Why I Chose to Get My Masters in Psychology Online

BY Lake Sydney03 June 2022, 16:03

A student rides a bicycle past the bell tower on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Ind., as seen in October 2012. (Photographer: Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce and Economics from Goshen College in 2000, Clara Swald pursued a career in customer service. While she says she received a great education from Goshen, “I think I picked the wrong program for me,” she says Fortune.

Swald worked for nearly two decades in customer service and sales jobs, before landing at Harman International, a Samsung subsidiary. But when the company began closing factories in Elkhart County, Indiana, where Swald worked, she reassessed her career plans and explored graduate programs.

Because Swald studied business and economics as an undergraduate, she was looking for something different from an MBA so she could develop new marketable skills. Then she landed on psychology.

Swald graduated from Purdue University’s online master’s in psychology program with a concentration in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology in 2020 and now works as a human resources generalist with the Mennonite Central Committee, an organization of rescue services. Fortune sat down with Swald to find out why she chose to continue her education online.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How a Masters in Psychology Led to a Role in HR

Fortune: Why did you decide to pursue your Masters in Psychology online rather than in person?

Swald: When I started looking, I found Indiana University. They had an I/O psychology program, but it wasn’t online. I was looking for it to be online because I’m a mom of two girls; I’m a woman. And I knew it would be difficult and that I would also be working full time. It would be difficult for me to go to a building for my classes.

I don’t know if it’s all women, but we tend to do a lot more, a lot of things at once. So I knew the online method would be better for me. And that’s how I ended up at Purdue.

How was your work/life/school balance? How long did you spend in school?

Two hours a day or more. Sometimes I didn’t have lunch at work. I ate while in college just to get ahead – I wanted to be ahead. My goal was to finish it in a year and a half. I ended up finishing it in a year and a half which was a blessing for me because in March 2020 when everything was closing down and COVID was starting I was actually diagnosed with breast cancer.

I learned a lot from that. It gave me the push to get my degree early. After I finished chemo and finished all my treatments, I was able to say that I had graduated. Now, how can I use this diploma that I have obtained?

How did you know you wanted to study psychology?

I knew I wanted to work in HR. During my lifetime as an employee, HR was seen as one of those groups of people you’re afraid of. But after taking my psychology classes, I realized that HR was there all along. HR is there to help provide solutions before things get confusing or complicated. I hoped I could be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Instead of just assuming that HR is there to mess things up or berate you, it’s not the disciplinary who are there to lecture you.

Benefits of a Masters in Psychology

How has the online program helped you get to where you are now?

I feel like I’ve been empowered to talk about a lot of what’s going on in our business and recruiting. My degree was in I/O Psychology with a specialization in Human Resources, and right now I’m working with some of my colleagues to create a seamless onboarding process. I know that if I didn’t go to Purdue Global, I wouldn’t have any knowledge or idea or know where to start.

It also allowed me to do interviews. I can actually stand up in interviews and say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s something we want to deal with right now,” or I might say, “Hmm, let’s make it uniform.”

My supervisor asked, ‘Hey, what, what kind of training do you think we need?’ And I was like, ‘I think bias training would be a really strong thing right now because I think everyone has biases, and we could learn a lot and that would help us with our recruiting.’ So right now we are planning to do bias training in May, and I think that will be beneficial for all HR people.

I know for a fact that if I hadn’t graduated from Purdue Global with I/O psychology and a major in human resources, I wouldn’t be in this job.

What advice do you have for applicants looking to continue their studies online?

The most important thing is discipline. Every weekend you go to dinner with friends, go to the movies, all of that can wait. And I think that applies to any other degree as well.

You have to try to read ahead, stay ahead of the schedule, watch the schedule, plan your few months around that schedule. Nothing stands still in your personal life. For example, your children always need you, your husband always needs your support and help. You still need to get your eight hours every day at work. Discipline is important.

See how the schools you are considering have landed Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.

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