Education and Training in I-O Psychology

David Costanza
The George Washington University


Jennifer Kisamore
University of Oklahoma-Tulsa

This months Education and Training in I-O Psychology column is based on an education forum the authors organized at this years annual SIOP conference in Los Angeles. This piece addresses important concerns regarding the current and future states of masters level education in I-O, including how to effectively and efficiently recruit and select high quality students for masters programs. The authors also discuss trends (including the lack thereof) in masters level I-O curriculum both in terms of required general psychology courses and typical core I-O courses. Other important issues raised include the question of whether to require masters students to conduct a thesis, what appropriate alternatives are to a thesis requirement, and whether to require an internship to complete a masters level education. In order to further assess the current state of masters level education in I-O, the authors will be conducting a survey of programs in the fall. David and I encourage you and your department to participate in this endeavor!

As always, we are eager to hear your comments and concerns about the state of education and training in I-O. The E&T column is a great medium for enhancing awareness of current issues in training future I-O psychologists. We encourage you to send your comments about this column or ideas for future columns to David Costanza ( or me ( If you have any questions concerning this article specifically, including participating in the fall survey or providing data for the mini meta-analysis, please contact Mark Nagy at

Educational Training for Masters Degree Programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Mark S. Nagy
Xavier University

Brian W. Schrader 
Emporia State University

Michael G. Aamodt
Radford University

Whether subscribing to the Boulder scientistpractitioner model or the Vail scholarpractitioner model, extensive knowledge in both science and application are essential in determining the success of I-O psychology students (Thompson, Garman, Horowitz, & Barr, 2005). As a result, administrative decisions regarding the selection and educational training of graduate students are critical. Whereas these decisions are difficult for educating doctoral level students in I-O psychology, they are equally as difficult for training masters level students. Moreover, given that masters I-O psychology programs (74) outnumber I-O psychology doctoral programs (64) in North America (Aamodt, 2004), these issues may be important to a number of I-O psychology educators and students. Although a number of programmatic issues exist, this paper, which is based on our recent education forum at SIOP in 2005, will focus on three major administrative issues involved in masters education: recruitment and selection, the masters educational curriculum, and the decision to require a thesis and/or an internship.

Recruitment and Selection Issues

It is not uncommon for program directors to look at other programs for new ideas or to see how their recruiting year compared to those at other universities. The main source for such information is the self-reported information found for each program on the SIOP Web page. As shown in Table 1, the typical I-O masters program gets 35 applications, accepts about 44% of those who apply, and enrolls 10 new students each year. These students have a median GRE of 1,060 and a median GPA of 3.4. The problem with using this information is that, for many programs, the data are estimates and/or they have not changed in 10 or 20 years! 

Table 1
Statistics on Terminal Masters Level I-O Psychology Programs in the United States
             Statistic                                     N                     Mean          Median            Low                         High

Number of masters level programs 58*
Number of applicants 52  47.8  35  6 120
Number of applicants accepted 52
20.2  15  5
Percentage of applicants accepted 52
56.0  44  9
Number of students enrolling 52
12.4  10  4
Average GRE scores 
(V + Q)
1,062  1,060
Undergraduate GPA
     Overall 39 3.40 3.40 3.11 3.71
     Junior/Senior 10 3.55 3.52 3.30 3.70

*Although 74 programs were identified, only these 58 programs provided the necessary data.

A problem with the SIOP data is that it is to the advantage of a program to submit or keep estimates of their best year rather than the most recent because applicants use these data to compare the quality of programs. The problem for program directors is that one might find that the average GRE for his/her program is 950, sees that the median is 1,060, and realize that publishing the 950 might make the program seem inferior. As a result, the program director either does not submit data (which many programs do not) or does not provide an update so that the better numbers from a previous year remain in public view.

During our SIOP presentation, we mentioned that we were going to conduct a survey in the fall of program directors to get data that are new and hopefully accurate. The plan is to publish these data in a percentile chart so that each university can see where they stand regarding such things as number of applicants, number of faculty, enrollments, and GRE scores. Our hope is that by conducting a survey in which data from individual schools cannot be identified, we will get a better picture of the actual norms. 

Also during our education forum at SIOP, we asked program directors about certain trends, and here are the highlights of the discussion:

  • Almost every program in attendance had an increase in applications from 2004 to 2005, with the most common response being a 20% increase.

  • Every program director in attendance charged an application fee, the typical fee was $50, and the fees did not greatly affect the number of applications received. There were several comments that after initially charging the fees, fewer applications were received from students who had no chance of being admitted (e.g., 2.3 GPA, 800 GRE), but there was no reduction in the number of applications from good students.

  • The general rule for accepting applicants was to accept about twice as many applicants as there were openings. 

  • Programs were similar in the factors used for admission. Most examined applicants GRE scores, undergraduate GPAs, and letters of recommendation. Some programs put more stock in personal statements than others.

  • Most programs wanted to see some indication that the applicant knew about the field of I-O psychology and thus was making an informed career choice. Indicators included taking an undergraduate I-O course, doing an HR-related internship, conducting I-O related research, and expressing a realistic view of the field in the applicants personal statement. Interestingly, some programs would not even consider an applicant unless they had taken an undergraduate I-O psychology course. There was some discussion regarding whether that was fair to students who attended universities without such a course.

During the forum we also presented the results of validity studies at Radford University and Xavier University. As shown in Table 2, the best predictor for both schools was the junior/senior GPA. Though the writing test on the GRE is fairly new, data from 23 students indicates that it may be a useful predictor (see Table 2).

Table 2
Correlations with Graduate GPA
Radford University                                         Xavier University
Predictor                                                r                               N                                r                                N

GRE Scores
    Verbal .18* 244 -.03   56
    Quantitative .26* 244 56
    V + Q .25* 246 .18   56
    Analytic .25* 235 .07   42
    Writing .52* 23 -.08   11
    Psychology .29* 115 .17   13
Undergraduate GPA
    Overall .35* 255 .38* 56
    Junior/senior .41* 245 .55* 55
    Psychology .36* 247 .51* 50
    R                                                                     .47                                                               .56
    Variables in regression                       GRE(V+Q), Jr/Sr GPA                      GREQ, UGGPA, PSYCGPA

*Statistical significance at .05

In our fall survey, we will ask programs that have collected validity data to share it with us so we can conduct a mini meta-analysis of the predictors of success in I-O masters programs. It is our hope that we can publish the results of the survey in the spring of next year. And, if you have data and want to participate, please let us know.

Content of the I-O Psychology Curriculum

Psychological core. One of the administrative decisions in the education of masters I-O students concerns the content of a core set of courses outside of I-O psychology. Although many doctoral programs have a core to satisfy state licensure requirements, such courses may be less of a concern in masters programs because most states do not grant licenses to masters level psychologists. Yet, educators in masters I-O programs are faced with determining how much of the psychological core they should include in their masters level curriculum. 

The Guidelines for Education and Training at the Masters Level in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (1994) suggest that, due to taking fewer credit hours, masters students should receive less breadth in the psychological core than doctoral students. Moreover, the Guidelines acknowledge that having fewer hours may result in more variability across masters programs. For instance, the Guidelines indicate that masters level students should be exposed to history and systems and the various fields in psychology. These fields of psychology include biological bases of behavior, physiological psychology, comparative psychology, neuropsychology, sensation and perception, psychopharmacology, learning, motivation, social psychology, personality theory, human development, and abnormal psychology. Whereas the Guidelines concede that some of this exposure may be obtained at the undergraduate level, the extent of the desired breadth is unclear. As a result, there is a great deal of variety among masters programs in the amount of psychological core courses that are required. Indeed, a review of masters programs listed in the 2004 Graduate Training Programs in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Related Fields revealed that the number of core psychology courses required varied from zero to five (Nagy & Schrader, 2004). To further illustrate this variability, the most programs (13) required five psychological core courses, where the second most programs (12) required zero core courses, resulting in a distribution that can best be characterized as an inverted normal curve. Although variability is certainly evident in all graduate programs, the observed variability in psychological core requirements suggests that masters program directors may desire more standardization across masters programs or, at the very least, more guidance as to the appropriate number of psychological core courses that should be required.

I-O psychology curriculum. Another issue for masters program administrators is the design of an appropriate masters level I-O psychology curriculum. Interestingly, this issue may also be in direct conflict with the number of core psychology courses provided, given the relatively brief timeframe evident in many masters programs. According to the Guidelines (1994), masters programs should provide education in the competency areas of ethical, legal, and professional contexts, measurement of individual differences, criterion theory and development, job and task analysis, employee selection and placement, performance appraisal and feedback, training development, work motivation, attitude theory, small group processes, organizational theory, and organizational development. Furthermore, the Guidelines list five additional domains that are desired in masters programs, but not necessary. These five domains include compensation and benefits, industrial and labor relations, career development, human factors, and consumer behavior. Incidentally, two of the additional domains, compensation and benefits and industrial and labor relations, are specifically recommended for masters education in I-O psychology.

As one can see, the list of competency domains is quite extensive. As in the psychological core, a review of masters programs (Nagy & Schrader, 2004) demonstrated that the number of required I-O psychology courses varied from 2 to 11 courses. Unlike the inverse normal curve witnessed in the psychological core review, however, the distribution of the review was much closer to the normal curve as most of the programs required between five and six I-O courses. Still, with the shorter timeline to complete a masters degree, and the rather extensive list of competency domains, masters program directors may need to make choices about what areas to emphasize in their I-O psychology curriculum. Based on previous research (e.g., Koppes, 1991; Lowe, 1993; Trahan & McAllister, 2001), it appears that many programs offer courses in many of the primary competency areas prescribed by the Guidelines. For instance, Trahan and McAllister found that many masters 
I-O psychology programs covered training and development, job and task analysis, organizational development, employee selection and placement, work motivation, measurement of individual differences, performance appraisal and feedback, and small group processes. Moreover, many former masters students judged these areas (with the exception of small group processes) to be among the most important competencies used in their current jobs. Finally, Trahan and McAllister found that the desired but not necessary competencies (e.g., compensation and benefits) were rated near the bottom in terms of coverage and in importance.

Hence, when examining the variability across masters programs, it appears that the Guidelines (1994) provide more assistance regarding the I-O psychology curriculum than the psychological core curriculum. Thus, in order to sufficiently train masters level students in I-O psychology, program directors would do well to incorporate many of the I-O psychology competencies listed above. However, the Guidelines may need to be revised so that more specific information is provided in terms of the extent of competency coverage in the psychological core.

Thesis and Internship Issues

A review of the 2004 Graduate Training Programs in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Related Fields reveals that 52% of I-O masters programs (n = 48 for programs that listed thesis information) require a thesis whereas the remaining institutions have a thesis option wherein students can complete additional coursework in lieu of a thesis. However, somewhat problematic is the lack of a clear definition as to what exactly constitutes a thesis. The Guidelines (1994) do not specifically address theses; instead, they address independent reading/study involving reviewing manuscripts, designing and conducting a research investigation, and/or acquiring interactive computer skills.

Assuming that a suitable definition can be agreed upon, the next question is whether or not a thesis should be a requirement or an option for a masters degree and what purpose does/should it serve. Obviously, university graduate programs (and/or departments) will often dictate policy but the lack of a specific guideline does not provide I-O psychology program directors much to go on. Similarly, applicants to I-O psychology masters programs will often not have a clear picture as to what a thesis is likely to entail and whether a required thesis or a thesis option is a better choice for them. Finally, the extent to which having completed a thesis or a thesis option helps or hinders graduates when they seek employment or pursue a doctoral degree is unknown at this point. 

With roughly half of the masters programs having a required thesis and the other half having a thesis option, it would be very informative to survey those I-O program directors (as well as past graduates) to learn the advantages and disadvantages associated with both alternatives. In addition, for those programs that do offer a thesis option, it would be very revealing to learn what constitutes a sufficient alternative to conducting a thesis and the pros and cons associated with those options. An informal survey conducted during the education forum by Nagy, Schrader, and Aamodt (2005) produced considerable variability in responses to the previously mentioned questions as well as tangential issues like faculty workload for serving on thesis committees and graduation rates dependent on the required thesis versus thesis option.

Another potential minefield for I-O psychology program directors involves the internship. The 2004 Graduate Training Programs in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Related Fields reveals that some form of internship or practicum is required by 58% of I-O psychology masters programs (n = 45 for programs that listed internship information). Many of the same issues that plagued the thesis decision are present here as well, such as the definition of an internship/practicum, whether an internship be required, the advantages and disadvantages of an internship (or lack thereof), and a suitable alternative to an internship. However, internships face a variety of different issues as well. For example, how long should an internship be (in hours)? This very question was raised informally by Nagy et al. (2005), and answers from program directors and students ranged from a low of 150 hours to over 1,000 hours with 300400 hours seemingly a happy medium. This is somewhat problematic as two graduate students may each have a 3-hour internship credit on their transcript and yet one student could have had a 200- hour internship experience and another an 850-hour experience. Perhaps minimum and maximum (or at least mean) internship hour guidelines are long overdue. Other issues include who is responsible for finding an internship for the student (e.g., student, program director, career services), what type of supervision (and how much and by whom) is necessary, should there be additional requirements to complete an internship (e.g., a paper on the internship experience), can a student use their current job as an internship, what should happen if a student cannot find a suitable internship site, what liability issues surround internships, and is a formal internship contract needed involving the student, program director, university, and/or the internship site?


Given the wide variability in selection decisions, the content of the psychological core and the I-O psychology curriculum, and the requirements (or options) of masters theses and internships, it seems that many of the administrative decisions involving masters education in I-O psychology may have simply been handed down over the years from one program director to another without much thought as to what is necessary for a masters education and, to some degree, what exactly constitutes a masters degree in industrial-organizational psychology. Perhaps it is time for program directors to investigate the impact of these decisions on the quality of a masters education as well as for SIOP to revisit and perhaps narrow the recommendations in the Guidelines in order to enhance the quality of a masters level education in industrial-organizational psychology.


     Aamodt, M. G. (2004). Applied Industrial/Organizational Psychology, (4th ed.), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomspon.
     Koppes, L. L. (1991). I/O psychology masters-level training: Reality and legitimacy in search of recognition. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 29(2), 5967.
     Lowe, R. H. (1993). Masters programs in industrial/organizational psychology: Current status and a call for action. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24(1), 2734.
     Nagy, M. S, & Schrader, B. W. (2004, April). Educational training for a masters degree in industrial-organizational psychology. Roundtable presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Chicago, IL.
     Nagy, M., Schrader, B., & Aamodt, M. (2005, April). Educational training for a masters degree in industrial-organizational psychology. Education forum presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Los Angeles, CA.
      Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (2004). Graduate training programs in industrial and organizational psychology and related fields. Retrieved from
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (1994). Guidelines for Education and Training at the Masters Level in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Retrieved from
     Thompson, J., Garman, A., Horowitz, M., & Barr, M. (2005). The Chicago school I-O program: Application of the Vail model to graduate I-O education. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 42(4), 106111.
     Trahan, W. A., & McAllister, H. A. (2001). Masters level training in industrial/organizational psychology: Does it meet the SIOP guidelines? Journal of Business and Psychology, 16(3), 457465.

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