Want a Psychology Degree? 10 Things You Should Know

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Interested in becoming a psychology major, and going on to earn a psychology degree at the graduate level? We admire your ambition. Psychology is a challenging field. The human mind is a well-researched but still daunting mystery. The field of psychology has dramatically advanced our understanding of human behavior, emotion, and perception. And yet, there is so much which remains unknown to us about the capabilities of the human mind, its vulnerability to dysfunction, and the various intangible factors that make each of us who we are. With a psychology degree, you could become part of this noble and ongoing inquiry into the human mind.

Psychology major jobs can cover a lot of ground, from school counselors and addiction specialists to mental health counselors and clinical psychologists. But what is a psychology degree? What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology? And what degree do you need to become a psychologist? We’ll do our best to help you answer these questions hereafter.

To quote Jim Morrison of the Doors, “People are strange.” Get a psychology degree and find out just how strange people are. If you already know what you’re looking for, and you basically just showed up here because you need to find a great psychology school, consider a psychology degree at the level that makes sense for you:

Otherwise, read on for 10 Things Every Psychology Major Should Know!

1. You’d Better Like Reading

You can’t just walk into a room and start diagnosing people all willy nilly. You’ve got to start with the building blocks. Psychology is a field built on a rich history filled with eccentric figures, scientific breakthroughs, extraordinary ideas, and groundbreaking research. If that kind of thing sounds cool to you, we’ve got fantastic news. You’re going to be required to read all of it. Well, most of it, anyway. Before you can fully appreciate where the field of psychology stands today, you must gain a comprehensive understanding of the steps that have led us here.

If you’re looking for a starting point, check out 20 Famous Psychologists from History—Study Starters.

2. Take Your Learning Outside the Classroom

If you plan to make a career out of psychology, find your passion within the field. It may surprise you to learn that this passion is often discovered outside of the classroom. Make your educational experience more enriching by looking for ways to volunteer, intern, or work in environments where your developing skills and knowledge can be applied. Look for local healthcare facilities, nursing homes, or addiction recovery and rehabilitation clinics as places where you can connect with those already working in the field. Your best education will come from witnessing mental health professionals in action.

To get started on this path, find out How To Get an Internship.

3. Find Your Focus

Psychology covers a lot of ground. Depending on your areas of interest, and the degree level you plan to pursue, you could take your psychology degree in a number of professional directions. If you’re interested in working with younger people, you may choose to focus on early development, child psychology, and school counseling. If you’re considering a career in a clinical setting such as a healthcare or mental health facility, you’ll likely need to complete some number of science and medical courses. If you’re seeking an entry-level path into psychology, you may focus your studies on non-clinical mental health support or addiction counseling. Your professional goals and interests will shape your education and vice versa.

For a look at your options, check out these Rewarding Psychology Degree Jobs.

And if you think you might be interested in a career focused on addiction counseling, take a look at these specialized degree programs:

If you think you’d be more suited to a school counseling role, check out these resources:

4. Be Visible, Vocal, and Active

Psychology is a competitive field, which can be psychologically exhausting. Ironic, I know. This doesn’t mean that you need to make yourself crazy to get ahead, but you should be aware that it is important to distinguish yourself from your classmates. Find ways to connect with your professors by being a vocal participant in course discussions, making yourself visible through office hours, and demonstrating your active pursuit of the subject matter outside of the classroom. Approach your professors for advice and insight on these pursuits, including your own ideas for independent research or field experience. These efforts could pay dividends as you seek future letters of recommendation, as you parlay professional contacts into opportunities, and even as you seek meaningful personal relationships driven by mutual academic goals and interests.

5. Get in the Know

Psychology is a field which is constantly evolving. In addition to your appreciation of the history of psychology, you should remain abreast of new developments. There will be many exciting findings and research endeavors that coincide with the course of your education and career. Get in the know, and stay there. Subscribe to leading psychology journals, create online news alerts for subjects of particular interest, and don’t be afraid to reach out to those who are on the cutting edge. Psychology is a living, breathing, and ever-advancing discipline. Keep yourself at the forefront.

And for a look at what the field’s youngest innovators are doing today, check out The Top 20 Psychologists 40 & Under.

6. Be a People Person

As a psychology student, you’ll spend a lot of time poring over research, history, and data. You’ll study ideas on the theoretical level. You’ll approach clinical challenges with scientific objectivity. And you’ll learn about the uniquely human frailties that lead to mental illness, dysfunction, and disorder. But it’s important that these academic pursuits don’t obscure the most important aspect of psychology: the human aspect. Ethics, compassion, and empathy are essential in whatever dimension of psychology you choose to explore. Don’t get lost in the studies, the research, and the history. People come first. That’s why you’re here.

7. Get the Clinical Facts

So you want to be a clinical psychologist and actually practice psychiatric medicine? You will need to earn a Ph.D. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is a great point of entry, and can help you land a gig as a mental health professional. But there will be limitations on your ability to treat patients in clinical settings such as healthcare facilities, mental health facilities, or within your own practice. So if you’re planning on becoming a true practicing psychologist, you will need to pursue an advanced degree.

Oh, and this also a good place to address that age-old question: What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? Simply stated, a psychologist is licensed to practice behavioral intervention, psychotherapy, psychological testing, and other common psychological research and treatment methods. By contrast, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor with a focus in psychiatric studies, with all of the medical education, power of prescription, and training that the M.D. title implies.

If you’re interested in studying to become a psychologist, check out:

8. Get Mentored

If you’re planning to advance to the graduate level in psychology, and you see yourself as a clinical practitioner, one of the best things you can do for yourself is connect with a mentor. Ideally, this would be a professor in the psychology department at your university, and one who is willing to take an active interest in your educational path, any independent research you must conduct to complete your graduate degree, and your professional development. You may organically find your mentor in the form of the professor who will be advising you through a capstone, thesis, or dissertation project. But if you do not find a compatible mentor this way, consider approaching other professors with whom you have created a connection. In the absence of such a relationship, you might also consider approaching the dean of your psychology department for recommendations.

A mentor could be a difference-maker both in your educational experience and in the connections you’re able to form upon completing your degree. If you’re looking for a starting point, many of the top professors and mentors in the field can be found through The Best Psychology Programs in the World Today.

9. Money on the Mind

Of course, we know you’re interested in becoming a psychologist for the humanitarian reasons. But it doesn’t hurt that you can make pretty good money doing it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for Pscyhologists as of 2018 was $79,010 per year. Jobs in the field are also projected to grow at a rate of 14% — faster than the average occupation — through the year 2026.

Not only can you make a good living in this field, but you can also get started on your degree without spending a fortune (at least on the relative scale). To get started, check out the Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Degree Programs.

10. Mental Health Matters…Including Your Own

Of course, even if you find the most cost-effective way to earn your psychology degree, there’s no changing the fact that this is a challenging degree program. Moreover, if you succeed, you will enter into a challenging field. The complexities presented by the human mind and psyche are as varied and mysterious as humanity itself. This means that you will confront bumps, obstacles and even roadblocks on your way to a degree. And evidence suggests this is especially true for graduate students, who face a heightened risk of sleep deprivation, depression, and emotional burnout. So before you leap headlong into a career caring for the mental health of others, make sure you take care of yourself. You are always Patient #1!

Check out these resources to learn more about the mental health challenges facing students and how you can protect yourself:

As a psychology major, you’ll be on the front lines in the continuing fight against depression and mental illness; you’ll have a chance to contribute to new and groundbreaking research in the field; and you’ll become part of a long and fascinating tradition of probing exploration and provocative innovation.

To get started, check out these top-ranked degrees in psychology: