The 5 Core Learning Goals of a Graduate Psychology Program

In March 2018, the American Psychological Association published a set of Guidelines on Core Learning Goals for Master’s Degree Graduates  in Psychology. The 5 core learning goals represent the findings of an APA task force charged with articulating “what students should know and be able to do at the conclusion of a master’s program.”

The core learning goals broadly describe skills graduates of a psychology master’s program should possess, without prescribing specific course material. They apply to all concentrations within psychology.

This publication was primarily intended for educators developing master’s-level psychology curricula, but prospective students are encouraged to use the goals as objectives to work toward, and current master’s students can use them as benchmarks to measure their progress against. Working toward these learning goals will help psychology graduate students get the most out of their educational experience and set them up for professional success.

The Five Learning Goals

Compared to the APA’s learning goals for undergraduate psychology, the master’s level goals focus more on depth than breadth. The authors explain that “faculty are likely to expect students at the master’s level to develop rich expertise in narrower areas of interest while spending a larger proportion of time in higher-order skill development, including analyzing, evaluating, and creating.” Here is a brief description of the most salient aspects of each of the core learning goals:

  1. Knowledge Base in Psychology
  • Demonstrates broad knowledge of psychology’s core domains, can integrate concepts from different domains when analyzing complex behavior.
  • Is able to implement statistical methods to answer research questions as well as understand and evaluate statistical methods in published research.
  • Can articulate historical and contemporary issues in the field and situate theories in their social and historical context.
  • Possesses comprehensive knowledge of theories, concepts and methods in one focused area (concentration).


  1. Scientific Mindedness
  • Can identify researchable questions, navigate databases to find evidence and evaluate the quality of sources.
  • Answers research questions using strategies that have been tested with scientific rigor.
  • Integrates relevant concepts, principles and theories to formulate plausible explanations for behavior. Can identify and rule out alternative explanations, and recognize and defend against personal, cultural or cognitive biases which might distort conclusions.
  • Incorporates sociocultural factors into inquiry; employs innovative problem solving.
  1. Ethical and Social Responsibility in a Diverse World
  • Recognizes and embraces the ethical standards of the discipline, as laid out in the APA Code of Ethics. Takes responsibility for ethical decisions and honestly articulates their decision-making process.
  • Invested in deepening their understanding of intersecting identities as well as their own identities and limitations.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to diversity; recognizes and acknowledges how discrimination and oppression adversely influence interactions.
  1. Communication
  • Skilled in clear, organized and respectful communication, whether written, oral or interpersonal.
  • Works well with others and as part of a team. Gives appropriate feedback; receives feedback gracefully and uses it to grow.
  • Has mastered APA style.
  • Able to adapt communication to different contexts and audiences.
  • Uses technology effectively; understands strengths and weaknesses of different communication technologies including social media.
  1. Professional Development
  • Evaluates and monitors their own performance. Works to identify and close gaps in knowledge. Accepts and learns from feedback.
  • Identifies possible career paths and is knowledgeable about professional opportunities for which they are qualified.
  • Participates in professional organizations, pursues continuing education and reads appropriate journals to stay up to date.
  • Can apply knowledge to solve problems in a professional setting. Understands the limitations of their role and adheres to professional conduct.

Carlow University offers a number of degree programs in psychology and counseling including master’s programs in psychology that will bring your skills to the level specified by the APA’s learning goals in just four semesters (36 credit hours), providing an opportunity for interested students to deepen their psychological understanding without committing to a full 60-credit program that would lead to professional licensure. Graduates of the program will develop high-level research skills and can choose from master’s degree programs in assessment psychology, forensic psychology, educational psychology, and exploration psychology. These affordable programs accept students from a range of undergraduate programs, and there is no GRE or GMAT required for admission, so it is one of the most accessible entry points into graduate psychology study. It is also perfect for students looking to immediately pursue a psychology doctorate program at Carlow or elsewhere, providing an opportunity to enhance their GPA, research skills and clinical experience and receive guidance from expert faculty in the field of psychology that interests them.

This list looks different than the programs listed in the Year One Strategy. It makes sense to me why you’re focusing on the ones you are with this blog post – but just wanted to double check.

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