Masters by Dissertation vs. Coursework Masters

If you’re studying psychology and looking to register as a psychologist in the future, it is likely that you’ve heard about the above-mentioned qualifications. To clear up any misconceptions about these types of masters programmes, Cognition & Co have put together the following article highlighting the differences between them;

Masters by Dissertation:

A Masters by Dissertation is a purely academic M degree whereby students are required to conduct research that culminates in a dissertation. Different universities call these qualifications by different names (Academic Masters / Masters by Research, etc), however they all follow a similar format.

Most of these programmes can be done part-time through distance learning institutions however students will need to be in contact with their allocated supervisor. A supervisors’ role is to help, support and guide students through their research, ensuring the quality of the dissertation.

While a Masters by Dissertation is heavily research orientated, these degrees are different to a Research Masters degree in South Africa. A Research Masters is a full-time (sometimes part-time) coursework programme offered by some universities (Wits) which can lead to an HPCSA registration as a Research Psychologist.

Unlike a Research Masters, a Masters by Dissertation does not lead to registration with the HPCSA. Even once a student has completed a Masters by Dissertation, they are still not allowed to call themselves a Psychologist, nor will they be able to counsel clients, regardless of their dissertation topic or title.

These degrees are highly valued in academic circles and would certainly put any graduate in good stead to work in some form of higher education. Completing a dissertation also opens doors in terms of publishing one’s dissertation and having that accolade added to one’s portfolio.

Coursework Masters:

In order to become an HPCSA registered Psychologist in South Africa, students will need to complete a Masters Degree that includes a coursework aspect, as well as a dissertation. These are typically all full-time programmes (except some Research Masters) where students will spend their time between classes and supervision on a university campus, as well as at practicals in hospitals, clinics, or schools.

Again, universities may call these coursework programmes by different names (sometimes called Professional Masters), but they are typically M degrees in a specialized area of psychology. These specialized areas are defined by the HPCSA and are broken into different registered categories; i.e. Clinical, Counselling, Educational, Industrial, Research, and more recently Neuropsychology.

The duration of a coursework degree is also specific to the different universities. Many universities offer these degrees over a period of two years, however there are a number of universities that allow students to complete both their coursework and dissertation in just one year. Once a student has completed their 1 or 2 years of coursework, they may then register with the HPCSA as an Intern Psychologist and begin their 1 year internship. Following the completion of a 1 year internship, graduates may write their respective board exam with the HPCSA and upon passing will receive the title; Psychologist.

It is also important to note that students following the route ending in registration as a Clinical Psychologist, will also need to complete one year of community service once they have successfully passed their board exams.

To find out more about the route to becoming a Psychologist in South Africa, click the link provided above. Students are also welcome to contact us with questions or queries by clicking here.