A psychology degree or counseling degree prepares graduates for a wide range of jobs. According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is “the understanding of behavior.” Of course, this concise definition only scratches the surface. The psychology discipline is dedicated to exploration of the human mind and human behavior, in all its complexity. The goal of this discipline is to achieve a scientifically–driven understanding of the social, biological, cultural, and neurological factors that influence human behavior and interaction.
A psychology degree focuses on the understanding of behavior through courses on topics including sociology, childhood development, family structure, sexuality, addiction, and more. Offered at a variety of levels, for both undergraduate and graduate students, a psychology degree or counseling degree provides graduates with a deeper understanding of human behavior and the mind, preparing you for work in several fields and roles. Some programs even include online psychology courses, making for a more flexible course of study.
If you believe you have the intuition, emotional acuity, and compassion to work with individuals suffering from mental disorders, anxiety disorders, familial dysfunction, personal loss, post traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and a host of other personal or shared crises, you should consider pursuing a psychology degree or counseling degree.
In fact, the study of psychology is incredibly valuable, not just for those who ultimately intend to work in the field as therapists, psychologists, counselors, or mental health professionals, but for those working in an array of professional settings, including business, sales, marketing, human resources, education, city planning, legal practice, and countless other fields. Your refined understanding of human behavior can give you a leg up when it comes to negotiations, presentations, client meetings, disciplinary responsibilities, you name it. Frankly, there are few professions in which better understanding human behavior wouldn’t be considered an advantage.
This is one reason that so many students earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology without ever pursuing a career directly in the field. If you’re asking "What can I do with a psychology degree?" the answer is: nearly anything.
If you do plan to practice psychology or counseling, you will need to continue your education beyond a bachelor’s degree. To truly advance within the profession, you will need to obtain advanced degrees at both the master’s and doctoral levels. But it’s up to you how far you want to go with it. There are many things to do with a psychology degree, both in and out of the field.
We’ll tell you everything you need to both get started and eventually get to the top of your profession.
If you already know what you want to do, you can check out The Best Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Degree Programs here!
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
There are two major accreditors in the psychology field:
- The American Psychological Association (APA)
- The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
If you are entering a bachelor’s or master’s program in psychology, you should also find out if your program is compliant with the standards set forth by the APA or ASPPB for eventual advancement into a doctoral program.
There are a host of other psychology accreditation groups that grant recognition at the non–doctoral level. Though these accreditations are not mandatory, they indicate a certain threshold of instructional and academic quality. Recognized non–doctoral accreditors include:
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling&Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE, now merged with CACREP)
- Masters in Psychology Accreditation Council (MPAC)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Psychology Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Psychology
An associate degree in psychology is typically a 60–credit, two–year program and is offered by most community and online colleges. In most cases, the associate degree will serve as a steppingstone to a bachelor’s degree in psychology or counseling. This is because more education is required to practice in the field. Earning your associate psychology degree can be a great way to save time and money before advancing to the next level. If this is your first and last educational stop on the road to a career, you might consider pairing your psychology studies with courses in counseling, social work, or public health. This should provide you with the grounding to gain entry–level work in a residential treatment program, a local health clinic, or a psychiatric health facility.
What Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?
- Addiction Counseling
- Childhood Development
- Family and Group Dynamics
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Research Methods in Psychology
Bachelor of Psychology (BA or BS)
The bachelor of psychology is typically a four–year, 120–credit program and is offered by most traditional public, private, and online colleges. The bachelor’s degree in psychology is among the most popular college majors, largely because of its versatility. Combining introductory psychology and sociology courses with an array of more in–depth examinations of human behavior, communication, neurology, and socialization, the bachelor’s in psychology can prepare you for an extremely wide spectrum of career prospects. While you will need to continue into a master’s program (and eventually a doctoral program) if you intend to practice clinical psychology, your bachelor’s in psychology degree could also be a direct pathway into a career in business, education, and an extremely wide spectrum of health and social services.
What Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program?
- Abnormal Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Current Issues in the Practice of Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Sexuality and Human Behavior
- Society, Culture, and Psychology
What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology?
While both degree programs will offer a full spectrum of both introductory and advanced psychology courses, a BA in psychology will typically pair these courses with an array of liberal arts or general education classes. By contrast, the BS in psychology will place a greater emphasis on science and math coursework.
Master of Psychology
A master’s in psychology is an advanced degree. This is the basic educational threshold for practicing non–clinical psychology and is typically a two– to three–year graduate program. Your master’s in psychology degree program will usually function either as a stand–alone program designed to prepare you for work in an organizational or research setting upon completion, or as a research–orientated program aimed at preparing you for doctoral level studies. If you choose a stand–alone program, you will typically choose a concentration like industrial/organizational psychology, forensic psychology, or clinical psychology. Here, you will gain a greater depth of knowledge within your selected sub–discipline. It is important to bear in mind here that while your master’s degree will prepare you for a variety of careers, it does not qualify you for clinical psychology licensure. For this, you must complete a doctoral level program. A master’s program will prepare you for this next step.
What Courses Will I Take in a Master’s Program?
- Clinical Psychopharmacology
- Crisis Management and Response
- Diversity, Culture and Psychology
- Educational Psychology
- Graduate Research Methods in Psychology
- Group Dynamics
- Organizational Behavior
- Principles of Neuroscience
What’s the Difference Between a Master of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Science in Psychology?
A master of arts degree will generally focus on the exploration and application of leading psychology theories whereas a master of science will place a greater emphasis on data collection, analysis and other quantitative ways of researching and understanding human behavior.
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
If you plan to ultimately practice clinical psychology, you must earn a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This program can take between four and seven years to complete and is the threshold for becoming a clinical psychologist. The focus of your Psy.D. program is to prepare you to ultimately treat patients in the context of your professional choosing. Once you have completed this program, you are qualified for licensure and can subsequently practice treatment in a clinical, business, school, or counselor setting.
What Courses Will I Take in a Doctor’s Program?
- Advanced Psychodynamic Theory
- Behavioral Medicine
- Cognitive Behavioral Family Intervention
- Cognitive/Behavioral Assessment
- Independent Study in Clinical Psychology
- Treatment for At–Risk Adolescents
What’s the Difference Between a Psy.D. and Ph.D. in Psychology?
A Psy.D. will prepare you to work directly with patients in an array of treatment settings while a Ph.D. in psychology is largely reserved for those who intend to advance research in a specific subject area or who will ultimately teach at the university level.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
Becoming a board certified psychologist isn’t required to practice your profession in a non–clinical setting, but it can help to bolster your credentials within the context of a specialty. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), only about five percent of qualified psychology degree–holders are board certified.
With that said, if you plan to practice treatment as a doctor of psychology, you must be board certified. Earning a Psy.D. is the basic threshold for becoming APA–licensed to practice treatment in a clinical setting.
What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
Your psychology degree or counseling degree can be a portal to a wide array of career prospects. Your opportunities and your eventual salary will depend very much on the level of your degree attainment. While a bachelor’s or master’s degree may not be enough to practice clinical psychology, either can open the door to a world of opportunities in business, education, organizational leadership, and beyond. Check out these Social Services Careers for a glimpse at your job prospects once you’ve earned your degree:
- Behavioral Disorder Counselors
- Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Marriage/Family Therapists
- Mental Health Counselors
- Probation Officers
- Rehabilitation Counselors
- Social/Community Service Managers
- Social/Human Services Assistants
- Social Workers
- Substance Abuse Counselors
When you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology or counseling, you’re not just getting started on your path to a possible doctoral degree. As seen from the list above, this could also be your point of entry into an extremely varied field of professional opportunities.
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Psychology Degree?
Just as your opportunities are varied, so too are your salary prospects, which depend significantly on your chosen area of concentration and your level of degree attainment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides median annual salary data as of 2018 as its relates to popular psychology professions:
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$50,090|
|Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary||$76,710|
|Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists||$76,990|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Psychology Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for psychology associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
At the most general level, consider membership in these key associations:
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- With more than 118,000 members worldwide, this large professional association aims to advance the creation, communication, and application of research–based knowledge in psychology. Membership gives you access to journals, books, online databases, and discount registration for the APA’s annual convention.
- Association for Psychological Science (APS)
- A non–profit with more than 25,000 members worldwide, the APS is dedicated to the advancement of scientific psychology studies. This association is only open to those holding a doctoral degree in psychology or another closely related field.
- National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP)
- Dedicated to promoting doctoral level practice to improve healthcare policy, this association offers membership to licensed doctoral psychologists, as well as Ph.D. students and retired psychologists. Membership earns you access to continuing education courses, electronic health records, malpractice insurance, and a subscription to the association’s reputable monthly newsletter.