The M.A. in general psychology first appeared in the 1977 Graduate Catalog as a 33 credit hour program. The program quickly developed the research-oriented perspective that it retains today, and by the program’s second year, the Graduate Catalog stated that the program was "designed to give the student advanced training in various areas of psychological theory, methodology, and application." In 1983 a separate counseling graduate program was created, and the M.A. in general psychology remained more research oriented, and more focused on experimental and theoretical psychology.
After several years of relative stability, the M.A. in general psychology program underwent a major redesign as all masters programs in psychology at JMU required students to complete a common core curriculum. The goals of the common core for the departmental programs included a focus on training in research and statistical techniques, in measurement theory and use of psychological tests, and in basic counseling and human relations skills. The general psychology program continued its goals of preparing “students for further training in experimental and applied areas of psychology at the doctoral level and to provide students an opportunity to earn a graduate degree while being exposed to several different career tracks in psychology."
By 1995 the program had become a 36-credit program that included three newly developed statistics and measurement courses, and allowed students to select 4 of 10 advanced principles and theories courses, 2 from each of 2 areas. The first set of advanced principles and theories courses comprised the study of the basic process of human and other organisms, whereas the second set of advanced principles and theories courses were focused on the study of human behavior within a social context. All students participated in a weekly research roundtable meeting, completed a research apprenticeship during their first year, an completed comprehensive examinations before completing two semesters of thesis research. An additional 9 credits of electives were chosen with the approval of the student's adviser and frequently involved additional research experience (Psyc 680, Independent Study).
The roundtable and apprenticeship activities did not carry course credit but exposed students to a range of faculty research interests and to the process of doing research in psychology. Through these experiences students were involved in a program of research early in their graduate training which was intended to facilitate the development and completion of a thesis.
Following an APR during the 1997-1998 academic year and based on the recommendations of the External review Team, the program began efforts to rework its mission statement to better reflect the mission of the program and restate program goals and objectives in a way that more clearly represents the level of achievement expected. During the 2000-2001 academic year, the program changed its name to Psychological Sciences Program, to better emphasize the program's focus on research.
In 2005 the program formally adopted the mentorship training model, that characterizes the current program. Each student in the program is carefully advised by a member of the program’s faculty. Students are only accepted as graduate students into the program when a good match is obtained between a student’s interests and talents, and those of the one of program’s faculty who has agreed to serve as the student’s mentor and primary academic advisor.