Top Psychology Graduate Programs in the U.S.

Interested in a graduate degree in Psychology from a top program within the United States? We offer rankings of best U.S. Psychology graduate programs. Review the following schools to see requirements for Master and Doctoral degrees in the area of Psychology.

  • AbbreviationFinder: Browse our list of all acronyms and abbreviations related to Psychology with their full meanings and definitions. Sorted by popularity and categorized within Psychology.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes. Behavior is a comprehensive concept that includes reactions to influences, intentional actions, and bodily processes of psychological interest (such as activation under stress). With mental processes aiming to both those that determine people’s perception of themselves and the environment (cognitive processes), and to those who are the basis for what one feels and what one will (emotional and motivational processes).


Psychology, on the one hand, borders on the cultural and social sciences, and on the other hand towards biology, medicine and health sciences.

Psychological research is based on a wide range of methods, from quantitative and experimental to more qualitative studies such as interviews and case studies. The different areas of psychological research and application intersect, but to some extent a distinction can be made between basic research, which aims to elucidate and clarify issues of theoretical interest, and applied psychology, which emphasizes the use of professional knowledge in various practical contexts.

Important topics in basic research are:

  • General Psychology, which studies the general principles of sensory perception, learning, thinking, emotions and motivation;
  • Differential psychology, the study of individual differences– how people are different from each other
  • Personality psychology, which is about what characterizes the individual
  • Abnormal psychology or psychopathology, which applies to conditions and personality traits that deviate from the “normal”
  • Developmental psychology, which deals with changes through childhood and adulthood
  • Social psychology, which is about the interaction between people and how the individual is influenced by, perceives and responds to other people and the social environment
  • Biological and physiological psychology, which deals with the physical basis of psychological processes
  • Evolutionary psychology, which is based on human evolution and generates and tests hypotheses based on it.

Important research disciplines that have strong applied sides are:

  • Clinical psychology, which includes the investigation and treatment of psychological problems and various mental disorders
  • Educational psychology, which is about the use of psychological knowledge towards children and adults in learning situations
  • Work and organizational psychology, which focuses on the principles of well-being and efficiency in working life
  • Health psychology, which uses psychological knowledge and methodology to identify, prevent and remedy health problems in the population.

The breadth and diversity of subjects and work assignments in modern psychology indicate that it may be more appropriate to perceive psychology as a group of disciplines than as a unified subject.


The term psychology dates from the 1400s, while treatises “on the soul” and discussion of various psychological basic questions are known from ancient times, with Aristotle as the leading philosopher. Up to the 19th century, much of these writings revolved around the relationship between the different parts, abilities or powers of the soul, often called faculties.

Inspired by British philosophy of experience, it became increasingly common (1700–1900) to define psychology as the study of consciousness and its conceptual content, which was often assumed to be associated with associations (association psychology).

In the second half of the 19th century, a new “scientific” psychology was established, primarily in Germany, and represented by professionals such as Gustav T. Fechner, Hermann Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt. This psychology led to the establishment of psychological laboratories, where simple mental processes (sensation, perception, associations, memory) were studied experimentally. Scientists from many countries, including Scandinavia, visited the German laboratories to be inaugurated in the new psychology.

In England (in particular Francis Galton) and the United States (in William James, James Cattell and Granville Hall), psychology took a turn in the functionalist way at the turn of the century by also taking an interest in individual differences, developmental psychology, animal psychology and the practical applications of psychology.. The influence of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution then played a crucial role.

Large parts of psychology in the 20th century can still be regarded as functionalist. Of other major directions that characterized the evolution of psychology in the period circa 1910-1960, the most important behaviorism, founded by John B. Watson in the United States, was the Gestalt Psychology (by Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka), which originated in Germany, and psychoanalysis., developed by Sigmund Freud in Vienna. All of these directions differed in a different way from the previous psychology of consciousness.

Some behaviorists argued that one should not deal with mental processes at all, but with the behavior and the situations that evoke it, often described as stimulus-response compounds (so-called SR psychology). The Gestalt psychologists renounced all attempts to analyze consciousness and behavior in certain elements, and instead focused attention on the mental “wholes” (gestures).

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Psychoanalytic theory, for its part, is based on a basic assumption that conscious soul life is secondary to more fundamentally unconscious drives, conflicts and processes. The directions were also very different in terms of research method (experimental animal studies in behaviorism and clinical case studies in psychoanalysis), and which psychological themes were argued to be central (learning, perception, motivation).

In the period after World War II, the bulk of psychological research took place in the United States, where, around 1960, new directions arose in partial opposition to the established ones. Among the new ones were humanistic psychology (especially by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers), both of which distanced from what was perceived as little human traits in behaviorism and psychoanalysis, and cognitive psychology, which was inspired by computer technology and consisted, among other things, of attempts to to develop detailed models for the mental processes that one thinks must be included in, for example, attention, memory and problem solving.

After 1960, however, psychology has been primarily characterized by the emergence of a large number of theoretical topics and areas of application, a development that has provided a freer relationship with the traditional “school directions”.

In Norway, philosophy professor Anathon Aall founded the first psychological institute at the University of Kristiania in 1909, while Harald K. Schjelderup became the first professor of psychology when in 1928 he converted his professorship in philosophy. Schjelderup had a background in both German experimental psychology and psychoanalysis, and helped to bridge different directions.

To read about the psychology education and profession in Norway, see the article Psychologist.

Top Psychology Graduate Programs in the U.S.

Top 10 Psychology Graduate Programs in the United States

Rank College Name Location
1 Stanford University Stanford, CA
2 University of California–Berkeley Berkeley, CA
3 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
4 University of California–Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
5 University of Michigan–Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
6 Yale University New Haven, CT
7 University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL
8 Princeton University Princeton, NJ
9 University of Minnesota–Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
10 University of Wisconsin–Madison Madison, WI


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