How do students manage their time in an online master’s program in psychology?

THROUGH Nicole Gull McElroyJune 01, 2022 at 3:11 p.m

General view of the Purdue University campus as seen in October 2018 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

When Marjorie Ramos, a working psychologist, decided to pursue her studies with a master’s degree, she knew she needed to juggle multiple things to achieve her goal. As a mother of two children aged 6 and 8, Ramos lives in Colombia – and her family moves around a lot because her husband is in the Colombian military.

Ramos’ lifestyle requires flexibility even when she’s not attending school, so an online program seemed to make the most sense for her. It also allowed her to broaden the geographic scope of her search and consider programs as far away as Spain and the United States. In the end, given her budget and educational goals, Ramos ended up enrolling in the online master’s degree in psychology at Purdue University Global.

“I wanted to take two courses per semester,” says Ramos. “But then COVID hit and my kids weren’t in school. I had to take care of her longer than I thought and was only able to do one class per semester. But that’s what I like about the online option. People doing their Masters online are busy people.”

According to Robert deMayo, Associate Dean of the Department of Psychology at Pepperdine University, many online programs are specifically designed to increase access to higher education for working adults like Ramos. “We find it particularly appealing to working adults who need the flexibility of an online environment.”

Pepperdine’s online program is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous work that attracts students from across the country and can last anywhere from 1.5 to 3 years depending on a student’s concentration and associated state mandated licensing requirements. “For students who are good at time management and pace, these programs are a great choice,” says deMayo.

This is what applicants need to know about time management in an online master’s degree in psychology.

Online masters programs require organization

Ramos enrolled in Purdue’s psychology program in 2019 and will graduate this spring. After serving in the Colombian military, Ramos wants to use her degree to work with first responders, a topic she also chose for her thesis. Overall, she estimates that she spends around 10 to 15 hours a week at school, maybe a little more since her first language isn’t English.

Ramos found that she needed to break her day into blocks to study, attend classes, be with her children, take care of her home and family, and complete projects or research. This allowed her to keep track of all aspects of her life throughout her school years.

“Instead of driving to and from school, I used the extra time to study,” she says. “I wake up early in the morning before my kids and then study again when they go to sleep at night.”

Campus Resources for Students

Some online master’s programs in psychology provide students with additional guidance on how to balance school, work, and life. Arizona State University has an initiative called Success Coach that helps students navigate the demands of a busy college schedule, stress levels, and career—along with any other time-related demands, according to Casey Ambrose, executive director of marketing operations at Arizona State. This is part of the school’s academic support team that helps students manage their time at ASU in a productive and healthy way.

The school also uses platforms like Slack to facilitate communication between faculty and students. It helps keep the dialogue between class times and office hours for students and professors open and efficient, as well as another way to reach advisors, peers and trainers.

Make time for other activities outside of the classroom

While synchronous and asynchronous work flow into each online Masters in Psychology, there are certain programs that require real-time, personal attention and effort. For example, the addiction course at Purdue Global requires both in-person and online work, while at Pepperdine the Masters in Clinical Psychology also requires supervised fieldwork, which is generally conducted in person.

Ramos, for example, focused her Purdue degree on addiction and struggled a bit to sort through her internship work amid travel restrictions during the pandemic. She was supposed to complete this work in the US, but when the borders closed that became impossible. So Purdue worked with her to find an organization in Washington DC that would allow her to make her residency online. “It was a great experience,” she says.

In addition to working with patients, some schools also offer extracurricular activities that can provide more time to balance work, school and personal life. At Pepperdine, students with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.7 and completed at least nine units of graduate course courses are eligible to apply to Psi Chi, the International Honor Society of Psychology. It offers scholarships and special programs for its members, and even hosts annual regional and national conferences to allow students to network and deepen their connection to the profession and its practice.

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