What can I do with a psychology degree?

Students who are interested in majoring in psychology may be wondering , "Just what can I do with a degree in psychology? What occupational choices will I have?" These are common question! The sections below will provide information on the types of jobs and opportunities afforded to psychology majors.

Questions Often Asked by Career-Seeking Psychology Students

The following three questions are often asked by psychology majors who are interested in entering the job market immediately after graduation. Johnson (1988, p. 7-8) has given the following answers:

Are there jobs available for psychology majors?

In 1986, the National Science Foundation published a report that suggested a bright future for employment of psychology majors. The report indicated that one year after graduation, 90% of the psychology majors entering the labor force were employed. After two years that figure rose to 94%. Those are encouraging figures when you consider the fact that 40,000 psychology majors graduate every year and nearly half of them enter the labor force immediately.

If I want to major in psychology and then go into some other career area, will my psychology major help me or hinder me?

The psychology major is not a panacea (in other words, it will not be the best undergraduate training program for all careers). But you will find large numbers of persons who have their basic undergraduate training in psychology in a diversity of professions. For example, it is not uncommon to find lawyers who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology before they went to law school. Medical and dental schools often admit psychology majors who have good academic records and supplemented their majors with courses in the biological and physical sciences. It is also not uncommon to find psychology majors going to graduate school in business or social work. Many others are employed in social welfare settings or as counselors of various types (e.g., rehabilitation). So don't feel as though the psychology major limits your ability to find a job; it does not. Your marketability will be related to several other factors (such as your grades, skills, personality, and extracurricular activities).

Five years from now, will I regret my decision to major in psychology?

Studies indicate that you will be very satisfied with your bachelor's degree in psychology. In a study of 797 University of Washington graduates in psychology, nearly 70% said if they had it to do over again, they would still major in psychology (Lunneborg and Wilson, 1982). Additionally, these graduates indicated that their degree in psychology was very satisfying as a means to personal growth and a liberal arts education. If these statistics are an indication of satisfaction of psychology majors i n general, then you will be probably be very happy that you majored in psychology.

Job Skills Possessed by Psychology Majors

"When people consider the question 'What am I able to do with a Bachelor's degree in psychology?', they are usually thinking about what kind of job they might get. But there is another way of looking at this question that you should consider as part of your career planning. That is, you should seriously think about what you are able to do in terms of the skills you may have acquired while majoring in psychology" (Edwards. 1989, p. 1). These wise words are the introduction to the following lists of skills that Edwards compiled for his students at Loyola University which have been modified and expanded to fit Indiana State University.

Students should realize that they may not develop these skills if they do not take full advantage of all their undergraduate opportunities (e.g., research and extracurricular activities). It is also equally important to obtain a broad, liberal education in addition to these specific skills. Because job markets are shifting constantly, it is crucial to avoid overspecialization and to strive for flexibility.

Human Services Skills

These are skills necessary for successful employment in situations where direct services are provided to individuals who are in need of help.

Research Skills

These are some of the types of skills essential to jobs in which information based on basic or applied research is provided to assist decision making.

What do employers look for in psychology majors they interview?

The items in the three major categories of the following outline (taken directly from Edwards and Smith, 1988) are arranged in descending order of importance as rated by a large sample of employers from Midwestern government, nonprofit, and commercial agencies, organizations, and companies that often hire undergraduate psychology majors. Psychology students are urged to take advantage of all their undergraduate opportunities to maximize the attainments of these skills, abilities, knowledge, and personal traits.

Skills and Abilities


Personal Traits

Do you prepare for graduate school and a job in the same way?

The two most common options available to college graduates are finding a job or going to graduate school. Therefore, a question they often ask their academic advisers is: "How do I get into graduate school?" or "How do I get a job?" These questions should be addressed early in an undergraduate's college career because the answers are often very unpleasant if the student has not engaged in appropriate career-planning activities during the freshman and sophomore years and carried through on these plans as a junior and senior.

The first step in this process involves the student's decision to pursue:

  1. a career that requires a graduate degree, or
  2. a job in a field for which graduate education is unnecessary.

The second step is to determine the set of factors that will in crease the probability of success in that career plan. The third step is to maximize these factors.

To assist academic advisers in their attempt to help students answer these questions and maximize their chances of post-graduate success, Milton, Pollio, and Elson (1986) performed a survey of 362 representatives of business and industry who were actively involved in interviewing and hiring college graduates and 500 college faculty from the areas of natural science, social science, the humanities, and pre-professional programs. The task of the members of these samples was to rate the importance of each of the factors in the following 15 item lists on a 1 to 7 scale depending upon "the value or degree of importance they placed on each of the 15 possible pieces of information when reviewing the materials submitted by recent college graduates for either employment in their firm or for admission to graduate school." The two following lists are arranged in descending order of these ratings, with "1" rated as the most important.

Rankings by Business Representatives

  1. Personality of student
  2. Grades in major courses
  3. Nature of non-college jobs
  4. Overall grade point average
  5. Breadth of courses taken
  6. School/Recommender reputation
  7. Breadth of life experiences
  8. Extracurricular activities
  9. Publications, awards, honors
  10. Number of difficult courses
  11. Samples of student writing
  12. Affirmative action needs
  13. Contributions to the school
  14. Letters of recommendation
  15. Standardized test scores

Rankings by College Faculty

  1. Grades in major courses
  2. Number of difficult courses
  3. Samples of student writing
  4. Letters of recommendation
  5. Publications, honors, awards
  6. Breadth of courses taken
  7. School/Recommender reputation
  8. Standardized test scores
  9. Overall grade point average
  10. Breadth of life experiences
  11. Personality of student
  12. Contributions to the school
  13. Extracurricular activities
  14. Nature of non-college jobs
  15. Affirmative action needs

It appears from these lists that employers and graduate schools put emphasis on very different factors when they weigh the qualifications of newly graduated college students. A check of the top five factors indicates that employers appear to be most impressed with job applicants who possess a good personality, earn high grades in both their majors and a wide variety of other courses, and have relevant employment experience outside the college environment. Graduate schools are most impressed with undergraduates who earn high grades in their majors, take difficult courses, are good writers, earn high recommendations, and have publications, honors, or awards to their credit. In addition, students interested in clinical psychology should obtain clinical experience.

Undergraduates should study these lists during the early stages of their college careers when they are engaged in initial career-planning activities. Their willingness and ability to successfully attain these factors will have a profound effect upon their chances of post-graduate success!

Areas of Specialization within Psychology

The psychology department provides its students with both a well-rounded education and the opportunity to explore specific areas of psychology in which they have special interests. Graduate education is a process of further refinement during which students become increasingly more proficient in, and knowledgeable of, an area of psychological specialization. The following descriptions from APA's 'Careers in Psychology' booklet will serve as an introduction for students who are pursuing careers that require graduate education in a specialized area of psychology.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, whereas others work with specific groups like children, the elderly, or those with specific disorders (e.g., schizophrenia). Clinical psychologists may be found in hospitals, community health centers, or private practice.

Community Psychology

Community psychologists are concerned with everyday behavior in natural settings -- the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace. They seek to understand the factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavior in these settings. Community psychologists also work to promote health and prevent disorder.

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychologists do many of the same things that clinical psychologists do. However, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems, rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, community mental health centers, and private practice. Recent research tends to indicate that training in counseling and clinical psychology are very similar.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists study how we develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally during our lifespan. Some developmentalists focus on just one period of life (e.g., childhood or adolescence) whereas others study the entire life course. Developmental psychologists usually do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to child-care centers, schools, or social service agencies.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of human learning. Educational psychologists attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. For example, an educational psychologist might study reading and develop a new technique for teaching reading from the results of their research.

Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychologists are concerned with the relations between psychological processes and physical environments ranging from homes and offices to urban areas and regions. Environmental psychologists may do research on attitudes toward different environments, personal space, or the effects on productivity of different office designs.

Family Psychology

Family psychologists are concerned with the prevention of family conflict, the treatment of marital and family problems, and the maintenance of normal family functioning. Family psychologists design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, pre-marital preparation, and improved parent-child relations. They also conduct research on topics such as child abuse, family communications patterns, and the effects of divorce and remarriage. Family psychologists are often employed in medical schools, hospitals, community agencies, and in private practice.

Forensic Psychology or Psychology and Law

Psychology and the law studies legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases) and psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., how jurors assign blame or responsibility for a crime). Forensic psychologists are concerned with the applied and clinical facets of the law such as determining a defendant's competence to stand trial or if an accident victim has suffered physical or neurological damage. Jobs in these areas are in law schools, research organizations, community mental health agencies, and correctional institutions.

Health Psychology

Health psychologists are concerned with psychology's contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. Health psychologists may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, prevent cavities, or stay physically fit. They are employed in hospitals, medical schools, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, and in private practice.

Industrial/Organization Psychology

Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychologists are primarily concerned with the relationships between people and their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity or be involved in personnel selection. You can find I/O psychologists in businesses, industry, government agencies, and colleges and universities. I/O psychologists are probably the most highly paid psychologists.

Neuropsychology or Psychobiology

Psychobiologists and neuropsychologists investigate the relation between physical systems and behavior. It is one of psychology's hottest areas. These psychologists study both very basic processes (e.g., how brain cells function) and more observable phenomena (e.g., behavior change as a function of drug use or the biological/genetic roots of psychiatric disorders). Some continue their education in clinical areas and work with people who have neurological problems.

Psychology of Women

The psychology of women is the study of psychological and social factors affecting women's development and behavior. The field includes the study of stereotypes about women, the relation of hormones to behavior, women's achievements in science and mathematics, the development of gender roles and identity, sexuality, psychological problems of women, and sexual abuse of women and girls. Psychologists focusing on the psychology of women are found in academic settings and a variety of clinical settings.

Psychometrics or Quantitative Psychology

Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods and techniques used to acquire and apply psychological knowledge. A psychometrist revises old intelligence, personality, and aptitude tests and devises new ones. Quantitative psychologists assist researchers in psychology or other fields to design experiments or interpret their results. Psychometrists and quantitative psychologists are often employed in colleges and universities, testing companies, private research firms, and government agencies.

Rehabilitation Psychology

Rehabilitation psychologists work with people who have suffered physical deprivation or loss at birth or during later development as a result of damage or deterioration of function (e.g., resulting from a stroke). They help people overcome both the psychological and situational barriers to effective functioning in the world. They work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, medical schools, and in government rehabilitation agencies.

School Psychology

School psychologists are involved in the development of children in educational settings. School psychologists are typically involved in the assessment of children and the recommendation of actions to facilitate students' learning. They often act as consultants to parents and administrators to optimize the learning environments of specific students.

Social Psychology

Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors are affected by other persons. Some of the topics of interest to social psychologists are attitudes, aggression, prejudice, love, and interpersonal attraction. Most social psychologists are on the faculty of colleges and universities, but an increasing number are being hired by hospitals, federal agencies, and businesses to perform applied research.

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