How Hard is Master's in Psychology Program – (15 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome)


Written By: Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN


Are you considering earning a master’s degree in psychology but find yourself wondering, “How hard is a master's in psychology program?” Do you want to begin the application process but want answers first? You may have already enrolled in a program and want to be more prepared for when it starts. If this sounds familiar, this article is for you! As you continue reading, you will find information about what makes master's in psychology programs hard and learn about the 15 biggest challenges you will face in a master's in psychology program and how to overcome them. Additionally, I will also answer some frequently asked questions to help you have a better understanding of what this degree can do for you.



IS A MASTER'S IN PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM HARD?


A master's in psychology program is hard, but the level of difficulty students experience varies. The program builds on the knowledge and skills you obtained from your undergraduate degree. You can draw from the experience you gained from your undergraduate degree to establish strategies for success. For example, if you know you are a visual learner, you can prepare by having supplies like markers, note cards, and other things to help you create visual props for studying.

Conversely, if you are a better auditory learner, find out if instructors allow you to record their lectures. Additionally, your instructors may have video recordings of lectures that you can access online to play back when you need to refresh your memory or clarify content when studying. Although a master’s psychology program is hard, there are measures you can take to help overcome the challenges.


WHY IS A MASTER'S IN PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM HARD?


If you understand what makes a master’s in psychology program hard, you can plan to overcome the challenges and improve your chances of success. Most students report the master's in psychology program is hard due to the following three reasons.

1. Master’s in Psychology Programs Are Packed with Difficult Course Material:

Diving into complex theories and concepts will stretch your mental capacity and be challenging at times, but doing so is necessary to be effective in your future role. Mastering the difficult course material results in a deep understanding of psychology, which you will use to care for clients.

2. You Must Meet Research and Thesis Requirements:

One of the great things about master’s in psychology programs is they offer a pathway to earning a doctorate. As such, one of the things that makes a master’s in psychology program hard is the research and thesis requirements.

3. A Master’s in Psychology Program Can Be Emotionally Challenging:

Psychology involves dealing with all aspects of human emotion. You will learn about normal and abnormal behavior, how people respond to trauma, and a plethora of other topics. In addition to classroom learning, you will participate in clinical training. The exposure to complex topics in the classroom and clinical training can be emotionally challenging, which is one of the things that makes a master's in psychology program hard.



HOW HARD IS A MASTER'S IN PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM?

(The following are the 15 biggest Challenges you will face in the Master's in Psychology Program and ways you can successfully overcome them.)


CHALLENGE #1: Completing the Complex Coursework


About the Challenge:

The master's in psychology program is hard, and one of the biggest challenges is completing the complex coursework. Memorizing material related to psychopathology and the multitude of treatment approaches can feel overwhelming. In your undergraduate coursework, you may have touched on these complex topics, but in a master’s in psychology program, you will become an expert.

How to Overcome:

One of my best pieces of advice to help you deal with complex coursework is to find other students in your program and form study groups. You can choose in-person study groups or form an online group if you are in a distance learning program. Collaborating and studying together allows you to work out tough material you do not understand by talking with peers, and it can help increase the amount of information you retain. You may also learn new study habits and have an easier time staying motivated and on track.

Some master's in psychology programs offer faculty-supervised study groups, which are excellent ways to get extra help from instructors. Additionally, some classes are available online for playback at your convenience. Utilizing online lectures or instructor notes allows you to get information from the source, your instructor.

Another useful tip can be accessing recordings of classes or lectures if they are available so that you do not have to rely as heavily on your notes.


CHALLENGE #2: Paying for Your Degree


About the Challenge:

Deciding to pursue any master's degree program can be expensive, and a master's in psychology is no different. It would be best if you considered the total cost of the degree and whether you can continue working while enrolled before committing to the program. Without a proper plan, you may find the financial obligations of a master's in psychology program challenging.

How to Overcome:

There are several ways to help deal with the challenge of master’s in psychology program costs. As you research schools and programs, be sure to check out the financial aid page and see if the school offers scholarships, grants, or other types of financial assistance for students. Some schools offer financial aid opportunities specifically for psychology students. There are also various private scholarships and grant opportunities. Some employers offer tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement programs, which is an excellent way to offset some of the costs of the programs. Another way to overcome this challenge is to see if you will qualify for work-study or graduate assistantships.


CHALLENGE #3: Balancing School, Work, and Personal Responsibilities


About the Challenge:

Challenging coursework, clinical practicum experiences, and time commitments are a few things that make a master's in psychology program hard. Completing your master’s in psychology will require you to balance school, work, and other personal responsibilities. Because the program requires a time commitment, it may be challenging to balance other things.

How to Overcome:

To succeed, you must focus on your time management and scheduling skills to overcome this challenge. Creating and maintaining a weekly and monthly schedule will help keep you on track. Utilizing shared calendars with friends and family can also reduce the amount of time you spend coordinating with others, as they can see when you are busy and when you may have free time. Additional helpful resources could be time-tracking apps, automatic reminders, or even a paper planner, depending on your preferences.


CHALLENGE #4: Finding Qualified Clinical Practicum Sites


About the Challenge:

If you are earning a master's in psychology to become a licensed or clinical psychologist, you must complete practicum hours before graduating. While some schools offer assistance finding clinical sites, others require students to locate their own sites and preceptor, which can be challenging for some.

How to Overcome:

Inquire about practicum requirements during the admissions process, so you know what to expect. If you need to find your own placements and preceptors, begin your search early on to avoid feeling rushed or selecting a less-than-ideal placement. Another option to overcome this challenge is to apply to master's in psychology programs with dedicated clinical placement teams or schools with established networks of preceptors to choose from. Knowing you will be assigned a clinical site and preceptor can significantly reduce stress and help you complete your master's in psychology degree on time.


CHALLENGE #5: Managing Difficult Emotions


About the Challenge:

Some students report a master's in psychology program is hard because of situations leading to dealing with difficult emotions. You may feel emotionally overwhelmed by the physical and mental strain of studying and completing clinicals or feel emotional because of your empathy for others. Either way, when emotions are too much, it may cause you to feel run down or to experience burnout.

How to Overcome:

One of the best ways to overcome this challenge is to connect with other students. Talking through difficult emotions with people experiencing the same things is typically easier. Also, utilize your faculty mentors, school counseling services, and program advisors for support. Program faculty and staff have personal and professional experience managing difficult emotions and can offer advice and coping strategies to help you along the way.

Pursuing a master's in psychology degree does not exempt you from feeling emotionally overwhelmed or needing to care for yourself. However, if you remain aware of your emotions and times when you begin to struggle, you can overcome this challenge and succeed in your program.


CHALLENGE #6: Learning How to Deal with Difficult Patients


About the Challenge:

One of the challenges you will face in a master's in psychology program is dealing with difficult patients. Whether you have patients with multiple or complex diagnoses or those who choose to be non-compliant, it can be challenging knowing how to approach patients and deal with their issues.

How to Overcome:

Part of your training in a master's in psychology program will include measures for dealing with difficult clients or situations. You will learn to demonstrate effective communication to redirect problematic behaviors or de-escalate tense situations. The best way to overcome the challenge of dealing with difficult patients is to utilize every opportunity to learn and grow professionally. The more time you spend working with patients, the more comfortable you will feel addressing issues head-on. Overcoming this challenge requires developing your psychology skills and perfecting your ability to stay calm in stressful situations.


CHALLENGE #7: Mastering Clinical and Therapeutic Skills


About the Challenge:

Another one of the challenges and reasons why a master's in psychology program is hard is that you will need to master clinical and therapeutic skills. Obtaining knowledge through coursework and seminars is only one step in the process. You must learn to translate this new information into real-life practice, which can be difficult.

How to Overcome:

It can be easy to hide behind other students or check the boxes, but the only way to overcome this challenge is by going outside of your comfort zone. Success in a master's in psychology program requires you to challenge yourself. You can do this by picking challenging practicums, volunteering, or signing up for immersion experiences. You will benefit from the different experiences, and the extra practice hours will also look good on your resume when applying for your new job after graduation.


CHALLENGE #8: Acknowledging and Understanding Ethical Perspectives


About the Challenge:

Acknowledging and accepting ethical perspectives that differ from your own is something you will face throughout your academic and professional career. Looking past others’ values and beliefs can be difficult, but it is necessary to provide them with the care they need.

How to Overcome:

During your master’s in psychology program, you will learn about theories and ethics from different perspectives. You will be presented with mock scenarios to work through in the classroom to prepare for clinical practicum. You do not have to change your own beliefs. Instead, the goal is to understand that your clients and peers have their own beliefs and perspectives and to appreciate those, nurturing a therapeutic provider/patient relationship. Setting your own ethical perspectives aside to provide care to patients or work in diverse cultural settings gets easier with practice.


CHALLENGE #9: Picking a Specialty


About the Challenge:

Choosing to pursue a master's in psychology program is hard enough. Once you choose a school and program, the next step is to choose a specialty or population focus. Even if you have an idea of the direction you want to go with your career, making the decision to focus on one specialty can feel overwhelming.

How to Overcome:

Choosing a specialty does not have to be as difficult as it may feel. Start by thinking of things that interest you about psychology and writing down future job roles you may enjoy. Do you see yourself in more of a clinical role or an academic role? Do you enjoy working with children? Perhaps you want to work with individuals dealing with addictive or behavioral disorders. Talk to your academic advisor or other psychology professionals to learn the pros and cons of different specialty paths. Knowing what interests you personally and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different career paths can help you choose the right specialty.


CHALLENGE #10: Learning to Perform Research and Interpret Findings


About the Challenge:

One of the challenging parts of a master's in psychology program is the research component. This component can be especially challenging if you have yet to gain any previous research experience or if research does not interest you.

How to Overcome:

If you lack research experience, you can still succeed in a master's in psychology program. Even if you do not care much for research, there are steps you can take to increase your chance of succeeding in the program. Consider taking research electives or volunteering as a research assistant. Keep in mind that research is essential for evidence-based practice, which is essential for effective practice. One of the best things about pursuing a graduate-level psychology degree is that you get access to groundbreaking research and the opportunity to develop research skills in a supportive environment. So, although the work may be challenging, it is quite beneficial to your academic and professional success.


CHALLENGE #11: You May Find the Coursework Lackluster


About the Challenge:

It is easy to become focused on the clinical aspects of a master’s in psychology program and feel as though the coursework leaves something lacking. Although the coursework is in-depth, it lacks the excitement offered in hands-on clinical practicum. If you feel your classes are boring, it could pose a challenge, which is a common reason some students feel a master’s in psychology program is hard.

How to Overcome:

The hands-on clinical portions of my degree were the most exciting for me. Because I enjoy the excitement of patient care, I found some of my courses lackluster and could not wait until they were over. Overcoming this challenge involves finding ways to push through even when you are bored or disinterested. Make sure to pick electives you find intriguing, as this can help offset any coursework you do not find interesting. Also, remember earning your degree is a process. You can get through the "not so interesting" parts of the program!


CHALLENGE #12: You Will be Expected to Utilize Different Types of Technology


About the Challenge:

Healthcare providers and students in healthcare programs use technology more than ever in this digital age. You may use technology to access online course content, submit assignments, or attend synchronous online classes. In the clinical setting, you will use technology to access and use electronic health records, conduct telehealth assessments or visits, and collaborate with team members. For some master’s in psychology students, the various types of technology can feel overwhelming.

How to Overcome:

If using different types of technology is challenging to you, there are several things you can do to help reduce your frustration. Access and use available resources to help you learn how to use the different types of technology, including videos, in-person training, online guides, and asking other students or instructors to demonstrate how they work. Consider taking computer or informatics classes.

If you still need help learning how to utilize current technology, find out if there is someone in the informatics or IT department who specializes in training and education. It is important to remember that everyone has something that feels challenging. So, do not be too hard on yourself. Instead, acknowledge what is challenging and take steps to overcome those challenges.


CHALLENGE #13: You Will Have to Memorize A lot of Information.


About the Challenge:

Another reason a master's in psychology program is hard is the amount of new content you must learn. In addition to learning assessment and communication skills, a lot of content must be memorized, such as diagnosis characteristics, treatment modalities, and medications. Even if you are not prescribing medications, you must be familiar with what they are and what they do. Memorizing a great deal of information can be challenging.

How to Overcome:

You can use several techniques to help memorize important content. Some of the most popular memorization techniques include creating flashcards, making acronyms or rhymes that correspond to the information, and rote memorization, which is repeating words or ideas through written or verbal methods until you have memorized them. Learning which memorization technique is most effective for you will help you overcome the challenge of learning large amounts of content.


CHALLENGE #14: Navigating School Politics and Bureaucracy


About the Challenge:

It can be easy to get caught up in school politics and bureaucracy. It happens at every school and within every department. It can be challenging to keep your head above water, so to speak, and not let this aspect of being in school cause you trouble.

How to Overcome:

Sometimes, the best way to overcome the challenge of school politics and bureaucracy is to try and ignore the things you cannot change. If getting involved in school politics leaves you frustrated, stick to your studies and leave the politics and bureaucracy to others. Staying busy and completing your coursework will leave little time for anything else. However, if you need involvement in something outside the classroom, consider getting involved in positive organizations and joining extracurriculars that you are passionate about.


CHALLENGE #15: Worrying About Finding a Job After Graduation


About the Challenge:

As exciting as earning your master’s in psychology can be, the worry about what you will do after graduation can be challenging. The last thing you want after graduation is to worry about not finding a job, so it is not surprising you may worry about it before you even start your degree. A master's in psychology program is hard enough. Worrying about finding a job is not something you should have to focus on while in school.

How to Overcome:

Choose practicum settings where you gain valuable experience. Many students make solid connections with preceptors at clinical sites. You can leverage your practicum experience to gain employment at your clinical sites after graduation.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


If you are considering earning a graduate degree in psychology, it is normal to wonder, “How hard is a master’s in psychology program?" The truth is, there are challenges with any master's degree program, but most of the time, you can overcome them by utilizing available resources and working hard. Keep this list of the 15 biggest challenges you will face in a master's in psychology program and how to overcome them handy to help you when you face the challenges of your program. Then, take a leap of faith and start pursuing your degree! You can do this!



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. How Long Does A Master's In Psychology Program Take?

Master’s in psychology programs can take anywhere from one to three years to complete. Your current degree level, the number of transferable credits, and whether you choose to enroll part-time or full-time will determine how long it takes you to earn the degree.


2. Is It Normal To Struggle In A Master's In Psychology Program?

Although everyone identifies challenges differently, it is normal to struggle in any academic program. The extra pressure and complex coursework of master’s in psychology programs add another layer of difficulty. Don’t be worried if you struggle; just make sure to ask for help and seek the support you need.


3. Which Year Of A Master's In Psychology Program Is The Hardest?

The first year may be the hardest if this is your first graduate-level degree. This is because you will need to adjust to the increased level of difficulty associated with master’s degree programs. If you plan to complete a thesis or research project, the final year of your psychology master’s program could be the hardest due to the added work.


4. What Are The Hardest Classes In A Master's In Psychology Program?

Classes that students report as being hard in master's in psychology programs include research methods and statistics, ethical and professional issues courses, clinical courses that focus on psychopathology, and the diagnosis and treatment of complex disorders.


5. How Many Hours Do I Need To Study In A Master's In Psychology Program?

The amount of time it will take you to study while in a master's in psychology program depends on how you learn the material. While each student is different, most academic advisors recommend spending two to three hours studying per each credit hour you are taking each week. For instance, if you are enrolled in 10 credit hours, you may spend 20 to 30 hours.


6. Is It Hard To Work During A Master's In Psychology Program?

It can be hard to work during a master’s in psychology program. However, each student and situation is different. There are many options for how and when you complete your master's in psychology degree. For example, if you wish to continue working, a part-time or distance-learning option may be best.


7. What Percent Of Master's In Psychology Students Drop Out?

Dropout rates for master's in psychology programs vary. You can ask each program directly for their specific attrition or dropout rate.


8. Is It Common To Fail A Master's In Psychology Program?

Master’s in psychology programs are not known for having high failure rates. However, failure is possible.


9. What Next After Failing A Master's In Psychology Program?

Suppose you fail a master's in psychology program and cannot continue in this degree program. In that case, you can transfer any eligible credits to a different master's program, such as sociology, anthropology, or human services. If you fail and wish to try again, speak with your academic advisor and faculty to learn your options and develop a plan to improve your chance of success the next time.


Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN
Brooke Schmidt is a registered nurse with 10 years of clinical experience. She is currently living in Oregon and enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family. Brooke graduated from The University of Portland with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. During her time in school, Brooke developed a passion for geriatrics and chose a specialized practicum to gain further experience with this population.