Penn State’s Online Psychology of Leadership Program

Updated on October 24, 2019
By Trish Sammer


“Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage.” — Richard Branson, Cofounder of the Virgin Group

Anyone who has ever managed people can tell you that the human factor has a massive impact on business outcomes. Behind every success or failure is a team of people, each with their own unique personalities, and their own strengths, weaknesses, and worries. And every day, every person brings all of that to work — and it’s up to a manager to figure out to keep everyone motivated, productive, and engaged.

But leadership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Maybe Kaitlin responds well to direct feedback, but Dan gets defensive. Tim likes it when he has a clear objective and is left to his own devices, but Bridget prefers to collaborate with others.

People may be the hardest variable to quantify in any business. That’s why leaders who can inspire and engage employees are always in demand.

The degree program for people-focused leadership

Penn State’s World Campus has an innovative graduate program to help managers across all industries become more effective by focusing on the people side of work.

The Master of Professional Studies in Psychology of Leadership takes a research-based approach to creating better relationships at work to help advance enterprise and department-level goals. The idea is that more-harmonious teams and work environments are going to contribute to better outcomes.

We took an in-depth look at this unusual program to find out what prospective students need to know. Let’s dig in.

What is the Master of Professional Studies in the Psychology of Leadership degree?

The first thing that stands out about this program is the name. No, it’s not an MBA, and it’s not a master’s in organizational leadership — two common degrees you’ll find at lots of different institutions of higher learning.

So what’s this program about? In a nutshell, this graduate program is designed to increase the effectiveness of leaders and future leaders by helping them understand the psychology behind human behavior in the work environment.

What are benefits of this degree?

Working professional who earn their master’s in Psychology of Leadership may expect some or all of the following outcomes:

  • Gaining a deep understanding of psychological concepts that can boost leadership efficiency. Students will learn how to understand and motivate individuals based on each person’s personality characteristics, so that the employees they supervise will be more motivated and engaged.
  • Learning how to practically apply positive psychology to advance business goals. The curriculum emphasizes leadership influence and decision making at the point where company goals and employees intersect.
  • Being better-positioned to advance in their career paths by building a unique skill set. By earning the master’s credential and by demonstrating strong leadership within the workplace, graduates of this program signal that they are prepared to take on additional responsibility and challenges at work.

How is this different from an MBA?

MBAs typically cover business-related topics such as finance, marketing, and economics. While an MBA program will include coursework related to “soft skills,” such as management and group dynamics, there is generally a focus on outcomes, e.g., efficiency and productivity.

The Psychology of Leadership degree takes a people-based approach to business. Rather than focusing on outcomes, this program helps leaders develop the empathy, insight, and emotional intelligence needed to connect with employees on a human level to increase the health and success of their businesses, non-profits, agencies, or other ventures.

Looking for more information on this degree?

Who is a good candidate for this degree?

People who are already in leadership positions, or those who aspire to leadership roles, are good candidates for this program. Because the program can be completed entirely online, most students retain their full-time jobs while completing their degree.

Leaders across a wide variety of job categories are likely to benefit from this program, mainly because the psychological concepts that are covered are based upon universal human behavior, rather than industry. Some examples of industries where students come from include:

  • Education
  • Finance/accounting
  • Healthcare
  • Law enforcement
  • Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Military
  • Social services
  • Government
  • Non-profit
  • Technology

People who may be especially interested in this program include leaders who would like to learn how to:

  • Gain a better understanding of people
  • Build more cohesive teams
  • Effectively lead diverse groups, such as multinational teams, creative departments, hourly employees, and decision makers
  • Find more effective ways to deal with difficult employees, coworkers, or supervisors
  • Establish buy-in for work initiatives
  • Motivate employees who appear to be disengaged
  • Encourage employees to innovate and take ownership
  • Learn how social dynamics, both inside and outside of work, may impact the workplace

What’s included in this degree

This program consists of 33 credit hours. The curriculum includes nine credit hours in required coursework, 15 credits in psychology electives, and six credits in non-psychology electives that may pertain to a particular career focus, such as labor and industry or non-profit management.

The program culminates in a three-credit capstone experience — a supervised, professionally oriented student activity.

Required courses include:

  • Psychological Foundations of Leadership
  • Ethics and Leadership: Psychological and Social Processes
  • Foundations of Behavior, Motivation, and Attitudes at Work

Electives include a variety of psychology and non-psychology courses, including:

  • Psychology of Leading Work Groups and Teams
  • Full Range Leadership Development
  • Diversity Leadership
  • Global and Cross-Cultural Leadership

What online learning looks like

This program is offered through Penn State’s World Campus, the international online learning of Penn State University.

This is a positive worth noting for working professionals who may be considering this program. Because online learning is still evolving, many brick-and-mortar institutions are still grappling with how to make the transition to digital learning without sacrificing educational quality. Penn State has made a investment in its World Campus and is ahead of the curve in streamlining educational delivery and creating a seamless student learning experience and has done so for over twenty years.

Your professors

While many colleges and universities now offer online study, Penn State is unusual in that the same professors who teach the on-campus classes are involved in the online programs.

Your schedule

You can complete your degree 100% online through Penn State's online learning platform.

Classes through World Campus are asynchronous, meaning that if you enroll you can complete your coursework on your own schedule, day or night. However, you may be required to work on group projects with other remote students, so you may occasionally need to coordinate being online with other classmates at the same time.

Your workload

Most people take one to two classes per semester while working full-time. Your time commitment to coursework and assignments will vary each week.

Assignments will generally be posted on a weekly basis with weekly due dates.

The technology

You’ll need a computer with fast internet access to complete this program online.

Instruction will be delivered via Penn State’s online content management system. You’ll complete assignments and readings online, as well as participate in class discussions on group forums.

You’ll interact with your instructor and classmates through web conferencing and email.

Cost and financial aid

For the 2019-2020 academic year, tuition is $924 per credit for part-time enrollment. This degree requires a total of 33 credit hours.

U.S. citizens may be eligible for financial aid through the FAFSA program, although it’s important to note that requirements and eligibility for graduate aid differ from undergraduate.

Students at any degree level can (and should) apply for scholarships and investigate tuition reimbursement opportunities.

How long does it take?

This degrees requires the completion of 33 credit hours. Most students take one - two classes per semester (at three credits per class).

What are the admission requirements?

To be considered for acceptance in this program, you must:

  • Have earned a B.A. or B.S. from a regionally accredited U.S. institution, or
  • Hold a post-secondary degree that is comparable to the above from a U.S. institution or from an officially accredited degree-granting institution from the country in which the school operates.
  • Earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher during undergraduate studies.
  • Provide three references.
  • Provide a curriculum vitae or resume. 
  • Draft a statement of purpose.
  • Complete the application. 

Looking for more information on this degree?

Our take: A unique program for an under-served topic of study

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." – Bill Gates, Principal Founder of Microsoft

In a competitive job market, this degree provides an opportunity for degree holders to stand out against the competition by focusing on the people side of business. Candidates who can distinguish themselves in novel ways may find that their skills sets are in demand — especially if those skill sets are portable across multiple industries.

If you’re a working professional who is interested in furthering your leadership skills while retaining your full-time job, this is a program worth considering.

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