What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
| TBS Staff
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Psychology is a versatile degree that can lead to a variety of careers, making it one of the most popular majors for undergraduates.
Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and the mind. A psychology degree can include training in abnormal psychology, human development, and experimental psychology.
With a psychology degree, graduates can find work as school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists. The degree can also lead to job opportunities in fields like marketing, human resources, social work, and education.
This article introduces prospective students to popular jobs for psychology majors, explores job opportunities at different degree levels, and examines earning potential for psychology careers.
What Kinds of Psychology Degrees Are There?
Colleges offer psychology degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Each degree prepares graduates for different job opportunities. For example, counselors and therapists often need a master's degree, while clinical psychologists must hold a doctorate. This section explores career options for each level of psychology education.
Associate Degree in Psychology
An associate degree in psychology introduces students to the scientific study of human behavior and the mind. Associate degree graduates can become psychiatric aides, human services assistants, and rehabilitation technicians. The degree also prepares students to transfer into a bachelor's program and earn a bachelor's degree in two years.
During an associate degree in psychology, students take introductory courses in psychology and complete general education requirements in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Earning an associate degree generally takes two years.
Bachelor's Degree in Psychology
A bachelor's degree is the first step for many career paths in psychology. The degree prepares graduates for roles like behavioral disorder counselor, social worker, and mental health counselor. Other pertinent fields for psychology degree graduates include human resources, criminal justice, and social services.
During a bachelor's degree, psychology majors take courses in abnormal psychology, human behavior, organizational psychology, and social psychology, building foundational skills in assessment and research. In addition to psychology classes, students must complete general education requirements.
Earning a bachelor's degree generally takes four years for full-time students and about two years for students who already hold an associate degree or have enough prior college credits.
What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Psychology?
Psychology majors can earn either a BA or a BS in psychology. Both degrees train undergraduates in the science of psychology, and students often take the same major-related courses. A BS may include more laboratory-specific work than a BA.
Outside of the major courses, graduation requirements differ more. A BA emphasizes humanities and social science coursework, including classes in history, sociology, and English. Most BA degrees also require a foreign language. A BS requires natural sciences and mathematics courses, such as statistics, biology, and chemistry.
Both a BA and a BS can lead to a variety of jobs for psychology graduates.
Master's Degree in Psychology
A master's degree prepares graduates for psychology careers that do not require a doctorate, like school psychologist or industrial-organizational psychologist. Earning a master's degree also helps psychology students specialize their training before pursuing a doctorate.
During a master's in psychology, students take courses focused on research, theory, and psychology methods. Most master's programs take around two years for full-time students. After meeting coursework requirements, master's students often write a thesis or take a comprehensive exam. Students also typically complete a supervised internship to gain hands-on experience.
Many programs offer concentrations in areas like neuropsychology, developmental psychology, and educational psychology. Specialized programs may also cover child psychology or forensic psychology.
Doctoral Degree in Psychology
A doctorate in psychology is a prerequisite for becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, which includes careers like child psychologist, counseling psychologist, and neuropsychologist. The degree also prepares graduates for careers as psychology professors.
At the doctoral level, psychology students can earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. A Ph.D. emphasizes research and prepares graduates for academic or research roles, while the Psy.D. focuses on clinical practice. Earning a doctorate in psychology generally takes around five years, including coursework, a dissertation, and an internship.
Some psychology doctoral programs are specialized in areas like educational psychology, behavioral psychology, or organizational psychology. A specialized doctoral program helps students prepare for specific career paths in psychology after graduation.
Practicing psychologists must hold a state-issued license. Each state sets its own requirements for a psychology license, but in general, state licensing boards require a doctorate from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).
States also require clinical training, which psychologists can complete through an internship and postdoc experience. On average, psychologists generally need 4,000 hours of supervised clinical training to receive a license.
After meeting educational and clinical requirements, candidates for a psychology license must also pass an examination to demonstrate their training. Requirements vary for some specializations, like school psychology and industrial-organizational psychology. Visit APA's website for more about psychology licensing requirements.
What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
A psychology degree prepares graduates for careers in many fields. Common career paths include clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, and school psychologist. Psychology graduates can also work in subfields in psychology. Outside of psychology, the list of jobs available to psychology graduates includes business, education, social work, and criminal justice.
This section introduces common career paths in the field of psychology and related fields.
Psychology Career Paths
Clinical psychologists use diagnostic methods to conduct assessments for clients. They often consult with other healthcare professionals or conduct research. Clinical psychologists work in healthcare facilities, research institutes, and private practice.
Clinical psychologists specialize in areas like child psychology, neuropsychology, or school psychology. Most clinical psychology jobs require a doctorate and a state-issued license to practice. Doctoral students pursuing clinical psychology must usually complete a clinical internship as part of training.
This career path requires strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Clinical psychologists work with a variety of patients and rely on observational and conversational skills to diagnose mental health conditions. Strong problem-solving skills help clinical psychologists find treatments for patients and design research projects.
Psychiatrists, like psychologists, specialize in the mind. In both career paths, professionals diagnose and treat people. However, psychiatrists hold a medical degree, making them licensed medical doctors who can prescribe medication to treat patients with mental health conditions. Meanwhile, clinical psychologists earn a Psy.D. and cannot typically prescribe medication.
Within psychiatry, professionals may specialize in areas like child psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, or neuropsychiatry. The field also includes forensic psychiatry — the study of mental health disorders and criminal activity — and organizational psychiatry, the study of the workplace.
A background in psychology helps prepare candidates for medical school. Since most colleges do not offer an undergraduate major in psychiatry, prospective psychiatrists often major in psychology or a related field that meets the prerequisites for medical school.
Counselors help their clients manage life transitions and change their behavior. They may specialize in couples counseling, school counseling, substance use disorders, or behavioral disorders. Counseling psychologists, for example, apply the science of psychology to assess, diagnose, and treat patients struggling with life stresses or psychological issues.
Some counseling careers only require a bachelor's degree. For example, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically hold a bachelor's degree. In contrast, marriage and family therapists and school and career counselors generally need a master's degree. Counseling psychologists typically hold a doctorate and a psychology license. Work settings, job requirements, and earning potential vary depending on the role and degree level.
Other Career Paths
The fields of social work and psychology naturally overlap. In both fields, professionals must assess clients and their needs, connect them with resources, and help them make positive changes in their lives.
Social work ranks high on the list of jobs for psychology majors because, unlike psychology, most social work positions do not require a doctorate. Many social work careers — including case manager, substance abuse counselor, and social services manager — require at least a bachelor's degree. Clinical positions, like school social worker or clinical social worker, require a master's degree in social work.
Human resources professionals manage employee benefits and compensation programs, implement training and development programs, and advise companies on their workforce needs. A psychology degree builds many of the same communication and analytical skills used in human resources positions.
For instance, training and development roles draw on industrial psychology and organizational development research to improve employee performance. Similarly, job recruiters need to assess a company's needs and match candidates with those needs, which requires an understanding of human behavior and social psychology. Most human resources careers require a bachelor's degree.
Marketing professionals research consumer demand, track marketing trends, and create strategies to reach target consumers. For example, marketing managers design marketing strategies based on data analysis, and marketing consultants advise clients on consumer behavior, marketing approaches, and sales trends.
A psychology degree helps strengthen the analytical, research, and interpersonal skills used in marketing jobs. The ability to analyze data, understand customer behavior, and influence people's decisions can help psychology majors thrive in marketing careers.
Most marketing careers require at least a bachelor's degree, though some supervisory roles may require a master's degree.
Criminal justice professionals enforce the law, investigate crimes, and keep the court system running. In the criminal justice field, a psychology background is most useful to criminologists, behavior profilers, and detectives. The ability to analyze information, understand human behavior, and assess people's motivations helps in these roles.
The criminal justice system also relies on specialists in addiction and behavior to help treat offenders. Courses in addiction, abnormal psychology, and rehabilitation can help psych majors prepare for careers in corrections. A bachelor's degree meets the minimum requirements for many criminal justice careers.
Many careers in education draw on the skills of a psychology degree. Teachers need to understand how students learn, and educational administrators need to consider group dynamics and behavior when managing schools. Taking classes in educational psychology and the psychology of learning can prepare psychology majors for teaching jobs.
Teaching careers often require a state-issued teaching license, which can add additional time for undergraduate students. In most states, teachers benefit from holding a master's degree, but the entry-level requirement for licensure is only a bachelor's degree. In addition to K-12 teaching and administrative jobs, a psychology degree prepares graduates to teach psychology at the secondary level.
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Psychology Degree?
Psychology careers offer a range of salaries, depending on career path and degree level, with varying levels of return on investment. For example, while clinical psychologists earn above-average salaries, the field also requires a doctorate. The following table shows median annual salaries and degree requirements for different jobs available to psychology graduates.
|Career||Median Annual Salary||Job Growth (2019-2029)||Typical Degree Needed|
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists
Psychology Postsecondary Teacher
Clinical Social Worker
Human Resources Manager
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
Psychology Professional Organizations
Accreditation for Psychology Programs
Psychology programs must be accredited to meet state requirements for professional licensure and certification. Choosing an accredited school also helps psychology students earn transferable credits, gain admission to graduate programs, and receive federal financial aid.
At the undergraduate or master's level, psychology students should check a school's regional accreditation. At the doctoral level, students should choose an APA-accredited program. Learn more about the accreditation process or visit APA's website for a list of accredited doctoral psychology programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
A psychology degree builds critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills. Graduates can pursue jobs in psychology, human services, and counseling, or they can choose careers in related fields like human resources, education, and marketing.
Like any degree, a psychology degree requires time and effort to complete, but many students find the work engaging and fulfilling. Psychology majors study abnormal behavior, human development, and forensic psychology.
Both a BA and a BS in psychology prepare majors for psychology careers and graduate school. A BA offers stronger training in the humanities and social sciences, while a BS includes more courses in natural science and mathematics.
Psychology majors can find work as behavioral counselors, social workers, human resources specialists, marketing specialists, and mental health counselors. Graduates can also pursue opportunities in business, education, and criminal justice.
Psychiatrists earn the highest salary among psychology careers, with a mean annual salary of over $220,000. Industrial-organizational psychologists, neuropsychologists, and school psychologists also earn above-average salaries.
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