The ULTIMATE guide to A Psychology Degree
Sometimes we pick our own career paths. Sometimes it seems as if our career paths pick us.
That could be said of psychology. Perhaps more than with any other vocation, psychology is a true calling. It’s not just a job or a paycheck; it’s something you simply know you must do.
For most people called to the field psychology, their interest started long before they even began to look into college or to consider what kind of job they might want. If you’re looking into pursuing a degree in psychology, that may be true for you.
Maybe you were always curious about yourself and your own motivations. "Why," you may have asked, "do I make the choices I make, love the things I love, or do the things I do?"
Or, maybe you saw friends or family struggle with issues like depression or substance abuse. You saw the pain these issues could cause individuals and their families, and wondered if there were any way you could help. Maybe you had a difficult childhood yourself, and wondered how much the intervention of a skilled and compassionate counselor might have helped.
Questions You Might be Having
Whatever your reasons for considering the field of psychology, you probably have a lot of questions. You may be asking, "What can I do with a psychology degree?", "Do psychology jobs pay well?" or "Are there current openings in the field?"
If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’ve come to the right place!
Below is a discussion of all things psych degree: what it is, what coursework to expect, and where you can put that degree to work once you’ve earned it.
What, Exactly, is the Field of Psychology?
Psychology, more than any other field of study, is evident around all of us every day.
After all, it encompasses all the ways that human beings think, feel, learn, react and interact with each other throughout their lives. Because of this, psychology can be an essential part of almost any other field, job or vocation.
Think about it for a moment. How people think and feel and interact comes into play in marketing, in business settings, in schools and in prisons.
Everywhere that people come together, there are opportunities for those trained in psychology to practice their skills and improve people’s lives.
As a psychology major, you will study all the different ways that human beings learn, feel and interact.
You will study how we remember things, how our brains function, what motivates our choices, what hurts us emotionally and how we get along with others.
Once you graduate, you will be able to use this knowledge as you enter the work world in a number of ways.
You might create studies to:
- further our understanding of the brain and how it functions
- help individuals live more fulfilling lives
- guide children through their school years
- help develop and test psychoactive drugs
- find ways to protect people from negative environmental issues
- help develop targeted and effective marketing campaigns for companies eager to sell their products
Even the military has jobs openings for people with a background in psychology.
What is a Psychology Degree?
Once you start looking into a psychology degree, you will quickly notice that different schools offer a wide range of programs under the heading of psychology, each with its own unique focus.
Think carefully about the focus of your education. You want to find a program that fits your interests and skills, of course, but you also want to choose a program and focus that fits with your future career goals, as well.
Depending on the college you choose, the focus of your studies in psychology can be:
- Experimental psychology – In this branch of psychology, you would investigate how learning, memory and the cognitive processes in humans work.
- Animal behavior – As an animal behaviorist, you would study how and why animals behave in all the complex ways they do and use that knowledge in any setting where animals are involved: zoos, farms, people’s homes, wildlife parks, even cityscapes.
- Social psychology – The social psychologist studies how human beings interact with each other in social settings and how these interactions affect the individual.
- Research psychology – As a research psychologist, you would plan, implement and analyze experiments designed to shed light on the experiences and motivations of people, either individually or in a group setting.
- Abnormal psychology – If you enter this field, you would study unusual patterns of emotions, thoughts and behaviors and how they correlate to mental health.
- Organizational psychology – In this field you would learn to understand how people interact in the workplace, and how these interactions affect productivity, safety and workflow.
- Cognitive psychology – Cognitive psychologists study how people learn, process information, use language, solve problems and think creatively.
- Bio-psychology – As a bio-psychologist, you would learn how the physical attributes of human biology and physiology affect their psychological health.
- Developmental psychology – The field of developmental psychology is the study of how people develop over the course of their lifetimes, from infancy into old age. In this field you would use your knowledge to help people live happy, fulfilled lives across the age span.
- Applied psychology – As an applied psychologist, you would take the research and findings of others in the field and find ways to use that knowledge to solve practical problems in the real world.
- Forensic psychology – In forensic psychology, you would use your understanding of human motivations and reactions to aid those in the judicial system, often presenting your expert findings in court about an individual who has been charged with a crime.
Do you have the skills and personality needed to thrive in the field of psychology?
Here is a list of the skills and attributes you will need to thrive in the field of psychology. Read them carefully and see if you measure up
Research has shown that no matter what approach a counselor or therapist takes, if she has a deep concern for her patients, they will improve. This shows that the field of psychology cannot be separated from true care and concern.
Even in its empirical forms, the end goal of psychology is to be helpful. If you plan to work with people, in any context, to be successful, you will need to have a genuine sense of caring and concern for their wellbeing.
– Compassion means you care about others. Empathy, though a related term, is slightly different. It means that you have the capacity to see something from another’s point of view.
You literally cannot help someone else if you don’t have a clear picture of their mental state and what they’re going through. Only when you clearly understand the problems another person is facing, can you help them to overcome those problems.
– Whether you’re analyzing data from your most recent research project, or helping someone with a mental disorder find their way to a healthier state of mind, you will need patience – by the bucketful!
Research often takes years before any useful conclusions can be drawn. Human beings in crisis may need lots of time to understand their problems and learn healthier ways to cope.
Whether you’re meeting with an angry couple trying to save their marriage, interviewing a frightened child after a crime, or working with volunteers who have showed up to help with your experiment, you will need to know how to put people at ease and encourage them to be honest and forthcoming, even about potentially private or embarrassing topics.
A Love of Dogs
That sounds pretty facetious, doesn’t it? But, while it’s certainly not a clad in stone requirement for someone considering earning a degree in psychology, animals are more and more often being used as part of the therapeutic process.
What kinds of classes will I have to take to earn a psychology degree?
Exactly which classes you will need to take to earn your degree will depend on which school you choose to attend, and the area of psychology you decide to focus on. Look at the list below, however. It will give you a general idea of what you will be studying.
Besides the more general classes that everyone must take, such as composition and literature or world history, the classes you may be expected to complete might include:
- General psychology – This type of class is usually an overview of the field of psychology. Students from many other degree programs might take general psychology to satisfy a humanities or social science requirement. Course work would likely cover the history of the study of psychology, its various purposes and the empirical approach to creating an understanding of ideas about cognition, perception and personality.
- Introduction to research methods – In this class you would learn how to thoughtfully analyze psychological research data. You would learn to identify the different ways that data is collected during an experiment, and also what the various strengths and weaknesses of each method are. The class might also include a discussion of the ethics involved when conducting research using human beings who may be negatively impacted by the methods being employed.
- Human development – Human development classes are often offered in different segments, covering the different stages of development, such as “infant and child,” “adolescence,” and “adults and the elderly.” In these classes you would study the biological, social and cognitive processes that shape – and are shaped by – normal human development.
- Principles of learning – In this type of class, you would study how and why people learn. And not just in the school setting, but how they learn to interact with the world around them from the earliest days of infancy.
- Abnormal psychology – The wide range of human experiences leads to an equally wide range of reactions and coping skills. In an abnormal psychology class you would learn about the extremes of human functioning and personality, as well as current theories about functional and psychological deficits and how they can be treated.
- Multicultural psychology – What one culture would describe as abnormal, another would consider a perfectly functional behavior or personality trait. It’s important to keep this in mind, especially in our increasingly global world community. In this type of class you would study different cultural psychological norms and how the individual is shaped by their culture.
- The psychology of aging – In this type of class, you would be introduced to current studies and theories that involve the aging process and how it can impact individuals as they grow older. You would also study how the practical application of these theories can be used to enhance the quality of life for individuals in their final years.
- The psychology of trauma – Trauma can be experienced in many different ways by the individual. It can be as dramatic as being involved in a mass shooting, or as mundane as losing one’s job. In this type of class, you would learn the definition of trauma, study how the stress of trauma can affect an individual, and learn about treatment options for those who have experienced one or more traumas and are having trouble coping with it.
Once you start searching, you will find that many schools offer online courses to their students who are pursuing a psychology degree. That’s good news for you.
Online courses can make life much easier – especially if you are also trying to balance a family or a job with your schoolwork. E-learning allows you to set your own pace and schedule.
Be careful, however. Not all online programs are created equal. Make sure that the one you choose allows you to mix your online courses with regular, face-to-face classes. And, be sure that the online classes are taught by the same instructors who teach their brick-and-mortar equivalents. You want to be sure that you have the same, high-quality instruction whether you take your class in a lecture hall or in the privacy of your own room.
What jobs can I get once I have my psychology degree?
If you’ve read this far, and you feel certain that a degree in psychology matches both your interests and temperament, it’s time to think about your career goals. Here are some of the job choices that will be open to you in the field of psychology, followed by a brief description of the duties you would be called upon to perform. These descriptions will help you decide if psychology is really the right career path for you.
Keep in mind, to be qualified for some psychology jobs, you will need to earn an advanced degree and, in some cases, a license, after you have earned you BA. Jobs that require an advanced degree include:
- Clinical psychologist – As a clinical psychologist, you would meet with individual clients, or with clients and their families, to diagnose and treat mental illness. These could include emotional issues, behavioral problems, or problems with substance abuse. You would then design a treatment program for these clients.
- Organizational psychologist – In this position you would use the principles of psychology in a business setting. You would help with policy planning, you would develop and administer tests during the hiring process and also help organize the work setting to improve productivity.
- Marriage counselor – This title is the most self-explanatory. As a marriage counselor you would meet with couples whose relationships were troubled and try to help them move forward in a healthy way. You might also meet with unmarried couples who might be trying to decide if they were compatible before getting married.
There are entry-level positions open to those with a BA in psychology, as well. These include:
- Professional arbitrator – Professional arbitrators are often called upon to help people settle their disputes amicably. This can include anything from neighbors arguing over where their new fence should be installed to divorcing parents trying to decide how to handle the custody of their children. Some people might come to you on their own; for others, the arbitration may be court ordered.
- Market research analyst – A market research analyst usually gathers and then analyzes data about how consumers make buying choices, decide how to spend their money and what influences those choices. This data is usually gathered through surveys, telephone interviews, on-site consumer monitoring and face-to-face consumer interviews. The data is used by companies of every size to tailor and target their product lines and ad campaigns. An understanding of human nature is a must-have job requirement.
- Blog writer/magazine contributor – People are always looking for ways to improve their lives and their relationships. One place they turn to for advice is self-help literature. What better way to put your understanding of human nature to good use than by writing articles that can help people make better choices, understand themselves and become healthier emotionally?
Will I really be able to get a job with my psychology degree?
It’s one thing to talk about what jobs will theoretically be available to someone with a BA in psychology, but, you may be asking, are there really jobs out there right now?
Yes, there are! Below is a list of job openings that required a BA in psychology pulled from actual job boards at the time of this writing.
- The Community Reach Center, Denver, Colorado – Wanted to hire a crisis therapist for its Integrated Healthcare community.
- The Equinox Counseling and Wellness Center, Denver, Colorado – Needed a therapeutic care specialist to help with its outpatient treatment programs for young adults on the autistic spectrum.
- Tad PGS, Glendale, Colorado – Was in need of a career counselor to make and maintain contacts with local businesses who might be potential employers for their clients.
- The City and County of Denver, Denver, Colorado – Was looking for a social case worker for its after hours crisis response team.
- Autism Home Support Services, Centennial, Colorado – Needed someone who was fun and energetic to help with in-home support therapy for children on the autistic spectrum.
- Arapahoe House, Denver, Colorado – Wanted to hire an on-call addiction technician to meet with clients who were struggling with addiction problems and to facilitate group encounters.
While these jobs will have been snapped up by the time you read this, you can do your own searches and find out just how many jobs for psych majors are out there in your area. It’s easy!
Go to any of the major job-search sites – like Monster, Indeed, or CareerBuilder – and type in search terms such as counseling, counselor, mental health, psychology, or psychiatric technician – even child welfare, substance abuse, or bachelor in psychology. Then type in the name of a city or state to narrow your search. See? At the time of this writing one site alone listed nearly 300 jobs under the search term “counseling” alone.
How much can I earn with my psychology degree?
Your interest in the field of psychology probably stems from a deep concern for humanity as a whole and for people as individuals. That’s good to know! It not only predisposes you to success in your studies, it will also ultimately improve the clinical outcomes of your patients.
However, you will also need to pay your bills, support your family and live a life outside of work. Can you earn a decent living with a BA in psychology? Let’s find out.
According to the website PayScale.com, there are several high-paying jobs available to someone who holds a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of sciences degree in psychology. While not in the six-figure range, they still offer a very respectable amount. They include marketing manager which pays as much as $70,000, operations manager, also $70,000, and human resources manager, which can pay as high as $90,000 .