions. You should be qualified for many “directorship”-type positions in HR, e.g., (Assistant) Director of Training and Development.

      If you didn’t get that coursework, you should figure out which skillset is your “best” one and then target that. So if you got the most content on performance appraisal, then look those sorts of job descriptions that include appraisal.

      That is about the best I can come up with – hope it helps!

  31. Lana permalink
    February 23, 2017

    Hello Dr. Landers,
    I’m currently a junior with double major Psychology and Business Admin. I’m interested in PhD I/O Psychology. However, my research background is almost zero. I will have an independent study class (doing research) next Fall in HR management. This summer I have some options: (1) join a biomedical summer research program, (2) volunteer for psychology lab (3) internship in an office of an I/O psychologist. I haven’t taken the GRE yet but my GPA is pretty high. What would you suggest for my case, Dr. Landers? Should I take a gap year and try to gain more research experience or I can try applying the coming Fall?
    Also, I’m an international student studying in the states so my opportunities for researching after undergrad is very limited.
    Thank you very much.

    • February 24, 2017

      I would not recommend a gap year.

      For your specific situation, it depends a bit on how prestigious the biomedical program is. If it’s highly competitive (i.e., only a few people can participate out of many that apply), I’d probably recommend that. If it’s non-competitive, or not very competitive, a structured IO internship is probably your best choice. I would recommend talking to the I/O you’d be working with and ask to be involved in research projects – if they’re doing “I/O”, they will have plenty of things going on that qualify as research.

      Finally, if you can spare a few hours each week, I’d recommend volunteering in a psych lab as much as you can in addition to whichever of the other two you do. Remember that you will need 3 or 4 rec letters, so the more people in positions of authority that can speak to your work ethic and performance in any research context, the better.

  32. Teodora permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Hi Dr. Landers

    I was introduced to your site from a professor at SDSU after I inquired about their M.S. in I/O psych and I wanted to both thank you for the effort you put into this blog and to ask your advice on a switch to a career in I/O. You have mentioned that you don’t need I/O research in particular but do need psych research. What about undergrad research in something else?

    I have a B.S. in Biology from UT-Austin and a concentration in public health. While there, I did two years of undergraduate research in a cancer lab. I thought I would want to do medicine but changed my mind and instead focused on the public health research part of my degree after I took a biostatistics course and loved it. I also received an undergraduate fellowship award for my research. Would this research experience be transferable/viewed positively or do I *really* need some sort of psych research.

    I’m 27 and have several years of work experience as a research assistant doing program evaluation/assessment and am fine with going back to a community college part time to make up some psych prerequisites but I’m getting a bit discouraged when it comes to my “chances”, particularly when several programs require a full psychology undergraduate degree and/or emphasize psych research. I’m also not getting any younger :).

    Is there something I should be prioritizing when considering the change? I want to make sure I’m not wasting money on applications without being prepared for how my background will be perceived by an admissions committee. I understand there’s no true answer for this but your thoughts are much appreciated!

    Kind Regards

    • March 27, 2017

      That’s a bit less critical for Master’s apps, but any research experience is better than none; the trade-off is that the further away you are from I/O, the less likely the people reviewing your application will be confident that you actually know what I/O psych is or what a career in it might involve. So as long as you have other ways to communicate that you’re a “serious” applicant, I wouldn’t worry about it much. Definitely not enough to delay applying, anyway.

      I would in fact recommend you apply immediately but that before you do so, you call the Master’s/graduate program director at each place you’re applying and ask about your situation and how it will be viewed. They should be able to give you a straight answer. Even if you don’t have a psych background, that’s something that can often be made up in the summer before classes start, although this varies by program. I’ve not seen any programs that explicitly require a full undergraduate psych degree first; that seems unusual. I would half-expect that even if it says this on a website somewhere that they may not actually hold people to it. But that is the sort of nuance you need to talk on the phone with people to figure out.

  33. Giuseppe (Joe) Cannova permalink
    June 14, 2017

    Hello Dr. Landers,

    I have recently graduated and received my B.S. degree in Applied Psychology from New York University (3.6 GPA). I was heavily involved in psychological research during my undergraduate career. However, after being involved in different research laboratories, I realized that I am interested in working with numbers and data, but also understanding the organizational structures of various systems within industries. Therefore, I have been thinking of pursuing a master in I/O psychology at Baruch College (CUNY). Would this be a good option if I want to work as an analyst (e.g., this is an example I pulled from one of the job descriptions I’ve been looking at: “use data, research and analytical insights to both build new and improve existing Career Development, Learning and Talent Management Programs. Responsibilities include working with internal clients to design and execute talent-related experiments, launch and analyze surveys to help us improve People Operations processes and solve HR- related challenges creatively. Qualified candidates will be detail oriented, conscientious [always follows through on commitments], analytical and curious”)?

    The above job description comes from a position titled “People Analyst at HR”. Although this is interesting to me, I am mostly interested in a position such as data analyst. Would the master’s degree in I/O psychology be a good preparation for such careers, granted that I find an internship as an analyst during my studies?

    Thank you so much!

    • June 15, 2017

      “People Analyst” can be anywhere on the spectrum from I/O to HR MBA to data scientist, so it depends on the job description. This particular job description sounds like an I/O position, and if they are accepting people with Master’s degrees, than that is a good fit. I don’t know what you mean by “data analyst,” but I/O positions usually include some degree of working with people, not just sitting behind a desk running analyses. The “working with internal clients to design and execute talent-related experiments” is a signal that there will be a fair amount of that in this particular position.

    • November 19, 2017

      Hi Dr. Landers,

      Thank you for responding to my post. I know it’s been nearly six months since you last commented, but I have been busy studying for the GRE. I recently received my acceptance email from Baruch, and I will be starting the program in the spring. However, I still have some questions that I wanted to ask you specifically. Since I have not yet met with a graduate advisor to discuss my academic plan, I wanted to first ask for your advice regarding which courses I should focus on taking at Baruch that will prepare me for the career I want. As I stated in my original post, my goal is to pursue a career which utilizes data to inform better business practices, mostly within HR. I looked at some of the job descriptions and most companies are looking for a candidate that posses statistical or programming skills such as SPSS, STATA, R, and Python. I have also seen a position that is specifically looking for an I/O psychology graduate/data scientist ( for their start-up company. This is mainly where I want to go after I graduate from the MS program. My question now is: What courses should I take at Baruch that can better prepare me for this career direction I want to pursue? Also, do you think it would be best if I do the I/O psychology masters along with a boot camp program in Data Science to maximize my chances for employment in this area?

      I do thank you for your time reading over this post, and for answering my questions.

    • November 20, 2017

      Usually there is not much freedom to select specific classes in Master’s programs, so I’d be surprised if you have much if any choice. At Baruch, you will almost certainly be funneled into either stats or analytics of some sort, so you’ll be learning some sort of stats platform. It will probably be SPSS. You might want to get some extra training in R or Python, which you can do through free or cheap online courses, but that will be something you’d do as “extra” on top of your regular coursework. I don’t know that bootcamp approaches are terribly useful; you’ll want to take something a bit more meaty than that. Later this year, I’ll be posting a curriculum and learning resources on this blog for learning R as both a psych grad student/faculty member but also a bit as an aspiring data scientist, so I suggest you check back here later for those. If you want to do it on your own, I’d recommend and going through one (or multiple) of their data science tracks.

  34. Ramani permalink
    September 14, 2017

    Hi Dr. Landers:

    I have two Masters degree- public policy and economics and have been a bureaucrat for 21 years, most of it in health care. I am done with it and looking for a career change. I have spent the last one year looking at various options, completed a basic certificate in positive psychology and fell in love with psychology. I have read a lot about I-O psychology and given my work and economics (very strong in research methods) background, I would like to do a Masters program in I-O psychology and practice as one. I am 47 years old and not interested in going into a research (PhD) program. Please can you advice me on what I should be looking out for in the masters programs- such as courses offered, type of training, etc so that I can leverage my current work experience to practice as an I-O consultant/ counsellor. I ask this because it is a mind boggling mix out there with the number of options and difficult to figure out what is really important if one wants to be a practitioner. Thank you


    • September 14, 2017

      Most Master’s degrees are aimed at training for professional practice, so I would not worry too much about the mix. The key distinguishing factors between Master’s programs are 1) the breadth/depth of training and 2) the interpersonal network you gain by graduating from that location. In general, brick-and-mortar institutions are much better at both of these. You didn’t mention if you were willing to move or not, but I’d definitely recommend a brick-and-mortar if you can. If you can’t, this page will provide you with some consequences of that decision. If you’re looking for rankings of Master’s programs, there’s currently an effort underway at SIOP to develop a brand new collection of rankings, but they won’t be out until around April 2018. The things you should look out for are the same as everywhere else though: be sure there are at least a few stats and methods courses, be sure you don’t take many courses except I-O courses (e.g., if they want you to take a social psych course, that’s probably not a good sign), and be sure the employment rate for graduates is close to 100%. That last one may require emailing some current students.

      I am not sure how relevant your methods background will be. I/O Master’s students often don’t get much methods training except in psychometric methods, which I suspect you haven’t had much on. Positive psych is notoriously squishy and dissimilar from traditional psych science, so I doubt you got too deep into the details of psychometrics there either. All of which is to say I would recommend you do not assume you can use any of what you already know. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. But you will want to keep an open mind in making such a switch.

  35. Miriam permalink
    November 17, 2017

    Dear Dr. Landers,
    Thank you for all the information you provided.
    I’m on my final year of undergraduate studies, with a Major in East Asian Studies and minors in Philosophy and English. HOWEVER, I did take an introductory psychology class, statistics class, neuropsychology, personality and abnormal psychology classes. I really want to apply for a masters of IO at a good institution, but don’t know if I have a chance to be admitted, considering my bachelors is technically unrelated to the field.
    Must I obtain a second undergraduate degree in psychology to be considered, or do you suppose I could be admitted with what I have?
    Thank you,

    • November 20, 2017

      No, you should be fine with that coursework, although you will want to explain in your personal statement why you appear to be making a career switch. I’m assuming by “statistics” you mean “psych statistics,” because a general stats class and psych stats are quite different. Beyond that, the only issue is that you have not taken a psych research methods course. That will matter to some institutions, but as long as you’ve taken a social science methods course somewhere in your coursework, it shouldn’t affect admissions.

  36. Brooke permalink
    January 16, 2018

    Hi Dr. Landers,

    First, I would like to say I sincerely appreciate all the helpful information you’ve provided on your site!

    I am trying to make a career change into I/O Psych. I double majored at UMD in Business and French. I didn’t use my business degree and became a French teacher for 3 years and moved to France for 1 year to teach English. The only undergraduate psychology course I took was Psych100 and received an A. I’m currently taking personality psychology at a community college and plan to continue taking psychology courses this summer when I return from France in May. I haven’t yet taken the GRE and my undergraduate GPA was a 3.45. I was wondering what steps I should take to apply for a Masters in I/O psych for 2019 and what type of job I should seek when I return to the US to make my application competitive. What type of GPA and GRE scores would make my application competitive? And lastly, would it look bad on my application that I’m changing careers and not completing this path directly out of college?

    Thanks for any and all help you can provide!

    • January 16, 2018

      For job, you will want a position in HR, preferably as close to HR Analytics / Data Science / People Analytics / etc. as you can get. With an undergrad degree, that may not be very close, but the more exposure you have to how IO is practiced, the better.

      GPA and GRE are going to vary a lot based upon where you apply… you should look at the application websites of each program you’re thinking about to know that. Generally speaking, higher is better. 🙂

      Changing careers is not bad as long as you clearly understand what you’re getting yourself into. You may need to take remedial undergrad psych courses if you don’t complete stats and research methods; those are going to be most critical to a grad application. Sometimes they will accept you but then require you take those classes later, but that will differ by program; you should ask the graduate program director at each program you are considering if it matters.

      As for steps… you just find the website and apply! The biggest challenge will be reference letters, I think. You’ll want to make sure to make an impression on your psych professors, since otherwise you won’t have anyone to vouch for your potential and interest in psychology.

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