According to data from the American Psychological Association, nearly 2 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2013. Over 114,000 of those undergraduate degrees were in psychology, making it the fourth most popular major (behind business, health-related, and social sciences.) In post-graduation surveys, nearly 75% said they ended up working in a field closely or somewhat related to psychology.
Admission standards to a psychology department as an undergraduate require a minimum GPA of at least 2.5 with successful completion of undergraduate courses such as general psychology, abnormal psychology, and statistics. Application typically takes place during the sophomore year, which allows the student to complete the degree requirements during the junior and senior years. Admission to the major depends on several factors that are institution-specific. The more competitive the major, the higher the standards are with regard to grades and other admission criteria.
Having a bachelor’s degree in psychology makes it easier to apply to a master’s degree program, but it may not be necessary. Some schools and departments allow students with non-psychology degrees to apply as long as they have certain prerequisite courses such as general psychology, statistics, and a research methods course. It is crucial for the applicant to identify what each institution requires. In addition, many schools require GRE scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts, minimum GPA standards, and a writing sample.
A traditional Ph.D. program that prepares graduates for a career in academia or research does not require a master’s degree. These programs prefer students with undergraduate research experience, as the entire degree focuses on teaching the student to create new knowledge and publish research. To bolster a Ph.D. application in psychology, students should make considerable effort to engage with undergraduate faculty members in doing research. These programs also require GRE scores, letters of recommendation, writing samples, transcripts, and a statement of purpose.
A doctoral degree is an applied degree, meaning it is meant to bolster the skills and knowledge related to a career in psychology. Candidates for these programs typically have considerable work experience including management experience. GRE scores may be required, but are often waived or not part of the application. Candidates should submit letters of recommendation, transcripts, writing samples, and resumes.
Careers and Earnings
A career in child psychology requires a doctoral degree and the possibility of post-doctoral training to achieve certification. Individuals must also meet state licensing requirements, which vary from state to state. These professionals assist children and their guardians with the diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral disorders. The median salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is $77,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The expected growth rate for this occupation is expected to be 15% from 2018-2028, which is must faster than the rate for all other occupations.
Clinical psychology is a broad occupation with many specialties designed for specific populations or disorders. Clinical psychologists should possess a Ph.D. and be licensed in the state where they practice. Post-doctoral training and clinical experience are also required. Clinical psychologists earn a median annual salary of $77,000. Job titles include health psychologist, neuropsychologist, and geropsychologist. The job growth is expected to be 15% from 2018-2028. Demand will be driven by the retirement of existing clinical psychologists as well as increased demand for psychological services to serve the general population.
Forensic psychologists work within justice systems to help explain the link between criminal behavior and mental health. Forensic psychologists can specialize in sub-fields such as criminal profiling, training and curriculum development, research, public policy, domestic violence, and more. These individuals may work for government agencies or private organizations that are hired by justice system employees such as attorneys and law enforcement. The occupation requires at least a master’s degree. Most occupational tasks seen in media, such as court mental health evaluations and expert testimony of alleged criminals, require a Ph.D.
Human Resources Professional
A psychology degree can be useful in the human resources field. Understanding human behavior in an organizational context is a large part of the job. Human resource professionals assist with employee/employer relations, development and enforcement of workplace policies, employee benefits, and more. The field requires at least a bachelor’s degree.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Therapists specializing in marriage and family counseling need to have at least a master’s degree and appropriate licensure to practice in their state. These therapists work with family units and domestic partners on maintaining healthy relationships. In addition to the degree coursework, marriage and family therapists need practical experience in the field through internships, clinical experiences, and the like. These experiences are typically built into the degree. The median salary is $50,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The occupation is poised for excellent growth (22%) during the period of 2018-2028.
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors provide a wide range of services for clients, including assistance with behavioral disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, destructive mindsets, and dealing with psychological trauma. Many choose to work with specific types of clients or those suffering from certain maladies and issues such as substance abuse. They can work for nearly any type of agency or organization or may be self-employed. The median pay for mental health counselors is $46,240 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The occupation is expected to increase a staggering 22$ during the decade of 2018-2028 due to increased demand for mental health services. A master’s degree or higher is required.
A little-known career in psychology, organizational and industrial psychologists apply principles and theories in psychology to the workplace in an effort to understand human behavior on the job. They attempt to understand what motivates workers, what are effective leadership behaviors at the workplace, and the like. The field requires a master’s degree. Existing organizational psychologists say networking is critically important as the field is relatively small. The median salary is approximately $98,000 per year.
At its most basic level, a psychotherapist assists people with mental, emotional, and behavioral issues stemming from a variety of reasons. Psychotherapist is a broad term that encapsulates many different occupations, all having to do with therapy. Psychotherapists can practice alone in their own offices or may work for an organization. They may work with specific populations and demographics. Psychotherapists must have a Ph.D. or in many cases an MD. Psychiatry careers are expected to grow 19 percent during the period of 2018-2028. The median salary is $193,000 per year.
School counselors assist students with academic and social skills, giving them the tools to succeed in and out of the class. Their duties encompass a wide range of areas, including life skills for appropriate grade level and age, academic preparation, career planning, post-secondary education planning, personal counseling, and more. School counselors work in both public and private settings at all grade levels from K-college. These professionals need at least a master’s degree in psychology or school counseling and should also possess a state certification. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a school counselor is $57,040 as of May 2019. The job is expected to grow at 8%, which is faster than the average of all occupations (5%).
While most people think sports psychologists work solely with professional athletes, the reality is, they work with athletes of all ages and ability levels. There are three main branches of sports psychology, including applied sports psychology, clinical sports psychology, and research-oriented sports psychology. Applied sports psychology involves working with athletes to improve athletic performance. Common techniques include mental focus, imagery, and meditation. Clinical sports psychology integrates mental training to improve performance, as well as traditional therapy to address off-field issues such as anxiety, depression, and overall mental health. Lastly, research-oriented sports psychology involves performing research and teaching at the college level. Sports psychologists may be entrepreneurs or work for organizations such as high schools, colleges, and counseling practices.
The cost of a psychology degree falls in line with the average costs of other degrees. According to our data collected from The College Board and National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree at a public university charging in-state tuition is $8,230 per year including tuition, room, and board. A master’s degree averages $8,670 per year. The most expensive degree is the doctoral/Ph.D., which averages $10,830 annually.
Similar to the health sciences, graduate school for psychology majors includes specialized coursework combined with several hundred hours of clinical observations and internships. These requirements are also typically found in online psychology master’s degrees where students are able to perform clinical hours in their own communities. Master’s in psychology generally takes 1-2 years to complete depending on the program. Most programs allow students up to 5-6 years to finish. Doctoral degrees can take anywhere from 3-8 years to finish.
Completing a psychology degree and moving into a related career takes certain personal qualities that allow the individual to thrive and be satisfied with their chosen path. In particular, psychology majors should possess the following characteristics:
Communication and Listening Skills – psychology professionals spend a lot of time communicating with and listening to patients.
Helping Others – the desire to help others is the foundational characteristic of the field of psychology.
Integrity – patients disclose very confidential information in therapy settings, which must be kept confidential.
Interpersonal Skills – working one-on-one with individuals and small groups makes up the majority of work as a psychology professional. As such, it is critical to be effective with interpersonal communication.
Writing – writing reports and case notes is an integral part of the job. Clear and cogent writing is a must.
Psychology-related jobs are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations due to increased demand for mental health services. The 14% overall growth rate far outpaces the national average for all occupations of just 5%, which reflects a solid return on investment for those who pursue psychology degrees, particularly at the master’s and doctoral levels. Moreover, those who specialize in an applied area of psychology should have the best occupational chances among the group. In addition, those willing to pursue work in metro areas will find increased odds of gaining employment.
This major focuses on the practical application of psychological principles. Courses may include organizational behavior, industrial psychology, applied psychology and research, and social psychology.
Behavioral science blends together psychology, anthropology, and sociology to better understand human behavior. Courses may include cultural anthropology, sociology, cognitive psychology, and statistical methods.
This major is geared toward assessing and treating mental illness and mental disabilities. This major is most common at the master’s and doctoral levels.
A graduate level major, this branch of psychology is concerned with helping individuals address mental and emotional issues in their lives to assist with overall well-being, and to mitigate feelings of distress.
Developmental psychology majors study human development over the life course in an attempt to understand why and how individuals change as they age.
This particular major is devoted to understanding how people learn. In addition, the discipline teaches students how different individuals learn including gifted learners and individual with disabilities.
A popular undergraduate major, general psychology provides a cursory overview of the major theories, branches, and important figures that make up the discipline. Has a lengthy history of being one of the most popular undergraduate majors.
An undergraduate or graduate major, the industrial or organizational psychology major studies human behavior from an individual and collective viewpoint within organizations.
This major is concerned with how physical and emotional diseases impact each other. The major teaches students how emotional and mental symptoms impact the physical well-being.
Another popular major, social psychology deconstructs how individuals and their beliefs, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings are influenced by the social contexts in which they live. This major is available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.