1996: Masters, Specialists and Related Degrees Employment Survey

R. Marchonie Auguste, Marlene Wicherski, Jessica L. Kohout
APA Center for Workforce Studies
June 1996
Report Text

In 1993, in direct response to a lack of data on the educational and employment patterns of graduates with master's-level training, the American Psychological Association's (APA) Research Office launched a new survey effort in order to gain comprehensive employment data based on a nationwide sample. That Spring, the 1993 American Psychological Association Nondoctoral Employment Survey became one of the routine survey projects conducted by the Research Office. The second effort to gather, analyze and disseminate information on graduates with master's and related degrees in psychology was initiated in the Spring of 1997. This report presents information on the employment and educational experiences of 1996 graduates with master's degrees. It also provides information on demographic characteristics and explores data such as employment status, perception of the job market, starting salaries and other relevant characteristics.


The Master's Employment Survey (MES) was conducted in the year following receipt of the degree. Department chairs were contacted for the names and addresses of persons awarded master's degrees during the previous year. In 1997, a survey was mailed to these individuals requesting information on their experiences entering the labor force and the relevance of their graduate training to their employment situations.

The chairs of master's-granting departments in the United States and Canada (451 doctoral departments and 250 terminal master's departments) were contacted in September 1996 and were asked to provide the names and addresses of individuals who received their master's degree between July 1, 1995 and June 30, 1996. The list of departments offering Masters of Arts (MA), Masters of Science (MS), Masters of Education (MEd), Masters in Counseling (MC), Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) and specialist programs was compiled from the files of the APA Research Office, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), and the Council of Applied Master's Programs in Psychology (CAMPP). A total of 5,901 names and addresses of master's and specialist's degree graduates, and 398 (57%) graduate psychology departments provided related programs in psychology.

A survey packet including a cover letter, insert and business reply envelope was mailed to each graduate in January, 1997. The appendix of this report contains a copy of the questionnaire. A reminder postcard was sent to nonrespondents in February, 1997, and a complete set of materials was sent a second time in March, 1997 to those graduates who still had not responded to the survey.

Of the 5,898 surveys that were mailed, a total of 2,346 useable surveys were returned, yielding an overall response rate of 40%. Although low, this rate compares favorably with the 35% response rate for the previous survey (1993). Based on the gender distribution (72% female and 28% male) reported in the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) "Completions" survey, it appears that the present sample was representative of master's-level recipients nationwide. Over the past several decades, women have been entering the field of psychology in increasing numbers (APA, 1977;1998).

Notes and Caveats

  1. Analyses are based on the number of respondents who provided information on a specific item/question unless otherwise noted. Percentages for several characteristics are reasonably complete; however, readers should be aware that nonresponse could introduce error.
  2. Caution is advised when interpreting statistical results based on small Ns.
  3. For salary data, statistics are not provided for employment settings where there are less than five respondents. As always, caution should be exercised when interpreting statistics based on small numbers (10 or less) and/or where the standard deviation is large.

Demographic Characteristics

As can be seen in Table 1a, over three quarters of respondents were women. The gender distribution of master's and related degree recipients mirrors the distribution reported for 1995 master's degree recipients in psychology by the 1997 Digest of Education Statistics (Snyder, 1997). Women represented 72% of master's recipients in psychology in 1994-95. This gender distribution in favor of women is also apparent among new baccalaureates in psychology. However, it is somewhat less extreme among new doctorates.

Approximately 86% of 1996 master's degree recipients were White and just under 4% each were Black and Hispanic. Asian graduates represented about 3% of the respondents and just over 1% were Native American, or did not specify. The "other" category was less than 2% of master's degree recipients. This category represented those individuals who indicated that the categories provided did not describe their racial/ethnic background adequately. In 1993, the percentage of master's degree recipients who were racial/ethnic minorities was 8% compared to more than 11% in 1996.

As seen in Table 1b, over half of the respondents were younger than 30, while almost 13% were between the ages of 30-34 and 8% were between the ages of 35-39. A little more than 9% were between the ages of 40-44 and about 12% of master's degrees were awarded to students over the age of 45. Two percent of the respondents did not specify their age. The average age of the respondents was 32, comparable to the mean age in 1993.

Degree Types
As seen in Table 1b, over half of the respondents (53%) earned the MA degree, while 30% earned the MS degree, and 7% earned a MEd/MSEd degree. Six percent obtained a Specialist's degree, 1% received a certificate of advanced graduate study (CAGS) degree, and less than 2% earned some other type of graduate degree.

Degree Subfields
Tables 2a and 2b present the subfield of respondents by degree type. Over two thirds of respondents (71%) attained master's degrees in health service provider subfields. Of this total, 43% received degrees in counseling, 32% in clinical, and 15% in school psychology. The number of master's degree recipients in health service provider subfields decreased by about 5% from 1993 to 1996. The remaining one third of the respondents had obtained their degrees in the traditional research and "other" subfields. The most common subfields in this group were industrial/organizational (26%), general (17%), educational (12%), and experimental psychology (9%).

MA and MS degree holders were represented in nearly every subfield. The Specialist and the CAGS degrees were commonly graduates in school psychology, while the MC was found solely in counseling psychology.

Terminal vs. Non-Terminal Degree Holders
In the MES, graduates were asked if they considered their Master's/Specialist's/CAGS/MC degree to be a "terminal" degree. "Terminal" was defined as having no immediate plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology and believing that the master's level of education and training sufficiently met their career goals. Over half (61%) of all respondents did not consider their degree to be terminal (see Table 3). However, it should be noted that this is less a function of student choice and more of a function of the terminal nature of the program. Even so, over three fourths of MC degree recipients and slightly more than half of specialist degree holders defined their degree as terminal.

Employment Status

In the present survey, full-time employment was characterized as a minimum of 35 hours a week, including situations where the person held multiple positions totaling 35 or more hours. Part-time employed persons were those who held one or more part-time positions totaling less than 35 hours.

Sixty-six percent of all respondents were employed and 27% were enrolled in further graduate study. Three percent were unemployed and seeking work and 2% were unemployed and not seeking work. Two percent reported working in another capacity, such as internships (see Table 1a). About 30% of respondents who earned the MA and MS degrees were currently enrolled in doctoral programs, compared to only 10% of specialist's and 9% of MEd graduates (see Table 1b). Tables 4a and 4b present a more detailed look at current employment status of respondents employed in the field of psychology by demographic and educational characteristics. Of those employed in psychology, 78% were employed full time and 22% were employed part time. About 9% of those who were employed full time also were pursuing further graduate study.

Subfield of Degree
As shown in Table 1b, graduates in the health service provider subfields had higher rates of employment than those in research and other subfields (69% and 57%, respectively). Research graduates were more often enrolled in doctoral programs (35%) than were health service provider graduates (23%). Rates of unemployment were similar for both subfield areas, with about 3% seeking work and 2% not seeking employment. As shown in Table 4b, both the health service provider subfields, and the more traditional research/other subfields had similar rates of full-time employment (71% and 68%, respectively). 

Employment Patterns

Seventy-three percent of respondents who reported being employed full time in psychology held only one position (they did not have a second or third position). The remaining 27% were employed in an additional part-time position. Just under half (49%) of those working more than one position held a full-time position. Finally, 26% of respondents with more than one position were employed part time in two or more part-time jobs.

Employment Settings

Full-time Employment
Table 5 contains data on the employment settings of respondents by employment pattern. The primary settings for master's recipients with a full-time position in psychology were in school and other educational settings (28%), followed by business/government/other settings (21%), and other human service settings (19%).

Business/government/other settings (21%), university settings and independent practice settings (12% each), and clinics (11%) were most often reported as the secondary position of respondents who were employed full-time in a full time position.

Those respondents employed full time as the result of holding two or more part-time positions most often reported business/government/other settings (15%), schools and other educational settings (15%), and clinics (13%) as primary work positions. Business/ government/other settings (23%), schools and other educational settings (15%), and independent practice (14%) were reported most often as secondary positions.

One example for the patterns found in employment settings is that the master's graduates were concentrated in those settings for which master's level education in psychology is particularly strong and organized. These were schools, businesses, and organized human service settings. Although some small percentages were found in "independent practice" in general, those reporting independent practice did so as their secondary position.

Part-time Employment
Table 5 also provides information on those who were employed part time in psychology (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Thirty-five percent were employed in academia (2-year and 4-year colleges, universities, medical schools, and other academic settings of higher learning). Thirty-three percent indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector (e.g., hospitals, clinics, and other human service settings). Twelve percent of respondents indicated that their primary position was in independent practice and 10% each were employed in either schools and other educational settings, or in business and government.

Women and men gave different reasons for choosing part-time employment. The overriding reason for men was not being able to find an appropriate full time position (53%). Women were more apt to choose part-time employment because of family responsibilities (41%).

Full-time Employment Settings by Subfield
Table 6 illustrates the primary full-time psychology-related employment settings by degree subfield. Forty percent of the graduates in health service provider fields, most of these counseling and clinical graduates, chose clinics and other human service settings. As one might expect, the majority of school psychology graduates (91%) were located in schools and other educational settings.

The single highest proportion (43%) of respondents from research subfields was employed in business/government/other settings. Fourteen percent were employed in human service settings (e.g., substance abuse facility, other community social service agency, nursing home), 15% in school and other educational settings, and about 10% in post-secondary academic settings.

Employment Positions by Subfield
Primary full-time employment positions in psychology by subfield of degree are provided in Table 7. As expected, the majority of respondents with degrees in health service provider subfields were employed in direct human services positions (82%). Thirty-seven percent of respondents with degrees in research and other fields were employed in direct human service positions and 22% were employed in an applied psychology setting.

Faculty Positions
Two percent of full-time positions in psychology were faculty positions. Twenty-three percent were on the tenure track and just under 18% had tenure; sixty-two percent of those respondents that were on the tenure track or already tenured were in research and other subfields.

Perceptions of Graduate Training and Current Employment Situation

Tables 8a-8d present perceptions of employed 1996 Master's and related degree recipients in terms of their satisfaction with selected elements of their jobs, commensurability of their jobs with their education and training, and the importance of the degree in obtaining employment.

Relevance of Graduate Training to Current Primary Position
Table 8a presents data on the extent to which graduate training is related to one's current primary position. Graduates were asked to determine the relevance of their graduate training in general. Sixty-two percent of respondents reported that their graduate training in general was closely related to their current primary position. Thirty percent reported that their graduate training in general was somewhat related to their current primary position. Sixty-eight percent reported that their graduate courses in their major field were closely related to their current primary position, followed by 25% of respondents who claimed that their graduate courses in their major field were somewhat related.

The patterns noted in 1996 were similar to those found in 1993. About one half of both MA and MS graduates found graduate training (in general) and courses in major subfields to be closely related to their positions. Another fourth of each found these factors to be somewhat related.

Specialist's degree recipients were most apt to report that graduate training and courses in major subfields were closely related to their positions. This is not surprising given the very specific purposes behind certificates and specialist degrees.

Given the less specific or the more general function of the Masters of Arts degree, it was not surprising to find that MA degree recipients were the least likely to report that their practicum or internship was closely related to their current position (58%). The other degrees are more applied and in many cases incorporate practica and internships. Specialist and CAGS degree recipients (92% and 100%, respectively) were the highest in terms of degree type that reported their practica or internship to be closely related. MC degree holders had the highest proportion of respondents citing their practica or internship as somewhat related to their current position.

Importance of the Master's/Specialist's/Related Degrees
When graduates were asked the level of importance of their degree in attaining their present position, results were favorable. Sixty-six percent of the respondents reported that their graduate degree was essential in attaining their present position (see Table 8b). A greater proportion (84% or better) of respondents with Specialist and CAGS, and other degrees described their graduate degree as essential compared to MA (60%) and MS (65%) graduates.

Overall, 59% percent of respondents deemed the graduate degree in psychology an essential qualification. In terms of degree, patterns were similar to those results pertaining to importance of graduate degree. Over one third of MA and MS graduates reported that their graduate degree in psychology was helpful but not an essential qualification for their current primary position.

As with the case with 1993 graduates, over 90% of specialist graduates stated that their graduate degree in psychology was an essential qualification for attaining their current position. Fifty-four percent of those with MA degrees, 56% of those with MS degrees, and 59% of those with MEd degrees cited that their graduate degree in psychology was an essential qualification for attaining their current position.

Two thirds or more of all respondents (across all degree types) reported that their graduate training adequately prepared them for their current jobs.

Job Preference
Overall, two thirds of respondents stated that their current position was their first choice (see Table 8c). Positions most frequently preferred by respondents whose primary position was not their first choice were "other type of position," applied psychology positions, and direct human service positions. Nine percent of respondents stated that they would like to work in a different institution/organization.

Sixty-one percent of MA and 68% of MS respondents stated that their current position was their first choice. Eighty-five percent of specialist respondents, 82% of CAGS, and 86% of MCs reported that their current position was their first choice.

Perceived Underemployment
The majority of employed respondents working in the field of psychology did not consider themselves underemployed (see Table 8c). Sixty-five percent indicated that their primary position was appropriate and only 4% reported that their job was not in their field. Sixteen percent indicated that their job was not commensurate with their level of training and 9% indicated that their job was not commensurate with level of experience. Fourteen percent of respondents would prefer a more challenging position or are currently looking for a more commensurate position. Nine percent prefer to remain in their current position for personal reasons.

Level of Satisfaction with Current Primary Position
Overall, almost 58% of respondents were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their salary while just under 70% were satisfied or very satisfied with their benefits (see Table 8d). Higher proportions of respondents were satisfied with personal development, supervisors, co-workers and working conditions (about three fourths or more, each) than with other aspects of their jobs. When comparing various aspects of job satisfaction, smaller proportions were satisfied with opportunity for recognition or promotion (68% and 42%, respectively). The item eliciting the lowest satisfaction rating was opportunities for promotion (42%).

Obtaining Employment
Thirty-four percent of master's recipients were in either their present employment position when they started their program (8%) or prior to completing their graduate degree (26%). Twenty-four percent found employment within three months of completing the degree while 11% were employed within four to six months of completing the degree, and 14% reported that it took more than six months to find their current position. The remaining 17% did not specify the length of time it took to find employment.

Respondents were asked to indicate the job methods that were successful in obtaining employment. The three most successful job search methods were informal channels (38%), newspaper advertisements (23%), and sending unsolicited vitae (8%).

Perceptions of the Job Market
Overall, 37% of respondents working in psychology stated that the job market was "fair," 30% said it was "good," and 7% said it was "excellent." Twenty-one percent rated the job market as "poor."

Doctoral Study

Twenty-seven percent of all respondents reported that they were enrolled in a doctoral program or pursuing a second master's-level degree. Fifty-one percent of the 622 respondents enrolled in doctoral programs also were working while in a graduate program. Thirty-seven percent were not working and 12% reported their employment status as "other" (e.g., teaching assistantships, fellowships, and internships).

Seventy-two percent of those who were enrolled in doctoral study in psychology were women. Overall, 83% were White, 5% were Hispanic, 4% were Asian, 3% were African American, and 1% were Native American. Two percent of the respondents claimed "other" ethnicity, and 2% did not specify their ethnic background.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents enrolled in a doctoral program were less than 35 years of age, 14% were between 35-44 years of age, and 6% were between 45-59 years of age and 2% did not specify. The overall mean age was 30 years.

Sources and Levels of Support for Graduate Training

Table 9 presents data on all sources of financial support and the primary source of support used during graduate training. Almost all students used either non-university loans or own/family resources at one time during their graduate training. This indicates a debt load for most graduates. Personal resources were cited by 39% of the respondents as the primary source of support. This is in contrast to the 1992 graduates, 55% of who reported personal resources as their primary source of support. Non-university loans served as primary source of support for 29% of respondents, and 17% relied primarily on university research/teaching assistantships. Six percent of the respondents were primarily funded by non-university grants and other sources. Six percent did not specify a primary source of support.

Primary sources of support were examined among various demographic groups. Women were 5% less likely than men to obtain university support. The use of non-university grants, however, was similar among males and females. Minorities and Whites reported similar sources of primary support. Ethnic minority respondents were only 4% less likely to have used their personal resources to pay for graduate training. Ethnic minorities were 2% more likely to use non-university loans than Whites.

Levels of Indebtedness

Tables 10 and 11 present data on the education-related debt incurred by graduates. Sixty percent of the respondents reported having debt after graduation. Analyses of debt related to undergraduate and/or graduate education on receipt of degree by type of subfield indicated that the majority of graduates both in health care provider and research/other subfields reported more than $10,000 in debt.

Salaries of New Master's, Specialist's, & Related Degree Recipients

The starting salaries for recent master's and specialist's degree recipients with full-time positions related to psychology by position and employment setting are given in Table 12. Direct human services salaries are listed separately for graduates in subfields with five or more respondents. The highest median 11-12 month salaries were reported by master's recipients in applied psychology positions ($40,000), specifically in consulting firms. In general, applied positions and direct human service positions in school psychology had higher salaries than other position types. The graduates in fields where there are established occupational niches for the master's degree tend to report higher salaries (e.g., school and industrial/organizational psychology). The lowest median salary by field of degree was reported by graduates in direct human service positions ($25,000) in general psychology. In terms of employment setting, the lowest salary was reported among general psychology graduates working in direct human services in hospitals ($21,000).